‘What are you thinking, Kanakhala?’
‘Nothing important, My Lord. I’m just happy that you are willing to discuss peace.’
‘You have your work cut out,’ said Daksha. ‘An entire peace conference has to be organised at short notice. We will name it, in keeping with tradition, after our Prime Minister: the yagna of Kanakhala.’
An embarrassed Kanakhala smiled. ‘You’re most kind, My Lord. But the name doesn’t matter. What matters is peace.’
‘Yes, peace is paramount. That is why you must take my instruction of secrecy seriously. Under no circumstances should the news of the peace conference reach Karachapa.’
Karachapa was where Lord Bhrigu had stationed himself, along with King Dilipa of Ayodhya and General Parvateshwar.
‘Yes, My Lord,’ said Kanakhala.
A happy Kanakhala rushed to her office to get down to immediate work.
Daksha waited for the door of his private office to shut before turning to Vidyunmali. ‘I hope Swuth and his people will not fail me.’
‘They will not, My Lord,’ said Vidyunmali. ‘Have faith in me. This will be the end of that barbarian from Tibet. Everyone will blame the Nagas. They are perceived as bloodthirsty, irrational killers in any case. No reasonable citizen here has been able to swallow that fraud Neelkanth’s championing of the Nagas; just like they didn’t accept the freeing of the Vikarmas, regardless of the greatness of Drapaku. The people will readily believe that the Nagas killed him.’
‘And my daughter will return to me,’ said Daksha. ‘She’ll have no choice. We will be a family again.’
Delusions create the most compelling of beliefs.
Shiva, Gopal and Tara stood on the foredeck of their merchant ship. The Parihans had helped in loading their precious merchandise onto the vessel. With everyone having said their goodbyes, the Neelkanth had just ordered his ship to set sail on the Jam Sea.
‘Scheherazade,’ said Gopal, ‘how long...’
‘Tara, please,’ she interrupted the Chief Vasudev.
‘My name is Tara now, great Vasudev,’ said Tara. ‘Scheherazade was left behind in Pariha.’
Gopal smiled. ‘Of course. My apologies. Tara it is.’
‘What was your question?’
‘I was wondering how long you’d lived in Pariha.’
‘Too long,’ said Tara. ‘Initially, I had gone on an assignment that Lord Bhrigu had given me. I had thought that it would be a short stay. He had assigned me to work on the daivi astras with the Vayuputras and said I could return only when he gave his permission. But after I heard of Brahaspati’s death, I saw no reason to return.’
‘Well, Brahaspati is not too far off now,’ said Gopal kindly. ‘Just a couple of weeks more on the Jam Sea and then we will be sailing east on the Western Sea to Lothal and to Brahaspati.’
Tara smiled happily.
‘Yes,’ said Shiva, playfully cracking a joke on the meaning of Jam. ‘But it’s all very confusing. The sea that “you come to”, will be the sea that “we go from” now! And then we have to travel east on the Western Sea! Only the Holy Lake knows where we’ll finally land up!’
Tara raised her eyebrows.
‘I know,’ said Shiva. ‘It’s a terrible joke. I guess the law of averages catches up with everyone.’
Tara burst out laughing. ‘It’s not your joke that astonished me. Though I agree, it really was a terrible joke.’
‘Thank you!’ laughed Shiva softly. ‘But what exactly were you surprised by?’
‘I’m assuming you think “Jam” means “to come to”.’
Shiva turned to Gopal with a raised eyebrow, for it was the Chief Vasudev who had told him the meaning.
‘Doesn’t “Jam” mean “to come to”?’ asked Gopal.
‘That is what everybody thinks,’ said Tara. ‘Except for the Parihans.’
‘What do they believe?’ asked Shiva.
‘Jam is the Lord of Dharma. So, this sea is actually the Sea of the Lord of Dharma.’
Shiva smiled. ‘But in India, the Lord of Dharma...’
‘...is Yam,’ said Tara, completing Shiva’s statement. ‘Also the Lord of Death.’
‘Is there a relationship between the two names: Yam and Jam? Was there a great leader or God called Jam in Pariha?’
‘I don’t know about any relationship between the names. But in ancient times there was a shepherd called Jam who, blessed by the Ahura Mazda, went on to become a great king, one of the earliest in this area. He spread prosperity and happiness throughout the land. When a great catastrophe was to strike, that would have destroyed the entire world, he is believed to have built an underground city which saved many of his people. The citizens of his realm later began to call him Jamshed.’
‘“Shed” means radiant. So Jamshed means the radiant Lord of Dharma.’
An Invitation for Peace
Sati, Bhagirath, Chandraketu, Maatali and Brahaspati had collected in the Lothal governor Chenardhwaj’s private office. They had just received a visitor from Devagiri with a message from Kanakhala. A message that had left them stunned.
‘Peace conference?’ asked Bhagirath. ‘What deception are they planning?’
‘Prince Bhagirath,’ rebuked the Lothal governor, Chenardhwaj. ‘This is Meluha. Laws are not broken here. And the laws of a peace conference are very clear; they were designed by Lord Ram himself. There is no question of there being any deception.’
‘But what about the attack on Panchavati?’ asked Maatali, the King of Vaishali. ‘They have clearly found the Narmada route to the Naga capital and have sent their ships on an attack mission even as they try to sidetrack us.’
‘How is that subterfuge, King Maatali?’ asked Chenardhwaj. ‘They are at war with us. They found a weak spot and decided to attack. That is how wars are conducted.’
‘I don’t have a problem with the Meluhans choosing to attack, Governor Chenardhwaj,’ said Chandraketu, the King of Branga. ‘What is worrying is that they chose to attack Panchavati and call a peace conference at the same time. That sounds fishy to me.’
‘I agree,’ said Bhagirath. ‘Maybe it is a ruse to draw us out of the city with the call for a peace conference and then attack us. Without the protective defences of the Lothal fort, we may well be beaten by the Meluhans.’
‘Prince Bhagirath,’ said Brahaspati, ‘we’ve also received word that the Meluhan army has still not marched out of Karachapa. If their plan was to trick us out of Lothal, why wouldn’t they mobilise their army at the same time?’
Chandraketu nodded. ‘That is confusing.’
‘Maybe there are divisions within Meluha,’ suggested Brahaspati. ‘Maybe some people want peace while others want war?’
‘We cannot trust this initiative blindly,’ said Sati. ‘But we cannot ignore it either. If there’s a possibility that the Somras can be stopped without any more killing, it is worth grabbing, right?’
‘But the message is for Lord Shiva,’ said Bhagirath. ‘Shouldn’t we await his return?’