*** Special Feature - December 2016 ***
A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom.
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The stillness of the night was undisturbed, except for the sound of waves that came from a distance far enough from Gomantaka to be soothing rather than intrusive. It was the kind of night conducive to sound sleep. But Vikram’s eyes shot open even before the moon had begun its descent from the zenith. The vision he had seen in his dreams sat bitterly on his tongue and his body was slick with sweat. Relief washed over him when he realized it was only a dream, but there was still the lingering sense of unease.
He had seen vague images of vultures hover above the fortress of Anagha, tearing its flag to bits with their talons. He had seen the city burning. He had tried to run towards it, but the distance between him and the fortress only seemed to increase. He could not recall the details of the dream. He had not seen Abhaya in danger. On the other hand, he had not seen her at all. He closed his eyes again, but sleep evaded him. He shifted in the feather bed and that's when he felt someone beside him. Shyeni! He sat up in shock as the memory of the previous evening came to him in a flash. It was the seventh night he had spent with the Garudas on his quest for the Shakta group. The hospitality of the Garuda King Vainateya had left nothing to be desired.
The afternoon, The Garuda king had sent for him having heard from another young Garuda about a group of ascetics who had camped two Yojanas away from the shore to the south- east of Gomantaka. He had sought to leave immediately. But Shyeni, the sister of Lord Vainateya, had insisted he stay the night. One look in her eyes and Vikram could not refuse. He promised himself he would return to Gomantaka as soon as issues at Anagha were sorted out. He had not eaten much during the meal, but the wine had found its way into him, as she filled pitcher after pitcher. When he could take no more, she had helped him to his hut. Vikram could not remember anything beyond that and the sight of Shyeni lying in his bed, her clothes barely covering her frame, came as a shock.
By Mahakala! What came over me!
He sat up, pulling the rug over Shyeni. She sensed his movement and opened her eyes, the effect of wine still on her.
“Manikandhara!” Her lips curved into a lazy smile. She reached out to pull him back under the covers.
“Shyeni!” Vikram leaned over her, brushing the hair out of her face He didn't know what to say.
“You will leave by dawn, won’t you?” Shyeni asked, still languorous with sleep and lovemaking.
Vikram felt his throat go dry. He could not leave Shyeni; not after crossing the line. “I don't want to ever leave your side Shyeni. But I am on a mission.”
“Fine, leave if you have to.” Shyeni yawned and turned to her side. A baffled Vikram shook her awake.
“Do you even remember what we did, Eagle Princess?”
Shyeni sat up sensing his discomfort and smiled putting her arms around him. Vikram’s hands went around her, his heart at a loss to understand how he could protect her from the consequences of the night. “I want to ask you to stay for another night. But that would hold you back from finding those who endanger your sister. So I shall not. I shall remember you, Mani, forever.”
“Come with me!" Vikram said suddenly. “I shall go right now to Lord Vainateya to seek your hand. We shall leave together.”
“Wait!” Shyeni said, pulling him back. “Why would I come with you leaving my home?”
It was some time before Vikram fully comprehended what she was saying. He swallowed hard, hoping that it the wine that was making her speak in this manner. He said gently, “My home is yours too, Love. My father and sister will welcome you.”
Shyeni smiled again, running her fingers through his hair. “I would love to visit you, Manikandhara. Just that your city seems so far from my home...” She stopped as she saw his shoulders droop and his hands fall to his side. “Manikandhara...”
“Vikramasena. That is the name with which people at my home call me.”
“Well, that is new! What do you want me to call you?”
His eyes narrowed, his gaze no longer tender. “It does not look like it makes much difference.”
“Come on Mani, or Vikrama or whatever your name is. I love you. Nothing would delight me more than if you could stay here with us forever. But did you expect me to be one of those women who leave their homes to live with one man for the rest of their lives?” He turned away from her and got out of bed, adjusting his garments.
“Don’t you ignore me this way!” she screamed, jumping out of the bed in a resolve that startled him.
“Listen Manikandhara Vikramasena, my home is to me, as yours is to you. The social norms of your world don’t bind me. You came here seeking to protect your father and sister. I want to stay here, ensuring the wellbeing of my family. Do you still want to make it look like I am cheating you? No! I do love you... but I won't leave all that is dear to me behind to prove that. And if you truly loved me, you would not ask it of me!”
Vikram shook his head. But looking into Shyeni’s indignant eyes, he found nothing but sincerity.
His eyes softened. “I shall never ask you to do anything that pains you Shyeni. But will you be fine after I leave?”
Shyeni shrugged. “What makes you think that I shall not be fine, Vikrama, if I can call you that?”
The question made him smile. He knelt before her and held her hand. “Can I ask you something, Shyeni? Don’t refuse me this, I beg of you.”
“Arise, Vikrama! I understand this is hard for you. I shall not refuse you anything that is within my power.”
“If you discover that you are pregnant with my child, will you let me know? You know where to seek me out.” Shyeni nodded. She knew she had the right and the power to decide about any child that she might bear. But if the Divine Eagle Suparna willed, she thought to herself, destiny would fall in line and Vikram would return to Gomantaka. Vikram's relief showed on his face. He got to his feet and collected his sword and upper garment.
Shyeni approached him and held his arm. “I shall walk with you till the foot of the mountain, Vikrama.” Vikram agreed, hoping against hope that she might still change her mind. But when they reached the bottom of the mountain, she turned to head back. She turned back to give him one last smile and wave, and he felt a lightness in his heart, knowing he couldn’t expect more.
Duty and destiny. Strange are their ways indeed! If Shyeni’s duty towards her home and family came first, I have to respect her choice. But if we really love each other, may Mahakala unite us when one needs the other.
About the Author:
An IITian and investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa's interests include Indian history, literature and Philosophy. Also trained in Carnatic Music, she has won a gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. Currently based in London, she is working on her next novel based on a Rig Vedic Legend.
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