It was as if a fog had come upon him. For those few seconds, when Rama had unleashed the power of a god, everything was clear, obvious, simple. He knew what his purpose was, wondered in its complexity, was sure of his place in the world. Now that power was gone. That inspiration, brought about by desperation and dumb luck, was no longer his guiding light.
Now he summoned his powers through science. He called the gods with method, with practice. It was no fun anymore.
‘Fun? You are calling down the beings that watch over our mortal realm, and you’re asking for fun? Vishnu and Shiva, may the world never cease to amaze me. I’m not teaching you this so you can play with it, young rajkumar! This is not a game! Fun, he says. I wonder if you were better or worse when my dear old friend Vashista was teaching you. Why I gave up my lands and throne in favour of your ancestors, I’ll never know.’
Vishwamitra fumed silently in the distance. They had taken over a glade somewhere deep in the Southwoods, one of dozens that all looked the same, their only guide the Hermit who never let them put a foot wrong. He was not happy with their lack of progress over the last three days. Every failure was met with derision, every success with a sneer, their only motivation that they had already done everything they could, and succeeded to boot. Vishwamitra had given them no little power, conducting arcane rituals in languages that sounded alien even to Rama’s ears. Each day he felt his strength increase, saw his brother’s strides grow longer and quicker, and yet the Hermit’s temper would not abate. He had given them the physical strength, but any advice on mental strength was not forthcoming. He just told them to meditate on the gods, and chant the hymns he gave them. They started with Indra, and when the King of the Gods hadn’t come down, Vishwamitra kept giving them new hymns and new Devas, and silently seethed every time they failed. Today’s Deva was Death, and it seemed that despite their best efforts, Yama was not impressed by either of their entreaties.
‘For what it’s worth, I agree with you’, Lakshmana said, breaking him out of his reverie. There was a small smile on his face, the kind that he used to smile before the Announcement. Rama couldn’t help but think of it in those terms, an unconscious stress on the thing that had changed their lives so drastically. ‘That look on your face when you did it the first time was you having fun. So maybe you don’t get it the Hermit’s way. Whoever said there was only one way to summon Devas? I’m certainly not going to bother with this anymore. If it was going to work, it would have by now. We’re the best Ayodhya has, and if one method isn’t right, then we can always use another.’
‘And what other method would you suggest, Lakshmana?’ Rama said wearily.
‘I have absolutely no idea. As the one with the experience, I think you should be the one to experiment with how to summon gods. I am merely going to contemplate the nature of death. Who knows, maybe Yama will find it in his heart to pity me’ Lakshmana replied wryly.
Rama raised an eyebrow at that. Lakshmana had already told Vishwamitra and him of his vision, and though he believed his brother completely, the Hermit remained sceptical. Lakshmana would not be daunted in his pursuit, Rama knew, but he would now be much more circumspect about it that he would have been otherwise.
So, he settled down next to his brother, their feet crossed and their brows wrinkled, as they struggled with their hearts and souls to find it within themselves to command the wind and the fire and the oceans.
Rama went back to that day, his mind turning over that memory as it had done so many times before. He knew what had triggered his release. It had been a sort of arrogance, that nothing could be hidden from him. Guruji’s wisdom always had far reaching consequences. So perhaps, then, what would do would be to follow his Guruji’s teachings once more. He ran through every single piece of advice Guruji had ever given him.
‘Always remember that a scared warrior is a true warrior. Fear is a soldier’s best friend. The only soldiers without it are either did, or will be shortly. Fear keeps the pride in check, and pride is what kills all of us, in the end.’ Useful, perhaps, but he had learnt that in his battle with Tataki. But it had been fear of dying that had ignited his pride in the first place, which made everything more confusing.
‘A man’s motives are his own, even if that man is a woman. Men come to me, and say “Guruji, what goes on in a woman’s mind?” Women come to me to ask the same thing about men. The truth, Rama, is that all of us are as complicated as we want to be. And when you ask “Why did he do this, why did she say that?” you are asking the most difficult question of them all.’ Well, the Hermit had certainly proved that, with his wild mood swings. The man was more temperamental than the monsoons, and as unfathomable as the deep blue sea.
‘When in doubt, ask for help. Ask from whoever will give it to you, even if it seems ridiculous, because the worst that can happen is that they will say no.’ That was an interesting thought. Who would he ask for help? Who would give it to him? There were no men here to ask; his brother and he were equally clueless when it came to this, and Vishwamitra unwilling to give them any help whatsoever. Maybe Lakshmana did have the right idea, however far-fetched it sounded at first.
So ask the Devas, then. How hard can it be? Just ask, and hope that they listened. But ask whom? Indra, the king of them all? No, he was as temperamental as Vishwamitra. Vayu, the strong one? He was just as changeable as the rains, just as unreliable. Agni, the fierce one? He would burn you if you got too close. He needed to think in a different path, but what other path was there? Not Kubera, not Chandra, and certainly not Surya. A small voice in the back of his head told him his forefather had helped him once, under duress. He would not do so again. So who, then? Kartikeya, who leads the armies of the Devas? Almost, almost. But there was one who was better fitted to this, one who was tricky and mischievous and knew exactly what needed to be done and where. Not Kartikeya, but Vighneshwara, The Remover Of Obstacles, The Lord Of The Mouse, He Who Knows The Secret Places. Rama grinned. Yes, it all seemed so easy. Just ask Gajanana, He Who Has The Face Of An Elephant, for help. Just a small favour, that’s all. Only how to summon gods and make them do his bidding. Not very much, really. He knew what to do; now he just had to figure out how to do it.
Rama opened his eyes, and for a moment it seemed that they would pop out of his skull. There he was, in front of him, seated on a mouse far too small for one of his gait. Behind that trunk of his, he was smiling too, Rama was sure of it. It showed in the crinkling around the eyes, the playful swinging of his snout.
So, Rama, it seems you have need of help.
Rama continued to be dumbstruck, his mouth unable to make sounds of any sort.
Yes, don’t worry that you cannot follow the Hermit’s formulae, his dull scripture and rigid mathematics. Those are well and good, but you and your brother are cut from a different cloth. The same one that I come from, I suspect. And what am I here for, except to remove these petty obstacles from your path, just as you princes exist to remove the obstacles from the paths of your subjects?
Ganesha seemed to lean in, even as he stayed exactly where he was.
One piece of advice, Rama. The Seven are dangerous folk indeed. Be wary of them, as you should be wary of me. Nothing they do is without consequence, however much it seems insignificant. The curse the Priest cast an era ago affects the princes of Ayodhya today, and the actions of Vasishta and Vishwamitra today will reverberate for millennia to come.
Merely say my name before your every endeavour, rajkumar. We shall have fun, you and I, and never you mind the mutterings of Vishwamitra.
Rama came out of his trance, gasping for breath as if he had just run a thousand kilometres in a single second. In some ways, he had.
Lakshmana looked at him, his eyes clouded by worry and fear. His brow was slick with sweat, and the smile he offered was weaker than it had been scant half an hour before.
‘I don’t know about you, Rama, but Death scares the shit out of me.’