Om Namah Shivāya

The universe bows to Lord Shiva. I bow to Lord Shiva.

1900 BC, Mansarovar Lake (At the foot of Mount Kailash, Tibet)

Shiva gazed at the orange sky. The clouds hovering above Mansarovar had

just parted to reveal the setting sun. The brilliant giver of life was calling it

a day once again. Shiva had seen just a few sunrises in his twenty-one

years. But the sunset! He tried never to miss the sunset! On any other day,

Shiva would have taken in the vista — the sun and the immense lake

against the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas stretching as far back as

the eye could see. But not today.

He squatted and perched his lithe, muscular body on the narrow ledge

extending over the lake. The numerous battle-scars on his skin gleamed in

the shimmering reflected light of the waters. Shiva remembered well his

carefree childhood days. He had perfected the art of throwing pebbles that

bounced off the surface of the lake. He still held the record in his tribe for

the highest number of bounces: seventeen.

On a normal day, Shiva would have smiled at the memory from a cheerful

past that had been overwhelmed by the angst of the present. But today, he

turned back towards his village without any hint of joy.

Bhadra was alert, guarding the main entrance. Shiva gestured with his

eyes. Bhadra turned back to find his two back-up soldiers dozing against the

fence. He cursed and kicked them hard.

Shiva turned back towards the lake.

God bless Bhadra! At least he takes some responsibility.

Shiva brought the chillum made of yak-bone to his lips and took in a deep

drag. Any other day, the marijuana would have spread its munificence,

dulling his troubled mind and letting him find some moments of solace. But

not today.

He looked to his left, towards the edge of the lake where the soldiers of

the strange foreign visitor were kept under guard. With the lake behind them and twenty of Shivas own soldiers guarding them, it was impossible

for them to mount any surprise attack.

They let themselves be disarmed so easily. They aren like the blood-

thirsty idiots in our land who are looking for any excuse to fight.

The foreigners words came flooding back to Shiva. Come to our land. It

lies beyond the great mountains. Others call it Meluha. I call it Heaven. It is

the richest and most powerful empire in India. Indeed the richest and most

powerful in the whole world. Our government has an offer for immigrants.

You will be given fertile land and resources for farming. Today, your tribe,

the Gunas, fight for survival in this rough, arid land. Meluha offers you a

lifestyle beyond your wildest dreams. We ask for nothing in return. Just live

in peace, pay your taxes and follow the laws of the land.

Shiva mused that he would certainly not be a chief in this new land.

Would I really miss that so much?

His tribe would have to live by the laws of the foreigners. They would

have to work every day for a living.

Thats better than fighting every day just to stay alive!

Shiva took another puff from his chillum. As the smoke cleared, he turned

to stare at the hut in the centre of his village, right next to his own, where

the foreigner had been stationed. He had been told that he could sleep there

in comfort. In fact, Shiva wanted to keep him hostage. Just in case.

We fight almost every month with the Pakratis just so that our village can

xist next to the holy lake. They are getting stronger every year, forming

new alliances with new tribes. We can beat the Pakratis, but not all the

mountain tribes together! By moving to Meluha, we can escape this

pointless violence and may be live a life of comfort. What could possibly be

wrong with that? Why shouldn we take this deal? It sounds so damn good!

Shiva took one last drag from the chillum before banging it on the rock,

letting the ash slip out and rising quickly from his perch. Brushing a few

specks of ash from his bare chest, he wiped his hands on his tiger skin skirt,

rapidly striding towards his village. Bhadra and his back-up stood to

attention as Shiva passed the gate. Shiva frowned and gestured for Bhadra

to ease up.

Why does he keep forgetting that he has been my closest friend since

childhood? My becoming the chief hasn really changed anything. He

doesn need to be unnecessarily servile in front of others. The huts in Shivas village were luxurious compared to others in their

land. A grown man could actually stand upright in them. The shelter could

withstand the harsh mountain winds for nearly three years before

surrendering to the elements. He flung the empty chillum into his hut as he

strode to the hut where the visitor lay sleeping soundly.

Either he doesn realise he is a hostage. Or he genuinely believes that

good behaviour begets good behaviour.

Shiva remembered what his uncle, also his Guru, used to say. People do

what their society rewards them for doing. If the society rewards trust,

people will be trusting.

Meluha must be a trusting society if it teaches even its soldiers to expect

the best in strangers.

Shiva scratched his shaggy beard as he stared hard at the visitor.

He had said his name was Nandi.

The Meluhans massive proportions appeared even more enormous as he

sprawled on the floor in his stupor, his immense belly jiggling with every

breath. Despite being obese, his skin was taut and toned. His child-like face

looked even more innocent as he slept with his mouth half open.

Is this the man who will lead me to my destiny? Do I really have the

destiny my uncle spoke of?

Your destiny is much larger than these massive mountains. But to make it

come true, you will have to cross these very same massive mountains.

Do I deserve a good destiny? My people come first. Will they be happy in


Shiva continued to stare at the sleeping Nandi. Then he heard the sound of

a conch shell.


POSITIONS! screamed Shiva, as he drew his sword.

Nandi was up in an instant, drawing a hidden sword from his fur coat that

was kept to the side. They sprinted to the village gates. Following standard

protocol, the women started rushing to the village centre, carrying their

children along. The men ran the other way, swords drawn.

Bhadra! Our soldiers at the lake! shouted Shiva as he reached the


Bhadra relayed the orders and the Guna soldiers obeyed instantly. They

were surprised to see the Meluhans draw weapons hidden in their coats and

rush to the village. The Pakratis were upon them within moments.

It was a well-planned ambush by the Pakratis. Dusk was usually a time

when the Guna soldiers took time to thank their gods for a day without

battle. The women did their chores by the lakeside. If there was a time of

weakness for the formidable Gunas, a time when they weren a fearsome

martial clan, but just another mountain tribe trying to survive in a tough,

hostile land, this was it.

But fate was against the Pakratis yet again. Thanks to the foreign

presence, Shiva had ordered the Gunas to remain alert. Thus they were

forewarned and the Pakratis lost the element of surprise. The presence of

the Meluhans was also decisive, turning the tide of the short, brutal battle in

favour of the Gunas. The Pakratis had to retreat.

Bloodied and scarred, Shiva surveyed the damage at the end of the battle.

Two Guna soldiers had succumbed to their injuries. They would be

honoured as clan heroes. But even worse, the warning had come too late for

at least ten Guna women and children. Their mutilated bodies were found

next to the lake. The losses were high.

Bastards! They kill women and children when they can beat us!

A livid Shiva called the entire tribe to the centre of the village. His mind

was made.

This land is fit for barbarians! We have fought pointless battles with no

end in sight. You know that my uncle tried to make peace, even offering

access to the lake shore to the mountain tribes. But these scum mistook our

desire for peace as weakness. We all know what followed!

The Gunas, despite being used to the brutality of regular battle, were shell-

shocked by the viciousness of the attack on the women and children.

I keep no secrets from you. All of you are aware of the invitation of the

foreigners, continued Shiva, pointing to Nandi and the Meluhans. They

fought shoulder-to-shoulder with us today. They have earned my trust. I

want to go with them to Meluha. But this cannot be my decision alone.

You are our chief, Shiva, said Bhadra. Your decision is our decision.

That is the tradition.

Not this time, said Shiva holding out his hand. This will change our

lives completely. I believe the change will be for the better. Anything will

be better than the pointlessness of the violence we face daily. I have told

you what I want to do. But the choice to go or not is yours. Let the Gunas

speak. This time, I follow you.

The Gunas were clear about their tradition. This respect for the chief was

not just based on convention, but also on Shivas character. He had led the

Gunas to their greatest military victories through his genius and sheer

personal bravery.

They spoke in one voice. Your decision is our decision.

It had been five days since Shiva had uprooted his tribe. The caravan had

camped in a nook at the base of one of the great valleys dotting the route to

Meluha. Shiva had organized the camp in three concentric circles. The yaks

had been tied around the outermost circle, to act as an alarm in case of any

intrusion. The men formed an intermediate ring of defenders to repulse any

attack. And the women and children were in the innermost circle, just

around the fire. The expendables first, defenders second and the most

vulnerable in the inside.

Shiva was prepared for the worst. He believed that there would be an

ambush. It was only a matter of time.

The Pakratis should have been delighted to have access to the prime lands,

as well as free occupation of the lake front. But Shiva knew that Yakhya,

the Pakrati chief, would not allow them to leave peacefully. Yakhya would

like nothing better than to become a legend by claiming that he had

defeated Shivas Gunas and won the land for the Pakratis. It was precisely

this weird tribal logic that Shiva detested. In an atmosphere like this, there

was never any hope for peace.

Shiva relished the call of battle, revelled in its art. But he also knew that

ultimately, the battles in his land were an exercise in futility.

He turned to an alert Nandi sitting some distance away. The twenty-five

Meluhan soldiers were seated in an arc around a second camp circle.

Why did he pick the Gunas for his invitation to immigrate? Why not the


Shivas thoughts were broken as he saw a shadow move in the distance.

He stared hard, but everything was still. Sometimes the light played tricks

in this part of the world. Shiva relaxed his stance.

And then he saw the shadow again.

TO ARMS! screamed Shiva.

The Gunas and Meluhans drew their weapons and took up battle positions

as fifty Pakratis charged in. The stupidity of rushing in without any thought

struck them hard as they encountered a wall of panicky animals. The yaks bucked and kicked uncontrollably, injuring many Pakratis before they could

even begin their skirmish. A few slipped through. And weapons clashed.

A young Pakrati, obviously a novice, charged at Shiva, swinging wildly.

Shiva stepped back, avoiding the strike. He brought his sword back up in a

smooth arc, inflicting a superficial cut on the Pakratis chest. The young

warrior cursed and swung back, opening his flank. That was all that Shiva

needed. He pushed his sword in brutally, cutting through the gut of his

enemy. Almost instantly, he pulled the blade out, twisting it as he did, and

left the Pakrati to a slow, painful death. Shiva turned around to find a

Pakrati ready to strike at Guna. He jumped high and swung from the

elevation slicing neatly through the Pakratis sword arm, severing it.

Meanwhile Bhadra, as adept at the art of battle as Shiva, was fighting two

Pakratis simultaneously, with a sword in each hand. His hump did not seem

to impede his movements as he transferred his weight easily, striking the

Pakrati on his left side at his throat. Leaving him to die slowly, he swung

with his right hand, cutting across the face of the other soldier, gouging his

eye out. As the soldier fell, Bhadra brought his left sword down brutally,

ending the suffering quickly for this hapless enemy.

The battle at the Meluhan end of the camp was very different. They were

exceptionally well-trained soldiers. But they were not vicious. They were

following rules, avoiding killing, as far as possible.

Outnumbered and led poorly, it was but a short while before the Pakratis

were beaten. Almost half of them lay dead and the rest were on their knees,

begging for mercy. One of them was Yakhya, his shoulder cut deep by

Nandi, debilitating the movement of his sword arm.

Bhadra stood behind the Pakrati chief, his sword raised high, ready to

strike. Shiva, quick and easy or slow and painful?

Sir! intervened Nandi, before Shiva could speak.

Shiva turned towards the Meluhan.

This is wrong! They are begging for mercy! Killing them is against the

rules of war.

You don know the Pakratis! said Shiva. They are brutal. They will

keep attacking us even if there is nothing to gain. This has to end. Once and

for all.

It is already ending. You are not going to live here anymore. You will

soon be in Meluha.

Shiva stood silent. Nandi continued, How you want to end this is up to you. More of the

same or different?

Bhadra looked at Shiva. Waiting.

You can show the Pakratis that you are better, said Nandi.

Shiva turned towards the horizon, seeing the massive mountains.

Destiny? Chance of a better life?

He turned back to Bhadra. Disarm them. Take all their provisions.

Release them.

Even if the Pakratis are mad enough to go back to their village, rearm and

come back, we would be long gone.

A shocked Bhadra stared at Shiva. But immediately started implementing

the order.

Nandi gazed at Shiva with hope. There was but one thought that

reverberated through his mind. Shiva has the heart. He has the potential.

Please, let it be him. I pray to you Lord Ram, let it be him.

Shiva walked back to the young soldier he had stabbed. He lay writhing

on the ground, face contorted in pain, even as blood oozed slowly out of his

guts. For the first time in his life, Shiva felt pity for a Pakrati. He drew out

his sword and ended the young soldiers suffering.

After marching continuously for four weeks, the caravan of invited

immigrants crested the final mountain to reach the outskirts of Srinagar, the

capital of the valley of Kashmir. Nandi had talked excitedly about the

glories of his perfect land. Shiva had prepared himself to see some

incredible sights, which he could not have imagined in his simple

homeland. But nothing could have primed him for the sheer spectacle of

what certainly was paradise. Meluha. The land of pure life!

The mighty Jhelum river, a roaring tigress in the mountains, slowed down

to the rhythm of a languorous cow as she entered the valley. She caressed

the heavenly land of Kashmir, meandering her way into the immense Dal

Lake. Further down, she broke away from the lake, continuing her journey

towards the sea.

The vast valley was covered by a lush green canvas of grass. On it was

painted the masterpiece that was Kashmir. Rows upon rows of flowers

arrayed all of Gods colours, their brilliance broken only by the soaring

Chinar trees, offering a majestic, yet warm Kashmiri welcome. Themelodious singing of the birds calmed the exhausted ears of Shivas tribe,

accustomed only to the rude howling of icy mountain winds.

If this is the border province, how perfect must the rest of the country

be? whispered Shiva in awe.

The Dal Lake was the site of an ancient army camp of the Meluhans.

Upon the western banks of the lake, by the side of the Jhelum lay the

frontier town that had grown beyond its simple encampments into the grand

Srinagar. Literally, the
espected city.

Srinagar had been raised upon a massive platform of almost a hundred

hectares in size. The platform built of earth, towered almost five metres

high. On top of the platform were the city walls, which were another twenty

metres high and four metres thick. The simplicity and brilliance of building

an entire city on a platform astounded the Gunas. It was a strong protection

against enemies who would have to fight their way up a fort wall which was

essentially solid ground. The platform served another vital purpose: it raised

the ground level of the city, an extremely effective strategy against the

recurrent floods in this land. Inside the fort walls, the city was divided into

blocks by roads laid out in a neat grid pattern. It had specially constructed

market areas, temples, gardens, meeting halls and everything else that

would be required for sophisticated urban living. All the houses looked like

simple multiple-storeyed block structures from the outside. The only way to

differentiate a rich mans house from that of a poor mans, was that his

block would be bigger.

In contrast to the extravagant natural landscape of Kashmir, the city of

Srinagar itself was painted only in restrained greys, blues and whites. The

entire city was a picture of cleanliness, order and sobriety. Nearly twenty

thousand souls called Srinagar their home. Now an additional two hundred

had just arrived from Mount Kailash. And their leader felt a lightness of

being he hadn experienced since that terrible day, many years ago.

I have escaped. I can make a new beginning. I can forget.

The caravan travelled to the immigrant camp outside Srinagar. The camp

had been built on a separate platform on the southern side of the city. Nandi

led Shiva and his tribe to the Foreigners Office, which was placed just

outside the camp. Nandi requested Shiva to wait outside as he went into the

office. He soon returned, accompanied by a young official. The official

gave a practised smile and folded his hands in a formal Namaste. Welcome to Meluha. I am Chitraangadh. I will be your Orientation Executive. Think

of me as your single point of contact for all issues whilst you are here. I

believe your leaders name is Shiva. Will he step up please?

Shiva took a step forward. I am Shiva.

Excellent, said Chitraangadh. Would you be so kind as to follow me to

the registration desk please? You will be registered as the caretaker of your

tribe. Any communication that concerns them will go through you. Since

you are the designated leader, the implementation of all directives within

your tribe would be your responsibility.

Nandi cut into Chitraangadhs officious speech to tell Shiva, Sir, if you

will just excuse me, I will go to the immigrant camp quarters and arrange

the temporary living arrangements for your tribe.

Shiva noticed that Chitraangadhs ever-beaming face had lost its smile for

a fraction of a second as Nandi interrupted his flow. But he recovered

quickly and the smile returned to his face once again. Shiva turned and

looked at Nandi.

Of course, you may. You don need to take my permission, Nandi, said

Shiva. But in return, you have to promise me something, my friend.

Of course, Sir, replied Nandi bowing slightly.

Call me Shiva. Not Sir, grinned Shiva. I am your friend. Not your


A surprised Nandi looked

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