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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Excerpt: Raavan; Enemy of Aryavarta by Amish

An exclusive excerpt from the third book in Amish Tripathi’s Ram Chandra series ahead of its release on July 1

books Updated: Jun 29, 2019 08:50 IST
Amish
Amish
Hindustan Times
Actor Mukesh Rishi as Raavan at the Luv Kush Ramlila at Red Fort in Delhi on September 25, 2017.
Actor Mukesh Rishi as Raavan at the Luv Kush Ramlila at Red Fort in Delhi on September 25, 2017.(Manoj Verma/Hindustan Times)
         
374pp, Rs 399; Westland
374pp, Rs 399; Westland

For a four-year-old, Raavan was quite sure and steady in his movements.

The precocious child was Rishi Vishrava’s son. The celebrated rishi had married late, when he was over seventy years of age. Though you couldn’t tell by looking at him: the magical anti-ageing Somras he drank regularly kept him looking youthful. In his long career spanning many decades, Rishi Vishrava had made a name for himself as a great scientist and spiritual guru. In fact, he was considered to be among the greatest intellectuals of his generation.

Being the son of such a distinguished rishi, the weight of expectations rested heavily on Raavan’s young shoulders. But it appeared he would not disappoint. Even at this early age, he had a fearsome intellect. It seemed to all who met him that the child would someday surpass even the vast achievements of his illustrious father.

But the universe has a way of balancing things. With the positive comes the negative.

As the sun set on the far horizon, Raavan patiently tied the fragile legs of the hare he had trapped to two small wooden stumps sticking up from the ground. The creature struggled frantically as the boy pinned it down with his knee and pulled the ropes taut. It lay there with its limbs splayed, underside and chest exposed to the sky. The little boy was satisfied. He could begin work now.

A Liebig collectors’ card from 1931 depicting the kidnapping of Sita.
A Liebig collectors’ card from 1931 depicting the kidnapping of Sita. ( Getty Images )

Raavan had dissected another hare the previous day. Studied its muscles, ligaments and bones in detail, while it was still breathing. He had been keen to reach the beating heart. But the hare, having suffered enough already, died before he could cut through the sternal ribs. Its heart had stopped by the time Raavan got to it.

Today, he intended to go straight for the animal’s heart.

The hare was still struggling, its long ears twitching ferociously. Normally, hares are quiet animals, but this one was clearly in a state of panic. For good reason.

Raavan checked the sharpness of his knife with the tip of his forefinger. It drew some blood. He sucked at his forefinger as he looked at the hare. He smiled.

The excitement he felt, the rapid beating of his heart, took away the dull ache in his navel. An ache that was perennial.

He used his left hand to steady his prey. Then he held the knife over the animal, the tip pointed at its chest.

Just as he was about to make the incision, he sensed a presence near him. He looked up.

The Kanyakumari.

In many parts of India, there was a tradition of venerating the Kanyakumari, literally the Virgin Goddess. It was believed that the Mother Goddess resided, temporarily, within the bodies of certain chosen young girls. These girls were worshipped as living Goddesses. People came to them for advice and prophecies—they counted even kings and queens among their followers—until they reached puberty, at which time, it was believed, the Goddess moved into the body of another pre-pubescent girl.

There were many Kanyakumari temples in India. This particular Kanyakumari who stood in front of Raavan was from Vaidyanath, in eastern India.

She was on her way back to Vaidyanath after a pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave in Kashmir, and had stopped at Rishi Vishrava’s ashram. The holy cave, buried under snow for most of the year, housed a great lingam made of ice. It was believed that this cave was where the first Mahadev had unveiled the secrets of life and creation.

The Kanyakumari’s entourage had returned from the pilgrimage with their souls energised but their bodies exhausted. The Goddess had decided to stay for a few weeks in Rishi Vishrava’s ashram by the river Yamuna, before continuing on her journey to Vaidyanath.

Amish Tripathi
Amish Tripathi ( Courtesy the author )

The rishi had welcomed her visit as a blessed opportunity to speak to the Goddess and expand his understanding of the spiritual world. Despite his best efforts, however, the Kanyakumari had kept to herself and spent little time with him or the many inhabitants of his ashram.

But that had only added to the natural magnetism and aura of the living Goddess. Even Raavan, usually preoccupied in his own world, had stared at her every chance he got, fascinated.

He looked up at her now, transfixed, knife poised in midair.

The Kanyakumari stood in front of him, her expression tranquil. There was no trace of the anger or disgust that Raavan was used to seeing whenever anyone from the ashram caught him at his ‘scientific’ experiments. Nor was there any sign of sorrow or pity in her eyes. There was nothing. No expression at all.

Read more: Amish on the complexity of the central character of his new book Raavan; Enemy of Aryavarta

She just stood there, as if she were an idol made of stone—distant yet awe-inspiring. A girl no older than eight or nine. Wheat-complexioned, with high cheekbones and a small, sharp nose. Long black hair tied in a braid. Black eyes, wide-set, with almost creaseless eyelids. Dressed in a red dhoti, blouse and angvastram. She had the look of the mountain people from the Himalayas.

Raavan instinctively checked the cummerbund tied around his waist, on top of his dhoti. It was in place, covering his navel. His secret was safe. Then he remembered the hideous pockmarks on his face, the legacy of the pox he had suffered as a baby. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he felt self-conscious about his appearance.

He shook his head to get the thought out of his mind.