Vararuchi strode farther and farther into the vast expanse of time. His quest took him from one school of learning to another, as the changing seasons wove their magic around him. In the splendid hues of the rainbow and in various fragrances they lavished themselves in his path. The changing air was picturesque. Drying autumnal leaves swirled around him in hazy circles even as the woods darkened in the arid air. Now and then the eye was tricked by the sight of a dizzying mirage. With the rains came the rainbow, and fresh young buds sprung up everywhere to welcome the showers. And then it was spring, laden with blossoms on the waters. The autumn woods trembled and leaves dropped silently to earth, even as a summer sped through the scorching heat in search of a cool glade.

Unaffected by the changing colours and moods of nature, Vararuchi continued on his journey. Only his body showed some signs of the passing time; his determination and mind remained fixed. His education was boundless, encompassing every aspect of knowledge.

He unravelled the mysteries of stars, planets, and astral bodies at the legendary Aryabhatta’s school of astrology. His experiments at the revered Kanaadan’s centre of learning led to an understanding of the very nature of this earth. He studied Ayurveda at the feet of the pioneering masters Charaka and Susruta. Discourses and debates under the tutelage of Brihaspati and Vachaspati invigorated his intellect and appetite for knowledge.

In the arts, Mammadabhatta awakened him to a critical appreciation of literature and its principles. His instinct for language was sharpened by discourse and exchange at Kundakan’s. At the school of Chaarvakku, a world of physical sciences opened up new frontiers in Vararuchi’s thirst for knowledge.

Unending and laborious was his thirst to unravel the mystery of life, the secrets of joy and sorrow. His research went into every aspect of human understanding to discover the essence of life. It was a daunting task that required grit, concentration and enduring great tribulation. Throughout these seventeen years of immense struggle his mind was restless and insecure. Almost every day after a hard day’s work, his soul was disturbed by the helpless cry of the little girl.

However much he tried to forget he could not. From somewhere in the recesses of his memory, there echoed the cry, disquieting in its fervour, unsettling in its stillness. The helpless cry of a poor, newborn girl child.

Try as he might, the episode remained unforgotten, undiminished. Memory shone through attempts to conceal it, at justifications in the name of wisdom, duty or purpose. The passage of time would only heighten the ghastliness of the deed. In the hours after his study, as he sought a moment’s rest, the memory would come unbidden, disturbing his peace and equanimity. Poor, helpless child; his conscience was laden with guilt.

What meanness, trying to kill a poor child! Could a scholar, a man of wisdom, stoop to such a lowly act? But then, his intellect reasoned, one can’t sum it up all that simply. What if you realised the truth of my intentions? If you knew that the child held the seed of a foreboding – one that could shake the very foundations of faith, of customs and tradition? You cannot be so harsh if you could only foresee the upheavals to happen, were the prophecy to come true.

A Brahmin boy with a girl from a lowly caste? Unthinkable! Do I seem mean and self-centred? Is it unbecoming to think so? But am I not to look after my interests? And what right has another to hinder my ambitions?

But this was the voice of cultivated thought and cold reason. Confined to its quest, its morality was a bounded one. If this was all that mattered, what was the trepidation that he felt, as though of a clamouring at the walls? Into the stronghold of his convictions something had wormed its way in – unheeding, unbidden. It was indifferent to argument, reasoning, and loud assertions of right and wrong. Though it was unassuming, rather weak in stature, an all-too-human sentiment, remorse at the wrongdoing had pervaded deep within him. He couldn’t wish the innocent voices away; nor could he reason with them, for they passed unchallenged – the underdogs of justice. It was as though his defences were breached, not in combat but rather by a foregone conclusion.

In the stillness of his nights, the pleas grew loud and shrill, shattering his calm and tearing at his very being. Poor, helpless child.

“Vararuchi!” a voice reprimanded him. “There’s an ebbing in your penance, a slackening in your quest. Are you a weakling that you cry like this?”

Truth be told, beneath the resolute young man he now appeared to be, there was a struggling child, with a trembling heart. From childhood his mother had been an abiding influence on him. The memory of her love overcame him.

Excerpted with permission from What the Rains Foretold, N Mohanan, translated from the Malayalam by Manoj Neelakanthan, Thornbird.