The Rajput paced the room. After a while, he muttered, “How did you appear at this time?” There was sadness in his eyes. His broad shoulders were slumped. After some time, a thin, slightly hunched, intelligent-looking man arrived. He would have stood out as a Brahmin pandit even in a crowd. Vachaspati Gajanan Pandit was educated in Kashi and was currently the principal of the Patan school. He was a son-in-law of the royal physician, Leelo Nand, and was respected in the royal palace for his scholarship and trustworthiness. He called out on arriving, “Samarsen?”
“Samar is not here. It is I. I called you.”
The voice perplexed Vachaspati. His heart missed a beat; he was filled with fear.
“Who? Mandale – ”
“Softly, softly, pandit. Is this the place to shout?”
“But for you to be here? You are taking a risk.”
“Never mind the risk. I have a reason to be here.”
“What is that?”
“I want to meet Kakaji.”
“That is impossible. Minaldevi, Uday Ba or MunjalMehta are by his side night and day.”
“I cannot meet Kakaji, my own uncle?”
“But you are everybody else’s enemy.”
“Vachaspati, can’t you do even this much for me? Have you forgotten who is responsible for making you principal? Ah! What times are these that Bhimdev’s grandson has to beg you for a favour, which you refuse to grant.”
“As they say, time is powerful, not the individual.”
“To hell with your wisdom. Find out a way.”
“It is difficult to find a way. Gujarat is going through turbulent times. Only divine intervention – ”
“Divine intervention be ******,” the Rajput cut in testily. “Do what is necessary, you have to manage this.”
“My lord,” the pandit scratched his head, ‘will you do one thing?”
“Wear a turban like a bania and drape my shawl around you. This is very risky; you could lose your life. Come with me, I will conceal you and, if possible, will inform the royal physician.”
“Okay, agreed.” The Rajput began readjusting his turban.
“Bapu, if something happens, I will not be responsible.”
“Don’t worry, I am ready. But, Vachaspati, can I ask you something?”
“Please. My wisdom is at your disposal.”
“When does a dead person become a ghost?” the Rajput asked wistfully.
“My lord, the subject is complex and one that involves the scriptures. If the soul stays in limbo due to violation of the shraaddha rituals or intense unfulfilled desires, it may, on certain occasions, appear in the land of the living.”
“To either meet or warn a loved one.”
“Oh!” The Rajput smiled wanly. A shadow of sadness flickered over his countenance.
Vachaspati led the way. The Rajput followed. They latched the door shut behind them and slowly proceeded towards the room where Karnadev lay on his deathbed.
An uneasy calm pervaded the palace. The king’s poor health and the uncertain future of the kingdom seemed to affect everyone. The lamps burned low, the servants treaded softly, grimness and worry writ large on everyone’s faces.
Vachaspati took the Rajput upstairs through a dark room. They managed to reach, without any hurdle, the chamber next to the one where Karnadev lay. Suddenly, they heard a rattling sound. Vachaspati’s grip on the Rajput’s hand tightened. “We are dead.”
“Why?” the Rajput whispered.
“Minaldevi is coming. This way; go into that balcony. I will call you.”
“Arre – ”
“Just go, no arre-barre.”
Vachaspati pushed the Rajput through the half-open door of the balcony and shut it quickly. The Rajput heard footsteps drawing near and a steady, authoritative voice call out, “Who is it?”
“No one, Ba. It is only I.” He heard Vachaspati’s voice.
The Rajput grew restive; he began to pace the balcony. He mumbled to himself, “What do I do? I can’t seem to find a way.”
“Come, bhai, I will show you,” a voice came from the darkness. The Rajput was startled. His hand went to his sword.
“Who is that?” In the fading light of the moon, he saw someone approaching.
“Rajputraj, have you already forgotten me?” the new arrival asked sardonically.
“Who? The jati? The one we met on the road? How did you come here?”
“The same way you did. Perhaps we are fated to be friends.”
“But how did you manage to reach here?”
“Just as you found someone to hide you, so did I.”
The Rajput bit his lip.
“We shall leave closer acquaintance to the future, but you are right. It does appear that we will either be friends or sworn enemies.”
“Enmity seems to dominate this land at the moment.”
“Thanks to the Jains.”
“Or perhaps thanks to the Rajputs,” the jati retorted.
“We will find out when Karnadev is no more.”
“Let us not talk about that.”
“Then let us talk about friendship.” The Rajput stroked his moustache. “What is your name?”
“Anandsuri. And yours?”
“People,” the Rajput thought a while, “call me Devisingh.”
“I didn’t know the mandaleshwar was given to lying. That’s surprising.” The jati smiled slightly.
The Rajput was startled. His hand inadvertently reached for his sword.
“Who are you?”
“There’s no need to draw your sword, mandaleshwar. Any disturbance here would be to your disadvantage, not mine,” the jati said calmly.
The Rajput sighed as he realized his position and took his hand away from the sword.
“Anandsuri, who are you? Do you want to expose me?”
“No, my lord. I have no intention of harming you. But you seem to have incurred the wrath of the lord above.”
“Jati, I have incurred the wrath and the pleasure of the lord above so many times, I have lost count.”
“Mandaleshwar, even the arrogant King Ravana was humbled. Your time too, it appears, has come. I say this not as an enemy, but as a friend. Use well the days left with you.”
“I will use them to crush as many Jains as possible. They have taken my all, and I don’t mind losing what little is left.”
“But you will not be able to crush many.”
“Gurudev has decreed thus.”
“I have been chosen to destroy the enemies of Jainism.”
A shudder passed through the mandaleshwar. He stood there dumbfounded.
“Lord, for years you have harassed the poor servants of Lord Mahavir. So I cannot forgive you. But you are a brave man, an adornment of Gujarat.”
“Who cares about your forgiveness?” The mandaleshwar laughed derisively.
“So be it. Once the king dies, there will be considerable chaos. Some day if you need – ”
“I? And need?” the mandaleshwar said arrogantly.
“Lord, you are generous and brave. Had it not been for our religious differences, I would have been pleased to see you rise. Yet, in memory of today’s meeting, remember my promise. Some day in your times of need, remember this Anandsuri. He will help you.”
“Jati, the mandaleshwar does not and will not beg. If money is driving the audacity of the Jains, physical might makes us dizzyingly powerful.”
“As you wish. Be careful though.”
“The mandaleshwar is not afraid.”
“But you will fear death.”
“Jati, for me, death is but a game.”
“As you like. Chalo, I am leaving now. I came from that side of the balcony and I will proceed there.”
The jati moved away.
The mandaleshwar was lost in his thoughts. The ghost of the evening and the jati’s prophecy haunted him. Over the years, he had single-handedly carved out a small kingdom from what was only a fiefdom. He had earned a name for himself. But his fief, Dehasthali, could not contain him any more. Patan was the crowning glory of his universe. His ambition was to be the jewel in that crown. Those in power in Patan had constantly strived to weaken his position, an effort in which they were largely unsuccessful. And yet, in the current situation, he found himself confused.
Excerpted with permission from The Glory of Patan, KM Munshi, translated from the Gujarati by Rita and Abhijit Kothari, Penguin Random House India.