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It was late in the night. The royal convoy had just set sail from the city of Sutgengarh on the Indus. The emotions at Sutgengarh had erupted in the now predictable routine of exuberance at the sight of the Neelkanth. The saviour of their civilisation had finally arrived.
Their saviour however was in his own private hell. Sati had maintained her distance from Shiva for the last few weeks. He was torn, experiencing pain and dismay at depths he didn't think fathomable.
The convoy's next stop was the famour city of Mohan Jo Daro or the platform of Mohan. The city, on the mighty Indus, was dedicated to a great philosopher-priest called Lord Mohan, who lived in this region many thousands of years ago. Once he had met with the people of Mohan Jo Daro, Shiva expressed a desire to visit the temple of Lord Mohan. This temple stood outside the main city platform, further down the Indus. The governor of Mohan Jo Daro had offered to take the Lord Neelkanth there in a grand procession. Shiva however insisted on going alone. He felt drawn to the temple. He felt that it would have some solutions for his troubled heart.
The temple itself was simple. Much like Lord Lohan himself. A small non-descript structure announced itself as the birthplace of the sage. The only sign of the temple's significance was the massive gates in the four cardinal directions of the compound. As instructed by Shiva, Nandi and Veerbhadra, along with their platoon, waited outside.
Shiva, with his comforting cravat back around his neck, walked up the steps feeling tranquil after a long time. He rang the bell at the entrance and sat down against a pillar with his eyes shut in quiet contemplation. Suddenly, an oddly familiar voice asked: 'How are you, my friend?'
--End of Excerpt from Blessings of the Impure, Chapter 13 *The Immortals of Meluha, Amish Tripathi* Excerpt from Pandit of Mohan Jo Daro, Chapter 14 begins--
Shiva opened his eyes to behold a man who was almost a replica of the pandit he had met at the Brahma temple, in what seemed like another life. He sported a similar long flowing white beard and a big white mane. He wore a saffron dhoti and angavastram. The wizened face bore a calm and welcoming smile. If it wasn't for this pandit's much taller frame, Shiva could have easily mistaken him for the one he had met at the Brahma temple.
'How are you, my friend?' repeated the pandit sitting down.
'I am alright, Panditji,' said Shiva, using the Indian term 'ji' as a form of respect. He couldn't follow why, but the intrusion was welcome to him. It almost seemed as though he was drawn to this temple because he was destined to meet the pandit. 'Do all pandits in Meluha look alike?'
The man smiled warmly. 'Not all the pandits. Just us.'
'And who might "us" be, Panditji?'
'The next time you meet one of us, we will tell you,' said the Pandit cryptically. 'That is a promise.'
'Why not now?'
'At this point of time, our identity is not important,' smiled the Pandit. 'What is important is that you are disturbed about something. Do you want to talk about it?'
Shiva took a deep breath. Gut instinct told him that he could trust this man.
'There is this task that I supposedly have to do for Meluha.'
'I know. Though I woudln't dismiss the Neelkanth's role as a "task". He does much more than that.' Pointing at Shiva's throat, the Pandit continued, 'Pieces of cotton cannot cover divine brilliance.'
Shiva looked up with a wry smile. 'Well, Meluha does seem like a wonderful society. And I want to do all I can to protect it from evil.'
'Then what is the problem?'
'The problem is that I find some grossly unfair practices in this nearly perfect society. And this is inconsistent with the ideals that Meluha aspires to.'
'What practices are you referring to?' asked the Pandit.
'For example, the way the vikarma are treated.'
'Why is it unfair?'
'How can anyone be sure that these people committed sins in their previous birth? And that their present sufferings are a result of that? It might be sheer bad luck. Or a random act of nature.'
'You're right. It could be. But do you think that the fate of the Vikarma is about them personally?'
'No it isn't,' explained the Pandit. 'It is about the society as a whole. The vikarma acceptance of their fate is integral to the stability of Meluha.'
'What any successful society needs, O Neelkanth, is flexibility with stability, Why would you need flexibility? Because every single person has different dreams and capabilities. The birth son of a warrior could have the talent to be a great businessman. Then society needs to be flexible enough to allow this son to change his vocation from his father's profession. Flexibility in a society allows change, so that all its members have the space to discover their true selves and grow to their potential. And if every person in a society achieves his true potential, society as a whole also achieves its true potential.'
But what does this have to do with the vikarma?
'I'll come to the obvious question in a bit. Just bear with me,' said the Pandit. 'If we believe that flexibility is key to a successful society, the Maika system is designed to achieve it in practise. No child knows what the professions of his birth-parents are. They are independent to pursue what their natural talent inspires them to do.'
'I agree. The Maika system is almost breathtakingly fair. A person can credit or blame only himself for what he does with his life. Nobody else. But this is about flexibility. What about stability?'
'Stability allows a person the freedom of choice, my friend. People can pursue their dreams only when they are living in a society where survival is not a daily threat. In a society without security and stability, there are no intellectuals or businessmen or artists or geniuses. Man is constantly in fight or flight mode. Nothing better than an animal. Where is the chance then to allow ideas to be nurtured or dreams to be pursued? That is the way all humans were before we formed societies. Civilisation is very fragile. All it takes is a few decades of chaos for us to forget humanity and turn into animals. Our base natures can take over very fast. We can forget that we are sentient beings, with laws and codes and ethics.'
'I understand. The tribes in my homeland were no better than animals. They didn't even want to live a better life!'
'They didn't know a better life was possible, Neelkanth. That is the curse of constant strife. It makes us forget the most beautiful part of being human. That is why society must remain stable so that we don't put each other in a situation of having to fight for survival.'
'All right. But why would letting people achieve their potential cause instability? In fact, it should make people happier with their lives and hence society would become increasingly steady.'
'True, but only partially. People are happy when they change their lives for the better. But there are two situations in which change can lead to chaos. First, when people face a change by others, situations that they cannot understand. This scares them almost as much as the fear of death. When change happens too fast, they resist it.'
'Yes, change forced by others is difficult to accept.'
'And too rapid a change causes instability. That is the bedrock of Lord Ram's way of life. There are laws which help a society change slowly and allow it to remain stable. At the same time, it allows its citizens the freedom to follow their dreams. He created an ideal balance of stability and flexibility.'
'You mentioned a second situation...'
'The second is when people cannot make the transition they want to improve their lives for reasons beyond their control. Say there is an exceptional warrior who loses his hand-eye coordination due to a disease. He is still a fighter, but not extraordinary any more. The odds are that he will be frustrated about what he perceives as injustice meted out to him. He is likely to blame his doctor, or even society at large. Many such disoriented people can become a threat to society as a whole?'
Shiva frowned. He didn't like the logic. But he also knew that one of the main reasons the Pakratis had rejected the peace offer by his uncle years ago was because their diseased and old chief was desperate to live up to his initial reputation of being an exceptional warrior who could have defeated the Gunas.
'Their combined rage can lead to unrest, even violence,' said the Pandit. 'Lord Ram sensed that. And that is why the concept of Vikarma came into being. If you make a person believe that his misfortune in this birth is due to his sins in his previous birth, he will resign himself to his fate and not vent his fury on society at large.'
'But I disagree that ostracising the vikarma can work. It would lead to more suppressed anger.'
'But they are not ostracised. Their living is subsidised by the government. They can still interact with family members. They are allowed to gain personal excellence in their chosen fields, wherever possible. They can also fight to protect themselves. What they can't do is ever be in a position to influence others. And this system has worked for one thousand years. Do you know how common rebellion was in India before Lord Ram created this empire? And most of the times, the rebellions were not led by farsighted men who thought they would create a better way of life for the common man. They were led by men disccontented with their lot in life. People very much like the vikarma. And these rebellions usually caused chaos and decades went by before order was restored.'
'So are you saying that anyone who is frustrated with life should simply resign himself to being a vikarma,' said Shiva. 'Why?'
'For the larger good of society.'
Shiva was aghast. He could not believe what he was hearing. He deeply disliked the arguments being presented to him. 'I am sorry, but I think this system is completely unfair. I have heard that almost one twentieth of the people in Meluha are vikarma. Are you going to keep so many people as outcast forever? This system needs to change.'
'You can change it. You are the Neelkanth. But remember, no system is absolutely perfect. In Lord Ram's time, a lady called Manthara triggered a series of events which led to the loss of millions of lives. She had suffered terribly due to her physical deformities. And then, fate put her in a position of influence over a powerful queen and thus over the entire kingdom. Therefore, the karma of one maladjusted victim of fate led to the mass destruction that followed. Would it not have been better for everybody if this person had been declared a vikarma? There are no easy answers. Having said that, maybe you are right. Maybe there are so many vikarma now that it can lead to a tipping point, tumble society into chaos. Do I have the solution to this problem? No. Maybe you could find it.'
Shiva turned his face away. He believed in his heart that the vikarma system was unfair.
'Are you concerned about all the vikarma, O Neelkanth?' asked the Pandit. 'Or just one in particular?'
--excerpt continues after a diverging text-break--
'Yes, there is this particular vikarma,' admitted Shiva. 'But that is not why I think the vikarma law is unfair.'
'I know that,' said the Pandit. 'But I also know that what troubles you right now is your relationship with that one in particular. You don't want her to think that you would change the law, however justified, just to get her. Because if Sati believes that, she will never come to you.'
'How do you know her name?' asked Shiva, flabbergasted.
'We know many things, my friend.'
'My entire life is meaningless without her.'
'I know,' smiled the Pandit. 'Perhaps I can help you.'
Shiva frowned. This was unexpected.
'You want her to reciprocate your love. But how can she when you don't even understand her?'
'I think I understand her. I love her.'
'Yes, you do love her. But you don't understand her. You don't know what she wants.'
Shiva kept quiet. He knew the Pandit was right. He was thoroughly confused about Sati.
'You can hazard a guess towards what she wants,' continued the Pandit, 'with the help of the theory of transactions.'
'What?' asked a flummoxed Shiva.
'It makes up the fabric of society.'
'Excuse me, but what does this have to do with Sati?'
'Indulge me for a little while, Neelkanth,' said the Pandit. 'You know the cloth that you wear is created when cotton threads are woven together, right?'
'Yes,' answered Shiva.
'Similarly, transactions are threads that when woven together make up a society, its culture. Or in the case of a person, weaves together their character.'
'If you want to know the strength of a cloth, you inspect the quality of its weave. If you want to understand a person's character, look closely at their interpersonal behaviour or their transactions.'
'Alright,' said Shiva slowly, absorbing the Pandit's words. 'But transactions are...'
'I'll explain,' interrupted the Pandit. 'Transactions are interactions between two individuals. It could be trading goods, like a Shudra farmer offering grain for money from a Vaishya. But it could also be beyond material concerns, like a Kshatriya offering preotection to a society in return for power.'
Shiva nodded in agreement. 'Transactions are about give and take.'
'Exactly. So going by this logic, if you want something from someone, you have to give that person something they want.'
'So what do you think she wants?' asked Shiva.
'Try and understand Sati's transactions. What do you think she wants?'
'I don't know. She is very confusing.'
'No, she isn't. There is a pattern. Think. She is probably the most eminent vikarma in history. She has the power to rebel if she wants to. She certainly has the spirit since she never backs off from a fight. But she does not rebel against the vikarma law. Neither does she fadde into the background like most vikarma and live her life in anonymity. She follows the commandments, and yet, she does not whine and complain to others. However unfairly life treats her, she conducts herself with dignity. Why?'
'Because she is a righteous person?'
'That she is, no doubt. But that is not the reason. Remember, in a transaction, you give something because you want something in return. She is accepting an unfair law without trying to make anyone feel guilty about it. And most importantly, she continues to use her talents to contribute to the good of society whenever she can. What do you think a person who is giving all this in her transactions with society wants in return?'
'Respect,' answered Shiva.
'Exactly!' beamed the Pandit. 'And what do you think you do when you try to protect such a person?'
'Absolutely! I know it comes naturally to you to want to protect any good person who appears in need. But control that feeling in relation to Sati. Respect her. And she will feel irresistibly drawn towards you. She gets many things from the people who love her. What she doesn't get is what she craves the most --- respect.'
Shiva looked at the Pandit with a grateful smile. He had found his answer.
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