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Nov 08, 2012 at 02:26pm IST

Excerpt: Lord of Mathura by Ashok Banker

A gopa against a king, a nephew against his uncle – the Slayer of Kamsa returns to Mathura to fulfil the prophecy in the fourth book of the Krishna Coriolis Series.

As Krishna grows into manhood, Kamsa grows ever more desperate to kill his nemesis. With Jarasandha’s aid, the rakshasa king launches a relentless campaign of demonic assaults against Krishna and his fellow Vrishnis. Young gopi Radha realizes that Krishna cannot possibly return her love when the fate of all humankind is in his hands.

Using wily machinations, Kamsa forces his nephew to return to the city of this birth and the stage is set for the showdown between the boy-god and the Lord of Mathura.

Excerpt: Lord of Mathura by Ashok Banker

Lord of Mathura is the fourth book of the Krishna Coriolis Series.

The song of the flute filled the hamlet of Vrindavan.

Its sweet, mournful melody carried to the remotest eaves and highest treetops and no creature that heard it failed to be moved.

Its presence brought comfort and strength to the denizens of that secluded valley, assuring them that they were safe in this secluded retreat away from the world at large, that someone powerful and benevolent was watching over them, and that any threat would be dealt with at once. But there was another message the flute imparted - one embodied by the sweet sadness of its song - that life and all its pleasures were finite and would end some day, and one must make the best of the time one has, for it will not last. It mourned the lost brothers and sisters of the Vrishnis who were in Vrindavan in voluntary exile from their beloved homeland; it mourned the tragedy that had befallen the Yadava nation; it shared the grief of love and loss, death and failure, war and vengeance.

The flute sang of things that could not be expressed, things that were felt but left unsaid, things that had happened before and would happen again, inevitably, but not now, not just yet. The flute song was the pause between battles, the respite between wars, the rare moment of peace between the violence of yesterday and the madness of tomorrow. The melody was what kept the Vrishnis sane and whole and nourished them with the nectar of hope each fine day in Vrindavan. The flute was their reason for going on, for facing each day with confidence.

When the song was done, the hand that played the flute lowered the instrument. The player wiped the wooden reed on his brightly coloured anga-vastra before tucking it securely into his waistband sash. Even now, despite all that had gone before, he was still just a boy.

Yet there was a serenity about him that belied his years. His dark face could be sombre and brooding like a monsoon cloud. Yet, when he smiled, his white teeth flashed in that dark space - like lightning against a pitch-black sky. His hot brown eyes gleamed with life, danced with intelligence. His smile tended to crease one cheek more than the other, giving him a sly rascally look that portended mischief. Unconcerned about his appearance and grooming, he nevertheless managed to always look fetching, almost girlishly handsome. In contrast to his brother's fair-skinned bullish bulk, he was a slender dark calf.

Already, the mother gopis gossiped about what a handsome young man he would turn out to be and how some young gopi would be very lucky to have him as her mate. Child marriage was common among Yadavas but not compulsory. Nanda Maharaja's sons, by virtue of being born to the clan chief, could choose their mates when they pleased, provided the girls like them too. The Vrishnis, even more than other Yadavas, appreciated the finer emotions and the heart played as important a part in that choice as other factors such as clan, tribe, gotra and family. In Krishna's case, he was already a prince among gopas and could have any gopi of his choice for a paramour and wife.

The younger gopis returning from the pastures, herding their calves in front of them, were proof of this adoration: every last one smiled and waved and greeted him as she passed by, praising his flute playing. He smiled enigmatically as he always did, saying nothing but acknowledging them all and somehow making each one feel as if it were she alone that he had smiled at so fetchingly. They ran giggling, happy, to pen their calves for the night.

The lazy summer was working its way slowly towards autumn and the cowherds of Vrindavan spent the evenings indulging in their favourite pastime - ras-lila. When the day's work was done, everyone looked forward to a few hours of companionship and respite. The cowherd's life was a simple one: hard work, but with no unendurable hardships or glamorous highs, merely an endless series of routine repetitions, day after day, season after season. After the first traumatic year of exile, the idyllic hamlet of Vrindavan now seemed like home to the Vrishnis and they had already come to love and enjoy its bounty.

Playing his flute, Krishna wandered down the dales and glens, pastures and pens, hills and dips, lakesides and wooded areas. At the meadow where the community played ras-lila, every gopi waited and hoped to see him appear. More than one dreamt romantic dreams of herself with Yashoda's dark-hued son. But today Krishna was not in the mood to play. Today he felt his heart ache with a peculiar sadness - the dusky languidness of evening and the satisfaction of a long day's hard work commingling with the certainty that this season of peace and calm would not last, that it was but the lull before the coming storm, and when that storm came, it would be terrible in rage.

He was not feeling anxious, exactly, for despite his mortal form, he was Himself incarnate and as such immune to the weaknesses and injuries of flesh and mortality. But he had come to care deeply about the people amongst whom he lived and he knew they would pay a price for sheltering him - were indeed already paying a price, for here they were in exile from their beloved home pastures.

Many mortals believed that to be able to see the future would be a wondrous gift, but those immortals who did see the future knew that it was no gift, nor wondrous. For the future, like the past, like life itself, contained not only good, wonderful things and events, but also many dark, terrible, painful things. What person would want to know all the bad that was to befall him? Mere knowledge of it alone would cast a backward shadow over the rest of that person's existence. And so, in Krishna's case, that shadow loomed long and large, for he could see all the way into Eternity.

In a manner of speaking, it was grief that Krishna was experiencing. For time could keep no secrets from him. And he saw the terrible wages of insubordination - death and suffering - that had been endured since his birth on this mortal plane, the anguish that was being borne at that very moment, and in the ones yet to come. And the burden of all that pain lay heavy upon his heart.

And so he wandered the hills of Vrindavan and played his flute, filling the world with the sweet-sad beauty of his song, trying to lighten his burden through music.

He was not wholly successful. But it helped. It helped a little. And that was enough.

Book: Lord of Mathura; By: Ashok K. Banker; Price: Rs. 250; Extent: 304 pages; Category: Fiction