Ashok Banker's 'Dance of Govinda,' published by Harper Collins, was released recently. Here's an extract from it:
The being that had once been Prince Kamsa towered over the city.
He had expanded himself enough to be able to stand and gaze out at all Mathura. He surveyed his domain from a height of several hundred feet. Looming above the low-lying dwellings of the city, even higher than the tallest structure in the capital – his palace – he was able to see to the farthest extremities of the capital. His gargantuan form dwarfed the palace beside him. He was tempted to sit on the vaulting central dome but decided against it: the crack he had caused when he had tried merely to lean against it lightly was still there; sitting might well lead the structure to collapse altogether.
The city exhibited signs of unrest. The smoke curling skywards from sporadic fires and the sound of crowds clashing with his soldiers didn't concern him overly; what irritated him was that his official diktat was being resisted by his people.
Really, Yadavas could be very stubborn at times! Couldn't they understand that he must eliminate any possibility of his slayer still being alive?
It was galling enough that the son of Devaki and Vasudeva had escaped his grasp despite a decade of iron-handed security measures and intense scrutiny. He was still unable to comprehend how that had been accomplished. His sister and bhraatr-in-law had still been in their quarters, confined by manacles and chains, surrounded by his most reliable men, all armed to the teeth. Yet come the time of the birth of the eighth child, they, and everyone else in the entire city, appeared to have … fallen asleep!
It was quite absurd. Vasudeva could hardly have drugged the whole city. Yet, somehow, every living soul had fallen dead asleep during the crucial hours when his nemesis had been birthed. Including himself.
Longing to smash his paw into something, he raised it, but controlled himself with an effort. He would only end up destroying half the city if he did what he really wanted to – lash out. He settled for seething silently as he recalled the frustration he had felt when he had awoken to find that the night of the Slayer's prophesied birth had already ended and the next day begun.
To add insult to injury, by the time he and his aides arrived at Vasudeva's domicile, the true Slayer had been spirited away and replaced with another child, a female babe who, when he attempted to kill it, had slipped out of Kamsa's grasp, floated in mid-air and told him how he had been duped, before laughing and vanishing into thin air.
That was one of the things that troubled him: Why had she told him when the easier way out would have been for her to have him kill the babe, assuming it to be the one spoken of in Narada-muni's prophecy?
By telling him that she was a replacement, she had defeated the very purpose of switching the babies. Now that he knew his prophesied Slayer was still alive somewhere, he had no choice but to ensure its destruction – and his own survival.
Since he didn't know where the real Slayer had been transported, he had ordered all newborn babes to be killed at once.
To be on the safe side, he had also ordered all babes who appeared to have been born in the last ten days to be put to the sword.
That was the reason for the unrest. His soldiers, led by his trusty aides Bana and Canura, had gone from house to house, running their blades through every single newborn – and a few infants too, to be absolutely certain. It was a bloody business, but it had to be done. Surely his people understood that? After all, as his subjects, they ought to have his welfare at heart, shouldn't they? Yet there they were, rioting and protesting violently, even attacking his soldiers who were only going about doing their duty. How insolent!
Now he waited for his army to regroup. The slaughter was done and he was waiting for Bana and Canura to assemble the troops so he could issue his next orders.
Bits of his body dropped off from time to time and lay writhing on the ground. Some fell on the unfortunate soldiers already assembled, and eagerly devoured them, their slithering worm-like forms turning into obscene humps as they swallowed their struggling prey alive. The larger Kamsa got, the larger the assorted parasites in him grew, each individual vermin displaying the same characteristics as its host. Some even had the same mottled purple-faced grin.
After all, if a person's pet usually resembled the owner, why not his parasites?
Kamsa lazily raised a foot and squashed a few that were getting out of hand.
His supply of soldiers was plentiful but not unlimited, after all. As it is, he tended to kill or maim a fair number of his men – as well as numerous innocent bystanders at times – merely in the course of moving around, or during one of his now-legendary rages.
Which reminded him, he would need new troops soon. It was quite obvious that the present situation was beyond the capacity of normal Andhaka Kshatriyas. For one thing, he suspected that more than a few of them were reluctant to kill their countrymen. That was absurd. AKshatriya's dharma was to do as he was told, was it not? Then why the moral qualms? Still, they often used words and warnings where the simple slash of a sword or running over by a horse brigade would work more effectively. Too soft for his purposes. He needed tough men who did what they were told without question or hesitation, men as accustomed to killing and as casual about it as a butcher. It was important to rule firmly.
He missed his Mohini Fauj. He had been so proud of that hermaphrodite army … Not only had they been immaculate at the art of slaughter, they had been a gift from his dear friend, mentor, and pitr-in-law, King Jarasandha of Magadha. But the Mohinis were all gone now, and the damned Vasudeva had been responsible for that, whether directly or indirectly. Yes, Vasudeva had a lot to answer for and he, Kamsa, would see to it that he paid his dues. But first, he had to deal with the job at hand: rooting out and killing Vasudeva's newborn brat before the little fellow grew up to pose a threat to his maternal uncle.
Kamsa heard the tiny sound of hooves and looked down to see Bana and Canura arrive at the head of a bedraggled and weary-looking band of cavalry. His two most trusted aides looked ready to drop.
They dismounted, bowed, and waited for him to reduce himself. He did so, coming down to about thrice his human height. He glared down at them.
'Well, is it all done?'
'Aye, Lord Kamsa,' Bana said. He was so subdued and miserable, he seemed capable of falling over at any moment.
Canura glanced sharply at his companion before speaking up, 'Aye, sire. The count came to three hundred and eight.' He added, 'Bana's twin sons were the first we killed.'
Kamsa grinned. 'Good, very good.' Then he frowned. 'Three hundred and eight? That's quite a number. Is that the average birth rate?' He glanced doubtfully at the city. 'They do multiply like rabbits, don't they?'
Bana remained as he was, slumped like a man ready to collapse. He stared down at the ground. Canura cleared his throat. 'Actually, my lord. The daimaas said that only twenty-three were born in the past day and night. The rest we killed just to be certain we weren't missing any.'
'Ah,' Kamsa nodded. 'Thorough as usual. Good. Now go back and get the rest.'
Canura stared up at him. 'Get some rest, sire?'
'The rest. Go kill the remaining children.'
'But, my lord, we killed them all. Newborn babes, as well as those that were born in the past ten days … even those born in the past fortnight or so, just to be sure!'
Kamsa yawned as he began to expand himself once more. 'Yes, yes, I know that. Now go kill the remaining boys in Mathura.'
Canura craned his neck, raising his voice so that he could be heard; Kamsa rose up above the height of the palace dome and continued to grow. 'Up to what age, my lord?'
Kamsa shrugged. 'All the boys. Kill every son born in Mathura. Each that you consider capable of holding a sword …' he paused a moment, thinking. Yadava children joined their parents at work at an early age. '… Or a plougshare or a crook.'
'Every son, sire?' Canura's voice cracked. Kamsa wondered if Canura had sons of his own – yes, he seemed to recall him mentioning having a son or three, a few years ago. 'Even …
'OF COURSE,' said Kamsa brusquely, his voice booming now as he towered above the palace again. 'START WITH THE MALE OFFSPRING OF OUR OWN SOLDIERS, THEN WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH THE REST OF THE CITY. AND WHEN YOU ARE DONE WITH MATHURA, CONTINUE THROUGH THE KINGDOM.'
Even from that height, Kamsa could see the incredulity and shock on the minion's face. The man seemed to crumple inwards like a dissolving sand sculpture. 'The … kingdom?' Kamsa could barely hear Canura's faraway, enfeebled voice.
'YES. BE THOROUGH. DON'T COME BACK TILL YOU'RE DONE.' Kamsa yawned and stretched, and heard his muscles pop and tendons ease. 'I SHALL SLEEP AWHILE … UNTIL YOU FINISH THE BUTCHERY. THERE'S MUCH WORK AHEAD. I NEED MY REST.'
He glanced down and saw Canura still standing below, staring up, his tiny face and beard barely the size of the toenail on Kamsa's smallest toe. If he flicked his foot even slightly, he would send Canura flying to his death. Bana, it seemed, had collapsed after all. Kamsa nudged the man with the edge of his foot. Something crawled out of an open suppurating sore on his insole and leapt eagerly on Bana's back, moist round mouth opening like a maw to swallow.
'Better drag your friend away before he becomes dinner for that thing. Go on.'
Canura, still looking stunned, glanced down, saw the parasite about to devour Bana's head, dropped to his knees and began beating it off. He cried a little while doing so, which was unusual for Canura. When it was dead, he put his arm around Bana's shoulder and dragged him to his horse which had backed away several yards, nervous around Kamsa's rakshasa stench.
Moments later, followed by the ragged lines of soldiers that comprised the remains of Mathura's once great army, they rode away. From their deathlike silence and the lacklustre manner in which they diminished from his sight, it was evident that their new mission was not to their liking. Deserters were already breaking off from the main column and riding away in different directions, no doubt preferring the death penalty for desertion over participating in further slaughter of their own.
Kamsa slapped at a particularly worrisome mite on his cheek. His claw came away sticky and green. Yes. This sorry-looking bunch wouldn't do any more.
It was time he acquired a new army.