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I am sorry –for leaving you so soon, for keeping you away from your father, and for not telling you the truth about the women in our family.
The buzzing of insects competed with the pitter-patter of raindrops on the clay roof tiles. The sandhya-deepam shone brightly in the small pooja room of the house in a tiny Kerala village, where a five year old Vaidehi sat with her grandmother, Janakiamma, listening to stories from the epics.
“Mother Sita blessed Hanuman, with the power to bestow the eight siddhis and nine nidhis,” Janakiamma droned.
“Ammumma, what are those?”
Janakiamma smiled. “The eight siddhis are like superpowers. They are Aṇima—the ability to become tiny; Mahima –to make oneself huge; Garima –to become heavy; Laghima –to become weightless; Prapti –the ability to go anywhere and get anything; Prakamya –to fulfill ones desires; Isitva –control over all creation; and Vasitva –control over the five elements. The nine nidhis are nine treasures –the Mahapadma, Padma, Shankha, Makara, Kacchapa, Kumuda, Kunda, Nila and Kharva.”
“How can one get them? It will be a lot of fun to be able to become big or small whenever one wants to, isn’t it?”
“It isn’t easy to get them. And they’re not toys to play with. Anyway you’re too small now. Maybe when you’re older I will tell you more about them. But first you must study well, go to school and college.”
“That won’t be a problem, at all! I’m already ahead! Everyone in my class is so much older than me. I will finish school soon and then college even faster!”
“Yes, darling,” Janakiamma hugged Vaidehi, “that’s because you’re a prodigy. Anyway, come now, it’s almost dinner time. Let’s eat. And then I shall tell you another story before bedtime. Which one do you want to listen to?”
“The one from the Adbhuta Ramayana, about how Sita slew Ravana’s elder brother.”
10 years later, the stories flitted in and out of Vaidehi’s mind in her grandmother’s voice, as she sat dazed through her last rites. She remembered the exact moment when the phone call had come, shattering what should have been a normal day at her job as an astrophysicist at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
She watched the handful of mourners leave. She had never known her father, and her mother had died when she was a year old. Now her beloved Ammumma was gone too.
“I am sorry for your loss.”
She looked up with tear-stained eyes at a stranger. “Thank you,” she replied. “Do I know you?”
“No, we haven’t met. My name is Dr. Ramanathan, and I’m your father.”
Vaidehi still could not believe it. Her father was alive. She hadn’t said a word to him after his big reveal a few hours ago. She had still been processing it. But now she was ready to talk.
“Where were you all my life?”
“Your grandmother did not want me in your life. She blames me for your mother’s death. Ramaa and I worked together at RAW. We fell in love and got married. When you were born it was the happiest moment of our lives. But soon after that a mission came up. Your mother and I were supposed to go on it together. But because of some bureaucratic mix-up, she ended up going alone. She died on that mission. After that your grandmother wanted nothing to do with me. I too, felt guilty and decided to stay away.”
“Why are you here now?”
“When your grandmother found out that she’s dying, she knew you’d need me and got in touch. And when we spoke, I told her some things which made her realize that she can’t hide the truth from you anymore.”
“The truth…What truth?”
“It’s all here in this letter she left for you. Take it.”
Vaidehi took the letter from his extended hand and began to read.
My darling child,
If you’re reading this, I am gone. I am sorry –for leaving you so soon, for keeping you away from your father, and for not telling you the truth about the women in our family.
We are not ordinary women. We are the Bhoomiputris. The legendary eight siddhis and nine nidhis are real, and we, the Bhoomiputris are the guardians of the Sanjeevani that grants it.
At the end of the Treta Yuga, a special variant of the Sanjeevani grew in the spot where Sita’s blood spilt during her battle with Ravana’s brother. Hanuman recognized it and gave it to Jambavan for safekeeping. Jambavan gave it to his daughter Jambavati, who in turn took it with her to Dwaraka when she married Sri Krishna. When Dwaraka drowned, the plant washed up on the shore of Kerala, where a girl, who was our ancestor found it. She discovered that eating the fruit of the plant gave her the potential to develop the eight siddhis. She also procured the nine nidhis. She used the powers to protect our world from evil. Ever since then, this has been our legacy.
I passed the baton to your mother, Ramaa, when she turned sixteen. When she died ten years later, I was so shaken by the loss that I refused to take up the powers again. I wanted to free you too from this burden that killed your mother. But your father has told me of a problem that only you can solve. You must take up this mantle.
Under the Anjaneya vigraham in our pooja room, you will find a key to the shed in our backyard. That is where you will find the Sanjeevani and the nine nidhis. Train yourself to be worthy of receiving the powers it gives you, and use them for good.
I love you.
It had been a year now, since she read that letter; since she discovered the Sanjeevani and the nidhis, which were a collection of various weapons and shields. She had trained in yoga, kalaripayattu and the use of weapons, with her father by her side. While she had perfected the use of some of her powers, others were still elusive. But she felt ready to go on her mission, which is why she had asked her father to tell her what it was.
“Your mother’s last mission was a war against the Mahishasuras. In Hindu legend they are portrayed as a demon, and even in Greek legend, they find a mention as Minotaur. They are actually aliens from another planet, who have tried repeatedly to conquer earth. In her last battle, Ramaa was grievously wounded and she realized that she could not destroy them all. So she opened up a rift in space-time, pushed them through it into an alternate dimension, followed them into it and closed the rift behind her. This battle took place on an uninhabited island in the Andamans. Some of her blood spilt during the battle, and in that place, an even more powerful variant of the Sanjeevani has grown, which has absorbed energy leaking from the dimensional rift. We can see it via satellite pictures but are unable to approach the island, because Ramaa also used the last of her life force to set up defenses around the island to prevent anyone from manipulating the dimensional rift. However, the Mahishasuras and other aliens are trying to get their hands on the Sanjeevani. You must recover it before they figure out a way to break through her defenses.”
She had made herself lighter than air and was soaring over the ocean, towards the island, when she found the first obstacle –a mountain peak, almost as huge as Everest rising out of the waves. She tried flying over it, and around it, but the mountain kept blocking her path.
She was beginning to get frustrated, when realization dawned. Her mother, weak and in the last moments of her life, when faced with the urgency of setting up defenses, had used as a template, a story she had heard from her mother, Janakiamma, in her childhood. The same story that Vaidehi had heard many a time. The story of Hanuman’s flight to Lanka! How apt!
She touched the side of the mountain, gently. The mountain recognized the DNA of a Bhoomiputri. It sank slowly back into the sea.
Before she had gone too far, she came across the second defense. A vast gate that seemed to be made of water, secured with a lock. On the top of the gate, was the figure of a snake, in whose open mouth was a key. The opening of the mouth seemed too small for her hand, so Vaidehi shrunk herself. Lo and behold, the opening shrunk too! She tried becoming smaller, but the figurine became smaller too. This must be the challenge of Surasa!
She swelled her body, becoming gigantic. To her joy, the snake figure too grew. She’d guessed correctly. She made herself bigger. The opening too, became bigger. Then, in a flash, she made herself the size of a pebble, quickly darted into the snake’s mouth and grabbed the key, just a microsecond before the snake’s mouth became small too.
Now it was just a matter of unlocking the gate and moving on. Easy-peasy!
She had a sense now of what the last defense would be. It would be the most life-threatening. Simhika –the demoness who grabbed Hanuman by his shadow and swallowed him. She doubted her mother would have created a literal monster, but just to be safe she created a cloud to block her from the sun, to prevent her shadow from falling on the water below.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that she had underestimated her mother. Below her, the sea froze suddenly; trapping her reflection in ice, and this in turn froze her mid-air. She couldn’t move or breathe. Her wonderfully clever mother had switched the shadow trap into a reflection trap!
She felt herself tumbling rapidly towards the frozen sea. She had to do something soon. She could manipulate the ice directly, but that would take too much time. She needed something that would melt it faster. Submarine volcanoes! The thought came to her like lightning. The Andaman basin has several small submerged volcanoes in a chain. If she could cause a controlled eruption that directed the lava here, the ice would melt and she would be freed.
Vasitva –control over nature, was something she hadn’t mastered it yet, but she had to try now. She closed her eyes and focused all her psychic energy on the chain of undersea volcanoes.
She was losing consciousness. She mentally triggered her Mahapadma shield to envelop her and directed a last burst of concentrated energy towards the volcanoes, as she fell towards the ice below.
When she regained her senses, she was floating on a river of hardening lava, protected by her shield. She had done it! She had freed herself! Up ahead, she could see the island. She leapt into the sky, to complete the last few miles of her journey.
She touched down on the island reverently. This is where her brave mother had sacrificed herself.
She could see the Sanjeevani. Unlike the plant at home which glowed with a golden hue, this one glowed red –like angry flames, or like blood. A thin shimmer in the air just behind it, indicated where her mother had created the dimensional rift. It looked securely closed –nothing could get in or out. But it was leaking cosmic energy, which the Sanjeevani had absorbed.
Carefully, she uprooted the plant and put it in her backpack.
And then she rested. It was a long journey back to the mainland, but now that she had let down the defenses, going back would be easy. For the moment, she just wanted to sit on the sandy shore and watch the moonrise.
She would return here, just as soon as she had secured this Sanjeevani. She had to. Because after all, there was the possibility, that just behind this delicately healed crack in space-time, was an alternate reality in which her mother still lived, waiting for her.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the March 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: pixabay
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