Skandadasa walked out the front door of Kalika’s den, seething with anger. The upapradhana with his entourage caused quite a stir in the streets. Keki came out with him, dancing and shouting to all who cared, ‘See who has come to meet our mistress, the great Upapradhana Skandadasa.’ She kept taunting him and it took all his self-control not to hit her across her face. But more irritating than her was Brihannala. Every time Keki cracked a lewd joke, Brihannala would grasp his arm and whisper in his ears that he must ignore Keki as she was evil and only trust Brihannala. Skandadasa hissed at her to stop, but Brihannala acted hurt and replied that she was supporting him and he should not get angry so fast. Keki continued clapping her hands and singing in a lewd manner. The crowd around erupted with laughter. Keki cried, ‘He went in and came out in no time. Friends, he is so fast. Our dear upapradhana is so fast. So fast, so fast.’
A few pimps tried to pull in Skandadasa by his arms. ‘Swami, forget Kalika. We have better women. Please come to our place.’ A few whores came and took off their kaunchika to shake their melon-sized breasts at the upapradhana, adding to the merriment of the crowd. When Brihannala touched Skandadasa’s arm yet again and whispered in his ears, he ordered his guards not to let her come near him. They promptly formed a circle around Skandadasa, pushing Brihannala out. Whores and pimps tried to break the circle, trying to touch Skandadasa. Some threw flowers at him. Skandadasa had never felt so helpless in his life. He was worried about Prince Bijjala. He had checked Kalika’s inn thoroughly, but could not fi nd the prince. Was he hiding in one of the whorehouses? Skandadasa shuddered at the thought of raiding each house in this cramped street. He had not taken the permission of his superiors and had ended up making a laughing stock of himself. He did not know what answer he would give if the maharaja questioned him. There would be complaints about his behaviour the next day. More importantly, if he was unable to find Bijjala, or something happened to the prince, it would be the end of his career. He would be lucky if he lost only his job. The queen had threatened to cut off his head. Perhaps it was said in a moment of anxiety, but people had lost their heads in Mahishmathi for lesser reasons. Suddenly, he thought he spotted someone jumping from a building next to Kalika’s. He was carrying a limp figure on his shoulders. Though he could not make out the face clearly, he had a gut feeling that it was Bijjala’s slave.
The street ahead exploded with shrieks as the man jumped and pushed his way through. Skandadasa tried to hasten towards the scene of action. Suddenly Brihannala’s voice announced, ‘The exalted upapradhana will be distributing presents to all of you.’ A loud cheer went up among the people who were mobbing him. Scores of hands extended towards him, despite his bodyguards’ best eff orts. Skandadasa helplessly watched the scene unfolding before him, mobbed by a group of pimps and prostitutes. Kattappa landed hard on his feet. He had precariously hung on to a window sill when Skandadasa had come, and then quietly climbed up to the balcony of a nearby mansion. He had laid low, and when he was sure Skandadasa had left, he had jumped, with Bijjala on his shoulders. To his horror, he found that Skandadasa was amid a crowd of whores a few score feet away. Praying that the upapradhana had not recognized him, Kattappa ran through the crowds. He waved his sword wildly to scatter people. Women screamed and men shouted angrily at him. He had no time to pause and look back to see whether he had hurt anyone. He had to save his master, and everything else was unimportant. Carts got toppled and horses whinnied in fear. He caught hold of the reins of a horse and stopped a passing chariot. He dropped Bijjala into the back seat. A devadasi who was in the chariot screamed in terror.
Kattappa lifted her up and gently placed her on the street, mumbling apologies. The charioteer jumped into the whip came swirling again, he yanked it back. The charioteer toppled down. Kattappa whipped the horses and swerved the chariot in the opposite direction. The street was too narrow for the manoeuvre. A few shacks crashed and a pile of pots crumbled under the wheels of the chariot. The chariot shot through the streets, swaying and rumbling. A crowd was running after it, shouting at the unconscious merchant and his slave who had destroyed their wares. Some threw stones, a few of which hit Kattappa. He winced, but continued whipping the horses for more speed. Across the street, he saw carts had been arranged to block his path. Guards of various devadasi houses stood with sticks and swords to block his path. He dashed through the blockade, toppling carts and cutting down sticks aimed at him. He shot forward, leaving a trail of destruction, and thundered down the hill towards the river. When an owl hooted as he passed through the forest route, he ignored it.
But soon when another owl hooted as he passed a huge fig tree and yet another when he turned towards the path parallel to the river, Kattappa’s instinct warned him that this was no ordinary owl. He became alert and slowed down to look up at the tree. A huge net came tumbling down from it. Kattappa whipped his horses to make the chariot go faster so that he could escape the net, but the wheels of the chariot got entangled in it. Kattappa did not stop the cart. That was a mistake. The chariot skidded off the road and crashed against a rock. Bijjala was tossed a few feet away. Kattappa fell on his back, inches away from the horse that was thrashing wildly in its attempt to get up. Kattappa rolled over and was on his feet in a trice. He found himself surrounded by a dozen Vaithalikas. He crashed into the nearest Vaithalika, rolled over and reached where Bijjala lay. He stood holding his sword tight, ready to die for his master. Lightning cracked in the sky. He quickly assessed that there were more than a dozen men with swords and spears. He was alone and his master was lying drunk and unconscious at his feet. It was dark and, confounding the matter further, it started to rain suddenly.
When the attack came, the intensity of it took him by surprise. He was not scared of swords. He was quicker than anyone he knew. His father had taught him well. He proved it again by cutting down the first three who attacked him. But the Vaithalikas changed tactics often. Six men attacked him together, four with swords and two with spears. Sword blows he blocked, but spears were a real problem. The Vaithalikas danced in, thrust it into his body and danced out of his reach. He cut down two more. Rain lashed in full strength. The ground became slushy and the sword slippery with blood and water. He had to protect his master from being pierced with a spear. Bijjala had woken up and was sitting, disoriented, in the middle of the fight.
Kattappa was bleeding from everywhere, yet he fought on. For a fraction of a moment, he wished his master would lend him a hand. Bijjala was a good warrior if he was sober. Dead drunk, he was of no use. Kattappa dismissed the thought of getting Bijjala’s help. It was the duty of the slave to protect his master. There was pride in dying in the service of one’s master. Kattappa was sure he would die, but he promised himself that he would fight till the last drop of blood left his body. As if mocking his false pride, a sharp pain shot up from his belly. He saw an arrow had pierced him. Kattappa felt his eyes going blank and his head spinning. It took every ounce of his strength to not scream in pain, yet he held on, blocking, parrying, thrusting and cutting with his sword. Many had fallen, he had no strength to count how many. Another arrow lodged in his shoulders, making it difficult to even lift the sword. ‘Ma Gauri,’ he cried, ‘give me strength.’ The heavens answered with a thunder that shook the forest. The gods were kind and were fulfilling his wish to die serving his master.
Anand neelakantan is the bestselling author of asura: tale of the vanquished, which told the story of the ramayana from ravana’s unique perspective. he followed it up with the hugely successful ajaya series. ajaya book i: roll of the dice and ajaya book ii: rise of kali narrated the mahabharata from duryodhana’s point of view. both asura: tale of the vanquished and ajaya book i: roll of the dice have been nominated for the crossword popular choice awards in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
anand has also written the screenplays for various popular tv shows, including star tv’s mega series siya ke ram, sony tv’s mahabali hanuman and colours tv’s chakravartin samrat ashoka. he has also written for major newspapers such as the hindu, the times of india and the indian express. besides english, he also writes in malayalam and has published stories as well cartoons in various malayalam magazines. he lives in mumbai with his wife aparna, daughter ananya, son abhinav, and pet dog jackie the blackie.
Blessed by the sacred gauriparvat, mahishmathi is an empire of abundance. the powerful kingdom is flourishing under its king, who enjoys the support and loyalty of his subjects, down to his lowly slaves. but is everything really as it appears, or is the empire hiding its own dirty secret?
orphaned at a young age and wrenched away from her foster family, sivagami is waiting for the day she can avenge the death of her beloved father, cruelly branded a traitor. her enemy? none other than the king of mahishmathi. with unflinching belief in her father’s innocence, the fiery young orphan is driven to clear his name and destroy the empire of mahishmathi against all odds. how far can she go in her audacious journey?
from the pen of masterful storyteller and bestselling author anand neelakantan, comes the rise of sivagami, the first book in the series baahubali: before the beginning. a tale of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal, the revelations in the rise of sivagami will grip the reader and not let go.