Vasuki says, I’m coming with you.
Things have been bubbling, again. The ocean beneath shifts, no longer a tranquil as it used to be. As it should be. Pleas from the World have been increasing, more pained each time. The earth is aching with the weight of them. It is nearing time for the next incarnation, Vasuki knows. Vishnu will go, and Shree will join him. And this time, Vasuki has decided, this time –
Vishnu’s gaze meets his.
You want to come?
To be with you.
It will be difficult, gentle one. Unpleasant. To be human is not an easy thing.
You are under no obligation to do this.
Don’t leave me here.
Vishnu’s eyes are bottomless, and difficult to read even for Vasuki, at times. But he smiles. Vasuki feels it then, something caressing his heads. Even as it pulls and shapes at his body, shaping the smooth mass of coils into arms, legs, fingertips. A face. As though he is made of clay.
Come, then. It will be good to have you.
Rama is water and Lakshmana is fire. Rama is calm, most of the time. Gentle, most of the time. His is a quiet, steady strength, a fury that is only unleashed as a last resort.
Lakshmana burns. But it is, often, a good kind of burning, at least in Rama’s eyes. Rama compares it to the fire that warms cold days, the fire that consumes fuel but melts metal, forges iron. Fire that nourishes. It easier to burn your hands with Lakshmana than it is to hurt yourself with Rama, it’s true. It takes a little more care, it’s true. And there are people who talk – their parents, their teachers. That Lakshmana’s temper will get the better of him, that his impulsiveness will wound, that his stubbornness will one day take him too far. That he is strong, yes, and brave, yes, but that that – incandescence – will finish him sooner or later.
Rama worries too, now and again. But never for long, because Lakshmana may burn, but it’s almost always a good kind of burning. The flame that brings light, makes warmth – Lakshmana is hot tempered, but he is kind. He is impulsive, but he is compassionate, he is stubborn but principled, he is fierce not only in loathing but also in love.
And because he has Rama, after all. And Rama understands him. Rama will always be able to reign him in, if he has to.
Lakshmana says, “I’m coming with you.”
Rama shakes his head, again, pained. But he’s weakening. Lakshmana can see it happening. He has already agreed to give up the crown, his home, all the rest of his family. Rama, who has never said no to Lakshmana’s company before. Not even he has the resolve to push away Lakshmana too, now.
“I’m coming with you,” he says again. “Please. I want to.”
“Lakshmana,” begins Rama helplessly.
“Don’t just leave me here by myself.”
Rama is water, Lakshmana is fire. Where Rama is trapped, Lakshmana forges a path, blazing. Where Lakshmana threatens to sear, Rama cools, tames. On the days when Rama stagnates, when the world feels too cruel, when being here and human and alive is too much – on the days when he stands still, Lakshmana revives him, the way even water that was stagnant can be heated back to purity.
Rama is water, Lakshmana is fire. Rama is the rain, and Lakshmana is the hearth. Rama is the water in the pot and Lakshmana is the lamp in the window.
Even evaporated, water comes back to itself sooner or later. It cannot ever be destroyed for good. This they knew. They forgot, somehow, that water extinguishes fire. That a flame once extinguished cannot quite come back.
They forgot – they all did – that water has the capacity to ruin. To rot, to flood, to erode, to drown.
Drowning is how Rama goes himself, in the end. When everyone else has already succumbed to rot.
See, the trouble was, he stayed still too long. Yama came too late – he already been here too long, he should have left long ago, he understands that now. This is where he is meant to stay, not really. The Sarayu rises around him, engulfing his legs, circling his waist. Icy and unforgiving.
He closes eyes, alone for the first time, and plunges.
Krishna and Balarama are neither like each other nor unlike each other. People marvel at the pair of them sometimes, the fact that they can even get along; yet the most common sight is the two of them walking through the village together, shoulder to shoulder, bickering incessantly, not parting once. Yellow and blue, dark and light, gold and silver, sun and moon.
If Krishna is a bird, then Balarama is its tree. If Krishna is a gurgling stream, then Balarama is the cool, smooth stones that form its bed. If Krishna is steam, then Balarama is ice; irreconcilable at first glance, yet fundamentally the same.
Krishna is the loud one. Gaudy and charming, drawing everyone’s eye and revelling in it while Balarama rolls his eyes in the background. Fighting demons, lifting demons, the list is endless. A later, older Krishna will regret this sometimes, wondering whether he took too much, whether Dau felt unseen. A later, older Balarama will roll his eyes at this, too. I was happy where I was. We don’t all need constant attention to live, stop overthinking it. Have you heard back from Kaushambi yet?
Later, yes, and older, yes, but the roles will change little.
Balarama fights alongside him. Balarama grounds him. From Balarama Krishna draws strength, direction, focus. He even gains a smidge or two of discipline, although takes a lot more time.
Akrura comes in the summer of Krishna’s twelfth year, Balarama’s fourteenth, bringing an end with him. Krishna’s home is distraught at his news; that he is leaving. That he is leaving to meet his uncle, the same tyrant who has scarred them time and time again; that he does not know when he will come back.
(if he will come back)
Say no, beseeches Yashoda, to Nanda, even to him. Tell him you won’t go.
He can’t. He can’t say that. Even if he could – even if he did, it would only bring more of Kamsa’s wrath down on this village, and for how long? How much suffering can you put people through in your name, even people who love you?
And besides, he has to go. He has to. This he knows, in that inexplicable way that he knows his name, or that - there’s a deep tugging from somewhere within him. He has to go. He has to do.
Balarama comes in when he is trying to pack his things. He walks over and stands beside him, folding his clothes and passing them to him wordlessly. Out of the corner of his eye Krishna sees the bundle that he brought with him and set in the doorway. Senses it, more than sees it.
He is the one to break the silence, as always. “You don’t have to come with me.”
“No, Dau – “
“Don’t. Of course I’m coming with you.”
“You can stay here,” says Krishna quietly. “You like it here. I know you do – “
“Maybe I want to see the big city too, ever think of that?”
Krishna puts the shawl down and turns to look at him. “Dau – “
“Kanha – “
“You don’t have to,” he says, again. Again.
“I want to,” says Balarama patiently, again. Again. “What, did you think you’d get to go off on your adventures and just leave me here?”
Again. This is an old, old conversation. Age old. Krishna looks at him for a second, two seconds, savouring his next words a little. Tasting gratitude.
“Alright then,” he says, picking the shawl up again. The fabric falls easily into its old creases, the ones that are a part of it now, after having been folded this way each time for so long. “Come.”