“Bhallaladeva!” they had said.
And Sivagmi had watched as her son hadn’t heard them, or seen them, as he had ruthlessly advanced with his chariot.
Hadn’t he felt their blood splashing on his face?
Didn’t he hear them cry?
Baahu had waited, devised a strategy, and then charged. Her own son, hadn’t.
But he had known the very first point of Kingship, hadn’t he?, wondered the Mother.
After all, she had taken due care that both her sons were properly schooled in the art of warfare, and manners of ethics when it came to ruling a land as gracious as Maahishmati. She had kept no disparity on her end in her upbringing of Bhalla and Baahu.
Or had she?
Nevertheless, it was time for her to straighten things out. Baahu had been made the Crown Prince, but Bhalla was now the Chief Commander of the Maahishmati Army, a station no less than The Monarch Himself, involving oaths no lower, and ethics no different.
Bhallaladeva needed further grooming , Sivagami thought to herself.
Baahubali and Kattappa bade their goodbyes to her before they left for the former’s Deshatana . Sivagami watched her younger son leave, with his innate peaceful glow, and characteristic smile.
“We shall be back before you know it, Mother.” Baahubali embraced her.
She smiled into his eyes as he released her. In a matter of minutes, they left.
Baahu wouldn’t return for weeks, maybe a month or two, and the moment he did, he would be crowned King. Everything was planned, with everyone’s knowledge, and consent.
Or was it?
Her husband, Bijjaladeva, was a spiteful man, a fact she had put up with for ages now. The only person he ever bothered showing any affection for was Bhalla, who, as Destiny’s hand would have it, was also fostering spite of a similar degree. Sivagami understood the gravity of the task at hand.
It might be tedious, taxing even, but she had to do it, she told herself.
Bijjaladeva might have failed as a Father, and she might have exceeded expectations at filling the void left in Amarendra’s life, by his late parents. But she couldn’t let her son share the same fate as his father. He had to find peace with what he had, and recognise his excellence, and implement them for the welfare of Maahishmati.
She couldn’t fail as a Mother to the son she had begotten by her own womb.
“The Prince is in the Kridaangan, My Lady.” his manservant said.
Of course, he was, she sighed. It was a routine he seldom flouted. Mace-fighting or wrestling matches were a part of his schedule right after the Sandhyaarati. And, he didn’t return for hours thereafter. Moreover, his time in the arena had increased considerably after the War, lessening his interactions with the rest of the family even further.
Her Bhalla wasn’t really a man of many words, but now, it wasn’t just his habitual silence, it was his reticence that was bothering.
“I shall wait.” she told the manservant.
“And, Sumukha,” she added, “I shall dine in my son’s chamber tonight. Do not lay out my plate at the Royal Table.”
“As you wish, My Lady.”
“Mother!” Bhalla was surprised when he saw his mother lay out a plate for him.
Sivagami simply gave him one of her serene smiles.
Bhallaladeva looked at himself. Sweaty and grimy, that wasn’t really a countenance he would prefer to put forth before making an appearance before his mother.
“Take a quick bath.” His mother smiled. “Dinner’s ready and waiting.”
Bhalla still couldn’t quite comprehend his mother’s sudden rush of affection for him. This was the kind of love she had reserved for his cousin. And now that Baahu was the prospective King, he was least expecting any kind of attention from his apparently absentee mother.
He did well to not voice his thoughts as he ate in silence, while Sivagami served him.
“So Bhalla,”- she began, “Is the food all right?”
He didn’t know his mother to be one for conversation starters or, small talk for that matter.
“Nothing different from the usual, Mother.” he said. “The Palace cooks aren’t very innovative, if you ask me.”
Sivagami smiled, once again. Her Bhalla could be unknowingly infantile, unlike Baahu, who was just...inexplicably childish.
No , she reminded herself.
She was here for Bhalla, not for Baahu.
“You could perhaps,”- she gulped a little, thinking about the propriety, -or otherwise- of the statement, - “school them a little on innovation?”
Who was this woman? , Bhalla stopped midway from taking a morsel of his plate.
“Mother,” - he began, albeit keeping his attempt to hide his astonishment subtle, “I cannot possibly, school them on culinary innovation.”
“Not what I’ve heard, though.” Sivagami poured some lentils in his bowl, while her son raised an eyebrow, “You had once made quite the experiment, when you were trying to make payasam for me all those years ago.”
Bhalla blushed a little.
“We were ten, Mother.” he smiled, for what seemed like the first time in months. The smile seemed warm, and amicable even as it extended to his deep, dark, piercing, eyes.
“And those nuts! Mother, I tell you!” a glimmer appeared in his eyes, reminiscing those days, “Baahu and I love them to bits. The Afghani nuts are always a cut above the rest. Shame those merchants couldn’t come here this year because of that war with those savages.”
“Maybe, you could help me a little.” The older woman spoke, “The State is still in a bit of a disarray, Bhalla. The treasury and the soldiers have borne the brunt of the battle to quite a considerable extent. And, trade hasn’t gone unscathed either.”-
-“Mother,”- her son cut her short, - “I thought you would ask Baahu to…”
He suddenly lowered his eyes. What had begun as a casual banter was now detracting from its innocuous manner. This was a topic, he didn’t particularly like. After all, the loss of the Maahishmati Throne had hit him harder than he had imagined.
The silence lingered uncomfortably before Sivagami broke it again.
“I need your help, Bhalla.” she sighed, as Bhalla looked at her. “Baahu shall make a good King, and I know that, but he cannot go about being an ideal King without his Brother by his side, can he?”
Can’t he?, he sardonically mused. Omnipotent, omniscient, Amarendra Baahubali! The saviour of Maahishmati, didn’t really need anyone by his side .
“There are some things that require your attention, child.” she said lovingly.
Bhalla didn’t know why something in him told him to give his mother the audience she wanted. After all, it wasn’t everyday that The Epitome of Solidarity, Sivagami Devi, enlisted anyone’s assistance.
Least of all, his assistance.
“You definitely comprehend trade and commerce better than Baahu does. After all, it was your insights that got us the bulk of the silk trade in here.” she ran a hand through his hair.
Bhalla smiled once again. It felt good to be acknowledged by his Mother for once.
He hadn’t fallen on her blind spot after all , he thought.
“Moreover, you could take a tour of the city. Help us with the assessment of land taxes, help the people with rearranging their livelihood, et al.” Sivagami continued.
“There’s a lot to be done, Mother.” the tinge of concern in her son’s voice made Sivagami’s heart flutter like never before. She was accustomed to such concern from Amarendra, she knew. Getting it from her reticent, almost stoic Bhallaladeva felt so oddly rejuvenating, so refreshing…
So different , she mused.
Had she never given her Bhalla the chance? , the thought comes to her almost involuntarily.
Had she been so indifferent to his presence?
The fault, nevertheless was hers. She had made a good son out of her orphaned nephew, she acknowledged, but perchance, in her bid to fill in for his parents, she had taken her own boy a tad bit too lightly, if the war was any indication.
He had unknowingly suffered a wound, and her husband would only make it worse.
She couldn’t let the wound fester.
“Yes, My Boy, a lot.” she smiled once again.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Bhalla took her hands in his.
“I meant to,” she sighed, - “But then, your Old Mother suffers with the folly of overestimating her abilities to the degree of senility.”
Bhalla’s lips curved upwards in warm smile once again.
How handsome he looked when he smiled , she thought. No wonder that sparkly-eyed Princess of Saurashtra seemed to have been infatuated with him.
However , that was a topic she would broach later , she thought.
“I shall accompany you tomorrow, Mother.” he said. “The Minister and I shall have a discussion later on.”
“Whenever you’re ready, child.” she said, gathering the empty plates.
She hoped it was a start. So far, the signs her unpredictable child had shown were positive.
And now that she had taken the leap of faith, it was bound to bear fruit. After all, her efforts were seldom futile.