23 Apr 1924


I hope you are well, or at least in better shape than I! Please see me at the hospital in Ihsaan-Waahaan at your earliest convenience, as I have not yet been given clearance by Dr. Ayub to return to work, and there are matters I would discuss with you that cannot wait that long. 

Also, I am very terribly bored, and a visitor might improve my spirits considerably. May pity for me hasten your coming if curiosity alone will not.


P.S. If possible, please bring with you any texts that you may have available pertaining to Sanskrit characters and syllables (especially their more esoteric, occult aspects) as well as the symbolism of yantras.

P.P.S. And cigarettes too, if you please.


Irene Howell said...

24 April 1924

Irene decided that she was in no mood to be stared at today, and thus she did not put on one of her pantsuits, and instead donned a patterned cotton dress—breathability was of absolute necessity in the heat—with a short v-shaped neckline and braided trim accents sewn at the neck, waist, cuffs and hem. Its flower print gave her a most innocent air, and because of this she was not really fond of the dress; however. she knew that it was sometimes easier to get her way by acting sweet than by casting stony looks and thus had kept it in her wardrobe.

When she entered Peter’s room, she had a smile on her face and four books in her arms (Barnard's Dictionary of Early to Middle Sanskrit (1921), Talismans of the Gangetic Plains by Victor H.S. Nuttenwold (1917), Symbolism in Pre-Vedic Art by D. D. Turley-Smith (1919) and Indian Mythology by A.B. Keith (1917). She set them down on the bedside table and then caught her purse before it slid off of her shoulder and onto the ground. Opening it, she reached inside and handed Peter two packs of cigarettes.

“I don’t smoke much myself, but I was assured that these would be good,” she said with a smile.

She examined him for a moment. “I am relieved to see you looking so much like yourself. Everyone assured me that your injury was not serious, but…well, now that I see you I feel truly comforted. And I do apologize for not coming sooner. I had thought about it, but I wanted to give you another day to rest. And I also wanted to revisit the antiquities tent.”

Her eyes regarded him with interest, awaiting his reaction to her statement. The fact that he had asked her to bring texts meant that he was curious, but to what extent? She seriously hoped that he would not disappoint her as the others had.

HomoDM said...

When Irene arrived, she found Peter seated in a wicker chair, writing in his notebook. Upon seeing her, he closed the book and reciprocated her smile, standing up slowly to greet her.

Receiving the cigarettes, he exclaimed, "Irene, you are heaven-sent, truly a life-saver! And you brought books, too, I see! Excellent."

He offered Irene his seat as he retrieved a small box of matches. "No apologies are necessary," he assured her. "You are actually not the first to visit me, but I'll say more on that later. How go things on site? The thieves did not cause too much damage to the artifacts, I hope, nor to you?"

As Irene related that news she cared to share, Peter eagerly removed a cigarette from its tin and, striking a match, brought the delicate cylinder of tobacco to life. An expression of satisfaction and relief danced over his face as he took the smoke in and held it briefly within his lungs. As he exhaled, the narrow stream expanded into a cloud that tinted the sunbeams in the room blueish-grey.

Though it was clear to Irene that Peter had much on his mind (after what he had just been through, who wouldn't?), the ritual of smoking seemed to soothe him and help focus his thoughts into words.

He cleared his throat and began, "As I indicated in my letter, I have not been spending my time here idly. In my waking hours, I have given considerable thought to the attempted burglary, and it seems there are some mysteries for us to solve if we are to effectively thwart any further intrusions; for, having failed in their objective, whoever these thieves represented will almost certainly make another attempt, I fear."

He paused briefly to take another puff on his cigarette. Though Peter was clearly delighted to see Irene, she realized then that he seemed more excited by the prospect of sating his curiosity than by the simple comfort of having company. She had never before seen him quite this animated; clearly, the attack had lit a fire within him, and his use of the word "us" assumed that she would share his interest in getting to the bottom of things.

Exhaling another plume of smoke, Peter continued, "So I have been asking myself: Who were these men? From where did they come? For what were they searching? How is it that our guard Mohan was so strangely and completely incapacitated? And I have been doing some investigating here where and when I can, talking to people and looking for answers but only finding more questions."

Peter picked up his notebook from off the bed and opened it to what appeared from a distance to be an outline of a human form. "I wanted to show this to you," he said, crossing the room and handing the book to Irene, whereupon she could see that the body he had sketched was decorated with peculiar designs.

"Tattoos," he explained. "I copied them from the body of the thief McCormick killed. His companion still lives but, sadly, is in no condition to share any information."

"Look here," he said, pointing to a square containing an eight-petaled lotus, within which was inscribed a six-pointed star as well as various Sanskrit characters. "It is a yantra of some kind, though I do not know its meaning. Hence my request for those books. And these," he added, indicating a series of markings on what must have been the thighs of the thief, "look familiar, do they not?"

Indeed, their resemblance to the lettering on the Pashupati amulet was unmistakable.

"What do you make of it?" Peter asked, drawing again on his cigarette.

Irene Howell said...

Irene normally would have declined such a chivalric offering, but she suspected that Peter was tired of being off his feet and would probably welcome a chance to pace about the room. And she had to admit that she was a little fatigued, for those books had weighed her down a little. Therefore, she sank into the chair gratefully and crossed her legs, leaning back and steepling her fingers as she formulated a response.

“Besides some very minor bruising, I am quite well,” she assured him with a smile. “As for the goings-on at the site, there is very little to say. I spent the whole of yesterday sleeping, investigating the antiquities tent and speaking briefly with Professor Humphries and a little longer with John. When it comes to the break-in, neither of them seemed as suspicious as I am…and as I think as you are as well.

“I will say more of what I have discovered and the fragmentary theories swimming around in my mind, but first I want to hear what you have found out. I am willing to bet that you’ve had more luck than I have had,” she said, looking a little guilty. If she hadn’t have had tea with John, she might have had more time to investigate and work on copying. But a girl can’t put her nose to the grindstone all the hours of the day!

Irene listened with visible interest while Peter spoke, smiling a little as she took in his uncharacteristic display of animation. He looked much more alive than before, indeed almost like an entirely different person, and the change was a very flattering one. Finally, she felt that the lingering formality between them had disappeared.

Eagerly, she took the notebook in her hands and inspected his drawing. “Those are very like the symbols on the Pashupati amulet,” she agreed, and after taking a moment to visualize the amulet, she shook her head a little. “But there is no match.”

She was a little disappointed that it was not an exact match. But knowing that this modern man had tattooed himself with very ancient lettering meant that someone knew what they meant, or at least what they meant to the people today. Surely this was some religious cult, but what was its nature? And how had they learned of these symbols? Were there other examples of this writing in this area that scholars had not found? Obviously, there had to be! How unfortunate that they had not been able to question the tattooed man’s companion, but at least he still lived.

“In general, I cannot tell you much about it,” she continued. “I cannot say at the moment which deity is being invoked or how. I can make out a few symbols—and you probably noticed, but it seems that the circles and curved lines are purely aesthetic—but nothing that will be of much use. I am sure, however, that the books will be able to help more than I can,” she added with an apologetic smile.

And then, quite suddenly, something clicked and she realized that she had seen two of those symbols before, and in that very order.

“I have something to show you,” she added, and then reached over to retrieve her purse. She pulled out a folded sheet of paper and then stood up, stepped next to him and held it out. It was a copy—a copy of a copy, actually—of the nearly-destroyed brick and Humphries’ notes on it. Her own sketch of the party-reconstructed attempt was underneath it.

“I thought that you might be interested in seeing exactly what the intruders got their hands on, and so I copied this for you. But now it is of even greater importance.”

She pointed at the drawing of the brick, and he would see that two archaic symbols on the far right of the yantra had twins on the brick.

“It seems to me that we have two options: the men did indeed mean to steal these bricks, or they meant to destroy them. Regardless of which is correct, we must assume that these men, and any of those who are part of their cult—that may not be the correct term, but it is the easiest one—do not want us to have any artifacts with these symbols on them. And so I fear that you are correct that there will be further break-ins. In anticipation of this, I have almost finished making a copy of Humphries’ notes, including additions of my own comments and sketches. These will stay in my possession, and eventually there will be another copy made that will be sent to London. I don’t want to chance losing everything.” That sounded a little bit paranoid, but Irene didn’t care.

“I intend to spend as much of my free time as possible working on deciphering the writing,” she went on. Then, after a slight pause, she added, “Do you remember that when I first saw the Pashupati amulet? I…I know this will make me sound quite mad, but for a moment—only a moment—it made sense to me. I don’t know how or why, but...well, I simply cannot stop thinking about those symbols. If we can figure out the meaning of those words, then I believe we may have the breakthrough that we need in order to find answers to the most pressing questions.”

There was so much more on her mind, but she closed her lips and held in the thoughts, questions and observations that ached to escape.

HomoDM said...

Peter stubbed out his cigarette and studied Irene's drawing, which only made the connection between the thieves and Mohenjo-Daro more clear, though no more comprehensible.

"You are no more mad than I," Peter said firmly. "If you were able to decipher the letters on the Pashupati amulet, then this knowledge cannot have materialized out of nothing. I was once told that the human mind is analogous to an iceberg, in that we are aware of only the tip, yet there is much underneath it that cannot be accessed by ordinary means. Perhaps you had been exposed to the script previously, and the forgotten knowledge surfaced only briefly to permit your sudden, inexplicable flash of insight."

He reached for another cigarette and, lighting it, said, "I have more to tell you. Yesterday, I was visited by a Siddhar - a folk-healer - named Ashan. He is an acquaintance of my surgeon, Doctor Ayub, and more familiar than he with the esoterica of these lands and its people. He told me a great deal, and though much of it strains rational belief, I will let you make up your own mind."

"First, he told me that Mohan was likely overcome by a rare, toxic powder that is delivered at close range. Notably, Mohan said the last thing he can remember was feeling the urge to sneeze. This dust, when inhaled, purportedly causes a temporary stupor characterized by obliviousness, paralysis, and amnesia. He has promised to furnish me with an antidote, though when you return to camp you might also share this information with the Major and recommend that his men be outfitted with goggles and keep their mouths and noses covered while on duty, just as a precaution."

"Next, I asked Ashan to have a look at the body of the dead thief. He did not have much to say with regard to the tattoos, but he... ah, examined the, um... private area of the body, the details of which I will spare you. Ayub had diagnosed the man as suffering from advanced syphilis, but Ashan claimed that the thief was actually in transition from male to female."

"Impossible! Yes, yes, I know. But this next tidbit may be more credible: Ashan identified the dead man as a devotee of the ancient guru Laap-Mudr, who, according to legend, 'lost her face' after trying to steal medicines from her husband, Agasthiya. He further said that Agasthiya is another name for Shiva, and is Pashupati not an epithet of Shiva? Surely this is not a coincidence!"

Peter was so engaged with his narrative and the implications therein that he had neglected his cigarette, which by now had smoldered itself into a long, thin ash.

"There is more still. Ashan also examined the surviving thief, and said he was a Thug. A Thug, Irene! Can you imagine? And here I thought we had eradicated that murderous cult decades ago."

Peter paused to look at Irene, as if to gauge her disbelief, and in so doing realized how he sounded to his own ears. "Speaking of madness, you must think me touched, the way Ashan's wild tales have seized my imagination! But I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Does any of what I have related make any sense? Does it comport with your knowledge of the mythology of this place? Perhaps we should consult your books."

"One thing is certain," Peter added, finally minding his cigarette and extinguishing its remains. "That the symbols on the brick and the amulet correspond with the markings on our attackers proves that traces of whatever society first etched them still exist in some form. Moreover, I do not believe that our uninvited visitors were seeking to destroy any of what we have found thus far; for, if annihilation were their objective, there are much more efficient ways of going about it than by smashing a brick on the ground. No, I suspect they were more likely looking for something, perhaps to bring it back to whatever cult or clan had sent them."

The furrows etched in Peter's brow deepened, and his eyes widened as he entertained a truly troubling thought.

"Irene... we had not yet publicized any of our findings. How, then, did these men know what to look for, and where? Do you suppose... that they have an informant in our camp?"

Irene Howell said...

Irene looked more surprised than disgusted by Peter’s description of the dead man. She was aware of the desire of some persons to change their gender, but had never heard of an operation being performed. This was something entirely new…or was it? Was this the cult reinventing itself, or was this an ancient practice? Goodness, this was fascinating!

The information about the cult was extremely helpful. Peter had given her several words to look out for while she worked on the glyphs, and she quickly retrieved her notebook and jotted down a summary of what he had said.

“Without a doubt,” Irene replied to Peter’s last question without even a second of hesitation. “That thought also occurred to me, but I wonder if it has to anyone else. The problem is a substantial one. The brick was discovered, according to Humphries’ notes, on the twenty-second, only a day before the break-in. The news travelled very fast.

“It was discovered by John,” she added, and from the tone of her voice she did not care for the implications of her own statement. “I will question him about it when I return. Perhaps he remembers which workmen were in the area, and anyone else who might have gotten a glimpse at the brick.”

She was not ruling out the possibility that John might be the one who passed on the information, wittingly or unwittingly. If he had said something to someone and now thought that he may have been the one that put the entire camp in danger, then that would account for his mood yesterday. Whatever the case, she would figure it out somehow. With Peter stuck here for now, the pressure was on her to keep her ear to the ground at the dig.

“My knowledge of the mythology here is not nearly as thorough as yours, and therefore I must defer to your expert opinion. Nothing you have said seems at all to be irrational, given the evidence. Why, is it really so surprising that this cult persisted? In Egypt, as you well know, very ancient superstitions and practices have survived into this modern era. Furthermore, I believe that in a time of uncertainty or transition, when people feel that they are being threatened or forcibly changed—evidenced here by the British occupation of India—people are apt to cling to ideas and practices that are their own, ones that they can trace to long before the history of their intruders began.”

She ran a hand through her hair and chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. “But, putting questions of research and further investigation aside for the moment, what I want your opinion on is this: whom do we confide in? If there is an informer at the site, it seems unwise to spread out knowledge around. But it also seems unfair not to inform the others. Though I do not know how receptive they will be, especially the Major. Our suppositions thus far are indeed somewhat wild, to the strictest, most unyieldingly rational mind,” she admitted.

“Also,” she added, “do you know when you will be able to return to camp?” She had to admit that she’d feel a lot better once he was there. Being hospitalized had certainly given him unique opportunities for sleuth work, but she felt strangely alone at the dig. There was no one else that saw things quite the way that the two of them did.

HomoDM said...

"Doctor Ayub estimated that I would be here for another few days," Peter answered glumly as he returned to his bed and propped himself up with some pillows. Opening the Keith text, he began scanning its index and pages for any reference to Laap-Mudr, Agasthiya, or Pashupati, and fell silent for a long while.

Finally, he looked up from the book and declared, "I think we can trust McCormick, if only because he is a foreigner, like us, and as such is unlikely to be associated with any secretive, nativist sects. Our major obstacle - ha ha - will be convincing him to pay us any heed instead of dismissing our opinions out of hand."

He sighed under the enormity of the challenge. "Unfortunately, it may take another attack on the camp before McCormick is willing to consider that our troubles are larger than a pair of inept burglars, but even then there is no guarantee that he would listen to us."

He continued, "Identifying the informant will be even trickier, I expect, for I know next to nothing of McCormick's men, nor the other members of the archaeology team. But in light of how quickly news travels, I would suggest that, as a matter of policy, we now keep what we find as secret as possible."

"At the risk of sounding paranoid, I would also suggest that we remain watchful for anything out of the ordinary: unusual markings on exposed skin, furtive conversations, or even a sidelong glance that lingers just half a second too long - such minutiae may portend much."

"And," he continued, his blue eyes locking onto Irene's, "if McCormick will not heed our warnings, then it falls to us to do all we can to ensure the success of this enterprise and the safety of those involved."

Irene Howell said...

“Oh, don’t look so gloomy,” Irene said with a laugh as Peter answered her last question and settled back into bed. “You’ve already picked up some very valuable information here. Who knows what the next few days might bring, hmmm?”

She returned to the chair, positioning it so that she was close to the bed. She consulted her notebook as Peter read, jotting down a few things that she wanted to remember to do. While she was not likely going to forget any of it, she always felt better when she had her "To Do" list in writing. Penning her thoughts was a ritualistic, comforting process, and also gave her the opportunity to go over her musings again and perhaps see old problems in a new light.

After a minute or two, Irene picked up Symbolism in Pre-Vedic Art and began to browse the pages patiently, searching for key words or any symbols or script similar to that on the tattoos or the brick.

“Yes, of course,” she agreed gravely when Peter spoke again, and she stared at him unblinkingly for a long moment. “I don’t like the idea of the two of us pitted against a murderous cult, but I am very glad that we have each other nonetheless. When I think of what I would do were I on my own here…” She shook her head. “It would be very difficult, that is certain.”

Taking a moment to consider his words, she tapped the end of her pen against her lips twice. “I fear that the Major will more easily listen to you—or both of us together—than he would to me alone. It is probably best if I express general concern to him when I return to the site, but that I do not go into any detail. As you say, we’ll need more evidence before we can convince him that we’re not mad.

“As for the others at the camp, let me worry about speaking to them and gleaning information, at least until you return. I believe that I have the right disposition for starting up random conversations, and I don’t think that anyone there would suspect that I have ulterior motives. If I play my cards right, they’ll pass off my friendly banter as nothing more than womanly loquaciousness,” she said with a smirk. Especially if she dressed as she had today; it was more difficult to take a woman in a frilly dress seriously than one strutting around in trousers.

HomoDM said...

Peter nodded in affirmation of approaching the Major conjointly. But when Irene suggested that she begin gleaning information on her own, he only looked at her again for a long while, his expression carefully neutral.

Behind those appraising eyes of his, Irene could sense that Peter was made uncomfortable by the prospect of encouraging her to put herself in harm's way; but he must also have acknowledged that, between the two of them, she was plainly the better equipped for this job, and that fact alone served to mute his reservations, though not entirely abolish them.

"You'll need to be armed," was all he said as he returned his attention to the book in his lap.

Irene Howell said...

Because of the specific circumstances surrounding this conversation, and because Irene liked and respected Peter, she was not upset by his obvious reluctance to let her play her own role in this little escapade of theirs.

“I am armed with my wits,” she responded with a smile. But since she knew that he was genuinely concerned, she added, “And I have a pistol. To my embarrassment, it was not on hand the night of the break-in, but it has been since that time.”

She stared at him for a moment and then said, “We are partners in this venture, correct? We each have our own skills and our unique role to play, but we are equals. I assure you that my heart skips a beat at the thought of you sticking your nose into matters here; you’re quite a sitting duck if anyone were to get wind of your inquiries and decide to eliminate you. I, on the other hand, am in a guarded camp. I think that my chances are actually a little better, in this case.”

Her failure to drag her gender into the conversation—she knew he was thinking about it, though; most men, bless their misguided hearts, did—was a conscious decision. Peter wasn’t a sexist. He was merely a gentleman.

That being settled, or so she hoped, Irene also returned to the book she had been regarding a moment ago.

da solomon said...

(Irene passes three library use checks and fails two, passes two Sanskrit checks, fails two anthropology checks, and makes an idea. Peter passes two library use checks and fails three, passes an Urdu check, passes an anthropology check, and makes an idea roll. Information is in your e-mail.)

HomoDM said...

Peter did not say anything more for a long while, losing himself among the texts Irene had furnished. She had to take his silence for assent, which was truly the best she could hope for under the circumstances; for, despite his conscious attempts to be egalitarian, everything in Peter's traditional upbringing insisted that women were to be protected at all costs - as had been demonstrated by his swift action when Irene was threatened.

However, although Peter may not have been willing to say as much, they both knew that Irene was right. Of the two of them, she was more likely to gain the confidences of the workers at the site, and she had plenty of men around to protect in the event of any danger. At any rate, Peter was powerless to stop her regardless of any misgivings he may have harbored.

Finding nothing on Laap-Mudr, Agasthiya, or Pashupati in the Keith text, he set it aside with a frustrated sigh and turned his attention instead to Nuttenwold in the hopes of deciphering the yantra tattoo. "Lakshmi," he murmured, after a time. "That's what Ashan thought, too. I suppose that might be appropriate for a thief..."

But not entirely convinced, he consulted Barnard to decipher the Sanskrit characters more carefully. After a few minutes of study, he said "A-la..?"


Peter's eyes lit up in sudden recognition. Springing forth from the bed with as much alacrity as possible for a person in his condition, he took up Indian Mythology again and flipped rapidly through its pages, until...

"Yes!" He exclaimed at his discovery. "Alakshmi! Of course, it makes much more sense! Irene, listen to this!"

He began reading aloud:

Alakshmi: the elder sister of Lakshmi and the Hindoo goddess of misfortune; also the second wife of Kali, the demon portrayed in the Kalki Purana and the Mahabharata, who is the reigning lord of Kali Yuga (the present "age of vice" which will span 432,000 years) and the nemesis of Sri Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu.

According to the
samudra manthan legend detailed at length in the Bhagavata Purana, Vasuki Naga (a great king of serpents) agreed to allow the devas and the asuras use him as their "rope," and was wound around the "rod" of Mount Mandarancha, as they churned the Ocean of Milk for the ambrosia of immortality. As he was used thusly, the great strain placed upon him caused Vasuki to exhale halahala, the most potent venom in the universe. It is said that Lakshmi was born from the churned Ocean of Milk, whereas her sister arose from a mixture of the milk and the snake king's poisonous breath.

In appearance, Alakshmi is remarkably unattractive, being said to have a dry, shriveled body, sunken cheeks, thick lips, and the eyes of a rodent. She is described as "cow-repelling," "antelope-footed," and "bull-toothed." Her vahana (mount) is a donkey, though at other times is said to assume the shape of an owl that is portrayed as accompanying Lakshmi. Accordingly, devotees of Lakshmi are wary of the owl, which is a herald of misfortune as it is believed to represent the arrogance and stupidity that often accompanies the good fortune bestowed by Lakshmi.

According to one tale, Alakshmi was jealous of her younger sister, who was wife to Vishnu and living in the Vaikuntha paradise, for she herself had neither husband nor abode. Lakshmi therefore decreed that, “Mrityu, god of death, decay, and degeneration will be Alakshmi’s husband and she will dwell wherever there is dirt, ugliness, sloth, gluttony, envy, rage, hypocrisy, greed and lust.” Accordingly, it is believed that when Alakshmi enters a household, jealousy and malice follow in her wake, causing brothers to despise and turn against one another, bringing ruin and despair upon families and their male lineages.

Alakshmi is also called Nirriti by some, who is the goddess of destruction and has the power to ruin, destroy or set things asunder. Nirriti commonly takes the form of the goddess Kali.

"This confirms it," Peter declared, clapping the book shut. "These men were Thugs, or something similar, not only by their murderous actions but also in their devotion to dark, calamitous forces."

He fingered his chin thoughtfully. "Depending on the strength and distribution of this cult," he worriedly mused, "our problem might be far beyond that which the Major can handle..."

Irene Howell said...

When it came to research, Irene was a packrat. She preferred to gather as much as she could at one time before revealing any of it, no matter how exciting some connections might seem to be at the moment. She always felt better once she had double-checked, then triple-checked and at last given everything a little time to sink in.

Her head snapped up when Peter addressed her, and she listened with interest, taking notes on a new page furiously. She followed nearly all of what he said, but his understanding of Indian mythology was much better than hers. She would need to go over this at another time to be sure that she understood it fully and was not missing any connections other than the ones she had found. Well, if you could call what she had found connections. It was really more of little bits of scattered information.

Well, except the one big bit of information that she was almost ready to present.

“I wonder why anyone would choose to believe in and worship such a goddess,” Irene said, shaking her head. “But I suppose that, from their perspective, this might be destiny, not choice. And that makes them much more dangerous. Such people cannot be reasoned with.”

She held up a finger, and added, “One minute. I just have to finish…”

And she trailed off, her pen flying as she scribbled down words and then made a drawing in the notebook. Then she stared at the paper for a moment and slowly smiled. She handed the notebook to him, and on it he would see a sketch of the tattoo with syllables in place of the Sanskrit characters. A summary was written below it:

Petals: Jai Ala Kshmee K Shi Ra Sa Gar
The points of star: Ba Da Len Pa Honch
Inside star: Lo Pa Mu Dra

“What you’ve said helps to make sense of my transliteration and translation of the writing,” Irene said, after giving him a moment to look it over. “The two ladies are there, and I think the first line reads something like ‘Hail Alakshmi Ocean of Milk.’ But the words inside the star are unfamiliar to me. They’re not Sanskrit, that I am sure of.”

Once he handed her back her notebook, she flipped back a couple pages and consulted some of the scribbled words there. “Let me see…you were certainly correct before when you pointed out that Pashupati—which we should translate as "Lord of the Beasts" or "Protector of Cattle"—is indeed an epithet of Rudra, who is of course one of Shiva's aspects. Keith identifies Agastya (the common form of Agasthiya) as a sobriquet of Shiva, though Barnard does not. And Keith mentions nothing about Laap-Mudr stealing anything from Agastya, though there is more about each of them, if you will bear with me.”

She took a deep breath and, after one last glance at her notes, she began. “First of all, Laap-Mudr. Or, as you see her name in the yantra, Lopmudr. It seems that we can understand her name as a combination of ‘Lopa’ and ‘Mudra.’ The former can mean ‘lost,’ but it can also mean ‘dispersed,’ or at certain times ‘many.’ The latter now means ‘face,’ though might also be taken as ‘expression,’ the conduit for the manifestation of emotions. In its Sanskrit usage, I believe that ‘aspect,’ might be the best translation. Thus, her name may indeed indicate a lost face, but could also have a variety of other meanings. We do know that she was the wife of Agastya; in fact, he created her ‘out of the best aspects of all the animals.’” She was not entirely sure of the significance of that, or if there was any, but it had a nice ring to it.

“As I said before,” she went on, getting back on track, “Barnard does not mention that this might be an epithet of Shiva. However, he does offer some interesting remarks. He writes that Agastya is one of the Eleven Immortals, that his residence is on Mt. Agasthyakoodam and, most intriguingly, that he was the originator of Siddha medicine,” she said, emphasizing the last bit and looking up at Peter with a both brows raised. She did not need to voice her thoughts, for surely his were running along the same route: Ashan almost certainly knew more than he had said. “Keith remarks that Siddha is a Tamil language medical tradition, though, so I wonder how Ashan came to be here?”

She shook her head a little, knowing that now wasn’t the time to ask such unanswerable questions. “To close, most of what I could find about Agastya had to do with him killing demons by eating or drinking them. For example, he once drank the ocean to purify it of demons, and the reason that it is salty today is due to his urination.” And then she smiled a little, bemused. “And I once thought that the ocean was so pretty…” She was joking, though, quite clearly.

Solemnity returning, Irene took in a deep breath and let it out loudly. “I wish I knew how all of this connected. But we have a very good start. And I think that the winds of hope are blowing towards your healer. Will you see him again? Do you think he will tell you more? Or…well, you have spoken to him and know him…am I wrong in believing that he may be privy to information that could help us?”

If he could not personally help them, he would surely know someone who could! She would rather learn about the mythology and its present understanding from the lips of a living, breathing member of the current society rather than pick it out of an informative, but impersonal book whose author was credible, but was by no means an authority on their particular subject of inquiry.

HomoDM said...

Peter busily jotted down the latest round of notes and muttered something under his breath about "too many damned gods" as he responded to Irene's inquiry.

"I am to see Ashan tomorrow at his wrestling school or whatever you might call it," he said, without looking up from his task. "Hopefully he will have prepared the antidote by then. You are of course welcome to join me and discuss our latest insights with him, assuming that we will find him in a communicative mood."

It did not take long for Peter to process the syllables Irene had transliterated. "Badalen pahonch," he uttered before explaining, "It's Urdu, and unless I'm mistaken, could mean one of two things. It's either a command for change to arrive, or a command to another to arrive at change. But I'm not sure how that has anything to do with Alakshmi or Lop--"

Mudr/face: 'The conduit for the manifestation of emotions,' she said; pahonch means to inflict or to carry; a conduit carries (pahonchaanaa); lopa/lost; she is made of animal gune/aspects; she is a conduit for lost qualities or through which qualities are exchanged; badalen/change; change from a man into a woman??

Irene was looking at Peter, waiting for him to complete his thoughts, but all he said was "Never mind" as he banished his idea to the realm of the impossible. It was foolish to even entertain the notion that the yantra could have induced a change in gender, for that would presuppose the existence of magic, and Peter felt stupid for even thinking it; he briefly heard his father's voice in his mind before that too was discarded.

Setting his notebook aside, he removed his spectacles for a moment to rub the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He was clearly fatigued by the hours spent in research, and seemed simultaneously frustrated and troubled at how few rational answers had revealed themselves. "Frankly," he said, "I would be surprised if Ashan knows what it is these Thugs are seeking, or what to do about them."

He lit another cigarette and sighed heavily. What to do about them? Yes, this was the ultimate issue that seemed to weigh so heavily on his spirits the more he thought about it. Truly, it did not make much difference whether their attackers invoked Alakshmi or Laap-Mudr or Kali; it did not matter what their tattoos signified, or whether they killed with knives or rumale; there was nothing that Ashan could teach that would prevent the them from trying again, nor would Irene's books reveal how they could be stopped.

Sun Tzu said to know your enemy, and Socrates said to know thyself. What Peter knew, but could not admit, was that his insatiable desire for knowledge was born of his need to feel in active control of his fate, to rebut the terror of mortality, the helplessness he felt in this hospital, and the despair of defeat.

He also knew that his wound was crying out for morphine, but it would have to wait a short while longer. He stood with a quiet groan and declared, "I think I have had enough reading for today. Thank you again, Irene, for bringing these books."

"Now, let us find out what they plan on doing with Mumbles," he suggested, referring to the thief who still lived but had lost the power of speech. "We certainly don't want them to let him go anywhere! He may not feel much like talking, but perhaps he can be induced to write."

da solomon said...

(Feel free to wrap this conversation up or to keep it going as long as needed. The truck will not leave for camp until tomorrow afternoon, so unless Irene hires a camel driver or mule this evening, she will stay the night in a room at the hospital at Wahaan Ihsaan. The meeting with Ashan will be in the late morning of the 25th, and the interrogation of Mumbles may be this night, the evening of the 24th, or the morning of the 25th. Action will pick up in the India blog, and the timing of the scene will depend on your indications.)

Irene Howell said...

“No, Ashan probably does not know specifics, but he might be able to point us in the right direction,” Irene said with a small shrug.

She was curious about what Peter was going to say, but she did not press him for more information. They both needed time to mull over all of this.

Irene nodded in agreement with Peter’s statement that he had had enough reading today. Her eyes were tired, and so was she. However, she was very interested in communicating with “Mumbles,” as Peter so amusing referred to the thief as. Furthermore, since they knew the cult to be dangerous, there was another potential problem.

“Perhaps I am being paranoid, but I wonder if the cult will chance Mumbles getting better and being able to talk,” Irene said slowly. She hated to suggest such a thing, but it was a reasonably conclusion at this point. “I think, just in case something should happen, that we ought to learn what we can from him quickly, this very day if possible.”

She dug a small silver pocketwatch out of her purse and regarded the time. It was getting late, and so it seemed that she would be spending the evening here. She hadn’t planned for that, though she really should have thought of it before, but she didn’t mind.

“I suppose I will stay the night, then and return to camp in the morning. Or perhaps I will go with you to speak with Ashan. Though I am not sure what good I can do in that situation. I might be of more use back in camp,” she mused. "Yes, I think that we must 'divide and conquer' as the saying goes."

She put the book on her lap aside and then closed her notebook, though she kept it in her hand as she stood up. “If you are ready, shall we go and seek out our silent friend?” she inquired with a smile. She was feeling the beginning of a much-needed surge of energy.

HomoDM said...

"If the damage to his tongue is as severe as Doctor Ayub indicated, I do not reckon that he will be speaking to anyone in the foreseeable future," Peter said.

"However, his injury should not preclude him from writing, assuming that he is even literate. In any case, I would rather he not return from whence he came - unless he could be followed, but it seems unlikely that the constabulary would devote the manpower to such an endeavour without a sufficiently compelling reason."

"No, better to see to it that Mumbles is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and that he be permitted no opportunity to escape in the meanwhile."

Peter tucked his notebook under his arm and snapped his yellow pencil in two so as to minimise the chance that the instrument could be used to inflict injury.