Dhanu thanked the rakshasa gods every day for his job. All it required from him and his cousin Makar was sitting on a wall all day and feeling the breeze that the sea sent them.
They were lookouts on the far end of the Lanka fortress. They watched out for signs of invasion from the enemies of their king Ravana. The last time Ravana had fought a war had been thirty years ago. The two young guards had only heard stories about it of course — stories of battles fought in the sky on flying horses with weapons made of light and sound.
Their king had prevailed upon the gods in that war and a golden age had dawned upon the island kingdom. The rakshasas of Lanka lived surrounded by the technology of the gods and Ravana’s flag fluttered in the wind atop palaces and council halls all over the civilised world.
“It says here…” said Dhanu reading the manual for the board game spread out before them, “…that I get an extra turn if you land on the black spot.”
“I don’t like this game,” said Makar and rose from his seat.
“It is the only game we have. Took a lot to smuggle it in,” Dhanu protested.
“We are guardians of Lanka,” said Makar. “We aren’t supposed to be playing games while on duty.”
Dhanu closed the board and began putting the pieces back in the box. “Our duties involve staring at seagulls and suspecting them of being Deva spies. There is little else for us to do here. I took this job because my uncle told me a government job would bring my family honour. It was either this or a position in Ravana’s navy. Mother said she did not want me to die at sea.”
“So she sent you to die here on top of a wall,” Makar said, his gaze fixed at the sea.
“Why would I die here?”
“Death by purposelessness?” Makar offered.
Dhanu was not offended. He had decided long ago that he could live without purpose. His cousin on the other hand, was not so blessed.
“Nothing happens here,” Makar observed, and then got agitated. “Why does nothing ever happen here? This is Lanka for Shiva’s sake! Why is nothing happening?”
Dhanu came and stood by Makar. “Well, there was a fire on the other side of the island last month. Took them a while to get it under control. An arsonist or terrorist or something.”
“I heard about that as well,” Makar said, excitement returning to his voice. “Did they get the rakshasa who did this?”
“It wasn’t a rakshasa,” Dhanu replied, perching himself on the short wall. “Uncle said it was a vaanar spy from across the sea.”
“I have never quite learned to put my trust in your uncle,” Makar said. “Remember the time he claimed to have seen the princess of Mithila here in Lanka. He said he found her roaming about in Ashok Vatika.”
“Okay. I admit he makes things up every once in a while. But he is right this time. It was a vaanar!”
“Explain to me how a lone vaanar would cross the sea and enter Lanka,” Makar challenged.
“By boat?” Dhanu offered defensively. “A small band of vaanars can easily make their way onto the island in the night. Or there may be a bridge that we don’t know about.”
“A bridge? From Jambudwipa to Lanka? Have you any idea what manner of effort goes into building a bridge? Even a small one? Vaanars are not builders. They climb trees and they stay away from water.”
“Come on then. Let’s hear your theory. Why would any rakshas set fire to his own motherland?”
“I don’t know. I have heard talk that our king is not on the best of terms with Lord Vibheeshan. The fire could be palace intrigue spilling over into the streets.”
“No true rakshasa would ever do a thing like that,” Dhanu maintained. “I am sure it was an outsider.”
Makar rolled his eyes and said, “You are truly your uncle’s nephew. Come, let us have another game. If we are lucky, we might get done with a few rounds before your vaanars cross over into Lanka on their mighty bridge.”