Kashyap the tortoise slowly made the curve and stepped into the well-lit shallow waters just south of Bharatvarsha.
This side of the sea seemed calmer than the Lankan side, where his ancestral home was. Life there had been steadily growing harder to bear. He had found the bickering among the sea-serpents too much for his old heart to bear. The last straw came when some of the bulkier daityas took to living under water. As if the stench was not enough, they kept complaining about the salinity levels.
He saw a shadow extending towards him like an arrow from the direction of the shore. His keen eyes spied commotion at its tip and recognised the bridge the vaanars were building. The sea was rippling with talk about it. He thought it would be nice to walk in the bridge’s shadow and started moving towards it. This way he would be able to surface in the middle of the vaanar camp and look around.
When he was almost about to touch the shadow’s tip, a crab skittered into view. “Where do you think you are going shells?” he said.
“To the shore my friend,” said Kashyap and smiled. The crab remained stone-faced, but Kashyap didn’t mind it. It was well known that crabs couldn’t smile.
“Don’t ‘friend’ me Lankan. The likes of you aren’t welcome this side of the ocean. This is the land of brotherhood and harmony,” said the crab.
The tip of the bridge’s shadow edged towards them as they talked.
“I have travelled long and you are the first to have objected to my being here. I am weary son. Let me go my way,” Kashyap pleaded.
The crab grew agitated, “You will have to pass through me before you take one more step. I will not let you pollute Bharatvarsha soil. I will cut you to ribbons with my pincers if I have to.”
Kashyap sighed bubbles into the seawater. “I guess I will have my rest here. You proceed with the cutting. Good luck with my shell,” he said and withdrew into the shell.
“Show your face coward!” the crab yelled. “You came here to fight. Why do you hide now?”
Kashyap sighed inside his shell. Then he heard a loud thump and the crab was silent. Kashyap peered out of his shell and saw a large rock lying right next to him. The crab lay pinned under it, all but crushed.
Kashyap was quickly out of the shell. The crab tried to say something, but couldn’t. Kashyap set his shell against the rock and pushed hard. No luck. The rock was three times his size. He needed something to wedge into the rock’s side and lift it up enough for the crab to skitter free, that is, if the crab could still skitter. He found nothing. The seabed was bare except for swaying weeds.
The tip of the bridge was right above them now. Kashyap looked up and saw two vaanar figures silhouetted against the daylight. He found he could hear them if he tried hard.
“That’s the third one you sank today!” said one to the other. “For Rama’s sake vaanar, I thought you could spell at least.”
The other replied indignantly, “Give me a break, will you? I have been doing this since sunrise.”
Kashyap paid the rest of their conversation no attention and moved towards the pinned crab as fast as he could. The crab breathed faintly. Kashyap went around the rock to the other side. In front of him was written Shi Ram in Sanskrit. The diagonal line from the Shra alphabet was missing.
He set his shell against the rock and brought it down heavily, scraping against the rock. A moment and a sickening sound later, the line was drawn. The rock grew lighter, dislodged itself from the soft seabed and went up, flying faster towards the surface as it went.
The crab moaned. His shell was crushed and one of his pincers was useless now, but Kashyap was happy to see him alive.
“Come, I will take you to the land of brotherhood and harmony,” he said and hoisted the crab on to his shell. “You can show me around.”