'Why are you telling me all this?' Sivagami asked. 'My father is dead, killed by the king. He has been branded a traitor by people like you. How does it matter if he was a thief too?' Sivagami's voice cracked.
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'It won't make a difference to him, girl. But it would make a great difference to you. The difference between life and death', Skandadasa said in low voice.
'What do you mean? The bloodthirst of the Mahishmathi royals has not been appeased yet?' Sivagami asked derisively.
'Listen. Your father was considered a man gone astray. He disobeyed the king and did something detrimental to the interests of the nation. But the Maharaja acted leniently with him, for he believed Devaraya was a good man. '
'He showed his lenience by making my father crow-feed', Sivagami's eyes glowed with unshed tears.
'You are too young to understand, Sivagami.'
'Not as young as I was when I saw him killed.'
'Until now, Devaraya was considered a man who acted as he thought was right; he did not think about what was right for the country. A misguided man, perhaps. So the maharaja ordered only his execution, for the damage he did was immeasurable. But he spared his family and his servants,' Skandadasa said, staring at her.
'How kind of him. I am touched.'
'Can't you understand girl?' Skandadasa's voice acquired a dangerous edge. 'With this book found in his home, everything changes. It proves he acted with an intention to destroy Mahishmathi. He was a traitor and a thief in every sense. No, don't interrupt me when I speak, and no theatrics again. He set afire, or got someone to set afire, the library with the intention of stealing this book. He then went on to act in a way that would jeopardized the future of Mahishmathi. He conspired against the king. He was planning to act in such a way that his actions might have resulted in wiping Mahishmathi from the face of the earth.'
'Let the king hang him again if he can. Or let him hang me.' Sivagami snapped back. Her lips trembled with rage.' You are concocting stories and blaming a dead man who cannot defend himself. Shame on you, sir.'
Skandadasa shook his head in dismay. 'How can I make you understand? I am almost sure of what I am saying.'
Skandadasa raised his hand to stop Sivagami from talking further. 'Yes, almost. If I had all the proof, you would have been arrested by now.'
'Arrested for what? For what my father may or may not have done twelve years back? I was five then, Swami.'
'Rules are rules girl. I am telling you this because I want to give you one chance to escape. Had I got all the proof, I would not have bothered to give you this advice. If your father's guilt is proved, the maharaja would be forced to act as per the ancient code. And don't act brave and foolish and say ''let him hang me.'' Hang you they will, but all those servants who served Devaraya would also be hanged with you. Their homes would be razed to dust. Before that happens, run away from this country and never come back. You will not only be saving yourself, but many other lives. Without you, Maharaja will be forced to spare their lives. The servants cannot be punished before the family member. Run far away so that they can never find you.'
Sivagami was stunned. She did not know how to reply. 'There can be nothing more evil than the government of Mahishmathi,' she said finally, her eyes filling up.
'Rules are often cruel but necessary, daughter. As a person I can never support killing so many innocents for no fault of theirs. But no country would survive if it did not make an example of traitors. I wanted to give you this chance as I too find it unfair to go after you considering you were only five when your father decided to sell this country. That is why I called you-to warn you. Run away and everyone will be spared.'
Sivagami threw back her head and said defiantly,' No. I will destroy this evil empire that has killed so many innocents like my father, 'Sivagami said.
'You may leave', Skandadasa said in a flat tone.
Sivagami walked towards the door without looking back.
At the door, she paused. She had to ask this question.
'I thought you were a good man when I saw you last time, swami. How can you be so cruel?'
Skandadasa walked towards her and stood close to her. The slanting rays of the sun fell on his cragged face, making him look tired and old.
'You think I relish what am doing? This is my duty, my offering, my prayer. In this job, I have to do many things I hate. But that is my way of repaying this country for making me who I am. I was not born privileged like your father. Neither destiny nor this country gave me anything on a silver plate. But I am still grateful for what I have. There are more instances than I can count when I have hated my job, yet I continue to work like a draught animal. I could have lived a miserable life, criticizing everything about the system. It has done worse things than what it did to your father. It has robbed the dignity of people like me. The illiterate, oppressed and broken people. The entire system has crushed us for many thousands of years. Yet, when the opportunity arrived, I grabbed it and decided to put my heart and soul into the betterment of all citizens. I vowed to myself that I would never discriminate, never be unfair and never do what others have done to us. It is easy to take revenge, to kill and to die. It is tough to be a part of the system and change it, inch by inch. I have been fair to you in warning you about the impending danger. But if my country asks me to kill you, I shall do it without blinking an eye. I may not sleep for days after that, yet I will do it for my country.'
'You boast about your sense of duty and yet you ask me to run from mine, swami. Is it not the Dharma of the daughter to avenge her father's death? Should I not fight back in whatever way I can?'' Sivagami said.
'Fight all you want, but you will never win. You can change a system only by being part of that system, by being part of the change. You are filled with fury and have lost the ability to think straight. You have only thoughts of revenge in your mind. By staying here, you are risking the chance life is offering you. You can fight or change things only if you are alive.'
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