He sat down on the bank of the Sarayu with a heavy heart. The palace of Ayodhya stood silhouetted against the setting sun. He could hear a cry rising beyond the scarlet horizon like the subdued rumble of a reluctant thunder.
He wanted her, to be with him till the end of his life, to be his life’s ultimate meaning. But she had refused to undergo yet another fire test.
“How many fire tests will be required before my husband can trust my fidelity?” There was fire in her eyes as she asked that question. But it was a subdued fire. Like the fire inside a volcano.
“It’s not I who suspect your fidelity,” he explained. “You know the people of Ayodhya. They think any woman who has spent even a single night in the abode of another man is sullied. And you know how many nights you spent in the abode of a rakshas.”
He was torn between conflicting desires. He wanted her, body and soul. His subjects loved him, no doubt. Some of them even adored him. Such love is impersonal, however. There is nothing like the love of one’s beloved. Had Ravana indeed not touched her? Can a rakshas be so good at heart? Are the people making unnecessary allegations and demands? Hadn’t she already proved her innocence by jumping into the fire that Lakshmana had ignited at her insistence?
People don’t like to see others living in love, he thought. They like strife and violence. The excitements of love are too frail for the rank and file. They want war when they are bored with the mundane affairs.
And I? What do I want? He asked himself. Whose love do I value more? My beloved’s love that is as pure as the snow in the Himalayas or the love of my people that melts away when the sun shines?
He found it difficult to make a choice.
Commitment makes certain inhuman demands, he thought. You have to give up something if you want to gain something. Which shall I give up? Do I dare?
The sky grew darker than usual. The clouds came rolling like black rakshasas. They began to rumble. Like a tiger that was waking up from its slumber. Lightning flashed. One after the other. They set the sky on fire. They roared. The roar was far from being subdued. It terrified him. It terrified the earth. And the earth split into two. He felt the tremor beneath his feet.
The night passed giving him nightmares.
Valmiki visited him the next morning. Bhumi has received his daughter back, he said. Your sons are with me. They should be growing up in the palace. What sin have they committed? Or do you wish to bestow on them your guilt?
From his palace he could see the Sarayu flowing. Her waters were sullied because of the previous night’s rain.
What can I bestow on anyone? He asked himself. Except guilt, maybe.