“Why did you write this?” Narendra questioned Ashoka.
They had just walked by one of the many rock edicts erected by Ashoka. It said:
But the Beloved of the Gods does not consider gifts of honour to be as important as the essential advancement of all sects. Its basis is the control of one’s speech, so as not to extol one’s own sect or disparage that of another on unsuitable occasions... On each occasion one should honour the sect of another, for by doing so one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other, while, by doing otherwise, one diminishes the influence of one’s own sect and harms the other... therefore concord is to be commended so that men may hear one another’s principles.*
“Conquest is imposing one’s ideas on others. One gets sick of that eventually,” said Ashoka with a weary smile.
“You used religion to make your mark in history. I’m doing the same. How can you blame me?” Narendra asked.
“History is a series of blames and claims. When you put forward claims, you’re sure to face blames.”
“But I’m doing it all for the development of Hindustan. See what the Muslims are doing. They are using religious terrorism. See what the Christians are doing. They are using economic terrorism....”
“And you’re combining both.” Ashoka laughed. It was a faint, ghostly laugh.
“It’s very easy for you to admonish me. You’ve already made your mark in history. And you changed Hindustan into Buddhastan. Then came the Iblis and made it Muslimstan. And then came the British and made it Isaistan....”
“Did you ever take a look at the Census of your country, Narendra? Do you know how many Muslims are there in your kingdom? How many Isais?”
“I can’t read all that stuff. I am a chaiwallah, don’t you know that, and a proud one at that?”
“No problem in being a chaiwallah, my dear. Only chaiwallahs possessing ambition can be a conqueror. Intellectuals like my Vikramaditya or your Manmohan can only depend on Vetalas or Sonias and send the money of the country to Swiss Banks.”
The mention of Swiss Banks made Narendra’s beard bristle.
“I’m trying to get all that money back.”
“The day you get that back you will cease to be a king, Narendra. Black money is a Trojan horse. Don’t ever deal with it.”
Narendra looked at another Rock Edict which said, “Don’t give or receive bribes.”
“Black money, bribes, corruption, sin... Can you get rid of them? What are you? An incarnation of God or a Conqueror?”
“I’m a simple chaiwallah.”
“Stop thinking that you’re a chaiwallah. Understand that you are the Emperor, the Rajadhiraja of Hindustan. Shed your complex. Then you will understand life from a different perspective. Perspectives make all the difference, you know. Now come and have lunch with me. The best chicken and mutton are waiting for us. Even beef from the sacrificial offering in the temple is likely to be there.” They were approaching Ashoka’s palace.
Narendra’s stubbly beard stood as fully erect as it possibly could.
“I am a vegetarian.”
“Don’t make a religion of even your food, my dear man. Stop carrying your cooks around wherever you go. Learn to appreciate the diversity in the world.”
“No, no, I can’t do that. I have some principles.”
“You should let go some of them. Principles are meant for intellectuals and saints. You are a conqueror. You can kill people and yet be a vegetarian. You can eat chicken and still be a vegetarian.”
Narendra didn’t know what to say in spite of his eloquence of which he was very proud.
“You know what your problem is, Narendra?” Ashoka looked into his eyes with a naughty grin. “You never knew love. You could not even hug a woman close to your bosom. You knew only conquests. Every conqueror worth his salt is also a lover. You never learnt that.”
“My predecessor, Atal, was a bachelor too,” protested Narendra.
“Oh, Atal,” Ashoka sneered. “He was an intellectual. Worse still, a poet. Poets and intellectuals don’t leave footprints in history. They leave words. We leave footprints. Made in blood. Human blood.”
The smell of chicken tikka and mutton korma wafted in the air.
Narendra’s nose turned upward.
“Swachch Bharat, I have to do much more for Swachch Bharat,” he muttered to himself. Then he shook hands with Ashoka. “Good bye,” he said.
As he walked toward the flock of Black Commandos waiting for him with a fleet of bulletproof vehicles he took out his mobile phone and clicked a selfie. Having posted the selfie on Facebook, he called his confidante, “Amit, go ahead and offer the lakhs to all infidels for converting to our side. I don’t want another Kalinga in history. Let money do the business.”
He felt elated. He felt converted.
* Ashoka’s Major Rock Edict XII, Translated by Romila Thapar in Ashoka and the Decline of the Maurya