The Beas sparkled like molten silver with the gentle touch of the morning sun. It could not assuage the mutiny that was mounting among Alexander’s soldiers, however.
How long and how far? Coenus, the general of Alexander’s army, raised the question. We have come a long way in search of some mirage. We have bathed in the Tigris and the Indus, played in the Nile and the Euphrates, sailed across the Oxus and the Jaxartes. We breathed the air of deserts, mountains, steppes and fields. We trudged miles and miles, thousands of miles. Of victory, booty, glory and novelty, we’ve had our fill.
Alexander looked into Coenus’s eyes. He saw longing in them. Longing for wife. For children. Father and mother. No harlot can ever replace the touch of the wife. No victory can match the smiles of your children. Eight years. They’ve been away from their homeland for eight years.
But we are conquerors, said Alexander. Conquest is our way, our life, and our truth. There is no retreat for a conqueror. Extricating from your victories is almost impossible. It will be like letting the ground slip away beneath your very feet. The new friends we made will review their allegiances the moment we begin to retreat. Nobody wants to befriend a loser, a weakling. The old enemies will return with vengeance, the moment you are on your retreat. We have only one way, one direction, onward march until our death.
Death, spat out Coenus. You are incapable of love. So you speak so lightly of death. You won’t ever understand the meaning of the sparkle that lights up the eyes of Roxana whenever she sees you. You are filled with your own self. A huge Ego, that’s what you are.
Alexander smirked. Was Achilles a mere ego? Is Zeus an ego? I am the Lord of the earth. Or will be soon. I have brought more than half of the earth under my feet. I will conquer the rest too.
For what? Coenus stared into the Beas that was acquiring a penetrating sheen as the sun rose higher in the sky. “Move out of my light,” the world will repeat what Diogenes told you.
Alexander remembered. He visited Diogenes because unlike the other great teachers in the country that one man had refused to pay homage to Alexander the great conqueror. He wished to make his visit dramatic. Histrionics is part of the helplessness of a conqueror. “Which wish of yours can I fulfil?” asked Alexander standing majestically before the philosopher who had even refused to stand up from his reclining position on the ground. “Move out of my light,” was his insolent answer.
“If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes,” said Alexander to Coenus as they moved away from Diogenes.
I’m not Diogenes, roared Alexander when Coenus reminded him again of the master of the mind. The roar struck the Beas producing ripples. I am Alexander, Alexander the Great. I don’t turn back.
A murmur arose among the soldiers. Alexander could feel the murmur rising to a crescendo in his veins. He went into his tent. And sulked there for three days thinking that Coenus would come and ask for pardon. But nothing happened.
So Alexander came out from his sulk. And accepted defeat. Alexander the Great is vanquished. Only once. By his own men.
But Alexander the Great won’t go back. There’s no retreat for Alexander the Great. We will take a different route, ordered Alexander. We will sail down the Jhelum and the Indus. To the Arabian Sea. The great oceans will take us home.
The oceans will rage for Alexander the Conqueror.
The Beas flowed quietly.