Suddenly an eagle darkened
the sky. Its bright black, almost violet feathers made a
moving curtain between clouds and earth. Hanging from its
claws, likewise immense and stiff with terror, an elephant
and a turtle skimmed the mountaintops. It seemed the bird
meant to use the peaks as pointed knives to gut its prey.
Only occasionally did the eagle's staring eye flash out from
behind the thick fronds of something held tight in its beak:
a huge branch. A hundred strips of cowhide would not have
sufficed to cover it.
Garuda flew and remembered. It was only a few days since
he had hatched from his egg and already so much had happened.
Flying was the best way of thinking, of thinking
things over. Who was the first person he'd seen? His
mother, Vinata. Beautiful in her tininess, she sat on a stone,
watching his egg hatch, determinedly passive. Hers was the
first eye Garuda held in his own. And at once he knew that
that eye was his own. Deep inside was an ember that
glowed in the breeze. The same he could feel burning
beneath his own feathers.
Then Garuda looked around. Opposite Vinata, likewise sitting
on a stone, he saw another woman, exactly like his
mother. But a black bandage covered one eye. And she too
seemed absorbed in contemplation. On the ground before
her, Garuda saw, lay a great tangle, slowly heaving and
squirming. His perfect eye focused, to understand. They
were snakes. Black snakes, knotted, separate, coiled,
uncoiled. A moment later Garuda could make out a thousand
snakes' eyes, coldly watching him. From behind came
a voice: "They are your cousins. And that woman is my sister,
Kadru. We are their slaves." These were the first words
his mother spoke to him.
Vinata looked up at the huge expanse that was Garuda and
said: "My child, it's time for you to know who you are. You
have been born to a mother in slavery. But I was not born
into slavery. I and my sister Kadru were brides of Kasyapa,
the great rsi, the seer. Slow, strong, and taciturn, Kasyapa
understood everything. He loved us, but apart from the
absolute essentials took no care of us. He would sit motionless
for hours, for days--and we had no idea what he was
doing. He held up the world on the shell of his head. My sister
and I longed to be doing something with ourselves. An
angry energy drove us from within. At first we vied for
Kasyapa's attention. But then we realized that he looked on
us as clouds do: equally benevolent and indifferent to both.
One day he called us together: it was time for him to withdraw
into the forest, he said. But he didn't want to leave
without granting us a favor. Immediately we thought of
ourselves all alone, amid these marshes, these woods, these
brambles, these dunes. Kadru needed no prompting: she
asked for a thousand children, of equal splendor. Kasyapa
agreed. I too was quick to decide: I asked for just two children,
but more beautiful and powerful than Kadru's.
Kasyapa raised his heavy eyelids: `You will have one and a
half,' he said. Then he set off with his stick. We never saw
Vinata went on: "My child, I have kept watch over your
egg for five hundred years. I didn't want the same thing to
happen to you as happened to your brother Aruna. Impatience
got the better of me, and I opened his egg too soon.
Only then did I understand what a rsi from a distant land, a
pale and angular seer, will say one day: that impatience is
the only sin. Thus was the lower half of Aruna's body left
unformed. No sooner had he seen me than my first child
cursed me. I would be my sister's slave for five hundred
years. And at the end of that time I would be saved by my
other child, by you. This said, Aruna ascended toward the
sun. Now you can see him cross the sky every day. He is
Surya's charioteer. He will never speak to me again."
Vinata went on: "We were the only human beings, myself
and Kadru, with a thousand black snakes about us, all of
them the same, and your egg maturing imperceptibly in a
pot of steaming clay. Already we loathed each other, we two
sisters. But we couldn't do without each other. One evening
we were squatting down on the shore of the ocean. You
know that I am also called Suparni, Aquilina, and perhaps
that's why I'm your mother. There's nothing my eye doesn't
see. Kadru has only one eye, she lost the other at Daksa's
sacrifice--oh, but that's a story you could hardly know ...
Yet she too has very keen sight. One evening we were heading
in the same direction, bickering and bored as ever, our
eyes scanning the waters of the ocean, seeking out the creatures
of the deep, the pearls. A diffuse glow in the depths
led us on. We didn't know where it came from. Then we
turned to gaze at the ocean's end, where sea joins sky. Two
different lights. A sharp line separated them, the only sharp
line in a world that was all vain profusion. Suddenly we
saw something take shape against the light: a white horse.
It raised its hooves over waters and sky, suspended there.
Thus we discovered amazement. Beside the bright horse we
glimpsed something dark: a log? its tail? Everything else
was so distinct. That was what the world was made of, as
we saw it: the expanse of the waters, the expanse of the sky,
that white horse."
Garuda stopped her: "Who was the horse?" "I knew
nothing at the time," Vinata said. "Now I know only that
this question will haunt us forever, until time itself dissolves.
And that final moment will be announced by a white
horse. All I can tell you now, of the horse, is what it is called
and how it was born. The horse is called Uccaihsravas. It
was born when the ocean was churned." Listening to his
mother, Garuda was like a schoolboy who for the first time
hears something mentioned that will loom over his whole
life. He said: "Mother, I shall not ask you any more about
the horse, but how did it happen, what was the churning of
the ocean?" Vinata said: "That's something you'll have to
know about, and you'll soon understand why. You are my
son--and you were born to ransom me. Children are born
to ransom their parents. And there is only one way I can be
ransomed by giving the soma to the Snakes. The soma is a
plant and a milky liquid. You will find it in the sky; Indra
watches over it, all the gods watch over it, and other powerful
beings too. It's the soma you must win. The soma is my
Vinata had withdrawn deep within herself. She spoke with
her eyes on the ground, almost unaware of the majestic
presence of her son, his feathers quivering. But she roused
herself and began talking again, as though to a child, struggling
both to be clear and to say only the little that could be
said at this point: "In the beginning, not even the gods had
the soma. Being gods wasn't enough. Life was dull, there
was no enchantment. The Devas, the gods, looked with
hatred on the other gods, the Asuras, the antigods, the first-born,
who likewise felt keenly the absence of the soma. Why
fight at all, if the desirable substance wasn't there to fight
for? The gods meditated and sharpened their senses, but
there would come the day when they wanted just to live.
Gloomily, they met together on Mount Meru, where the peak
passes through the vault of the heavens to become the only
part of this world that belongs to the other. The gods were
waiting for something new, anything. Visnu whispered to
Brahma, then Brahma explained to the others. They had to
stir the churn of the ocean, until the soma floated up, as butter
floats up from milk. And this task could not be undertaken
in opposition to the Asuras, but only with their help.
The pronouncement ran contrary to everything the Devas
had previously thought. But in the end, what did they have
to lose, given that their lives were so futile? Now they
thought: Anything, so long as there be a trial, a risk, a task."
Vinata fell silent. Garuda respected her silence for a long
time. Then he said: "Mother, Mother, you still haven't told
me how you became a slave to your sister." "We were looking
at the white horse. The more it enchanted me, the
greater the rancor I felt for my sister. I said: `Hey, One-Eye,
can you see what color that horse is?' Kadru didn't answer.
The black bandage leaned forward. Then I said: `Want to
bet? The one who gets the horse's color right will be mistress
of the other.' The following morning, at dawn, we
were together again, watching the sky. And once again the
horse appeared against the background of sea and sky. I
shouted: `It's white.' Silence. I repeated: `Kadru, don't you
think it's white?' To this day I have never seen such a
malignant look in her eye. Kadru said: `It's got a black tail.'
`We'll go and see,' I said, `and whichever of us is wrong will
be the other's slave.' `So be it,' Kadru said.
"Then we split up. Later I learned that Kadru had tried
to corrupt her children. She had asked them to hang on to
the horse's tail, to make it look black. The Snakes refused.
For the first time Kadru showed her fury. She said: `You'll
all be exterminated ...' One day you'll realize," Vinata
went on in a quieter voice, "that nothing can be exterminated,
because everything leaves a residue, and every
residue is a beginning ... But it's too soon to be telling you
any more ... Just remember this for now: Kadru's curse
was powerful. One far-off day it will happen: the Pandavas
and the Kauravas will fight, almost to the point of extinction,
their own and that of the peoples allied to them, so
that a sacrifice of the Snakes may fail, so that people recognize
that the Snakes cannot be exterminated. That will
happen at the last possible moment ... Kadru is calamitous,
her word is fatal." Vinata's eyes were two slits. "But
where was I? Now we had to get to the horse. We took
flight, side by side. The creatures of the deep flashed their
backs above the waters, surprised to see these two women
in flight. We paid no attention. The only thing in the world
that mattered to us was our game. When we reached the
horse, I stroked its white rump. `As you see,' I said to
Kadru. `Wait,' said One-Eye. And she showed me a few
black hairs her deft fingers had picked out from among all
the white ones of the creature's tail. For no apparent reason,
they were wrapped around a pole. Some say that those
hairs were Snakes, faithful to their mother. Or that there
was only one black hair, the Snake Karkotaka. Others say
that Uccaihsravas has black hairs mixed in with the white.
It's a dispute that will never be settled. `I've beaten you.
The sea is my witness. Now you are my slave,' said Kadru.
It was then that I sensed, in a sudden rending, what debt is,
the debt of life, of any life. For five hundred years I would
feel its weight."
"I'll go and win this soma, Mother," said Garuda with his
most solemn expression. "But first I must eat." They were
squatting down face-to-face. Garuda, a mountain of feathers;
Vinata, a minute, sinuous creature. "Go to the middle
of the ocean," said Vinata. "There you'll find the land of the
Nisadas. You can eat as many of them as you want. They
don't know the Vedas. But remember: Never kill a brahman.
A brahman is fire, is a blade, is poison. Under no circumstances,
even if seized by anger, must you hurt a
brahman." Garuda listened, ever more serious. "But what
is a brahman, Mother?" he said. "How do I recognize one?"
So far Garuda had seen nothing but black, coiled snakes
and those two women who hated each other. He did not
know what his father looked like. A brahman? What on
earth can that be? wondered Garuda. "If you feel a firebrand
in your throat," said Vinata "that's a brahman. Or if
you realize you've swallowed a hook." Garuda stared
straight at her and thought: "So you can't tell a brahman
until you've almost swallowed him." But already he was
stretching his wings, eager to be gobbling up the Nisadas.
. . .
Caught by surprise, the Nisadas didn't even see Garuda
coming. Blinded by wind and dust, they were sucked by the
thousands into a dark cavity that opened behind his beak.
They plunged down there as if into a well. But one of them
managed to hang on to that endless wall. With his other
hand he held a young woman with snaky hair tight by the
waist, dangling in the void. Garuda, who was gazing ahead
with his beak half open, just enough to swallow up swarms
of Nisadas, suddenly felt something burning in his throat.
"That's a brahman," he thought. So he said: "Brahman, I
don't know you, but I don't mean you any harm. Come out
of my throat." And from Garuda's throat came a shrill,
steady voice: "I'll never come out unless I can bring this
Nisada woman with me, she's my bride." "I've no objections,"
said Garuda. Soon he saw them climbing onto his
beak, taking care, fearful of getting hurt. Garuda was
intrigued and thought: "Finally I'll know what a brahman
looks like." He saw them sliding down his feathers. The
brahman was thin, bony, dusty, his hair woven in a plait,
his eyes sunken and vibrant. His long, determined fingers
never let go of the wrist of the Nisada woman, whose
beauty immediately reminded Garuda of his mother and
his treacherous aunt Kadru. This left him bewildered, while
he reflected that quite probably he had already swallowed
up thousands of women like her. But by now those two tiny
beings were hurrying off, upright, agile, impatient, as if the
whole world were opening before them. Garuda was more
puzzled than ever. He felt an urgent need to talk to his
father, whom he'd still not seen. As his wings stretched,
another whirlwind devastated the earth.
Kasyapa was watching a line of ants. He paid no attention
to his son, nor to the crashing that announced his arrival.
But Garuda wasn't eager to speak either. He was watching
Kasyapa, his wrinkled, polished skull, his noble arms hanging
down in abandon. He studied him for a while. He
thought: "Now I know what a brahman is. A brahman is
one who feeds himself by feeding on himself." After a day's
silence, Kasyapa looked up at Garuda. He said: "How is
your mother?" then immediately went on to something
else, as if he already knew the answer. "Seek out the elephant
and the turtle who are quarreling in a lake. They will
be your food. The Nisadas aren't enough for you. Then go
and eat them on Rauhina, that's a tree near here, a friend of
mine. But be careful not to offend the Valakhilyas ..."
"Who can these Valakhilyas be?" thought Garuda, flying
along, the elephant and the turtle tight in his claws. "No
sooner does one thing seem to get clearer than another,
bigger thing turns up that's completely obscure." While
Garuda was thinking this over, puzzled again, his wing
skimmed the huge free Rauhina. "By all means rest on a
branch and eat," said the tree's voice. "Before you were
born you sat here on me, along with a companion of yours,
exactly like yourself. Perched on opposite branches, at the
same height, you never left each other. You were already
eating my fruit back then. And your companion watched
you, though he didn't eat. You couldn't fly about the world
then, because I was the world." Garuda settled on a branch.
Surrounded by the foliage that enfolded his feathers, he felt
at home and couldn't understand why. Of his birthplace he
could remember only sand, stone, and snakes. Whereas this
tree protected him on every side with swathes of emerald
that softened the merciless light of the sky. Hmm ... In the
meantime he might as well devour the elephant and the
turtle, now on their backs on this branch that was a hundred
leagues long. He concentrated a moment. He was
choosing the spot where he would sink his beak--when
there came a sudden crash. The branch had snapped.
Shame and guilt overcame Garuda. He knew at once that
he had done something awful, without having meant to.
And it was all the more awful because he had not meant it.
A vortex opened up in the tree, and Garuda flew out with
the broken branch in his beak, the elephant and the turtle
still in his claws. He was lost. He didn't know where to go.
He sensed he was in danger of making a fatal mistake.
From the branch came a hiss. At first he thought it was the
wind. But the hissing went on, peremptory and fearfully
shrill. He looked at the twigs. Upside down among the
leaves, like bats, dangled scores of brahmans, each no taller
than the phalanx of a thumb. Their bodies were perfectly
formed and almost transparent, like flies' wings. Used as
they were to hanging motionless, the flight was upsetting
them terribly. Garuda thought: "Oh, the Valakhilyas ..."
He was sure it was they, sure of the enormity of his crime.
"Noble Valakhilyas," said Garuda, "the last thing I want is
to hurt you." He was answered by a mocking rustle. "That's
what you all say ..." Now he made out a voice. "The indestructible
is tiny and tenuous as a syllable. You should
know that, being made of syllables yourself. The tiny is
negligible. So it is neglected ..." "Not by me," said
Garuda. And now he began to fly in the most awkward
fashion, taking the greatest possible care not to shake the
branch he held in his beak. Despondent, he studied the
mountains, looking for a clearing large and soft enough for
him to put down the Valakhilyas. But he couldn't find one.
Perhaps he would waste away in the sky, circling forever. It
was then that a huge mountain, the Gandhamadana, began
to take shape ahead, and Garuda thought that he might
attempt a last exploration. He was flying around the summit,
slowly and cautiously, when he recognized the polished
head of his father, Kasyapa, sitting by a pond on the slopes
of the Gandhamadana. Garuda hovered over him, without
making a sound. Kasyapa said nothing, paid no attention,
though the whole of Gandhamadana was veiled in shadow.
Then he said: "Child, don't be distressed, and don't do anything
rash that you might regret. The Valakhilyas drink the
sun, they could burn your fire ..." Garuda was still hovering
above his father, terrified. Then he heard Kasyapa's
voice change. He was speaking to the Valakhilyas, on
familiar terms, whispering. "Garuda is about to perform a
great deed. Take your leave of him now, I beg you, if you
still think well of me ..." A little later, Garuda saw the
Valakhilyas detaching themselves from the branch, like
tiny, dry leaves, gray and dusty. They turned slowly in the
air and slowly settled next to Kasyapa. Soon they had disappeared
among the blades of grass, heading toward the
Garuda had watched the scene unfold with overwhelming
anxiety. Now he felt moved. Long after the last of the
Valakhilyas had disappeared in the vegetation, he said:
"Father, you saved me." Without looking up, Kasyapa
answered: "I saved you because I saved myself. Listen to
the story. One day I had to celebrate a sacrifice. I had told
Indra and the other gods to find me some wood. Indra was
coming back from the forest, loaded with logs. He was feeling
proud of his strength, and he knew he would be back
first. As he was walking along, his eyes fell on a puddle.
Something was moving in it: the Valakhilyas. They were
trying to ford it, which was hard going for them. Moving in
single file, they held a blade of grass on their shoulders, like
a log, and at the same time were struggling to get out of the
mud. Indra stopped to watch and was seized with laughter.
He was drunk with himself. Just as they were about to get
out, he pushed those Valakhilyas back in the puddle with
his heel. And laughed.
"The following day I got a visit from the Valakhilyas.
They said: `We've come to give you half our tapas, the heat
that has baked our minds since times long past. It's the
purest tapas, never corroded by the world, never poured
out into the world. Now we want to pour some into you so
that you can pour out your seed and generate a being who
will be a new Indra, who will be the scourge of Indra, the
arrogant, the uncivilized, the cowardly Indra. Such a one
shall be your son.' `Indra was brought into the world by the
will of Brahma. He cannot be ousted by another Indra,' I
objected. `Then he shall be an Indra of the birds. And he
shall be the scourge of Indra.' I agreed.
"That night I felt the Valakhilyas' tapas flowing into me.
I became transparent and manifold, a veil and a bundle of
burning arrows. Your mother, Vinata, took fright when I
came to her bed. The following morning she told me how,
while pleasure had been invading her pores and curling her
nails, something dark had raised her to a mattress of leaves,
on the top of a huge tree--and she had seen a glow flare up
from beneath. Down the trunk ran drop after drop of a
clear liquid. She felt sure that that liquid came from an
Engrossed in his father's tale, Garuda had almost forgotten
that he was still hovering in the air, claws sinking ever
deeper into the elephant and the turtle, who had long been
waiting to be eaten. Not to mention that cumbersome
branch, still clenched in his beak. Garuda didn't dare do
anything further on his own account. If he dropped the
branch on one of the nearby mountains, even the most barren,
and crushed so much as a single brahman, hidden in
the vegetation, what then? "Thinking paralyzes," thought
Garuda, motionless in the sky. Kasyapa was eager to put an
end to his son's wretched predicament. He would have
plenty of time, billions of passing moments, to reflect on his
crime: that broken branch. Now his father could help him.
"Fly away, Garuda," he said. "Go north. When you find a
mountain covered with nothing but ice and riddled with
caves like dark eye sockets, you can leave the branch there.
That's the only place where there's no risk of killing a brahman.
And there you can finally eat up the elephant and the
turtle." Garuda flew off at once.
"So many things happening, so many stories one inside the
other, with every link hiding yet more stories ... And I've
hardly hatched from my egg," thought an exultant Garuda,
heading north. At last a place with no living creatures. He
would stop and think things over there. "No one has taught
me anything. Everything has been shown to me. It will take
me all my life to begin to understand what I've been
through. To understand, for example, what it means to say
that I am made of syllables ..." He was even happier,
drenched in joy, when a barrier of pale blue ice and snow
filled his field of vision, a sight that would have blinded any
other eye. The branch of the tree Rauhina fell with a thud,
then down plunged the elephant and the turtle just a
moment before Garuda's beak forced a way into flesh
already wrapped in a gleaming sepulchre.
"And now the theft, the deed ...," said Garuda. Around
him on an endless white carpet lay the stripped remains of
the elephant and the turtle. He rose in flight, off to win the
At that very moment one of the gods noticed something
odd in the celestial stasis: the garlands had lost their fragrance,
a thin layer of dust had settled on the buds. "The
heavens are wearing out like the earth ..." was the silent
fear of more than one god. It was a moment of pure terror.
What came after was no more than a superfluous demonstration.
The rains of fire, the meteors, the whirlwinds, the
thunder. Indra hurled his lightning bolt as Garuda invaded
the sky. The lightning bounced off his feathers. "How can
that be?" said Indra to Brhaspati, chief priest of the gods.
"This is the lightning that split the heart of Vrtra. Garuda
tosses it aside like a straw." Sitting on a stool, Brhaspati
had remained impassive throughout, from the moment the
sky had begun to shake. "Garuda is made not of feathers
but of meters. You cannot hurt a meter. Garuda is gayatri
and tristubh and jagati. Garuda is the hymn. The hymn
that cannot be scratched. And then: remember that puddle,
those tiny beings you found so funny, with their blade of
grass ... Garuda is, in part, their child."
Still raging though the battle was, its outcome was clear
from the start. The gods knew they were going to lose. They
hurried to get away. But what infuriated them most were
the whirlwinds of dust unleashed in the heavens by every
flap of Garuda's wings. Dust in the heavens ... It was the
ultimate humiliation ... Even the guardians of the soma
were overcome. In vain they loosed their arrows. Just one of
Garuda's feathers spun majestic in the sky, severed by an
arrow from Krsanu, the footless archer. Garuda took no
notice of his enemies. The trial still before him was far
harder. On the summit of the heavens he found a metal
wheel, its sharp spokes spinning without cease. Behind
the wheel he could just see a glow: a gold cup, or rather
two cups, one turned upside down upon the other, their
rims jagged and sharp. And these cups likewise were moving.
They opened and closed in a rocking motion. When
they closed, their rims fit perfectly together. Between the
wheel and the cups hissed two Snakes. Garuda tossed dust
in the Snakes' eyes and concentrated. He must slip between
the wheel's blades, he would have to get his beak between
the rims of the two cups, he would have to snatch the glow
he had glimpsed within. Then escape. But everything had
to happen in no more than the blinking of an eye. On that
tiny fraction of time depended the fate of his mother,
indeed of the world. Garuda did it. It didn't occur to him to
drink the soma that dripped from his beak as he headed
back to earth. He was thinking of the Snakes, and of his
Indra tried to stop Garuda as he flew toward the earth. He
found an accommodating and contrite expression. "There's
no point in our being enemies," said Indra. "We are too
powerful to be enemies," he added. Then he started to
cajole: "Ask me anything you want, I have something I
want to ask you: don't let the Snakes get hold of the soma."
"But I have to ransom my mother," said the obstinate
Garuda. "To ransom your mother all you have to do is
deliver the soma to the Snakes. You don't have to do any
more than that. But I don't want the Snakes to possess the
soma. I'll tell you what to do ..." "If that's how things
stand. ...," said Garuda. He was intimidated by Indra's
self-confidence, and his reasonableness too. "After all,"
thought Garuda, "this is the king of the gods talking."
"And now tell me what you want ...," said Indra. He
was growing insistent. "That the Snakes be my food, forever
and ever," said Garuda. Whatever it took, he didn't
want to risk swallowing a brahman again. And then he
liked eating the Snakes. But now he fell silent a moment,
out of shyness. He was about to announce his deepest
desire, something he had never uttered before: "I would like
to study the Vedas." "So be it," said Indra.
The Snakes had arranged themselves in a circle to await
Garuda's return. They saw him coming like a black star, a
point expanding on the horizon, until his beak laid down a
delicate plant, damp with sap, upon the darbha grass.
"This is the soma, Snakes. This is my mother's ransom. I
deliver it to you. But before you drink of this celestial liquid,
I would advise a purificatory bath." In disciplined
devotion, the Snakes slithered off toward the river. For a
moment, the only moment of tranquillity the earth would
ever know, the soma was left, alone, on the grass. A second
later Indra's rapacious hand had swooped from the heavens,
and already it was gone. Gleaming with water, aware
of the gravity of the moment, the Snakes could be seen
returning through the tall grass. They found nothing but a
place where the grass had been bent slightly. Hurriedly they
licked at the darbha grass where Garuda had laid the
soma. From that moment on the Snakes have had forked
Garuda said: "Mother, I've paid your ransom. You're free
now. Climb on my back." They wandered over forests and
plains, over the ocean, leisurely and blithe. Every now and
then Garuda would fly down to earth to snatch bunches of
Snakes in his beak. On his back, Vinata bubbled with pleasure.
Then Garuda took leave of his mother. He said his
time had come. Once again he flew to the tree Rauhina. He
hid among the tree's branches to study the Vedas.
Buried deep among the tree Rauhina's branches, Garuda
read the Vedas. It was years before he raised his beak.
Those beings he had terrorized in the heavens, who had
scattered like dust at his arrival, who had tried in vain to
fight him, he knew who they were now: with reverence he
scanned their names and those of their descendants. The
Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras. Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman,
Bhaga, Tvastr, Pusan, Vivasvat, Savitr, Indra, Visnu,
Dhatr, Amsa, Anumati, Dhisana, Soma, Brhaspati, Gungu,
Sarya, Svasti, Usas, Ayu, Sarasvati. And others too. Thirty-three
in all. But each had many names--and some gods
could be replaced by others. The names whirled in silence.
Perfectly motionless, Garuda experienced a sense of vertigo
and intoxication. The hymns blazed within him. Finally he
reached the tenth book of the Rg Veda. And here he smelled
a shift in the wind. Along with the names came a shadow
now, a name never uttered. What had been affirmative
tended to the interrogative. The voice that spoke was more
remote. It no longer celebrated. It said what is. Now
Garuda was reading hymn one hundred and twenty-one, in
tristubh meter. There were nine stanzas, each one ending
with the same question: "Who (Ka) is the god to whom we
should offer our sacrifice?" Estuary to a hidden ocean, that
syllable (ka) would go on echoing within him as the essence
of the Vedas. Garuda stopped and shut his eyes. He had
never felt so uncertain, and so close to understanding.
Never felt so light, in that sudden absence of names. When
he opened his eyes, he realized that the nine stanzas were
followed by another, this one separated by a space that was
slightly larger. The writing was a little more uneven,
minute. A tenth stanza, without any question. And here
there was a name, the only name in the hymn, the only
answer. Garuda couldn't remember ever having seen that
name before: Prajapati.