Today, I would like to welcome author Vasant Davé to my blog. Please enjoy this excerpt from his historical novel Trade Winds to Meluhha.
Excerpt – Chapter 7
Swells higher than a man’s height rocked Captain Paravar’s ship. His sailors sniggered as Sam sat at the base of the mast, gripping it like a child hugging its mother. Although he was used to the howling desert winds, he had never heard such ominous rumbling every time the lightning stabbed the darkness. The waves slapped the vessel whose woodwork screeched eerily, making Sam wish he could shut his ears just like his eyes.
Had fate saved him from execution only to drown him at sea?
Shouts accompanied by a fluttering sound told Sam that several sailors were busy taking down the sail. From the Captain’s bellows, Sam guessed that he was fighting hard along with his sailors to drain out the deluge of water from the vessel.
Perhaps the situation was not as grim as he feared. Shouldn’t he too perform his duty? “The foal would have been scared to death by now,” was his first thought.
He got up like a child learning to walk, and tottered to the animal. One look at it threw the storm out of his mind. It lay sprawled on the deck, soaked to the skin and staring at the sky.
Sam’s arms slipped around the foal’s neck, and he broke down.
He was not aware when the storm showed signs of abetting, and the sailors started gathering around him. A hand gripped his shoulder. He knew it was the Captain, but was unable to look up and meet his eye.
Then he heard the Captain’s soothing voice. “We could save it from man, but not from nature. Perhaps it was its destiny to be buried at sea.”
As the Captain’s footsteps retreated, Sam thought that his palm sensed a throb. He sat up and perceived a weak pulse. Spinning around, he shouted. A couple of sailors ran to bring warm water and dry cloth as he bade. Another hurried to fetch an earthen pot containing smouldering coal to start a fire.
Cajoling the foal, Sam cleaned and rubbed its limbs. Little by little he poured warm broth into its mouth. He saw its hide shiver, and then its chest heave. Then it neighed as if under unbearable pain. He patted and cheered it. “Captain,” he yelled, “your little one has got over the worst.”
Sam heard the Captain hollering ‘thanks’, and then asking his deputy to set free one of the two rock doves in the cage. They watched the bird taking off towards the stern and fluttering away. “Turn her around,” ordered the Captain.
As the crew started the exercise, Sam went to the head sailor and said, “Why did you release the pigeon? Wasn’t it meant for the Captain’s dinner?”
“No,” said the head sailor. “Those birds are our best friends. When we lose our way at sea, we release a dove. It always flies away in the direction of land.”
Sam saw the Captain studying the mast which whipped at the top. There was concern on his face. Summoning two sailors, he instructed them. They tied a piece of rope around their waists and scaled the mast. Suspended high above the deck, they commenced a long struggle to fix a supporting strut to the mast.
The foal had slipped into a nap and Sam watched the Captain with interest as he gave periodic instructions with one eye on the sky. At one point he said, “There, the Vata-miin is now visible. Get me the kamal.”
Following his gaze, Sam recognised the Pole Star Thuban shining in the northern sky. The head sailor came, carrying a wooden card with a hole in its centre through which passed a string. The Captain held the string between his teeth and moved the card to and fro at the Thuban. Then he marked a position on the string with a knot.
He walked towards his cabin, measuring the length from the knot to the card with his fingers. The head sailor ran ahead of him, lighted a couple of lamps and flung open an ebony chest. Selecting a tome of barks from several stored inside, the Captain studied it for quite some time. “We’re somewhere near Sutantoru1-on-Sea,” he announced at last, and strode to the rudder to take charge.
Around midnight, an excited cry woke up everybody. The Captain strained to see in the direction pointed by the sailor. “Yes,” he agreed, “we were closer to the port than I reckoned.”
Sam discerned a weak flicker of light far away. “That’s one of your regular ports of call, isn’t it?” he asked.
“No, it’s one port that prefers foreign ships to our own.”
“Any ship, whether local or foreign, pays the port for the facilities, doesn’t it?”
“Sutantoru has its reasons,” said the Captain. “One, the monsoons don’t affect its route to Suméru as they do in Alatinam and Port Lothal. This port is accessible to Sumérian ships all the year round.”
Sam waited for him to continue, but there was silence. He turned to see the Captain’s face in the dark. “What is another?”
“Sutantoru is notorious for some sort of slavery, which would never be permitted at other ports.”
“Slavery? With Sumér?”
With a sigh, the Captain started walking towards his cabin. Sam considered it best to resolve an issue that was on his mind. Catching up, he said: “The foal is too weak to continue the voyage, Captain. Shall we leave it in Sutantoru?”
“I can’t abandon it, Samorist.”
Sam thought that since he did not know where Hiwa Haqra lived, he might as well start his search from Sutantoru-on-Sea rather than from Port Lothal. “I’ll go along with the baby if its buyer provides me shelter and food,” he said.
The Captain shook his head. “Who will buy a sick animal?”
“It’s not just any animal,” said Sam, and he immediately realized that he had given away annoyance in his voice. He quickly added, “As I told you, Captain, it’s going to grow up into a lovely mare.”
“To the people who have never seen a horse, Samorist, it’s no more than an exotic breed of donkey.”
Sam considered it practical to postpone his search for Hiwa Haqra till the foal had grown up. A mare could be an invaluable help in Meluhha, the land of long distances.
“Suppose nobody takes it away, Captain,” he said quietly. “I’ll stay back in Sutantoru to look after it.”
Samasin, an orphaned stable boy, rushes to help a foreigner sprawled with a slashed neck in a deserted tavern. Gasping for the last breath, the stranger presses a fish-hook in his hand and pleads, ‘Give to Siwa Saqra.’ Just then, a crowd rushes in and accuses the bewildered youngster of the Meluhhan’s murder. In order to clear his name from the stigma of manslaughter, Sam must hunt down the killer.
He flees Babylon under the darkness of night, and shivering violently, swims to a ship setting sail for Meluhha. Unknowingly, he has embarked on pursuit of an evil trade wrecking the lives of many a young Mesopotamian. A severe monsoon storm, besides ravaging their little vessel, blows it off its course. During his journey in exotic Meluhha, Sam survives several situations which would have cost him his life. However, it never occurs to the naïve stable boy that a powerful foe does not want him to see Siwa.
Sam encounters Siwa’s haughty daughter who takes an instant dislike for the grinning young man seemingly because he hails from Mesopotamia. Her slim dark form and long swinging hair steal his heart. With an eye on her as she hovers in the background, he sees Siwa staring blankly at the fish-hook and his jaw drops. Who else did the dead man actually intend to convey the ‘message’?
Inspired by Thor Heyerdahl’s voyage in a reed ship across Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, TRADE WINDS TO MELUHHA is an adventure unfolding between two ancient lands of Mesopotamia and Indus Valley Civilization.
About the Author
As a retired engineer walked through the ruins of Lothal in Western India, his mind went back to his childhood in the Kenyan port of Mombasa where, as school boy, he used to be awed by wooden dhows sailing out to the open sea. The tourist guide was showing a gigantic rectangle made from bricks on the ground level. It was almost filled to the brim with soil, “to preserve it from erosion”, he said. “It’s the world’s oldest excavated port,” he added, “which was used by Indus Valley ships trading with Mesopotamia.”
Maritime trade across 3,000 Km of sea when iron was not yet discovered, and the magnetic compass was unkown? That query set Vasant Davé on a search for more information about both the Bronze Age civilizations, which ultimately resulted in the writing of the historical novel ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’.
During his professional career, Vasant had provided Industrial Market Research services to corporate clients in Australia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Singapore, the UK and the USA. His articles/anecdotes were published in Readers’ Digest, Economic Times, Business India, Dawn, Telematics India, Studio Systems and Shankar’s Weekly.