“It all started,” Agni said, “when I was wandering about between the third and the fourth levels…”
“The third and fourth levels of what?” asked Vishnu’s shadow.
“The third and fourth levels of reality. The third and fourth dimensions this side of the mortal realms. Were you born yesterday?” Agni said and quickly calmed down when he realised the young man had not existed a few minutes ago. As an immortal living among immortals, he did not know anyone who was less than a few million years old. This was going to require some getting used to.
“Listen,” Agni began and paused. “What do I call you? What is your name?”
“I don’t think I have a name,” the shadow said. “Do I need one?”
Agni pondered this with some seriousness. He did not know why the shadow was here. He did not know how long the shadow will continue to exist. Agni did not even know if the being standing before him was a dev, an asur, or a gandharv.
“Because you are completely unknown to me, I shall call you Paroksh,” Agni said. “Do you know what it means?”
“No,” said the one whose name now was Paroksh. “But it is nice to have a name.”
“Names have power Paroksh,” said Agni. “I have had my name for a really long time. I do not know who gave it to me. I do not know why it was given it to me. But it has shaped me and given meaning to my existence. It is in everything I do. In the mortal worlds, it is what causes me to appear. In many ways, my name is all there is to me. If I were to give this name to someone else, I would cease to exist.”
Paroksh was not certain he understood. But he smiled nevertheless. Agni, being Agni, did not smile back, “Your name Paroksh, is the word for that which is unknown.”
Paroksh wondered how his name will shape his destiny. Will he never really know anything? Will his true nature forever be unknown to him? He wondered if he should ask for another name — one that stood for beauty or courage or heroism or intelligence. But Agni resumed talking and Paroksh lost track of the thought.
“Eight hundred years ago,” said Agni, “I happened to offend an enlightened one in one of the higher realms and was cursed to live among mortals.”
“Who was it that cursed you?” Paroksh asked. “And why?”
“I am not sure. It was not all that long ago, but my memories of the incident seem to have faded away. It is just as well. It could not have been pleasant. Besides, I don’t think those fourth-level fellows have names. They are just too damn enlightened for that sort of thing.”
Paroksh thought that he was perhaps getting needlessly worried about his name. Perhaps it did not matter that much after all. He considered asking Agni if these “fourth-level fellows” were more powerful than the gods, but he got interrupted again.
“I was recently freed from the mortal form I was cursed into through the actions of a human couple. Upon being freed, I appeared before them in my true form and gave them my thanks. I said to them ‘Name your heart’s desire and I will grant it’.
“They asked for a damn child. And they wanted a son with great qualities. A son who would grow up to become brave and influential and who would end war and bring peace and all that. They want a god to incarnate as their offspring!”
Paroksh noticed that Agni’s flames grew to be a deeper shade of red as he spoke. When he was done talking, there was a noticeable flicker and Agni sat down, as if disoriented.
“Are you feeling alright?” Paroksh asked the lord of fires.
“I need to eat,” said Agni, and rose to leave. Paroksh followed him out of Vishnu’s house. The door to the living room swung shut behind them. On the other side, Paroksh discovered, was a large open space with people seated around silver tables, talking and eating all manner of delicacies. The air was filled with gentle music and black frames showed scenes from faraway lands.
“Where are we?” Paroksh asked before he noticed that Agni was wearing a fiery red t-shirt and baggy shorts now.
“The food court at Infiniti Mall. Andheri West, Bombay. Bharatvarsh in the mortal realm,” Agni replied as he looked around for an empty table for them to occupy.