“Do you come here often?” Paroksh asked after they found a table.
“No. This is my first time,” Agni said. “I was told there was food here.”
Paroksh raised a curious brow. Agni noticed. “A friend asked me to meet her here,” he said, looking into a mobile device that had mysteriously appeared in his hand, “She is on her way.”
There did seem to be food there — lots of it. Paroksh looked around and found he could smell fries, burgers, rice, pooris, and curries of all kinds. There was also a sugary sweet smell in the air that he could not quite name.
“Why don’t we eat?” he asked Agni.
“I am a god! I can’t stand in a queue and buy burgers from a stall. That is not how it works,” Agni replied. “No one has offered me food,” Agni replied.
Though every word Agni spoke dripped with the kind of arrogance that one might expect from an immortal elemental god, Paroksh understood that it was also the sad acknowledgment of an inescapable weakness. The lord of fires could only be fed by others.
“May I offer you something to eat?” Paroksh asked, unsure of whether he was being presumptuous.
Agni flickered uncertainly. A small part of him still hadn’t gotten over the fact that the curious child (in a manner of speaking) who sat beside him on an aluminum chair in the crowded food court was actually the lord of the universe, capable of doing anything and being anyone. For a moment, Agni considered the possibility that he was being toyed with, that Vishnu was playing some kind of a game.
Agni’s phone buzzed. He slammed it to the side of his face as if his life depended on it. “You are here? Food court. Yes,” he said. “In front of the Subway and the CCD. Far corner. Near the railing. Come quickly. I am very hungry.”
“It’s okay. Anna is here,” Agni said.
Paroksh was happy to hear this. He had no money to buy food for Agni. He didn’t even know what money was exactly. But something told him he had a close connection to it.
A girl came up to them, walking as if drunk and balancing in her two hands two trays loaded with cheese burgers, chhole bhature, and at least six varieties of extra-oily snacks.
“Hi,” she chirped at Paroksh as soon as she had managed to fit it all in the space before Agni. All Paroksh could think about was how much she resembled a small bird. Even though she was clad in a loose white t-shirt and blue jeans, Paroksh couldn’t shake the bird image off.
“I am Anna,” she said and shook his hand. “Are you hungry?”
Paroksh shook his head. Agni grunted. Anna slapped her forehead and rose from her chair. She placed a hand on Agni’s head and spoke a single word, “Swaha!”
Agni nodded and started eating like a man who had not eaten for eight-hundred years. Paroksh stopped watching after a while as it was beginning to seem like something of an intimate scene. Agni swallowed whole burgers and burped loud enough to make the table rattle. Nobody around them seemed to take note. Anna smirked and met Paroksh’s eyes. Paroksh smiled. Anna broke into a giggle.
“Are you sure you are not hungry?” Anna asked Paroksh again.
“No. I am alright. Really,” he replied. “Why do you keep asking?”
“That is my function. It is what I do,” Anna said. “Old grumpy here hasn’t told you anything about me, has he?”
Agni looked up from his eating and snorted his disapproval before immediately picking up a club sandwich and shoving it into his mouth. Paroksh noticed that the trays showed no signs of depletion. The table was as full of food as before.
“Let’s take a walk,” Anna said. “He will eat for a good while more.”
She took Paroksh’s hand in hers and they walked away and out of the food court. Paroksh saw a light in every pair of eyes he saw and wondered what it was.
“Anna,” he said, “What is this smell? This sugary sweet smell. It is everywhere. I thought it must have been coming from one of the food places, but it is here as well.”
“I don’t smell anything,” said Anna. “Can you describe this smell?”
“It is sweet, very sweet. Almost overpowering. Too strong,” Paroksh said.
“It is the smell of Kama, the god of desire,” Anna responded. “You are in his temple after all. What you smell is aspiration and lust and ambition and sex and greed and all things that have ever been wanted. The mortals don’t recognise it as such, but this is the age of Kama.”
“You don’t smell this?” Paroksh asked.
“No,” Anna replied. “I am surprised that you do. And I am surprised that you can stand here talking about it. Most beings succumb to their maddest desires at the slightest whiff of Kama’s scent.”
“Why is that?” Paroksh asked. “Why does this scent not affect me so?”
Anna held his arm a little tighter as they walked and said, “There are things that you may discover about yourself in the days to come little one. But those answers are not mine to give. That is not my function.”
Paroksh wondered whose function it was to give him the the answers he needed. Then, struck by another thought, he asked Anna, “Do I have a function?”
“Everything and everyone has a function,” Anna said. “I am sure you must have one too. I cannot change my function and nor can Agni. I hope that you are luckier than us. I hope, that like the mortals, you can choose your own path.”
They had come full circle, and were now faced with the sight of Agni leaning back in his chair, his eyes closed, and snoring gently. Paroksh noticed that the lord of fires looked distinctly different now. His skin glowed with health and his hair was less scruffy. When Agni became aware of their presence and woke up, he even had something resembling a smile on his face.
“Look who is fat again!” exclaimed Anna as she hugged him happily.
“Fat?” Agni raised a brow.
“I was kidding,” Anna said. “You look like a Greek god.”
“Greek?” Agni raised the other brow.
“Shut up!” Anna said and turned to Paroksh, “Did he tell you about how he got cursed to live in the mortal world as a mosquito for eight hundred years?”
“Not in great detail,” he replied, unsure of how Agni might react. “He did mention it once. But not the mosquito part.”
“Tell him!” Anna chirped at Agni, “You have to tell him. It’s the funniest thing I have heard since Treta Yug!”
“You already know the story,” Agni said, looking around and stretching his arms, which somehow seemed larger and more muscular now. “And I don’t really have the time to tell it again. I have to go see Lord Indra in Amaravati.”
“Indra isn’t in Amaravati. He hasn’t been for quite some time,” Anna said, somewhat sadly. “You didn’t know?”
“What happened?” Agni sounded alarmed. “How is that possible? How can the city of gods be without its king?”
“I will tell you on the way to the city of gods,” Anna said as she flipped open her phone and opened the Sumeru Cabs app.