The city of Takshashilà, in Emperor Janmajeya’s reign, was host to a university of great repute. The city had the distinction, among similar centres of learning, of also having one of the highest GDP’s, owing to a number of emerald and silver mines unearthed by the snake-worshipping tribes who once resided here.
Here lived, in the twenty eighth year of the regent’s career, a student of law, named Sandhàtà. He came from a clan of low-caste miners in the forests of northern Jhàrkhanda. At 14 he had displayed a very organized, very different approach towards mining and metallurgy, which was fortunately seen as a sign of a promising academic career by the tribal elders. He was sent to Pàtaliputra that very year during the annual tribute payments to the King of Magadha, who in an act of rare benevolence recommended him to theTakshashilà University in Gandhàra.
Also among the university’s cosmopolitan students that year was a student of astronomy, known as Jeb. He belonged to a family of affluent Assyrian traders in Thinis, the capital of Upper Egypt, settled there for nearly eight generations now. His family had gained favour with the Pharaoh by forging critical marriage alliances with the nobility. And it was in exchange for a promise of such compliance that Jeb’s mother had allowed him to get toTakshashilà on a myrrh-trading ship.
And so it was fated that the two would meet in this charming city, during the picturesque festival of Sharada Navaràtri, which culminated in the beginning of the academic year. On the ninth day, the day of the feastingof sacrificial meat, in a stall selling pork buns, Sandhàtà accidentally dropped his hot bun on Jeb’s lap.
They spoke to each other in Sanskrit, a language foreign to both. Sandhàtà’s few, yet eloquent words drew a cascade of wit and pleasantries from Jeb, and soon he was drawn to the other as a river is drawn towards the ocean.
Their friendship blossomed over the year like lotuses bloom with the rising of the sun. Their days began with bunking the perfunctory prayer sessions and ended in walks in the city’s gardens or in games of dice.They talked of what shone in the heavens and what lay in the bowels of the earth, of the waves of the ocean and the vagaries of human nature. In time they became inseparable, and in the second year of their study, Jeb accompanied his friend to his abode in the South of Magadha.
It was here, during the tribal festival dedicated to the yakshinìs or fertility goddesses of the forests, that Jeb‘s kohl-lined gray eyes met the anjanì-lined brown eyes of Mahua, the betrothed of Sandhàtà. Neither uttered a word, for there was nothing between them that words could give expression to.They rejoiced with Sandhàtà’s kin, as details of the wedding were planned. And in this bittersweet disposition, Jeb left with his friend.
The months rolled by in Takshashilà just as happily as before and soon it was Vijayàdashami again. But ill winds blew in the news ofthe death of the Kuru emperor, and the King of Magadha showing his true colours withdrew all scholarships he had issued – including Sandhàtà’s. Needless to say, Jeb came to the rescue.
They completed their studies without further event. Both being fine youths of 21 summers now, it was time for Jeb to return to Egypt, where hewas to continue the family tradition of marrying the only daughters of powerful matriarchs, and for Sandhàtà to pursue a career in the court of Pàtaliputra. But the gods had other ideas.
One of Jeb’s elder sisters’ fleets had been caught smuggling olive oil from Cyprus, and in an act of extreme xenophobia, the whole family was sentenced to exile in Muab. News of this scandal reached them in Gandhàra, and Sandhàtà who was now a Doctor of Law boldly decided to cross the seas and accompany his friend to Egypt.
In Thinis his credentials were accepted by the Pharaoh Narmer, then reigning for the twenty first year, and as counsel to Jeb’s family he was able to restrict the sentence to just his elder sister and her children. Impressed by Sandhàtà’s erudition, an influential scribe offered his daughter Renizneb’s hand in marriage to him, with the promise of establishing him in theThinite court. Silenced by gratitude, Jeb witnessed his friend’s fall to temptation.
Thus, when Sandhàtà returned home to bid his tribe farewell and be married a second time, he was accompanied by his new bride and old friend. Seeing this state of affairs, Mahua refused the alliance and in defiance of Sandhàtà boldly asked for Jeb’s hand in public. Jeb was momentarily shocked, but was encouraged by his friend to accept, which strengthened his own will. And so our newly-wed heroes proceeded to Egypt, never to return.
Mahua and Jeb’s marriage, as was inevitable, was frowned upon by his family, who went to the extreme step of disowning him when he refused to divorce her. Luckily, Jeb was offered the position of The Master ofthe Temple Scribes in the holy town of Sais in Lower Egypt, which he gladly accepted.
Two years passed thus, as Sandhàtà’s influence grew in the capital, and Jeb’s repute rose among the priests and scholars. The political divide between Upper and Lower Egypt was scarcely strong enough to keep the friends apart, as they frequently sailed up and down the river. Even the times were changing in conspiracy with their friendship. Young Menes, son of Narmer and heir to the throne of Thinis was eyeing the conquest of the Nile Delta, to fulfil an ambitious plan of uniting the two kingdoms.
In the twenty third year of the Pharaoh’s reign, Mahua and Jeb were blessed with a daughter. An overjoyed Sandhàtà immediately sailed downriver to see his friend. Renizneb, who was still childless and green-eyed, hatched an evil plot as she invited Jeb and his family to Thinis.
Renizneb’s family was a key supporter of Menes’ design and her uncle a prominent part of its execution. She plotted with him to have all four of them caught in the revolts in the river port of Ankh Tawy en route to Thinis.The ingenuity lay in the fact that she and her husband would easily slip through due to her allegiances, and Mahua & her child would be put to death.
Well things went wrong, for her, as her uncle was slain and the revolt quelled by the forces of the Lower Kingdom. Sandhàtà was found guilty of conspiring with her uncle and sentenced. Jeb, in spite of being in danger of condemnation himself, pled on his behalf. His pleas fell on deaf ears. However Sandhàtà could convince them that Renizneb was innocent and was given time to escort her back to Thinis, during which Jeb would stand as his bail & proxy.
Once in Thinis, Renizneb knew it would be a matter of time before Menes’ forces turned the tables and Jeb would become more than a proxy.She delayed her husband long enough, and soon he was out of danger. Fortunately he realized her scheme in that duration, and fled to Jeb’s aid after divorcing her.
He reached Ankh Tawy just as Jeb was about to be thrown to the crocodiles, and narrated his tale. Astonished by his devotion to his friend, the newly crowned Menes pardoned both of them and established them in the new capital of united Egypt.
Sandhàtà married again eventually, and left the bar for good. He went on to become a polymath – architect, physician, scribe and High Priest, and served four Pharaohs – including the Pharaoh Djoser, under whose reign he was deified as Imhotep (Egyptian for Sandhàtà). Egyptologists today search for his tomb in vain, because he was cremated in accordance with his native religion.
Jeb wrote several texts on astronomy and mathematics, and was most celebrated in his ancestors’ land of Assyria, where his works were published under the name of Mithra (Sanskrit for Jeb), and was also deified later by the followers of Zoroaster.
Though the chroniclers of their time have rendered these celebrated names disparate, their tale is whispered still in the cells of the university ruins and the harbours along the Nile. The sands around Thinis and sacred Santhal groves narrate till this day, this story of true fraternity that was not established by ties of blood. This tale I dedicate to my friends everywhere, with a promise of sorority, just as true.
This story is composed of exactly eighteen references to a legend, mystery or historical event. Happy Hunting! – Ishita Roy