THE ORACLE

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Pichamani sat comfortably under the large banyan tree, chewing on the post-lunch betel leaves contentedly. Being the undisputed chieftain of the sleepy South Indian village, Pichamani had no rivals. His mild village folks lived a peaceful, simple life, never challenging Pichamani’s leadership. The village chief thus had nothing much to worry him really- except probably his daughter’s wedding. Selvi was approaching twenty now…high time for a decent village belle to be hitched to a man.

Not of course to any man-only to a man suiting the status and wealth of the Chinnapuram village chief.

“Raasa!” yelled Pichamani suddenly, blowing his nose noisily, “Where the hell are you? Show your ugly face immediately!”

Raasa, the trusted aide-de-affairs came running and bowed deferentially, towel wound around waist, and hands folded, “Tell me ejaman (my lord), what are my orders?”

Pichamani spitting out expertly a jet of red betel juice through two fingers placed on his mouth, “What happened to Kannabiran, you moron-it’s been ages since I asked you to find out!”

Kannabiran, the son of the village chief of neighboring Peddapuram was the most eligible bachelor and in Pichamani’s opinion worthy of his daughter’s hand. In fact, he had always fancied this young man for Selvi, his beloved daughter. But Ramachami, Kannabiran’s father, was somehow lukewarm to this match and feigned ignorance, in spite of Pichamani throwing several hints, whenever they met. This unreasonable reluctance on Ramachami’s part hurt Pichamani’s ego a lot, making him even more determined to get Kannabiran for his Selvi.

Raasa stood silently, scratching his head and shuffling his feet, as if reluctant to talk. Pichamani’s patience was running out.

“Speak up, man, for God’s sake! What’s wrong with you, man?”

Finally, Raasa spoke, avoiding Pichamani’s eyes.

“Ejaman, th…they are trying for the hand of Indumati-it is almost fixed, I hear; and they are planning to fix the date soon enough…after the Mariamman festival, I believe.”

Indumati was the daughter of a wealthy business man of Peddapuram and had been, since long, a rival of Selvi and a strong contender for Kannabiran’s hand. Pichamani, on his side, had vowed to do everything in his power to prevent this match.

Pichamani got up and kicked Raasa in a fit of rage, “And why didn’t you tell me before, you dumb ass…you know I want Kannabiran for Selvi!” Raasa stood quietly, head bowed down, as Pichamani took out his disappointment and frustration on him.  After venting out his fury at this turn of events, Pichamani finally calmed down. There was a look of cunning on his face now. He smiled crookedly at Raasa who was now really worried. For, Pichamani’s evil smile meant he surely had some dirty scheme in mind to try and achieve his goal.

Pichamani twirled his moustache and continued, “Tell me, Raasa, Mariamman puja is due shortly in Peddapuram, right? And those people have implicit faith in their Oracle, don’t they?” Seeing Raasa’s puzzled look, Pichamani laughed aloud and said, “Don’t bother your tiny brain about why I asked… You simply run along and get me Parasu immediately. Tell him it is urgent.”

Though ‘tiny’, Raasa’s brain was big enough to understand that Pichamani intended to do some mischief, the nature of which eluded his understanding. He knew that Parasu was a man whom rich people like Pichamani called for getting some unworthy jobs done secretly. This gent had a knack of getting on with all kinds of people and doing all kinds of jobs… and quite undeservingly, had a reputation of trustworthiness.

The simple soul that he was, Raasa gave up speculation on his boss’s intentions, and sighing, went in search of Parasu.

***

Pichamani greeted his trustworthy Man-Friday and after briefing him on the developments, outlined his plan to Parasu, who listened patiently.

“So what do you say about this idea, brilliant! Isn’t it?” asked Pichamani finally.

Parasu laughed condescendingly and spat out red betel juice; “I have done many a thing for my lords, but this is something very new indeed… am afraid I will have the wrath of God on my head.”

Pichamani put his arms around Parasu’s shoulder and said, “Nothing of the kind will happen; besides I will reward you big. Just do as I suggested, right?”

Parasu pocketed the generous advance given by Pichamani and said, “Fine boss, I will carry out this order too, like I have always done, on just one condition. Please give my full payment now itself, in advance.”

On seeing Pichamani’s suspicious look, Parasu continued, “Have trust, ejaman-after all that I have done for you!”

“I am asking the full payment because I will be proceeding on a long journey after carrying out the assigned job at Peddapuram, and will be returning after more than a month only.”

Pichamani scratching his lower jaw, “Then how will I know whether you have done my job or not?”

Parasu laughed aloud, “From the results boss! Just wait and see patiently!”

After Parasu left, Pichamani’s wife came running to him and asked, “Tell me please, what is Parasu going to do? Is he going to try and convince Ramachami to agree to the match?”

Pichamani laughed aloud and contemptuously at this and said, “Ha ha, you fool, do you think Ramachami will listen to Parasu who is known in Peddapuram also for his lowly activities!”

Seeing his wife’s puzzled look, he decided to confide in her. Lowering his voice, he said, “You know of course about the Mariamman festival, soon to take place in Peddapuram? And that the Divinely ordained Oracle will be delivering God’s message to the village?”

Still puzzled, Pichamani’s wife nodded impatiently and said, “So?”

Pichamani winked and said, “So? Aah, a good question indeed! So our Parasu will bribe the Oracle to announce- during his forecast session- that the girl marrying Kannabiran will surely die within days after the wedding.”

“Brilliant, isn’t it, my dear?” asked Pichamani and laughed aloud, seeing his wife’s shocked look.

Pichamani’s wife, Aachi, sat down, speechless with shock. Though she was used to her husband’s evil ways, she never imagined that even he would dare to risk offending the Gods themselves.

Mariamman Puja was a village festival very popular in many South Indian villages. It was an occasion for rejoicing when the deity was taken out in a procession through the village lanes, in a carnival atmosphere.

In Peddapuram also the Mariamman Puja was celebrated with zest every year. When the Mariamman Deity was taken out on a caparisoned elephant through the streets, the assembled devotees would be dancing and singing to the rhythmic beat of drums. And when the religious fervor peaked among the gathering (and it happened without fail every year), the most devoted among them would go into a trance and temporarily become an ‘Oracle’. The Oracle, who generally was always the same person every year, would jump around in a religious frenzy and sometimes cut himself on the forehead with a thin sword and start yelling in a loud voice. It was believed that during this brief period of religious hysteria, the Oracle would be ‘possessed’ by the Deity.

Using her chosen devotee as her mouthpiece, the village Deity was believed to bawl out some harsh truths about the village and its folks and also give warnings and predictions for the coming year.

Hence the Oracle’s utterances during this time of peaked religious fervor- usually forecasts about the near future and admonitions about acts of commission and omission by the village folks- were taken seriously by the populace in full faith. After the trance, the Oracle- drained out by the emotional overdose- would fall in a dead faint for some time and would be promptly taken care of by the village gentry, who would also apply medicine to his self-inflicted wound, which they believed never caused any pain or real damage.

Aachi, being a simple village girl, shuddered to think of her husband playing with what she considered fire.

Meanwhile, Pichamani, shaking his wife out of her trance, said, “Hooray, after this, no parent, including Indumati’s father will come forward to give his daughter in marriage to Kannabiran…” Pichamani paused and then added slowly, “Except of course, you and me- who know the facts.”

Pichamani then laughed aloud again in self-appreciation of his genius.

Noticing after a while that his wife was still looking shocked, he asked, “What happened, didn’t like the idea?” He was quite disappointed at Aachi’s lukewarm reception to his idea.

Pichamani’s wife, coming out of her trance-like shock, said, “Siva Siva! What have you done? It is a great sin, to influence the Oracle like this. The fury of the Deity will be on us. Call Parasu and cancel this devilish scheme immediately!”

Pichamani spat out some more red juice and spoke with great anger and contempt, “This is why we don’t involve stupid ladies like you in our grand schemes. I refuse to cancel the plan… and anyway it is too late… Parasu has already left to loyally do his bidding, and there is no way to contact him.”

                                                       ***

A week later, Dorai, one of the numerous cousins of Pichamani, came running to him and shouted excitedly, addressing Pichamani fondly in his favorite way, “Machan! Heard the news from Peddapuram? There won’t be any wedding for the great Ramachami’s daughter!”

The wily Pichamani asked, feigning shock and innocence, “Why, what happened?”

“The Oracle, during the Mariamman Puja has declared that any girl marrying Kannabiran would die within days! So no one is willing to give his daughter to him.”

“Oh oh! So sad to hear this about good old Ramachami,” replied Pichamani, “Thank you for the news, Dorai…now my work starts!”

The innocent Dorai walked away in puzzlement at this, while Pichamani’s wife shivered in fear at the prospect of God’s wrath on them.

                                                         ***

Everything went as per the evil genius Pichamani’s plan. No one came forward for an alliance with Ramachami now- after the village Mariamman festival. Obviously, no parent, even if not a staunch believer, was willing to risk the daughter’s life. The most eligible bachelor had overnight become the most shunned.

Such are the ways of God.

That was the reason why Ramachami, who was earlier lukewarm to the proposed alliance with Selvi, was most grateful for Pichamani’s ‘broad-mindedness’ and ‘magnanimity’ in approaching him for the alliance.

Even Pichamani’s wife, in her delight about the prospect of getting Kannabiran for her daughter Selvi, forgot and forgave her husband for the evil means adopted to achieve his ends.

The wedding was a lavish affair and the festivities and feasting went on, as per the typical village style, for almost a week. Then, one day, while Pichamani stood outside his house bidding farewell to the guests and relatives, he suddenly saw, to his delight, Parasu entering quietly. Pichamani suddenly recalled that more than a month had elapsed and that he had almost forgotten his loyal Parasu, who was to be given credit, though discreetly, for this alliance.

“Come here, Parasu,” said Pichamani and quickly drew him to a corner of the house.

                                                        ***

“What…what the hell are you saying?” gasped Pichamani, shell-shocked at Parasu’s words, “What do you mean you could not meet him…eh?” he shouted in disbelief.

Parasu nodded in affirmation and said, “I am not bluffing, ejaman. The Oracle man was away on a pilgrimage that time when I went to see him and was not expected back for a few days. Since I was in a hurry for my own work, I couldn’t stay back and wait. In fact, I came back to return the money but am surprised at the turn of events.”

While shouting and ranting at Parasu for failing him in such an important assignment, Pichamani fell quiet as an eerie thought suddenly struck him with the force of a hammer and made him freeze in terror.

“Oh God, then how…er how on Earth did the Oracle say the very thing we wanted him to…?”

As the chilling realization slowly dawned on the shivering Pichamani, his wife came running and cried, “Oh do come quickly, Selvi is down with high fever and chills.”

 

 

V R Shankar

Author Bio : V. R. ShankarA  RETIRED ENGINEER WITH A PASSION FOR CREATIVE WRITING OF POEMS,SHORT STORIES,ARTICLES AND JOKES. He is the SECOND PRIZE WINNER (Story Writing Category)  of#Monomousumi Quaterly Creative Writing Competition (OCT-DEC,2018).

 

    

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