A hot summer afternoon
by Venkata Krishnan
He thrust his large hands into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a rather miniscule handkerchief to wipe off the steady stream of sweat from his forehead.
Seated diagonally across him in the old dining table, I looked up embarrassingly at the rickety old ceiling fan that creaked loudly at every swirl and said “That’s its full speed”, hoping it would convince him.
“Hmmm”, he grunted while patting the handkerchief frantically all across his huge face.
He looked odd – for an angel!
He was old, fat, and bald-headed; and looked nowhere the type I have read about them in fairy tales and other art forms.
What was more, he also wore a suit – an expensive one at that; complete with matching tie and boots!
And yes, there was this huge medallion that slung from his neck over the coat.
I wouldn’t have believed him to an angel, if not for his sudden appearance out of nowhere before me on the dining table, and the insanely huge wings that were jutting out from his back, which kept flapping every now and then; more likely out of sheer discomfort from the unrelenting Chennai heat.
With each flap, the wings stirred up the surrounding air and set forth a brisk breeze towards my little girl who was seated across the table in front of me next to him, playing on her mother’s mobile. Although she couldn’t see or hear him, she quite fancied the breeze – as she would look at me and giggled each time she sensed the whiff of air on her face.
I watched him silently dab off every drop of sweat off his face.
He then stretched his legs and the old dining chair creaked loudly under his mammoth weight.
My little girl, Yuti, nearing five, looked at me with surprise as she heard the distinct squeak from the chair next to her.
“Shall I give you some water?” I asked him, hoping it would make him talk.
He shook his head sideways and pulled off a writing pad that had number of forms pinned to it.
“Water?” Yuti enquired.
“Not you” I said to her.
“Then who?” she asked.
“Your name… Ven..ka…ta…” he grumbled looking down at the form on top of his pad.
“Married…. One wife… One kid…No money… Uncertain career… No house…”
“You have a mole on the left leg…”
“Yes…”, I answered.
“Yes!!!?”, my child asked looking up.
“Deep scar on the left arm…” he said and looked at me.
“Yes”, I said and thrust forward my arm for him to see.
“Whom are you talking to!?”, my child asked; this time raising her voice.
“Let’s see…” He said flipping through the papers, “You have asked for… job changeover… money… family health… a house…". He continued reading.
I was surprised to hear him spell out all the twenty-three items that I had been praying for in the last four weeks or so at various temples of gods and goddesses.
“Who sent you here?” I asked him once he was done reading out the list.
“Don’t you know!” he questioned me back.
He then picked up the medallion that slung on his neck and thrust it before me to see.
It had some sort of hologram in it that contained a symbol – a religious one for sure – something which looked very familiar. But somehow I wasn’t able to recollect where I had seen it.
“Sai baba? “ I asked him knowing it wasn’t.
“What?“ he looked back with surprise pointing to the hologram.
“Eh… Shani bhagwan!.” I asked him again.
“Who!? This!?” he frowned back.
“Whose is it then?” I asked him curious to know my benefactor. But he ignored me and continued to douse himself into the forms on the pad mumbling something that I couldn’t understand.
Anyways, no matter who had sent him; I happy to see him here – I told myself. And sincerely hoped that he bail me out of my financial predicament.
“Mommy..Hey bagha.. Pappa swatah bolthe…” Yuti yelled
“Shh..” I tried to hush Yuti, hoping that her mother wouldn’t come.
“I have come to grant you… “ he spoke finally, “one wish… from among the twenty-three items of yours…”
“Only one! Why?”
“That’s because you are eligible only for one..”
“Because you started late…”
“Your records show that in your forty two years of existence, you have devoted only four weeks of time towards any sort of “serious” prayer and supplication…. Generally, people with such limited track record of religious invocation do not get any favors… But in your case; you have earned, or rather, won this opportunity I should say; by sheer chance; from the random selection poll system, which we have recently introduced …”
Random selection poll system! That sounded interesting – I thought.
“What exactly is that?” I asked him.
“I don’t know much about it either… It’s all too technical for me – server, database, random number algorithm and things like that… New age stuff basically… But all I know is that this new practice is unhealthy… And the system is faulty too… I keep telling it, but nobody seems to listen… Many deserving people who have put their lives and soul towards devotion and prayer are ignored and left out in the name of randomness … Devotion has turned into a lottery nowadays… A game of chance…."
“Gone are the days when selection of worthy candidates for granting of boon was made after much deliberation and scrutiny … And candidates performed deep, rigorous penance and other exhaustive religious activities for appeasement… But now…With this new system in place, it has become easy for unmeritorious people to gain quick benefits…”
“Even today… “, he continued, “This is the second instance where I am standing before a recipient who is completely undeserving and looking totally perplexed with the purpose of my visit.”
I felt embarrassed when I heard that.
“But why do you have to change to the new system?” I asked him.
“Aw!… Hard to answer… ", he said “Because of the dwindling numbers …. People have started to move to other religious practices… And several others have started losing faith in religion altogether…This has been introduced to keep a check on the outflow and keep people interested in religion… Religion is no more a faith now … It has turned into business … It has become a number game out there…”
“Dad… Shall I call mommy…– Mommy!” Yuti shouted
“Shh..” I hushed at Yuti
“So.. Which one will it be?” he asked looking at the list in front of him.
I didn’t know what to ask. I want everything. One wish was too less – I thought
I should have started praying maybe a couple of months back – I told myself – Maybe
I would have got couple of choices now!
“Hurry up.. !” he said
“Well… A secure job with fringe benefits such as car, home, free school education and a guaranteed annual pay rise …” I said combining a few wishes into one, crossing my fingers.
He frowned at me hearing my request
“Mommy!” Yuti shouted again
“This is what I was I dislike ….” he grumbled again “I told you very clearly that you could ask for only one wish… You don’t even know what to ask for… You don’t even know what you need the most…”
“But I am sure my request shouldn’t be problem for you”, I said sheepishly “I mean… You are an angel… It must be possible for you… For your potential this must be – just a piece of cake,” hoping he obliged.
He looked at me squarely and remained silent for a while.
“Is it okay then?” I asked him again but he merely nodded at me and vanished abruptly very much in the same manner as he appeared
Just then, I my wife walked in from the living room.
“Mommy…” Yuti complained “Dad was talking to himself!”
I folded my hands at Yuti requesting her to keep quite. She giggled back.
“Here..” my wife said and placed a plate before me
Placed on the plate was a piece of chocolate cake from her birthday the previous day.
“Have it…It’s the last portion left…”
A piece of cake – indeed! ***