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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Consequences

This story is my entry to the Short Story Contest being held by 'The Banyan Trees'. Details here. The theme is 'Light and Dark'. What do you think? :)

The Consequences

He sat on a stack of thin cardboard sheets at the entrance of his hut and watched the river flowing below him. Last year had been particularly dry, so they had not worried about the river. This year, the rains had come early. He wondered how long it would be before they'd wake to find the river inside the house.

His hut would be among the last to be flooded, he thought. It stood amongst others which were even closer to the river. Poor constructions - materials ranging from brick and cement to wood, tin, asbestos, mud, straw and woven coconut leaves. It was what people called a slum. But it was, somehow, more wretched than most slums and had grown in the slope that led to the river, just below a bridge.

It had been a very long day at the construction site where he worked alongside his wife. Now, he heard her rattling the almost empty vessels inside as she cooked dinner.

When they came, she heard the conversation as well. They spoke about the temple they were going to build - on the roadside space just after the bridge. Every house was expected to put in as much as they could spare. 'I'll let you know' he muttered and saw them off before going in to eat.

As they ate, she wondered aloud – ‘Why are those boys doing this? They are a bad lot, you know. Drunk all the time! Hardly ever work - living off their old parents and relatives. Why are they suddenly enthusiastic about building a temple?’ 'Maybe they have changed?' He volunteered after sometime. Some answer seemed to be expected of him. She shook her head, looking very worried. 'They are up to something.'

A few days later she rushed home in excitement after a chat with a neighbor. 'I told you, didn’t I?' she said triumphantly. He looked at her inquiringly and she went on – 'Those boys, they are getting everyone to pay for the temple. Then they'll just place the money collection box there and guess who'll have the key? Oh! They are clever. Not a penny from them and they'll earn out of it.'

He smiled at her excitement - 'Calm down. We can't do anything about it.' Her face fell. He was right. She couldn't go around telling people what she thought was the real reason. Everyone would pay. No one wanted to offend the gods.

Over the next few months, the temple slowly took shape. It was made from bricks and cement. It had a proper roof and a much decorated entrance. Threatening figures were molded all over, painted in heavy colors. A statue of a many armed and frightening goddess was installed. There was a money box too and one of them put the key in his pocket.

At the opening ceremony, people prayed fervently. She stood in the crowd and watched as the hired priest recited prayers and waved a camphor flame. People parted willingly with their coins. Devotional songs blared from loudspeakers set up outside.

When she returned, she sat in silence beside him at their hut’s entrance for awhile. 'I don't understand,' she said finally.

‘What happened?’ he asked, turning to look at her.

'That is how every temple is built, isn't it? Someone decides a place and brings bricks and cement and makes a building. Then they paint it in the right colors, add an idol and a temple is made.'

The song from the loudspeakers was audible still. The light of the decorative lamps looked beautiful from the distance.

'Yes. But, why is it bothering you?' he asked.

She turned back to him after gazing at the temple for a few minutes. 'Doesn't it seem wrong to you? See how temples are made - a bunch of drunks want to make some easy money and they make a building in the right shape. That’s all. It’s just a building. Nothing more. I used to think I was in the presence of God when I went to a temple. This can't be right. This isn’t about God.'

He frowned thoughtfully. ‘Those boys worked on something and kept out of trouble these few months. However selfish or crude their intentions may be – we have a temple nearby. Now you need not go to the other temple 3 miles away. They will pocket some money while they arrange for festivals. But for the first time, we will see the festival being celebrated here. Some good will come out of this as well.’

Two weeks later, they woke up to rising flood waters in their hut. Their shelter for the next three weeks was the temple. It was the only structure nearby with a proper roof, brick walls, open doors and of course, the money box.

1 comment:

Prashanth said...

beautifully written... slightly not convinced by the title... Feel story needs a better title than this