It was his routine. A routine that he religiously performed for seven years. And all he longed for was advancement in his job and enough money to take care of his wife.
When the distant temple bells would toll precisely at seven o'clock every evening, Ramu would rush from his one-room abode--actually an outhouse adjoining the local money-lender's house--wash his hands and sprint toward the far end of the street, bearing with him his uneasy load of injustice of life. And the bells would continue to toll unitl he almost reached the sacred plot of the temple.
Seven years of worship--a kind of mechanical chore--has not fructified in any tangible rewards. Yet his trust in the magical and mystical powers of the supernatural dieties has not deserted him. He believed blindly.
As soon as he reached the holy spot that muggy and rainy Friday evening, the sweltering end of June, he, as usual, circumambulated the temple thrice, gently stepped inside and rang the brass bells; folded his hands in deference to the mightiness of the stony idol, bowed as a sign of his insignificance before the immutable Unknown, and eventually prostrated before the dark oily image. The shirtless Brahmin priest lighted a camphor on a shiny copper plate and moved it hurriedly thrice clockwise while confusingly invoking the blessings of the Divine in an incomprehensible language. He carefully picked a few marigolds and green fragrant leaves and placed in the cupped hands of Ramu. With a copper spoon the priest dropped a few drops of sanctified water in the devotee's carefully adjusted hands. Ramu sipped the water.
Such a glorious ritual! Similarly Ramu performed his duties as a lower division clerk in the state government office devoted to tax levy and collection for fourteen years. In his office hie superiors were almost like gods. Those changing gods at least blatantly demonstrated their anger or petty indifference but never their dissatisfaction with Ramu's diligence and efficiency. He felt his colleagues with "connections" were promoted or their sloppy work was never questioned. What about the real gods? "Can I have connections with gods," Ramu would muse periodically.
Ramu brought back in his folded hands a piece of fresh coconut the priest offered to share with his wife, Rukku, hoping that the gods would bless her with a child.
They have been married for about fourteen years--the first seven were a mere span of marital ecstasy and comfort; the past seven years prolonged like a tropical summer afternoon. Struggle, self-torture.
"I don't trust the efficacy of these sacred coconut pieces anymore," retorted Rukku. "After all, we've performed prayers, visited fdholy places like Tirupati, bribed the gods and the priests, have had only dips in Ganga, Godavry, and Kauvery; fed the brahmins, gave donations for temples. You name it! My god, we have done every conceivable thing to please te gods above. And you've also tried to please and humor the gods in your office. Have you had any promotions? Your friend Krishna, a mere bachelor degree holder, has even become an upper division clerk. And...and...have I conceived yet? No! If there is no meaning or purpose in life, if there is no charm or pleasure, then why should we suffer to continue our daily visits to the temple. Please stop form now on."
Such perorations were a routine with Rukku.
But on that particular rainy evening, when Ramu rushed back from the temple in mud, slush, and sweat, Rukku ebulliently smiled at him--perhaps the first natural one in seven years--instead of reproaching him. Stunned and perplexed, he muttered--what miraculous events have taken place in the past forty minutes?"
"Oh, our neighbor widow visited with me. And she quoted Lord Krishna's counsel to the warrior Arjuna from the Bhagavad Gita. "In work thy rightful interest should lie, nor even in its fruits; let not thy motive be the fruit of work; to no work let not thine attachment be."
Ramu wiped his sweat in Rukku's saree.
-- Brought you by RK