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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - The Holy Cow

The agnostic woke up with a sense of unbearable irritation. Travelling seemingly halfway across the world to get to the place where he didn’t want to go, to fix up something that he didn't want to do, wasn't his idea of a perfect Saturday. It would be much better spent lying on his bed, staring emptily into space. Still, what had to be done, had to be done, a price to pay for being part of human society.

The humid afternoon air pleased him no end as he travelled to the outskirts of the city, till the temple trust office. It was spanking new, with that curious lack of awe and spirituality, which modern temples somehow failed to
evoke. It almost tried too hard to be taken seriously as a holy place, and failed. A black stray dog fixed an irritated eye on him, panted a couple of times and promptly went back to sleep.

He entered the office, where he found the head priest, a balding, corpulent old man in his fifties, sweating profusely in front of a table fan. The heat was making the priest want to curse aloud, but he bit his tongue since
he was sitting just a couple of feet away from the sanctum sanctorum. He was god-fearing to a fault, of course.
Another junior priest hovered self-importantly in the background, plainly with nothing to do.

The priest regarded his visitor, the first customer of the day, with a careful eye. Jeans, tee shirt, and sneakers. A new generation kid. He knew their type. No culture, no respect for God. All they cared about was money. And were willing to do anything for it.

The agnostic went up and said,
"I've got to do a death anniversary ceremony, for my father."

The priest asked for the perfunctory religious data, which he got in the form of a scrap of paper bearing all the info required.

"But of course. All written down on a sheet of paper." the priest thought.
"He wouldn't even know what's written in this…modern educated folk, so out of touch with our traditions and customs. And he's supposed to be a Brahmin."
The priest shuddered slightly.

The agnostic came straight to the point

"What's it going to cost me?"

"Let's see... the ceremony charges will be around a 1000, along with a donation of 500 to the trust, along with two silver cows, two silver plates, two silver cups, and two silver spoons. And of course, the dakshina at the end of it. And you will have to do a generic ceremony which appeases all gods which will cost you another 1000."

The agnostic wrote it down, and fixed up a probable date.

The day of the ceremony dawned a blistering hot Monday. The whole family would be there to shed tears of fond remorse over somebody who really had never been part of their inner circle. They were there because of their social compulsions too. The way everybody came forward with some kind of fond remembrance or incident, which proved how close he or she was to the deceased, was really touching. The fact that they hardly ever bothered to keep in touch when he was alive really did not matter. Death conquers all, and infuses a sudden sense of belonging and love, which just never existed before.

The agnostic watched the relatives come in reluctantly, much against their will. He nodded at the few who had come in because of genuine reasons, and the rest, he just saw through. Not everybody likes to take a day off. No.

The head priest looked at the turnout and was pretty happy with the numbers. He motioned to the agnostic to come meet him. The agnostic went up, and sat in front of him.

"Have you brought everything I had asked for?"

"More or less…"

The priest's brow furrowed. He didn't like the shape of things to come.

"What do you mean?"

The agnostic smiled, and started taking things out of his backpack.

One set of silver paraphernalia, and one set made of copper. That included the cows too.

The priest stared at them, his disappointment growing more crushing by the minute.

"I had asked you for two silver sets! This is not acceptable!"

”But it is not mandated anywhere in any scripture or holy book. That was what you demanded. And this is what I am willing and able to give you. Iccha daana.” the agnostic quietly said.

“Also, I will not be doing the generic ceremony, since that is not advised by our family’s seniors. We’ve never heard of it being done for a death anniversary, and we are not about to start a new precedent.”

The junior priest in the meanwhile was bustling about in the background, dejectedly looking on at the proceedings.

There went his silver set. And his generic ceremony fee. The agnostic looked at him out of the corner of his eye and suppressed the huge laugh that just wanted to come out. It took a lot of effort.

The head priest took a couple of minutes to recover. He hadn’t expected the agnostic to be so aware. There wasn’t much he could do. This was a least expected turn of events, and with so many people already around, he was plainly outnumbered. He steeled himself and got on with the proceedings. The agnostic refused to maintain any kind of eye contact with the priest, as he just went about doing the rituals, as told.

Once the ceremony was over, the agnostic kept the required cash as dakshina in the holy platter, and walked away as fast as he could from the place.

“Even death has a price, a role in the entire value chain. They have to make money off these sentiments too…” the agnostic thought.

He felt suffocated, and his eyes were stinging. It had partly to do with all that holy smoke.

“People don’t realize that we have to run a profit centre here. The monthly bills aren’t exactly cheap…”

reflected the priest, as he watched the agnostic walk away. A bit too hastily, he thought.
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5:30 AM, July 14, 2006
Blogger SEV said...

How often have I wished people would actually do that ?    



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