Few events are inevitable, I guess. So when Mr Patel died his neighbours said it was the news of elopement of his only daughter with a Parsi boy that drew him to his untoward death. No one talked about how his deteriorating health had been for the last few months. No one talked of how stressful his work had become and no one talked of how finding a suitor for his daughter had become an impossible task.
And then I heard that slow pitched old haggard voice- “Fate got him”.
Confused, I looked at her and asked, “Why to blame fate, Amma?”. For years, Amma has been a spiritual guru, matchmaker, and relationship expert in our neighbourhood. Amma looked away from Mr Patel's whom she had been intently staring at for quite some time and looked up towards me, replying in a weak, shaky voice “The story dates back to many many years, even before you were born, so let's sit down son and let me tell you".
Afraid that she may fall by the weight of her old cranky bones and end with the same fate as Mr Patel, I looked around the house to sit, and not far away from us was a small round dining table with four chairs.
Amma’s diminutive and frail body clad in a white muslin saree sank into the small chair with ease. I struggled to squeeze my strapping six feet frame and ignored the discomfort to try and focus on her story.
She began “When Patel was of marriageable age, he had come to me to fetch a wife for him.” She paused, and her eyes lit up as she recalled how Patel had shared his feelings. He wanted a wife who would take care of his physical needs. A wife who will keep the house clean. A wife who will take care of the children. A wife who will work dutifully on every household job while he worked hard to get the house fire burning, he had this never-ending list and as he went on. Amma, charmed by his personality, unabashedly stared at him. Tall, handsome, and dressed impeccably, he seemed to belong to a wealthy family. Going by the designer watch on his wrist and the calf-leather Italian shoes he wore, Amma knew he lived well.
From her description, I thought "He would be a dynamic catch for any girl".
She laughed at the lucid details she had just provided. Her toothless chuckle contorted her face but it sounded pleasing to the ears. It had the innocence of a child and the tinkling of bells. She placed one hand of hers on mine as if what she was about to say was very sacred. All I felt was the rough texture of her shrivelled skin that took my attention away from the precious information she was about to reveal. “He was a desperate fool, young, dashing, handsome, and wanted some spiritual advice to have things go smoothly". "So did you give? " I asked.
"I shall tell you the secret - from the time and date of his birth, I drew out his planetary chart. The position of two Vedic planets in his chart — Rahu and Ketu were both malefic. In case you didn’t know, Rahu represents the moon’s tail and Ketu the head”.
Being an engineering student and practical to the core, I almost toppled off my chair laughing, on hearing that the moon had a head and a tail.
But interestingly, Amma continued unwavering “The Moon's head determines the individual present and the tail the individual’s qualities he retained from the past. To sum up, life being a sum-total of the mind and spirit, both need a balance. Imbalances seize human beings.“
Though being a non-believer in destiny, fate or anything spiritual my interest was picking up; I was getting curious, questions swarmed my mind. I asked her whether she gave a solution to Mr Patel.
“Yes my son, I did” she replied. “He was to pray to the Moon God and ask his benevolence to which he had replied that his wife could do that for him, as it might distract him from his important on-going projects. What a fool he was, unknowingly loading his life’s bad karma onto someone else and thinking he could escape the wrath”. She laughed that scary toothless grin again and added, “He had to unlock his bad karma and churn them around to become good.”
Unlocking one’s bad karma bothered me, but then this wasn’t about me, it was about Mr Patel and I was eager to hear more. I noticed 2-3 neighbours had joined me to hear her story.
Taking a deep breath, she continued her fascinating tale. She had given Patel a very rare and expensive stone, a blue gemstone, and explained the rituals to be followed. His wife was to wash the moonstone in milk, chanting the Moon God mantra 108 times, on the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar. Then he was to wear this purified moonstone for 90 days, year after year after.
I asked her, did you tell him Amma that death loomed upon him? “No my son”, she replied "We, who can look beyond and predict the future, never talk about death. Even if we can sense it’s eerie presence. Death being the most sacred, we do not discuss it." I nodded in agreement.
Interestingly, she added a condition. She would tell the girl everything beforehand and only if she agreed to do the meditation for Patel will she involve the parents of the girl. Amma explained to me that the whole idea behind the thought was to let the girl be aware of the dire possibility of his death if she didn’t meditate.
Some more neighbours joined in. I could see there were fewer people around Mr Patel than those huddled around us.
Amma continued with her tale, unaware of the attention she was getting. Sunita was like her daughter, a beautiful, chirpy 16-year-old. When she told her of what Patel was destined for and the role she could play to avert it, she was genuinely excited. Her face lit up with delirious delight and she instantly fell in love with the idea. It seemed to Amma that Sunita took it as the sole purpose of her life. Unfazed, confident and ready to overcome all obstacles, there couldn’t be a better girl than her for Patel.
And as fate would have it both were soon married. She recalled their first meeting. Patel had to just smile and Sunita was all taken; helplessly, endlessly, passionately, in love with him. Post several meetings, he proposed and she accepted. Their marriage was articulately arranged in his lovely colonial house in the hills. It was an elegant affair remembered by our neighbours even after many years.
In the initial days of their marriage, Sunita had nothing much to do except wait for Patel to come from work and spend time with him.
Sunita brought a lot of happiness into his life. Patel was a very professionally driven and highly ambitious person. For him, it was all about what to do, and what to achieve in his work. But, Sunita would tell him about what he should eat or what he should wear. Somehow she completed him and together they made a beautiful couple.
They had two adorable sons and Sunita raised them just like Patel would have wanted while he got busier with his work. However, on the 15th day of Kartik month, Sunita would dutifully give the moonstone to Patel to wear every year.
Sunita shared a lot with Amma and one day, over a cup of tea, told her how distressed, anxious, and confused she had become. She had been dutifully performing all her household duties and leaving no space for Patel to complain, but Sunita was finding the distance between them growing. Now Amma, also being the self-proclaimed relationship advisor, advised Sunita to spice up their romance.
Amma laughed as she recalled Sunita, barely thirty-seven, running around enticing Patel while serving dinner to him in a lacy camisole and tight blue half shorts. As Patel sank back in his favourite armchair, with the dinner plate in his hand, she produced a bottle of Himalayan wine and did a lap dance on an old Bollywood song playing in the background. And our dear desi Patel unable to hold his excitement grabbed Sunita and carried her to bed.
And exactly nine months later our Millie was born. To her brothers she came as a surprise, both being thirteen and seventeen years older than her.
Amma's eyes moistened a bit and her voice cracked. She coughed a little as if to comfort herself and with a very heavy heart, she said “Fate dealt a cruel hand. During childbirth, death took away Sunita”.
Patel was devastated. His grief knew no bounds. He seemed to age by several years in a single day. Later he tried to deal with the grief by submerging himself in work.
On the coming 15th day of Kartik month, Amma approached him and reminded him of the moonstone ritual that needed to continue, even if Sunita was no more. And Amma proposed she would do the meditation. It did not take much time for Amma to convince Patel. He was a broken man and needed some solace. Amma continued the ritual for the next seven years and when Millie was eight years old Amma taught her. Ever since then Millie had been doing it for her father.
As she was neither told of the significance of the ritual nor was she aware of the consequences of non-performance, she had to be reminded year after year on the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar.
She took a deep breath and became quiet. I looked at her exasperated for there was nothing I could make out from the whole story. The grief she felt seemed hidden under the many folds of her fair skin, her face gave me no clue, and there was an eerie silence around her. Why had Amma said in the beginning that fate took Mr Patel away?
I looked towards the corpse of Mr Patel for some clue and I looked around the familiar faces of our neighbours, till my eyes rested on an unfamiliar face.
He wore a long and flowy vermilion coloured kurta( shirt)and the same coloured lungi below. A gamucha was carelessly thrown around his shoulders covering his back and a rudraksha bead mala was hanging around his neck. He must be a pundit summoned from another neighbourhood for clearly, I didn't know him. Before I would have glanced away, his voice boomed in the whole house and addressing us he spoke out. "Ladies and Gentlemen I have been called upon to perform the last rites of Mr Patel and all of you are requested to take your seats on the ground while I perform some puja. Today is a very auspicious day, gods themselves have descended on the earth to bless his soul. Curiosity took the better of me and I asked him “Pundit Ji, what day is today"?
“15th day of Kartik month”. I heard punditji reply.
I looked towards Amma who hadn't moved an inch and I looked back at the corpse of Mr Patel. And he was not wearing the moonstone.
Who knows, if Mr Patel had continued to pay his karmic debt through spiritual discipline he may have been alive today. Did a seemingly inconsequential decision on his part, years ago have such dire consequences today!!!
No one knows the real truth. In this uncertain world, the only certainty for the real truth to unfold is in way of stories.