"Life is the price we pay for running away from death "
































































Raju hid behind the banyan tree and watched the elders gathered around the sacred fire pouring ghee into it, while chanting the mantra as per the priests' direction. He cranked his neck to look at the piece of meat he had precariously hung over the branch right above the ritual fire. The meat was tied to a thread whose other end was in Raju's hand. He just had to tug it a little and the meat would fall into the fire, ruining the ritual and rendering all the villagers' efforts wasted.

It was Siddha, Raju's neighbour as well as his class buddy, who had suggested this idea and, in the desperation that he was in, Raju had no qualms about screwing up the ritual.
 
So the previous night, with a rug draped over his frail body, Raju had scaled the tree and working with careful precision - and silence - hung the meat loaf right above the sacrificial altar. He had even plucked a few leaves to camouflage it, not just from the eyes of people below but also from the beaks of the eagles above.

The village had suffered a great drought that year and all the farmers - who literally were the entire village folk - were in deep misery. They all believed the yajna would bring them the rain that they so badly wanted. They had made a failed attempt at performing the yajna the previous year, and the failure of the ritual was cited by the priests as the reason for continued drought. Hence, more money was poured in and a bigger yajna was underway this time.

"I won't let this yajna happen. The rain must not come. Ramu mama has to commit suicide" Raju's palms perspired as he held the thread now - the thread that seemingly controlled the destiny of many a farmer in Raju's village. The thread was getting taut as the wind shook the branch and the meat hung tentatively, waiting for Raju's permission to drop down into the fire.

It was a drought that cracked not just the ground, but families apart too. Many farmers committed suicide leaving behind hapless women and children. The farmers that wouldn't give up on their life, were driven crazy by the barren fields and sultry weather. The wind howled persistently, making the entire village sound like a haunted castle.

Ramu mama was Raju's neighbour, a farmer who took care of both his own and Raju's father's fields. After Raju's father passed away, Ramu had offered to help for the time being. Raju had not liked Ramu mama getting friendly with his mother on the pretext of taking care of the family. He had overheard many village elders talking ill about his mother's nature, about her having an affair with Ramu mama. The very sight of Ramu made Raju's blood boil.

One day he had seen his mother hugging Ramu mama in the room and had confronted her. "My dear son, you know Ramu mama is a good man." his mother had explained to him, "He is working hard to support two families now. Due to the drought he is very sad, and he was crying. I was only comforting him. Please don't get me wrong, Raju. I don't love anyone as much as I love you, my child."

But Raju had not been satisfied with that. He had decided to get Ramu mama out of the picture, and he would bring upon Ramu the same fate that had befallen his own father an year back. He would let the drought take its toll.

Raju waited for the moment of high chanting and as soon as it began, he pulled the thread, let the meat drop into the fire, and fled. There was a shriek from the head priest and the yajna broke into a mad commotion.

Meanwhile, Siddha stood at a distance and watched the drama unfold. As he watched Raju flee, he was reminded of his own endeavour the previous year when he had dropped a dead crow that had forced the yajna to be abandoned. And shortly after the failed yajna, Raju's father had committed suicide. It had given him such a relief. He had been frustrated to death listening to the elders' gossip about his mother having an affair with Raju's father...

Notes:
ghee - clarified butter used in Indian rituals
mantra - sacred syllables from Indian scriptures that are chanted by priests during conduction of rituals
yajna - an Indian ritual involving performing ablutions into a sacred fire lit in a quadrangular altar
mama - Indian word for uncle
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