by Sanjaya Mishra
The old man, reclining on a cot in the veranda, was the only witness to it, other than me on that early summer day. The noon sun was blazing and the heat was searing enough to impel people to be inside. Yet, many of the village folks huddled around the vehicle under the shade of the banyan tree on the dusty village road.
I moved away towards the meager shade that the projection of the tiled roof offered. The old man was clad in a pristine white dhoti and unlike others in the village, also covered his upper torso with another one. This along with the sandalwood paste on his forehead bore his elevated societal echelon in the village. He greeted me and offered me the wooden chair by the side of the cot.
Before we could start any conversation, the place was abuzz with commotion, drawing our attention. A large snake was moving around on the nearby field.
“It’s a cobra,” somebody shouted.
“It going away to the anthill,” said another one.
“So what, let it be. What’s the big fuss,” said an elderly voice.
The authoritative tone in the voice seemed to have some effect as they reverted back to scrutinizing the map again.
Just then, a small, lithesome man ambled across the field towards where the reptile had slithered away.
“Hey, what are you doing? Let the poor creature have its way. Don’t confine it,” The elderly voice urged. But the man didn’t heed. He seemed determined to make use of his trait.
Somehow, it appeared to me as if he was over-zealous to demonstrate his long-honed occult skill, especially to me. Curious as I was, I came out and looked on, waiting for things to unfold.
He collected some soil in his palms, plucked some leaves from a tree and approached the anthill, and mumbled some mumbo-jumbo. Work done, he returned, smiling with the contentment of a mission accomplished.
What, however, eluded the prying eyes of the people; a thing only I, along with the old man could observe due to our vantage location, was that the reptile had already slipped away through the bushes to another one at a distance.
“Why did you do it? The poor creature roamed around on its own didn’t harm anybody. Have some pity,” The elderly man accused. Some of the villagers concurred with him, sighed as if resigned to the fate of the reptile, and congregated around the bonnet of the vehicle.
The little man strolled in our direction, smiling.
“So, you have demarcated the boundary for the poor creature,” I said.
The winning smile on his face only became broader as he nodded in the affirmative.
“But are you sure, if it was there in the first place?” I said.
He looked bewildered.
“By the time you reached there, it had slithered away to the other anthill,” I revealed, pointing at the other one, farther from the one where he executed his spell.
He looked flummoxed, but only momentarily.
“It doesn’t matter, it can’t extricate out of the cast laid by me. It would be drawn into it,” He replied.
However hard he tried to put up a brave front, my revelation had dented some of his confidence over his acquired skill that even the villagers vouched for, as also the glory he was presently basking in. He glanced furtively in the direction of the old man, who still sat there silent, dopily contemplative, apparently in no mood to join the conversation, and walked away.
“Do you believe him?” I queried the old man afterward.
“Does the man have the power to do what he claims? I mean, would he have succeeded if the snake remained in the first anthill?” I pressed.
“Does it matter, Sir,” he said, “in any case, it’s not verifiable.”
“But shouldn’t we try to know if it’s true, even if for the sake of curiosity,” I asked.
“These people stand by his ability. Who am I to contest it? It may appear grand and incredible if you look at it logically but actually it’s not a big deal if you consider its impact on us,” He said.
On the return journey, just when the afternoon sun reflected on the pitch-dark highway road, blurring the vision, the driver asked me the same question. I was tempted to repeat what the old man had said but the optical illusion in front stopped me from doing so. It was as if the light and heat from the sun and that radiating from the endless dark road ahead were in constant collision with each other, creating some aureoles, not apparent to eyes. Maybe it was the light overhead and the darkness below, like the two ends of the truth, were the only things genuine and clear; everything else in between was in a constant blur.
About the Author:
Although Sanjaya Mishra works as a geologist, searching for groundwater in underdeveloped areas, writing has always been his passion. His numerous field trips to remote places often provide him the footage for his stories. Sanjaya’s stories have been published in desilit.org, dispatchlit.org, BTW Magazine, splitlipmagazine.com, “At Home and Abroad: Prize-Winning Stories” by Joyous Publishing, Lost Coast Review by Avignon Press Books. One of his children’s stories was translated into Chinese and got published in the USA and China. His other publications include stories in ‘Anything Goes Volume I’, ‘Flash It’, ‘Heroes and Villains.’