Today will be the last day of this sincere performance, thought Raman. The wet cloth clung to his loins, and the air trapped beneath it drew sinuous veins along his thighs. With the occasional shudder of his shoulders, Raman managed to repeat fragments of the meaningless mantras that the priest was rapidly pouring out.
The sacred fire crackling in front of him occasionally hid the photograph of his father. He tried not looking at the picture, as he was sure his father would sense his intentions. Raman was not interested in the rituals except for one thing that one of his garrulous aunts had mentioned while she was consoling his mother. That had stuck to his mind and often, in the midst of the chants, kept echoing down his conscience. Then he would dart a look at the photograph hoping his father hadn’t heard it, too.
The priest handed some rice, sesame seeds and instructions to Raman.
“Son, you need to perform this thrice, repeating the mantra that I will tell you. Hold the sesame seeds and water in the palm of your hand. Once you finish chanting the mantra, pour it down along your thumb to the side.”
In his mind’s chamber he heard the low rumbling voice of his aunt: “Don’t worry Meera. Your husband would surely re-incarnate as Raman’s son. Just you wait.”
“Son? I know it is disturbing, so, if you want, we could wait for a few minutes before…”
“No, no. Nothing like that”, Raman hastily replied and felt embarrassed that some stranger was sympathising with him. They proceeded to perform the rituals and Raman avoided glancing at the picture thereafter.
His head was a bedlam of talk from the past, most in the intonation of his father’s voice.
“This is how you wish to study, huh? 89%, our son gets in Mathematics!! You are good for nothing.”
“I tell you, he won’t play the guitar properly. Why waste so much money on this? I’ll get you a silk saree, Meera, and it would be worth every rupee.”
“Chemical engineering? What else could you get for such a horrible score? Look at Mr. Parthasarthy’s son, IIT top ranker. Now, he makes a father proud.”
“Why do an MS in the US? Stay here in India. It’s your turn to earn some money for the family.”
“With a salary like this, what life can we lead? Look at Mr. Vasu’s son. He is earning in dollars. They bought a villa recently.”
“Yes, Sir? I am sorry. I was lost in …”, and Raman let that end in a manner which didn’t require him to speak the truth but let people infer the socially acceptable connotations.
“I understand, son. I was twelve when my father expired. I was too young, but my brother was inconsolable. But all that is God’s will.”
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted his pregnant wife inch her way into the room.
“Revathi, please go back to your room. Now.”
“Raman, why are you shouting at her”, his mother asked.
Raman breathed in deeply before replying, “The doctor said these fumes aren’t good for the baby.”
Revathi was escorted back to her room and Raman sighed.
“Aren’t these rituals performed to ensure that my father’s soul has a safe passage to the heavens?”
“Indeed, son. With these rituals, the Lord is pleased and He…”
Raman had no time for the religious banter and he quickly interrupted.
“So, if done properly, there is no way that he will come back to earth, right?”