Early morning in the Dangs, even in the peak summer, fetches a cool breeze filtering through the tall trees lined around the village Navgam. The emaciated, wiry river Ambika, so playful and naughty in the monsoon, flows by the outskirts of Navgam in the summer, like a coy bride.
Ramjibhai, the poojari of the tiny village shrine, called Merbai ni Dehri, watched the group of people quietly gather around the entrance to his house. The menfolk sat haunched on the floor while the women stayed close to each other in a huddle, maintaining a customary distance from them.
“Arey, it is too early, bhai. What’s the big hurry? Mohanio is not up yet”
Ramjibhai’s annoyance didn’t have any effect on the group. Their collective gaze on the locked door was persistent and penetrative.
Cock-a-doodle-do – the cock sounded an alert
“Look Ramjibhai, it is about time. Why don’t you wake him up?” Hario suggested, looking around the group for support,
“The good-for-nothing Hario does have a point, Ramjibhai. I am not sure about him but we all have to go to work in the fields” Khandu cracked his knuckles playfully.
The plump Gajri, seated in the front row, straightened her legs in the direction of the entrance of Mohania’s room, letting out a mild sigh of relief,
“That is so insulting to spread your legs in front of this house. You have no manners, Gajri ”, Kashi took out her little box of snuff and sniffed noisily through her nostrils one by one.
“Why are you so pissed off, Kashi? Ramjibhai hasn’t said a word”
“Arey, I am referring to the divine Mohanio. He will surely curse you when he gets up”
“Well, well, well. Are you the only smart soul in the whole village? I have prayed for the recovery of my infant son last night. Mohanio must bless me first, just watch. Everyone is not lazy like you Kashi. We have work to do”
“Now will you stop all the non-sense chatter, stupid women? It looks like Mohanio is up” Parbhu kaka’s eyes were transfixed on the door of Mohania’s room.
Everyone turned his attention at the door to open.
It was the morning just after the full moon night. As always, Mohanio, the 18-year old son of Ramjibhai Poojari, would get up and rattle off his prophecies for the next month. Like his father, he had grown up worshipping the image of the Kuldevi (Deity), Merbai, of the village; installed in the tiny shrine known as “Merbai ni Dehri”, set up under a gigantic peepal tree, many years ago. The village tank, empty and dry in the summer, provided a stark backdrop for the shrine.
No one was clear about the exact year the shrine was set up but it was definitely many years ago.
The villagers’ daily existence was peppered with problems that defied deliverance. In Mohanio, they found a next-door savior who offered remedies conjured up from nowhere?
Chhanu said it was natural for the poojari’s son to be granted such powers. After all, anyone could pray to the Kuldevi and earn her blessings.
“Then why don’t you sit in front of the Kuldevi all day and worship, like Mohanio does?” provoked Kashi
“His father is a poojari, mine is a simple farmer, you mischievous woman”
“But Chhanu, you too must be dreaming quite a lot but your memory is not sharp like Mohanio. You are lousy forgetful”
“My dreams are all about the mundane stuff – like finding an ancient treasure in my field; the God showering me with two hefty bulls and my own land to plough. The dreams are all about me, me and me; not about other’s problems”
“Don’t you ever dream of the God rewarding you with a huge drum of Taadi (local liquor)? “ Kashi giggled, “then at least you can forget about all your problems for a while and lie in your creaky bed all day”
But Mohanio was different. How could he sit in front of the Merbai, eyes closed, for hours while Ramjibhai sang bhajans in praise of the Kuldevi?
The door of Mohania’s room creaked open slowly.
There he was, fresh out of his bed, slowly emerging out of his room. He stepped out and sat on the old bench that had been sitting there for ages.
He folded his hands and began, without any seemingly conscious effort:
Gajri, your son will get well in 2 days.
Kashi your daughter will get married by next full moon.
Chhanukaka, your back pain cannot be wished away soon. Just keep applying the oil that the Vaidjee has given. Take rest and you should be all right by the first showers of monsoon.
Shanti, your son is not going to pass the exam this year.
“And when will the Kuldevi bring the rains, Mohania?” Chhanu was more worried about his crop than his backpain.
“In 10 days”
Mohanio got up, went back inside and closed the door. That was a swift end of the session.
The villagers cheered. Now the rains were almost here; bountiful crop this year. Jai Merbai, Jai Merbai”
Simple villagers, their needs were simple, their dreams were mundane.
Everyone got up and left, except Shanti.
“Now why do you want to hang around here, Shanti? We have no remedies for your son.”
“Do something, Ramjibhai. He can get a nice job in Bardoli town once he passes the Matric exam. Some rituals to please Merbai, please, have mercy on me?” beseeched Shanti
Ramjibhai looked around and unleashed a barrage of expletives “ _______, _______, You worthless woman, do you think we dupe people to earn a quick buck by offering non-sensical rituals in a language you don’t understand? Get lost. If Mohanio comes to know about it he will ask Merbai to never let your son pass the exam”
Shanti could never understand why Mohanio could not agree to pray, for a fee, exclusively for her son. The poojari of the neighboring village did it all the time.
The miraculous prophecies had made Mohanio a celebrity in the cluster of villages around. The trail of prophecies started around Janmasthami (the Hindu date of birth of Lord Krishna) last year.
They followed a peculiar tradition in the village. A makeshift image of kuldevi Merbai made of clay would be worshipped for seven days with all the fanfare and religious songs and on the eighth day the image would be immersed in the tank behind the shrine. Nobody knew the reason or the significance of the ritual but they followed it religiously year after year. Everyone has a role to play – even the Gods. There is a time for everything. As soon as the task is over out you go.
Mohnio had just turned eighteen and for the first time he was allowed by his father to carry the image of Merbai all the way to the tank for immersion.
Then people noticed a big change in the behavior of Mohania. He started spending virtually all his time in front of the shrine, in deep meditation.
“Oh well, Ramjibhai will pass on the baton to his son in due course so it just makes sense”, some of Mohania’s friends reasoned.
“That is ok but Dhiru, your fiancée Geeta seems to be smitten by Mohanio. Be careful” Ramesh warned Dhiru
“Shut up you foul-mouthed, nothing will happen. I am betrothed to Geeta”
“Yes, but times are bad, Dhiru. The girls easily get enamored by the bare torso of Mohanio when he meditates in front of the shrine.” All the friends in the group enjoyed the fun.
“Why don’t you mind your business, Ramesh. What makes you stare at my Geeta?” Dhiru walked off
And then it happened just after the following first full moon night. Mohanio just got up and started babbling about some great flood that would occur on the fifth day of the month. The docile river flowing by the village was in spate. The waters rose to almost a foot high in the houses of the village.
How did Mohanio get this premonition in his dream? Was he simply fooling people? Why would he?
Ramji and his wife, Reva didn’t know what to do. Mohania’s full moon night prophecies turned out to be true, every time.
Once he predicted that a gang of dacoits would strike on a certain day. The villagers were now convinced about the foretelling powers of Mohania. They posted some well-built young men of the village to keep a vigil at night.
Sure enough; the dacoits struck just after midnight but the young men kept them at bay.
Now the villagers began approaching Mohanio with their problems to find a solution. They flocked at his door the next morning to hear him.
“Arey, Ramjibhai, you must start charging a fee for the service that Mohanio is providing” Chhanu advised Ramji.
“No bhai, Merbai would get angry. We are doing just fine. Why do we need more money?, The simpleton Ramji would not take the bait.
“But Mohnaio is coming of age now. You will need money for his marriage”
“Oh well. My merciful Merbai will take care of that, Chhanu”