The dreams of all the villagers had come down crashing. They had loved Mohanio, worshipped him, just like their deity Merbai. Saints had taught them for centuries that life without problems is like a fool’s dream. Lead a good life, pray to God and he is sure to sort the problems out.
Miraculously, Mohanio fell from grace overnight. He lay in his bed, trying to dream more in the early hours of the morning. Reva, his worried mother, got tired of knocking at his door. Ramji was clueless. Mohanio had not only failed the villagers but also brought a strange unwelcome misery in the lives of the poojari family.
Ramji felt his brain would burst open.
Marrying the God-like deity Merbai is ridiculous. How would the villagers react to their unhappiness? Would they ostracize him and his family? Will they beat him to the pulp? What will happen to the respect that he had earned over the years as a poojari? The entire district would banish him from performing the only duty he knew. His future looked dark.
“Must talk to him one more time. He has been a very obedient boy. He will understand. It is my fault to have goaded him to get married soon.”
Ramji got up resolutely and walked up to Mohnaia’s door. Reva looked on, with a tray of tea and breakfast in her hand.
The door was not locked. He pushed it open and entered the room.
The sight was repulsive. Mohanio sat on his bed, back to the door, with the big picture of Merbai , pressed to his body. Mohanio was singing some bhajan that Ramji had never heard in his life. He went closer to the bed and placed his hand over Mohania’s head,
“ Beta Mohania, look your mai has brought some tea and breakfast for you. Come on get up, freshen up and have your breakfast”
Ramji tried to snatch the picture Mohanio was holding but he clutched it even firmly and turned his head in the direction of his parents.
“I need two plates, One for me and the other for Merbai”, Ramji stood there motionless, staring at Mohania’s eyes. The eyes were not those of his son. There was a strange glow in those eyes. What had happened to him?
Ramji was now scared. It was futile to argue with a pseudo divine character in front of him.
The clueless Reva, mechanically brought one more plate and placed it on the desk in front of the bed. At least Mohanio should not go hungry.
The poojari couple left the room, closing the door behind them.
Some inquisitive boys and girls had gathered outside their window to make some meaning out of whatever had been going on in the house.
Mohanio emerged from his room, late in the morning, wearing new clothes, like a groom and sat on the swing.
It was now Reva’s turn to try. She brought some fruits and placed before Mohanio.
“How are you, beta? Should I put a plate for Merbai too in your room?”
“Yes, Mai”, Reva’s trick worked; at least he had started responding now
She signaled Ramji, anxious to get near, not to join the conversation.
“Beta, can we talk now?”
“ Yes, go ahead, I am listening” Mohanio smiled but it was a divinely intriguing smile.
“Look, we want to forget whatever happened last night and this morning. Do you know how much the people of this village and other villages around respect you?”
Mohania’s face had the same enigmatic smile.
“So let us make a new beginning. Your father has decided to retire from the priesthood and install you as the poojari of the shrine…..” Reva paused to see if the bait had worked, and resumed,
“So, with the new responsibilities as the main poojari you have to prove worthy of it”
“Like what, Mai?”
“Your devotion to Merbai will be respected. But you have to get married to a nice girl…. of your choice if you will. We will not say a word. … Have some more fruits?”
“Ha Ha Ha, but you believed in all my full-moon night dreams all these months, didn’t you?”
“Of course, we did”
“So the same Merbai appeared in my dream last night and became one with me – as her husband. Why don’t you believe it? It is not me; it is she, the kuldevi Merbai herself, who decided to marry me. Who am I to say no?’
“But that was a dream…”
“So were all the previous dreams too. They all came true. So is this one”
Reva looked back at her poojari husband while Mohanio got up in a flash and locked himself up in his room
“ I must go back to my room and pray. The stupid villagers wont allow me to worship her at the temple now”
“But what about your lunch?”
“The fruits, Mai. That’s all” came a muffled reply from the locked room.
Ramji and Reva were stunned. No one knew how to resolve the unprecedented divinely tricky issue.
They had no appetite for lunch, could not even venture out in the verandah.
From the cracked windowpane Ramji saw a group of boys passing by, gesturing at the door, joking and patting each other. Far away, the shrine of Merbai was desolate, except for a stray dog running about aimlessly. The clouds had gathered again, a heavy downpour loomed large. Ramji – Reva wished they could cry their heart out like the impending downpour.
Late in the afternoon, Reva pressed her ear to Mohania’s door to hear faint verses of bhajans unheard before. What had happened to Mohanio? Everything had been going on so well. Was that some sort of a curse? But curse from Merbai who had the gumption to marry the poojari’s son?
It started raining. The night fell early and the village itself looked haunted by a ghost that happened to be their Kuldevi Merbai!
It was still the second fortnight of the monsoon month Ashadh and a bucketful of unmanageable rains already. One shuddered to think of three more months of the season. The God-like Merbai had turned out to be made of human flesh.
Mercy, Merbai, mercy. Oh, but it was Merbai that had brought forth this misery of rains and possible floods. So where could they turn to? Turn to whom? The protector had turned destroyer.
Mohania’s routine remained same what his parents had seen, day after day.
On the day before the last day of the Ashadh month, a group of sanyaasis trouped in, headed by their Chief – an impressive looking monk with a long white beard.
It was customary for the villagers to welcome monks who would spend the monsoon months in the dharmashala ( a free guest house meant for visitors to the village) at one end of the village, not far from the shrine.
The next morning, Mahatma Dada Maharaj, as his disciple addressed him, positioned himself near the shrine surrounded by his disciples and began his religious discourse.
Gradually, the villagers started streaming in to join the group of monk, listening to the comforting words from Dada Maharaj.
A ray of hope streaked through in the form of Dada Maharaj
Merbai ni Jay