Shastriji raised the metal vessel filled with water to the sun as he muttered his shlokas. He closed his eyes and let the water drip onto the Tulasi plant. He joined his hands in salutation to the sun. He gazed at the city that was waking up to the warmth of the sun, at the hundreds of saffron pennants that flew on all the rooftops, at the many gopurams that loomed over the entire city keeping it in line with their omniscient gaze. Temple bells began to toll through the city, the sacred scriptures could be heard being chanted everywhere. Shastriji smiled, they had saved the city and the country. He was glad he had played his part in it, “If I protect Dharma, Dharma will protect me” Shastriji said.
“They are here. They are here…” his wife said in a panicked tone as she joined him on the rooftop.
“Who is here, woman?” Shastriji turned away from the sun, whatever peace he had had was now over.
“The priests, the priests of the Inquisition…” the wife said.
“Oh them, well yes, of course, they are here. They make their rounds every day at this time. This is when they accuse people and call them for trial. You should know this by now…” Shastriji shook his head.
“Yes, but they are in our street now…” the wife bit the pallu of her saree.
“So? I am sure there are several people in our street who don’t adhere to the Dharma properly. Just take Sharmaji next door, I don’t think he goes to the temple nearly enough. And don’t even get me started on the people down the street, why they have not yet been called to trial is beyond me…”
“But, but, they are coming down to our house …” the wife pulled at her pallu.
“Are they now? You see the inquisitors also hand out commendations to citizens who have upheld the Dharma. I am sure they have finally recognized me!” there was a spark of pride in Shastriji’s voice.
There was a long thin wail of the conch and four figures clad from head to toe in saffron entered the street in front of their house. Two of them played the cymbals and the other two played small drums. Shastriji and his wife watched as they walked slowly and purposefully towards their house,
“They are coming to our house…” the wife said now chewing her saree again.
“Good, I am sure it is a commendation…” Shastriji said though his voice shook.
The four figures stopped in front of his house. Shastriji gulped but stood firm. One of the figures moved towards their house. He had a bag on his shoulders, it contained petals of Marigold flowers and a container of vermilion paste. He stood before their house as Shastriji and wife stared at him, he consulted a list he had with him. His hand moved towards the Marigold petals but chose the vermilion paste instead.
A sharp breath escaped the wife, “the mark of the accused…” she whispered.
Shastriji stood there looking as if the sun was lettering all the colours from him.
The figure walked towards their house, dipped his hand in the vermilion paste and placed his hand impression on the front door.
“We have been accused…” the wife’s voice was faint.
Shastriji turned towards her, “what have you done?”
“Me?..” the wife backed away from him.
“Of course you, do you think they are here for me? Everyone knows how dharmic I am. You are the one who must have conducted some adharmic activities. What did you do?” Shastriji stared at her accusingly.
The wife dropped her pallu, she stood straight, “so you would not stand up even for your own wife? I guess I needed to hear that. I would never have believed it otherwise….”
“It doesn’t matter to me who it is, if you break the Dharma you will be punished for it, if you protect it, it will protect you,” Shastriji said.
The wife tucked her pallu into her waist, “this stopped being about Dharma a long time ago. But yes you keep telling yourself that…”
Shastriji started at her with wide eyes, “It is saying things like that that has gotten you into this trouble, you deserve whatever punishment they have in store for you.”
The wife stared at him as if seeing him for the first time and shook her head.
The saffron-clad figure on the ground looked up at them and in a loud voice proclaimed, “Shastri, the Swami’s of the Santana Sabha hereby accuse you of being an enemy of Dharma. Your many crimes against Dharma will be read out in the Sabha at noon today and your punishment will be announced. Failure to appear in the Sabha will result in excommunication and deportation from the state. Be there and face your sins.” The figure withdrew, the cymbals and the conchs started sounding again as the four figures moved on down the street.
Shastriji stood rooted to the spot, the same sun now burning the back of his neck, “but … But I have always supported the state always… If I protect Dharma, it will protect me…” he murmured.
He could hear his wife packing a suitcase in the house. The scriptures could be heard from all the temples in the city, the saffron pennants continued to fly in the sky.
[Photo by Honey Fangs on Unsplash]