Mr. Kumar reached his office like any other day.  Today also he had wished every one on the way like he had done on any other normal day. He parked his scooter and took the stairs to the second floor of the building. He put down a bundle of files he was carrying. He shoved the Tiffin box into the side table and pressed the calling ring for the office boy. There was nothing new in this routine. He has been following this routine for last many years. Except that today he was surprised to see the director of the office he worked for, waiting for him. The director had been occupying the chair meant for the visitor placed in front of Kumar’s work desk. Kumar in his eagerness to start the day’s job of the day had not noticed the visitor waiting for him.

“Good morning Mr. Kumar”, the director wished him before Kumar could so, “I sincerely apologize for not having noticed your presence in my office. It is an honor to have some one close to the great priest Rajamantran of the great shrine working for us. You never even mentioned it once that you are related to the sage”.

The office boy had brought two cups of coffee on Kumar’s table and asked the director if he wanted it to be served there. “You take it to my cabin. Mr. Kumar I hope you will not mind joining me for a cup of coffee in my office. I have personally come to make this request to you”.

Mr. Kumar’s working in the office has always been unassuming, quite and strictly adhering to the rules. He was somewhat taken aback to find the director pleading for his company for a cup of coffee. He wondered if “the director has lost his balance of mind. May be he is annoyed at him for some reason. The director is taking it out on him in this fashion”.

“I am sorry sir! But I do not want to have coffee such early in the morning. And by the way you mentioned something about being related to some great Priest. I am sure there must be some kind of mistaken identity.  I do not know any great Priest.”

“Oh come on Mr. Kumar I am impressed by your modesty and humility. If you do not mind can we discuss this in my room”? He held Kumar from his elbow and led him towards his room. He offered a chair to Kumar and moved on to the other side of the table to sit into his own chair.

“Look here Mr. Kumar, I have been instructed by the pontiff of the great shrine to provide my personal car to you to visit the Sanctro sanctorum. He wants our Mr. Kumar to have an audience with the pontiff. He wants to meet you. He has sent two of his emissaries to escort you to the holy shrine. The sage had also informed me that you will also be escorted back by the evening. He was very particular that full honor should be accorded to you henceforth. That he will soon visit this office too to see all of us in person”.

“I am sure it must be a prank played by some one.  I do not know any sage. I do not want to go. You can check up if there is some other Kumar working in various branches.  It must be for him”.

The two emissaries from the shrine who were sitting in the adjoining room walked into the office on hearing the discussion between them.

“Please accept our Greetings Mr. Kumar. Our great Priest has sent for you only. He has requested that he will feel honored if you could give him an audience this afternoon. It is some thing very personal. He will like to discuss with you only. And we have double checked it sir he is referring to you and you only in particular.  So please do us the favor of accompanying us to the shrine. We will be back by the evening before your office gets over. We will make sure that you are not unnecessary put to inconvenience”.

Kumar looked askance at his boss.  He felt as if he was being kidnapped, “but me”.

The visitors did not let him complete his sentence, “you will have to believe us sir. There is nothing to fear about.  We shall get you back by the evening”.

Kumar who did not seem to have any other choice left shrugged his shoulders as if he resigning to his fate “it is all right. But you make sure we come back before my office closes for the day”, he told them.

Once at the shrine he was led to the public relation officer’s room which was just outside the main shrine. “The seer will shortly be seeing you sir” the emissaries told him. “In the mean while we will arrange some food for you”.  They left him alone in the office to wonder again as to why he has been called.

“How nice it is to see you here”. Mr. Kumar looked back towards the direction of the voice.  This was a stranger’s face. He was certainly not the great Priest. Kumar had often seen the sage on local television. “I am sorry! But have we met before?” he asked the new comer.

“How silly of me but of course I should have introduced myself. You can just call me General”.  General Durjan extended his hand towards Kumar which was accepted hesitatingly. “The great priest Rajamantran is ready to see you now.  You will come with me to this side please. We are sorry to have put you through this inconvenience. In fact you must be aware of the security hassles that can be created for the great Priest’s safety if he has to go outside this place. Hence he has asked us to fetch you here. Otherwise you must believe me we would have personally come to see you”.  Mr. Kumar felt as if the humility and the courtesy was the hall mark of people associated with the great Priest.

The great priest Rajamantran extended both the arms when he saw Kumar coming into his room. He was accompanied by General Durjan.  He had not seen Kumar any time earlier in his life.  He behaved as if he had known him all his life.

“How happy we are that you decided to come.  Brother Come you will sit near me.” The great priest Rajamantran was squatting on the floor with both of his feet spread out in front of him. He picked up a round cushion and set it on the floor next to him. He beckoned Kumar to come and sit into the cushion on the floor.

“Can we have something to eat and drink for Kumar”, the great priest Rajamantran clapped with both his hands summoning some one from the wings.

While Kumar was being served his food and the soft drinks, the great priest Rajamantran started his address to him in direct tone,  “Mr. Kumar I understand that you are fortunate enough to have a daughter and a son.  I know it is very difficult to rear up children in the hard times today. The society of our times has been losing its grip on the moral and ethical system of living. We should all be held responsible for the moral degradation.  The weak character of the modern youth has been eating into the very social and righteous   thread of this generation. The youngsters want to be left alone. They want to become the arbiters of their own decisions in their life. Come you must start eating”, the great priest Rajamantran pointed towards the food tray placed in front of Kumar.

“While we are talking you can continue eating simultaneously”, he told him.

“Thank you sir”, Kumar took a bite. “Why is he discussing this with me? Has he called me here to give me a sermon on the morality of the society”, Kumar thought aloud.

The great priest Rajamantran continued “it is still acceptable if the child happens to be a boy. The society is little more tolerant towards the waywardness of the male of the progeny. But heavens forbid. Ones existence in social circles becomes all the more difficult if a daughter has to be brought up in the modern scenario. Our society expects the girls and the female of the species to be nice and good all the while. It wants the parents to act as a watch dog for whatever their kids do in their free times”.

Kumar who was listening to great Priest in rapt attention interrupted, “yes sir but my kids are quite well behaved”.

“I know. I know Mr. Kumar that is the reason we have summoned for you here. We appreciate the fact that you and your wife have brought the children as they ought to be. I understand your daughter is very intelligent. She is very well behaved. She is quite civilized and is a simpleton”.

The great priest Rajamantran was praising his daughter which made Kumar feel proud and at the same time he was feeling little ill at ease too while listening to all the praise of his children from a man he had never met in his life before .

“I think it is your daughter’s decency that has besotted our young man. He has fallen head over heals in love with your daughter”.

“I beg your pardon sir”, the glass of cold drink slipped out of his hands, the liquid spilled over Kumar’s clothes.  The great priest Rajamantran handed over his scarf to him.

“Never mind Mr. Kumar we will get you another drink.  I was referring to one of my nephews who have been smitten by the charms of your beautiful daughter. He obviously has been bitten by the cupid and seeks your permission to marry your daughter. I am sure you will also like the young lady to settle down well in life and the sooner it is done better it will be”.

“My daughter is yet to complete her education.  Besides we are not prepared for such a decision. It is little too early to decide. She is quite young yet”. Kumar got up from the cushion he was sitting on. He was apparently quite agitated with the ridiculous demand made by the great Priest, “If that is what you had fetched me here for, please excuse me. The proposal is absolutely untimed besides its being totally absurd. I will like to go back at once”, Kumar retorted as he was walking out of the room.

General Durjan, who has never interfered while the great priest Rajamantran spoke, physically forced Kumar back on the cushion, “please do sit down. Do not get worked up.  You must listen to the great priest Rajamantran. Do not interrupt till he has finished speaking. Your insolence towards him is uncalled for”.

The great priest Rajamantran lifted his right hand to hold back General Durjan.

“Easy, please do not be harsh on our dear brother Mr. Kumar. His reaction is reasonable. It is expected. It is not uncalled for. Any of the parents will react in the similar fashion.  But Mr. Kumar you have not listened to our proposal completely. Once I finish explaining the entire situation to you, this matter will become logical to you. Can we get another drink for him?” he looked up towards the passage where his body guards were waiting upon him. “Mr. Kumar, the young man I am discussing about, is a college mate of your daughter. It is a plain truth. They are well known to each other. We are sure their love for each other could be mutual and this attraction exists both ways”.

Kumar wanted to speak.

“Do not be in haste my dear brother.  Such matters need to be handled tactfully. You might tell me that your daughter is unlike this.  I agree with you we are not casting any aspersions on the moral character of the young lady. All we are suggesting is the arrangement of marriage between the couple with your blessings. If you agree to this proposal it is very magnanimous of you. Well otherwise we are afraid their marriage ceremony will be arranged without your blessings too. This young man happens to be my nephew. You would have heard of the kidnap marriages in certain parts of this country”. The menace and the threat in the voice of the great priest Rajamantran were quite apparent. “I do understand you will like your young son to grow up and give you a helping hand in your old age”.

Kumar shuddered at such a naked warning, being given to him “Munna his son was too young to be referred to in a discussion of this kind. He has hardly seen any of the life so far”.

Kumar covered his face with both his hands. He  started crying and with tears in his eyes he looked up at the priest  , “ your lordship I do not know what kind of crime me or my family have committed that you are subjecting all of us to this punishment. Please forgive us if you are annoyed at some of our mistakes. But we are wiling to atone for the sins. I will request you to spare me and my family from the pains we are being subjected to”, he fell on the feet of the great Priest.

General Durjan told him, “Will you stop this melodrama at once. Pay heed to what we tell you. First of all the marriage proposal will be taken by you personally to the boy at this address. He should be waiting for your visit. You will take care of any objection raised by your spouse or any other family member. Your daughter as we said earlier is not to be blamed for this. In fact you must encourage her to take decision for an early marriage, which in any case will be held under the aegis of this shrine. We have a few community marriages scheduled for next week.  This couple will also be blessed on the same day. Your daughter is very fortunate to have found a young man who is completely committed to the religion. You must trust me. One day this boy will become an icon and a celebrity of our great nation. I can assure you, we have your welfare at our heart. We will not force you to do any such act that is not in favor of the young lady”.  The great priest Rajamantran helped him get up.

He handed over a small book bound in red cardboard. “Here you can take this book full of verses eulogizing the goddess. This will keep your mind in peace”. He clapped his hands loudly, “will some one take our brother Mr. Kumar back to his abode”.

The young men who had fetched Mr. Kumar in the morning from his office appeared from the wings in the corridor adjoining the room the sage was occupying.

“Go Mr. Kumar go with them. They will reach you home safely. You must keep in mind that we have a date next week. You must attend the wedding of the young couple, along with your family”.

Mr. Kumar wondered how he will break the news to his wife, and Koena. “The sinless angel that his daughter was has never ever kept a secret from them”. He in his heart of hearts refused to believe that she could have fallen in love. “She had not told her mother about this. It will be absolutely derogatory to confront her and find out the truth, but it has to be done”. The threat made out to him by the great priest Rajamantran and his henchman hanged. His mind was filled with hatred and loathe for the great priest Rajamantran.  But he fully well knew his helplessness to escape the situation. It would be easy for them to pick up the small boy any time. Then they can and hold the entire family to ransom.

“Do not overburden your mind with unnecessary fear old man. The great sage Rajamantran will not suggest any suitor unworthy of your daughter. You have to have a look at the hero of the story.   Only Then it will be appropriate for you to form an opinion about him. Everyone says he is the right hand man of the pontiff. He is loaded with money. He keeps his dollars and pounds stashed abroad.  The young lady will lead a blessed marital life. I wish I could be like him.  It is a very rare fortune to get a son in law of the kind that this young boy is. In any case, this marriage is bound to take place, whether you agree or not. Now that it has been ordained by the shrine, it will have to be done accordingly. It is better you also accept this as your fait accompli” the boy who had been driving the car spoke to him.

They dropped Mr. Kumar outside his office as they had promised him safe and sound. But his visit to shrine had created a turmoil boiling and seething within him. He did not acknowledge the greetings extended to him by one of his colleagues on the staircases of his office. He continued sitting on his office chair long after every one had left.

“If you want to sit any further you can take this bunch of keys to lock the main door later when you are ready to leave”, it was the office peon. He wanted to finally lock the office. He brought him back to his senses. “In case you have some of the office work left over I can help you carry the files to your home”. He had many a times earlier too carried office home hence the suggestion.

Mr. Kumar, “no thank you Dhani Ram one must be capable of carrying his own burden on his shoulders”. He hurriedly collected his Tiffin box and walked out of the office. But he made a decision on the way.

“I must confront the girl and if it is her choice so be it. Each one of us has to live the life earned by us. If she is destined to, so be it. I must give her a fair chance to explain”.

The road to his house appeared to be much crowded today. It took him long to cover the distance between his office and his home.

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