Mr. Kumar did not want to unload the burden he carried on the serene atmosphere of his home. But at the same time he could ill afford to forget the threat hanging on the neck of his family. It was a choice between the fire and the frying pan. He dare not ignore the dictate of the shrine.

“Shall he go to the law”? “Will it help?’ he recalled the drama that took place outside the shrine on the holy day. The great priest Rajamantran is a law unto his own self. The law of the land had crumbled in front of the so called religious center and its occupant. He witnessed it on television.  Does his daughter know the boy she has befriended belongs to the same shrine? He was sure the innocent girl had been duped by the cunning impostor. At the next instant another thought came to his mind, “what if he is genuine? He is still a student. He could only be distantly related to the pontiff. Only time itself could resolve the riddle they all have got into.

He found his wife quite worried about him when he reached home.

“Where have you been dear?  We have been waiting for you on evening tea”?

She looked at his ashen face and swollen eyes. She showed her concern.

“What’s the matter dear? You do not look well. Do you have a headache?” She called out to her daughter, “Koena fetch a glass of water for your father and put the kettle on the stove to prepare some hot tea”, and again she came back to her husband.

“Come let me keep your Tiffin box and files away. Oh my god you have not had your meals too. The food is left untouched. If you were so unwell you should have come home earlier. Why do you bring the entire office work to home with you? I will not allow you to work here”. She put the files away from him and addressed her daughter.

“Koena you bring the tea to bedroom”. She was handing over a glass of water to her father Mr. Kumar. Kumar was led into the sleeping room by his wife.

Koena saw her father’s deteriorating health and got worried, “you should take a few days off from your job father. Look at yourself. The hard work and no rest are definitely telling on your body”.

Mr. Kumar who avoided looking at his daughter closed his eyes and thought “how could such a prodigal, docile and innocent girl be wed away like a cow tied to the hook, simply because some great Priest wants it”. He thought of fighting it out and saying no to him and facing the consequence thereof.

“Where is Munna?” he asked his wife who caught the immediacy in his voice.

“Don’t you spare a worry about him?  He must be playing outside with other brats. I shall soon call him back. You should finish this tea.  Just lie down and close your eyes. Soon you will go to sleep. We shall wake you up when it is supper time”.

He started snoring in no time. No one woke him up for supper. His wife looked into the room two three times and found him in deep slumber. She decided not to disturb him.

“The poor chap must have been tired. He had a lot of work in office to do. He could not find time to have a morsel of food too”.

“Both of us are not going to our works today”, she declared as she handed over the morning cup of tea to him the next morning. She kissed him lightly on his lips.

“The kids have already left for their school and college. You had a sound and long sleep. We intentionally did not wake you up for dinner last night. I hope you are not tired anymore. We shall have a hearty breakfast. I have planned a special menu for this. We will have stuffed omelets, porridge and sandwiches. I am sick of fried stuff that we have to gobble every morning in a hurry. I have kept the bath room ready for you. Will you please freshen up and come to   kitchen. In the mean while let us get some fresh air into this room”. She was quite chirpy. She withdrew curtains, and opened the window panes.

“By the way I found this book in your office files. It is a book of hymns in praise of goddess. Since when have you become so devoted?  I have never found you reading such religious stuff earlier.  You must be getting old”.

“I had gone to the sanctum sanctorum yesterday”, he solemnly told her. “I had been summoned by the great Priest”.

“What were you called for? Why should he summon you from your office? Did I hear you say the great Priest Rajamantran?  His shrine is so far away. How could you have made it and come back well in office time?”

“Some of his boys drove me in his car to the shrine”. He wanted to get it off his chest.

“The great priest Rajamantran has recommended a boy for our daughter”. Mr. Kumar did not use the word ‘forced’. He waited to look for his wife’s expressions and reaction to the statement “he has sought our daughter’s hand for his nephew, who happens to be her class mate”.

“I am not surprised. Our daughter is quite beautiful. The young man must have been besotted by her charms. But if the young man is still a student, we will have to wait till he settles down. Is he capable of earning bread for his wife as well? I know Koena, she will also like to complete her education”, his wife casually told him.

“Just forget about the entire thing. I hope you have told the great sage we are not interested”.

“He wants us to marry her off within this week”, he again told her “other wise our son will be kidnapped by the goons of the sage, should we fail to do so”.

“He must be playing a prank on you. A pontiff of his stature can not indulge into bullying his own followers. He is quite a pious man. I have been visiting local worship hall, where cassettes of sermons delivered by him are played for benefit of all devotees present. Yes he does advocate piety and purity of the faith. But so have all religions of the world been doing it for ages. They have all been propagating their own trumpets. Look how Mughal fundamentalists during Mughal rule had subjugated us for centuries. They even went to the extent of forcible conversions. If any one did not agree to their religious overtures they had simply beheaded the opponents. The Christianity that supports charity of all kinds wants to bring the members of other communities into its fold by offering financial, educational and other vocational incentives of all kinds. Why should they do it? I believe they do it because they want their race creed and community to expand and become a major force in numbers. If our preacher is preaching a separate identity he must be having similar thoughts of ensuring the survival of our race for many generations which otherwise in the modern life style is being merged into other majority society. It may so happen those centuries later some one will find a specimen and mention of our existence only in museums and history books”.

Mr. Kumar was losing his nerves listening to her ideas and thoughts on the pontiff and his philosophy.

“Are you regretting that you had married some one outside your community”, he asked his wife. She belonged to the same creed as that of the seer. While Mr. Kumar himself hailed from a different section of society.

“No I am not. Please do not make it a personal affront. I am not the only one from our family who has gone into an inter caste and intercommunity marriage. There are millions others like me who have done it prior to us.  There will still be many couples doing it centuries later. Marrying some one within or outside one’s faith is a personal decision. I have never even pondered over my decision; because we have been quite neutral over our ways of following a belief. All these years I have been following my faith religiously. You have not ever forced the thoughts, rituals and the preaching of your ancestors on our family life. Our children have learnt good or bad, merits or demerits of both our ways of worshipping the creator. And I am sure they are capable of deciding for themselves when it comes to adopting a particular sect for appeasement of their souls. But some where I do feel and believe that our pontiff is leading us to the correct destination, even though I do not agree to the means adopted by him. He has been able to bring a sense of pride amongst our nation after many ages”.

Mr. Kumar, “my dear wife we are not holding a debate on the political thoughts, philosophy and isms of the world. The painful dilemma that we are faced with is a question of our daughter’s life. Do you want me to go down on my knees and with folded hands tell the great priest Rajamantran that we have agreed to his proposal”?

“No I do not want you to do that. If our daughter has been a friend of this boy then I will prefer that she takes a decision about her future life herself. We will anyhow speak to him, meet his family, analyze and examine if he is capable enough to earn his bread for a decent living. We must leave the decision to be taken between them to themselves alone”.

Mr. Kumar did not believe this catch-22 situation of their life time could have been solved so easily but then his wife is a strong woman.  Her decision making capability had amazed him many a times earlier too. She had always been proved correct over any of his doubting

Thomas’s.