They say, “God helps those who help themselves.”
But, who would help the God, if a man vows to pull Him down, threatens to wipe out the very existence of His temples, and blackmail Him into accepting his unreasonable demands? Can God be so helpless that He kneels down in front of man? Or is it a sham and He is acting according to His own divine plan, making sure that man learns lessons from his mistakes and values goodness and virtuousness more than anything.
Well, Cannibal by Vijai Dan Mehta is one such story that deals with the tricky relations of man and God in an amicable, humorous tongue-in-cheek manner. Written in Rajasthani and included as a valuable gem in ‘Contemporary Indian Short Stories’, it is a story of faith and betrayal, with overwhelming emotional blackmail tactics employed by a cunning priest. The protagonist is a Pujari of a local temple, in a small village and is greedy and malicious, not at all happy with his humble, non-exciting life. He is jealous of his relatives, neighbors and even the Temple Goddess, who sits high on the altar, wearing lots of jewels.
So, one fine day, he decides to influence the temple Goddess, to goad Her to give in to his irrational demands. Being a priest, I expected him to indulge in a long drawn chanting of indecipherable mantras. But, I got the shock of my life, when I found out that this priest is nothing less than a devil’s advocate and is hell bent on setting fire to the temple and idol, and obliterate Her very existence, if she refuses to humor him with a boon.
Whether out of love, curiosity or simply out of unlimited beneficence, the Goddess is not able to refuse the Priest. She grants him a boon that all his wishes would be fulfilled, but the rider is that his neighbors would get double the booty. The greedy Priest makes full use of boon in collecting vast amounts of money, jewels and even a Gold castle.
However, he can not bear his neighbors’ growing prosperity. Blinded with jealousy, he pesters the Goddess once again and gets the boon altered, using it in a negative way, asking for punishments rather than rewards, with the intention that his neighbors would get a double dose of pains, he is suffering from. Thus, the great boon is traded for a horrendous curse, plunging him into the dark alleys of Hell. And I felt that a religious man is turned into a blood thirsty ‘Cannibal’, though it is hard to say whether he is eating his own flesh or others’.
After reading this story, I was baffled at the strange psychotic tendency of human mind. Is jealousy a constant companion of joy? Or do we really suffer from an incurable envy syndrome, infecting us to such an extent that brickbats and miseries are more welcome than joyous existence of our neighbors, relatives or colleagues?
Though, the story is steeped in tradition, and is written more in the form of a local folklore, than a gripping modern story, yet, I cannot deny its relevance in our times. Mehta has made a commendable effort in echoing the mentality of materialistic man, who is fast losing his head and heart in the mad race of money and honey.
A good attempt, brimming with conscience shaking content and juicy regional flavor!