“It must be on 21st,” the priest of the local temple in Adarshnagar thundered. “Rahu and Ketu are casting their evil eyes on his fate.”
Ramdin shuddered, “Panditji! We will do the puja on 21st”, with folded hands he started chanting – Hari Om to invoke Vishnu – the blue-skinned god, the slayer of demons.
“And remember,” the pundit accentuated. “The god must be offered an assortment of 7 fruits, 7 flowers, and 7 sweets. That makes the total – 21.”
“Babuji! Do not listen to that wily priest. To crack the IIT, I just need to work hard and give my best. Why does he insist on performing puja on 21st? Why not on 22nd?” Raghav complained. His sister Nirmala nodded in agreement and joked, “Babuji, Never worry, I will wallop both Rahu and Ketu with my tennis bat.” Raghav and Nirmala both giggled while the old man shivered in anger and shouted, “Your generation has no respect for the Hindu tradition and values. You are goddamn smart and…”
“But has Krishna not talked about Karma yoga in Bhagavad Gita?” Raghav interjected.
“The puja must happen on 21st of this month and with the 21 items, as advised by punditji”, the old man groaned and flounced out of the room.
On the 21st morning, the family gathered in the puja room. A brown wooden stand was stationed in the middle of the room. Vishnu bivouacked in banana leaves stood on it. Three brass thalis adorned each with seven varieties of fruits, sweets, and flowers semi-circled the stand – shoring up to the magical number of 21.
Blue streaks of fire ran across the sky. Rahu and Ketu announced the dance macabre to pick up the fight with the blue god, who bewitched them once and decapitated them cruelly with his magical disc. A torrent of watery arrows hammered the earth. Rivers burst at their seams, trees uprooted and cattle stranded in deep water.
The pundit did not turn up for the puja and it could not be performed…
Ramdin sank into a flood of despondency. He cursed his fate and of his children. He looked quizzically at the number 21 – encircled in deep red on the wall calendar of the puja room. His eyes strayed from the magical number 21 and then on the three brass plates of fruits, sweets, and flowers. He mumbled in deep agony, “What will happen now? Raghav’s future is doomed. He cannot crack the IIT.” Raghav barged into the room and said soothingly, “Babuji, there is nothing in a number. 21 or 22. I believe in Karma.”
Four weeks later
Tring – shrills of landline yanked him out of his slumber. Ramdin darted across the room to lift the phone. It must be from punditji. The priest has a solution to all the ills of society…
“Raghav has topped the IIT exam,” a voice from the other side congratulated. It was from the IIT exam committee.
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