Story 71: Leftovers


Some of the people shook their heads. Some covered their plantain leaves with their left hands. Others looked up with embarrassment at the slouched figure of Mihir – the boy Rama Shastri had tasked with serving the guests this morning – and said yes.

When Mihir reached the end of the line, he stopped. Lines of worry appeared on his smooth, round face. His master would not like this.

There was Chander, in his soiled and torn clothes, his amulet shining in the bright sunlight, grinning stupidly down at his empty leaf. A dark brown layer of dried mud covered his toes. A pungent, rotting stench climbed up at Mihir from the idiot’s clothes, and no amount of crinkling of the nose did him any good.

What bothered Mihir more, though, was who sat next to Chander, behind an empty leaf of his own. Today was an auspicious occasion, and they were making offerings of food at the temple on behalf of the late Krishna Swamy. It was not up to them to turn away people who came to eat. But Rama Shastri had been clear about one rule: no animals are to sit with the humans.

And Chander had brought his pet dog Moti.

Despite himself, Mihir looked around if Sarama was loitering about. Moti and Sarama were always at loggerheads with one another, especially after last summer when they had put their differences to one side and raised a family of puppies. But of the four little ones that Sarama had given birth, two were blind, and the other two got lost in the river one rainy night. Ever since then, whenever she saw Moti, Sarama went into a rage and chased him around the village.

But Sarama had been instructed by Rama Shastri to stay away today. She would probably be at Mandiramma Banda right about now.

Mihir allowed himself a sigh. There was no one else; he had to see to this issue. If the master returned and saw Moti lapping at the leaf… well, he would not say anything here, in front of all these people, but later, when it was just the two of them…

Mihir placed ladleful of rice on Chander’s leaf.

‘Ghee?’ asked Chander.

‘It is coming right up,’ said Mihir.

‘Good, because Krishna Swamy would not touch a morsel of his food without ghee in it,’ said Chander. He spoke loudly enough for those sitting a few feet away to pause for an irritated moment or two in their eating. ‘He was a great man, Krishna Swamy. He has done so much for our village, hasn’t he?’

‘Your dog,’ said Mihir. ‘He is not allowed to eat here.’

‘Oh, is that right?’ asked Chander, and surrendered to a bout of giggling that lasted four or five seconds. Then he recovered and said, fingering a hole in the sleeve of his shirt, ‘Did Krishna Swamy’s will say that this offering is only for human beings?’

‘I don’t know what Krishna Swamy’s will said,’ said Mihir, ‘but Shastri gaaru has said that we are only to feed people today. There will be plenty of food later for the animals.’

‘Ah, so the offering for animals happens when?’

‘There will be no particular offering for animals,’ said Mihir. ‘But from what is left over, I suspect Shastri gaaru will –’

‘I see, I see,’ said Chander. ‘But no one else is sitting here with me. It’s a vacant spot. Can’t Moti take it?’

‘He cannot.’

‘Other people have come with their families.’ Chander threw a look at one of the other guests and smiled slyly. ‘Prabhakar Reddy has even brought his mistress.’

‘You don’t have a family,’ said Mihir. By now his back had begun to ache, so he straightened it. Chander cowered for a moment, as if he were afraid that the boy would strike him with the ladle. Then, when he realized that Mihir was merely stretching, he chuckled. He fingered his amulet.

‘This is not gold, you know,’ he said.

‘Oye babu,’ said Kamaleshwar from behind Mihir, in the other row, ‘what are you doing arguing with that crazy fellow? Will you give us food or shall we go to Babai Hotel?’

‘Babai Hotel is closed today,’ said someone else.

‘Yes, Babu Ram Babai is right here!’

That brought a laugh from those who heard the exchange. Mihir craned his neck and saw that Rama Shastri was just finishing his morning prayer at the inner sanctum. Any moment now he would come out and worship the Nandi idol. And he would see that a dog was sitting with his paws touching the holy plantain leaf. Not just any dog. A dog that impregnated Sarama!

Rama Shastri had always had a cold spot in his heart for Moti. This would just make it all worse – and of course Mihir would be held responsible. Maybe the priest would refuse to pay him. Maybe he would put a curt word across to his father. All of this made his armpits sweat!

‘Listen!’ he said to Chander. ‘You must take the dog away.’

‘Aye, what is this you’re speaking to that mad man? Just kick him and he will go away rolling.’

Chander refused to look up at Mihir, and spoke with his eyes fastened on the boy’s feet. ‘In the eyes of the lord, my Moti is as deserving of food as I am.’

‘Well, not today,’ said Mihir. ‘Tomorrow – tomorrow you come with Moti and I will personally see to it that you will get the first share of the prasadam.’

‘But we’re hungry today. Can we eat tomorrow’s prasadam today?’

Mihir looked again in the direction of the temple. Rama Shastri was ringing the bell, making his final prostrations before the lord.

He dropped the container of rice and the ladle on the floor with a thud. Then he joined his hands. ‘Please!’ he said to Chander. ‘I cannot feed your dog. Please take him away?’

‘Okay, okay,’ said Chander, giggling, and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. ‘Bring some curry and I will take it away to eat with Moti out by the lake.’

Mihir said, ‘I cannot do that. Food served inside the temple has to be eaten here.’

‘But we take our prasadam home every day!’

‘This is an offering!’ said Mihir helplessly. ‘This is an offering made my Krishna Swamy in the name of the lord, for your benefit. It is sacred.’

‘What will you have me do, then?’

‘Take your dog away.’

‘And then I should come back by myself to eat?’

‘Whether you come back or not, I don’t know.’ That was the closest Mihir could bring himself to saying, I don’t want you to come back, you idiot.

‘But I cannot eat without Moti eating,’ said Chander. He was fingering the hole in his sleeve again. ‘Will you eat knowing that your mother is not?’

Mihir was suddenly struck by the absurdity of the conversation. ‘Moti is not –’ he began to say, and stopped. Logic did not work with Chander. You just went with what he said. Or you kicked him and hoped he would go away.

The boy serving curry had worked his way up the line and was now standing next to Mihir. They exchanged a quick glance with each other. ‘Curry?’ he asked.

‘What is it?’ said Chander, thrusting his nose at the vessel and taking a deep whiff. ‘Mmm, potato?’

‘Don’t serve him,’ said Mihir.

‘I want it,’ said Chander.

The boy, clearly torn between friendship and duty, chose the latter. A dollop of orange, oily curry fell on the edge of Chander’s leaf. From his peripheral vision Mihir sensed Rama Shastri circumambulating the Nandi. Some of the old man’s verses carried to his ears.

‘Okay, I have an idea,’ said Chander. ‘I will take Moti away.’

‘Please,’ said Mihir in relief.

‘But I will also eat my food,’ said Chander. Not waiting for a response from either of them, he began to stuff his mouth with the rice and curry.

Sounds of disgust came from the others.

‘Aye! Take that fellow away, someone!’

‘I don’t know who let him in – if I had known… chi!’

Chander took his time cleaning the contents of his leaf, and held them in his mouth. His cheeks ballooned on either side. When he tried to speak a few grains of rice fell at Mihir’s feet.

By Chander’s side, Moti looked up at his master and wagged his tail.

‘Mmm, mmm,’ said Chander to Moti, and got up to leave. As if remembering something, he pointed to his leaf and said to Mihir, ‘Mmm?’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Mihir. ‘We will clean it up.’

Chander opened his arms, and Moti jumped into them. He walked away toward the temple gate, humming a song – or he was saying something to the dog.

‘Thank god that is over!’ said Kamaleshwar from behind Mihir. ‘Now will you give us something to eat or not?’

‘Come, come,’ said the curry boy, hitting the side of his vessel with the tip of his ladle, and led Mihir to the side.

Once they reached the outside of the temple, Chander sat down on the side of the street and spat out the rice and curry from his mouth. As Moti scurried around the food and smelled and picked at it nervously, he said, ‘Yes yes, it is very clean – did you not hear? Sacred! Eat now.’

Moti licked Chander’s feet a couple of times and tucked in.

Back at the temple, Mihir was emptying a second ladle of rice onto the leaf of Mr Kamaleshwar, who pointed out that the potato curry had a bit too much salt in it.

‘I will let Shastri gaaru know,’ said Mihir.

But Mr Kamaleshwar (who insisted on being called mister by everyone unless he said otherwise) said, ‘Yes, boy, let Shastri gaaru know, but of course you won’t tell him that I said so. Tell him that the guests of the ceremony are not happy about the food.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘We don’t want the memory of Krishna Swamy being tarnished by food that is too salty, do we? As that crazy fellow said before he left, Krishna Swamy has done so much for the village.’

Mihir moved on with his rice, but Kamaleshwar did not stop talking, in a deliberately raised voice. None of the people around him pointed out that as long as Krishna Swamy was alive, Kamaleshwar used to call him Swamy Sir, both to his face and behind his back.

‘What would Palem be without him?’ Kamaleshwar was saying. ‘We would all be uncouth peasants toiling away in our fields without education or culture, wouldn’t we? If Krishna Swamy had not come and taught us the beauty of playing the lottery, if he had not taught us the art of taking money from here and putting it there – and keeping a little something for himself – well, where would our children be indeed?’

He grimaced with his mouth half-filled with food. He called after Mihir and said, ‘There is no salt in the sambaar.’ To Babu Ram, who was sitting two spots to his left, he said, ‘After this is all done, let us go to Babai Hotel and have some proper food.’

Someone said, ‘We must not speak ill of the dead.’ To which someone else replied, ‘Why, what is wrong in what he said? There is no salt in the sambaar.’

‘Correct!’ said Mr Kamaleshwar, adjusting the collar of his spotless white half-sleeved shirt. ‘Of course sometimes we all forget that running a lottery business is illegal in this state. And yet Krishna Swamy managed to build for himself a nice little empire with it, didn’t he? If you have an enquiring mind, you will ask how it happened. How did we allow it to happen?’

‘Oh, shut up, he helped so many people in the village.’

‘Yes, yes, paid school fees for so many children.’

‘Your own son, Kamaleshwar!’

Mr Kamaleshwar smiled benignly, but his eyes turned to flint. ‘So if I rob your money and then make a big show of giving it back to you in charity, will you build a statue for me? Will you garland me after I am dead and call me a great man? That is the problem with you people. You do not know how things work.’

He looked over his shoulder, as if facing the voice that mentioned his son. ‘I know you, Mahenderayya, always reminding me of this. Do you know that my son came first in class four years in a row in Dhavaleshwaram? He had the talent and Krishna Swamy helped him. It was a loan. He made sure he collected every single penny in interest from us afterward. If you think Krishna Swamy cared about anything but money, you’re mistaken, my friend.’

Mihir reappeared for another round of serving. ‘Rice?’

Kamaleshwar made space for another ladleful of it on his leaf. ‘Do you at least have thick curd?’

‘It is coming, sir.’

‘Do you know what he did with his money at the end?’ said Kamaleshwar, raising his voice again. ‘He gave half to the temple trust, and half to extend the library of the village. Now, I ask you – has anyone ever seen the library being used? Venu sits there all day reading those filthy magazines!’

‘Shh, it is improper to talk of money in the temple.’

Kamaleshwar laughed. ‘That is the problem with you people. So sentimental. Do you think this food has appeared out of nothing? Krishna Swamy has paid for it in his will. He has wished that when he dies, all of us congregate here, eat in his name, and say good things about him. What does that tell you about the man?’

The boy who had served the curry before now came and poured some curd into Kamaleshwar’s leaf. ‘See?’ he said. ‘Even here they cut costs. Did you make this from milk powder?’ he asked the boy.

The boy said, ‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Babu Ram, I don’t know about the rest of these men, but I am certainly coming straight to Babai Hotel after this.’

Babu Ram giggled sheepishly and said, ‘Of course, Mr Kamaleshwar. You’re welcome anytime.’

‘Half to the temple,’ said Kamaleshwar, chewing noisily on a mouthful of rice. ‘And half to the library. Can you think of a more wasteful use of money? Because I cannot. Imagine how much good one can do with it all – fifty lakh rupees – yes. Fifty lakh rupees.’ He paused as the people around them sighed in disbelief. ‘Imagine how much good we can do with it – real good. Even if we divide it equally between all the citizens of Palem – and why not? It is our money after all.’

There was a grudging silence at this suggestion. Not even the bold members of the group wanted to contest the possibility of receiving some of Krishna Swamy’s money.

‘We can dig ten borewells at different places of the village. We can build a film theatre of our own that is as big as Dhavaleshwaram’s Bhavani theatre! That way, every Sunday we will have our own movies to watch. Why – we can even get Chiranjeevi to come and open it, perhaps.’

‘All that is okay,’ said a voice, ‘but how will we get the money?’

‘I say we petition Devender Reddy to release the library funds,’ said Kamaleshwar. ‘And if you’re all willing, we can also ask him to give us a proper accounting of how the temple fund is going to be used –’

‘No, no, leave the temple fund alone.’

‘Yes, Rama Shastri is a good man.’

Kamaleshwar shrugged as if in resignation. ‘I don’t mind,’ he said. ‘But remember – money corrupts the most moral of men. What is wrong with asking to see the account? I say, we’re all here eating this food. What is wrong with asking for a show of the budget and the receipts – that is all I am saying. If Rama Shastri has nothing to hide, he will welcome my questions.’

‘Twenty five lakh rupees to the temple?’ asked someone.

‘Yes,’ said Kamaleshwar. ‘Did you ever even see that much money in your life, Mangayya? Even when you sold your farm?’

‘And twenty five lakh rupees to the library,’ said Mangayya. ‘What I want to know is who is going to hold all these funds. In whose account will they be held?’

‘Good question!’ said Kamaleshwar, cleaning up his leaf and licking his hand. ‘Good question.’

Babu Ram did not know much about matters such as these, but twenty five lakhs did seem like a lot to him as well. He began to wonder if he could buy new furniture for his patrons if he got his share of Krishna Swamy’s money. A question popped into his mind at that moment, and as he was gathering the courage to ask it in front of all these big people, Devender Reddy’s white Ambassador rolled into the temple compound.

Rama Shastri signalled to Mihir, at which the boy picked up an umbrella and ran over to open the back door.

Everyone fell silent, as though it were time for prayer.

Babu Ram thought, wisely, that his question could wait.

About forty five minutes later, Devender Reddy and Saraswatamma sat in cane chairs under the neem tree to the edge of the shivalayam’s compound. The two banyan trees that they had planted the year before on either side of the well were not yet tall enough to afford shade to as many as a hundred people. By now the time was almost noon, and the summer sun was making its presence felt by prickling Kamaleshwar’s neck under the collar.

But he stood facing the headman and his wife, even as Rama Shastri took an unobtrusive place a few feet away to the side, flanked by his two boy-priests.

‘So, President gaaru,’ said Kamaleshwar, ‘the people have a few questions about this money that Krishna Swamy has left for the village. We think that there could be better ways of spending them than on the library.’

‘What is wrong with spending it on the library?’ asked Devender Reddy. ‘Not to mention that that was Krishna Swamy’s wish.’

‘Krishna Swamy’s wish is no longer relevant,’ said Kamaleshwar. ‘A dead man has no vote.’

Devender Reddy began to shake his head and began to mumble, and as often happened in such situations, Saraswatamma took up matters. She leaned forward in her chair and said severely, ‘The dead man has already voted, Kamaleshwar.’ She did not bother with the mister. ‘We have his will, attested by his lawyer. He said half of his money goes to the temple trust, and half to the library fund.’

Kamaleshwar joined his hands above his head and bowed elaborately. ‘Saraswatamma, the whole village knows about it. But even you must agree that spending such a large amount of money on a library when so many of us are starving – that does not seem wise. Does it?’

‘It is not my station to say whether it is wise or not. That is what Krishna Swamy wanted.’

‘But amma, Krishna Swamy, if he were here today and he saw what the people of the village wanted, he would agree with me. I knew Krishna Swamy, he was a man of the people. I don’t have to tell you the number of favours that he conferred upon our village. Is there anyone here who has not taken advantage of his charity?’

‘Not that I know of,’ said Saraswatamma, with the same stern expression on her face. ‘I might remind you that you’re one of the beneficiaries too, Kamaleshwar. But for Krishna Swamy, would your son be in America right now? Would you be living in that bungalow of yours? Would you be wearing those silk shirts – for god’s sake it’s the middle of summer!’

‘Yes, yes, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar. ‘All that I have in my life right now is Krishna Swamy’s alms. Happy? But we’re not speaking of me. This is about what we must do with all that Krishna Swamy has left behind. If he had not run out of time so tragically, he would have given it all away to Palem, to the people he loved so much. Wouldn’t he?’

‘And that’s what he did,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘He gave to the temple and to the library. Through them, the funds will come of use to the people of Palem. Who else will benefit but all of us?’

Kamaleshwar, with his arms folded dutifully, looked down at the ground for a few moments, as if accepting Saraswatamma’s verdict. Then he said, ‘Amma, the temple fund is controlled by Rama Shastri, and the library fund – we didn’t even know there was such a thing until now! Who is in charge of it?’

Saraswatamma took a moment to look around the crowd, in an attempt to gauge its pulse. ‘Devender sir will be in charge of it,’ she said at last.

‘Then it does seem like the fund will benefit only some of us, amma, not all of us,’ said Kamaleshwar.

‘Is this what you think, Kamaleshwar, or is it the opinion of all of you?’

‘I am merely a messenger, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar, hanging his head in apparent shame. ‘They have elected me to speak on their behalf with you.’

‘Well, I am going to ascertain right away if this is true,’ said Saraswatamma. She got to her feet, adjusted her cotton sari, and walked a couple of paces away from her chair. She cleared her throat, threw her thin voice out. ‘Those of you who intend Kamaleshwar to speak on your behalf to Devender sir and me, raise your hands.’

A large number of hands went up.

‘And those of you who expressly do not want him to speak on your behalf?’

Two or three hands began to rise, then hesitated and fell.

‘Right,’ said Saraswatamma, turning to Kamaleshwar. ‘It appears what you say is true. Why don’t you have a meeting with the villagers in the afternoon today, and come visit us at seven in the evening tonight for a discussion on what to do with the funds?’

‘I will do that, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar.

‘Devender sir and I are working for you,’ said Saraswatamma to the gathering. ‘You should not feel shy about telling us what to do.’

At a signal from her Devender Reddy got to his feet, and together they joined their hands and saluted the crowd. After their car had left the premises, Kamaleshwar climbed onto the chair that Saraswatamma had been sitting on, and said, ‘Gather around. Gather around. It is time for us to take back what is ours!’

That night, when Kamaleshwar was escorted into the Devender Reddy’s living room, he was mildly amused to see Rama Shastri already in attendance in one of the visitors’ chairs. Saraswatamma, as was her habit, sat on the plank of varnished wood suspended from the ceiling by iron chains, using the balls of her left foot to swing herself gently to and fro.

Kamaleshwar greeted them all in turn, starting with Rama Shastri and ending with Saraswatamma.

‘Sit, Mr Kamaleshwar,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘You will have some buttermilk.’

‘Yes, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar.

Buttermilk was ordered for and brought. Kamaleshwar took a polite sip and made appreciative murmurs.

‘Devender sir and I have been talking about you all day,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘He thinks – and I agree – that you have some fair points.’

‘Amma,’ said Kamaleshwar.

‘What is it that you propose to do with Krishna Swamy’s money, provided that it is possible – and it isn’t – to release it fully?’

‘I have a list of proposals here, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar, reaching for his pocket. ‘The villagers have –’

Saraswatamma’s smile broadened just a touch. ‘I want to know what it is that you propose to do with the money.’

‘Heh,’ said Kamaleshwar. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘If you have no proposal to make on your behalf,’ said Saraswatamma, ‘let me make one instead. Hear me out and then you can make your decision. Some more buttermilk?’

‘No, amma. Thank you.’

‘I insist.’ Saraswatamma made a signal from her swing, and a manservant appeared out of nowhere to fill up Kamaleshwar’s brass glass. He felt as if the air in the room had suddenly cooled, enough to make his fingertips twitch.

She watched him take two large gulps of the buttermilk.

‘Now,’ she said, ‘I will not ask you how the financial details of Krishna Swamy’s will came to your knowledge. I suppose you have your sources.’ She pretended not to be irritated by the leak but failed. ‘No matter. What I will tell you, though, is that a will has other clauses too that are not strictly monetary in nature. Do you know what I mean?’

‘In theory, yes, amma. But not in this context.’

‘Well, Krishna Swamy’s will has some details about his lottery operation, Lucky Strike. He has said that he intends the business to be closed down completely, and any remaining capital in it to be divided equally between the temple and the library trusts. Are you aware of this?’

‘I was not,’ said Kamaleshwar, ‘but I understood that Lucky Strike would close now that Krishna Swamy is dead.’

‘Devender sir and I were talking – Lucky Strike provides such a unique service to the people of Palem. Every Sunday we have a carnival-like atmosphere at the lottery office, and one villager gets a prize. Krishna Swamy has changed lives with his business.’

Kamaleshwar raised his glass to his mouth, and considered Saraswatamma from over its rim. He nodded.

‘Of course, you do know that running a lottery is illegal in this state,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘Krishna Swamy paid us a fee to ensure that the police don’t come knocking on his door. Did you know – Manikantham the head-constable is a regular buyer of Lucky Strike tickets. He buys one on behalf of each of his colleagues in Dhavaleshwaram Station.’

Kamaleshwar cleared his throat. ‘I see.’

‘We pay part of this fee every week into the temple trust as well,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘We do not like doing anything without the lord’s blessing.’

Kamaleshwar looked in the direction of Rama Shastri. The priest was looking straight at him with deadened eyes.

Placing the glass of buttermilk on the table in front of him, Kamaleshwar asked Saraswatamma, ‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘I will come straight to the point, Mr Kamaleshwar,’ said Saraswatamma. The chains of her swing creaked in the silence of the hall. She spoke in soft, motherly tones, as if intending to lull him to sleep. ‘Devender sir and I want you to take over Krishna Swamy’s lottery business. We have the book of accounts going back the last twelve years. Sambayya will give them to you to look at.’

Saraswatamma cast an even glance to the corner of the room. A shadow shuffled out, shuffled back in. An old man with a green towel wrapped around his neck came bearing a heavy yellow-backed book in his hands. At a nod from Saraswatamma he placed it on the table, next to Kamaleshwar’s half-filled glass of buttermilk.

‘Twenty five per cent,’ said Saraswatamma at length. ‘Twenty five per cent of receipts, we give back as prize. Twenty five per cent is our fee. Twenty five per cent goes into the temple trust.’

‘And the remaining twenty five per cent?’

Saraswatamma smiled broadly at Kamaleshwar. It struck him to see just how perfect the headwoman’s teeth were, how white and well-shaped.

‘But,’ he said, ‘the people – I have a list.’

Saraswatamma sighed wearily and held out her hand. Sambayya transported the sheet of paper from Kamaleshwar’s hands to hers. She allowed a cold eye to travel down the length of the paper, nodding a few times, shaking her head at others.

‘Let’s do the borewells,’ she said. ‘That should not cost us too much. We can also give Babu Ram a new set of furniture for his hotel. We’ll have it all imported from Hyderabad.’ A pause, then: ‘We can do free food for two hundred people every week for the next year.’ She looked in the direction of Rama Shastri.

The priest made a few quick calculations, then nodded.

‘We will redirect some of the library’s funding toward the lottery business,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘In fact, Devender sir was saying that we will set up the new office of Lucky Strike in the library’s compound. It will be part of the library – we will call it the entertainment wing.’

‘I love that idea,’ said Kamaleshwar.

‘And we will set up this new Lucky Strike as a cooperative,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘So the buyers of the lottery will also be owners of the business. We will issue share certificates and so on. We will tell the people that they own the business now. You’re just their employee.’

‘And is that true?’

Saraswatamma shrugged with a grimace on her round face. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘as long as we’re writing down the numbers, does it matter who owns the business? What is a lottery business, anyway? It doesn’t exist in any legal sense. It’s just a room with a bunch of tables and chairs in it. If the people of Palem want to co-own Lucky Strike, they can be our guests.’

Kamaleshwar fell silent for a few seconds to mull over the proposal. Then he said, ‘And if I say no?’

Saraswatamma gave him another of her motherly smiles. ‘Neither Devender sir nor I think that you will be that stupid,’ she said. Then her face hardened. ‘Are you saying no?’

‘No,’ said Kamaleshwar hurriedly. ‘No, no.’

‘Good,’ said Saraswatamma. ‘Take the sack of mangoes on your way out. Our orchard gave us a bountiful harvest this year. All thanks to the lord.’

‘Okay, amma,’ said Kamaleshwar.

Twenty eight days later, Lucky Strike Lottery opened for business in Palem’s library compound. They sold three hundred and forty tickets that first morning before breakfast time, and everyone who bought a ticket also received a share certificate proclaiming him a part-owner of the enterprise in which Kamaleshwar performed the role of trustee and accountant.

Chander and Moti came to the event in the hope of receiving a free ticket, and when they were told that they had to fork out money to play this game, they went out and played together in the street instead.

Babu Ram liked his new furniture set so much that he made a significant donation to the temple trust in Krishna Swamy’s name, asking Rama Shastri to supervise a special ritual that would ensure eternal peace for the dead man’s soul.

The people of Palem drank from the borewells that Saraswatamma installed for them, and they sang the praises of Kamaleshwar who brought the headstrong woman down to her knees.

In the next Sarpanch election, they all voted for Devender Reddy for President. Mostly because Kamaleshwar told them to.