By Sangeetha G
“Did you apply for the job?” Somnath asked casually when they met in the evening that day. The playground adjacent to the village school had become their hangout place for the past two years.
“I have lost hope in these applications, interviews, and jobs,” Rajesh sounded quite detached. That was a state mind he had acquired gradually over the past two years of joblessness and pandemic. It had changed his perspective about jobs, careers, city life, and life in general. Waking up early, catching the metro train during rush hours for office, slogging till late evenings, and catching the train again to get back home just for a few hours of sleep seemed a routine of a past life. In the village, they had nothing to do. The nothingness got into their heads. They found it difficult to return to their past life.
“We need to do something. But I don’t want to go back to the city,” said Somnath.
“I have a business idea. Capital-light, easily executable, infallible, and recession-proof and to top it all it has an unbelievable Return on Investment,” said Rajesh.
“That sounds ideal, blurt it out,” Somnath looked excited.
“We can get into the business of religion and build a temple,” Rajesh said.
Somnath was baffled. “Is that a business to do?”
“Religion is the best business and until humans continue to believe in unseen and unknown powers working upon them, the business will flourish. You can start with a very small capital and earn loyal customers, who would never question whether you deliver or not. They will keep on putting in money without applying logic. In a crisis, the business will not slacken. Instead, the loyal customers will keep on investing, hoping for a better tomorrow. What other business has these amazing deliverables?” he asked.
“You have a point,” Somnath was on the same page.
“What is the plan,” he asked.
“It is simple. I have a ten-acre land that has been lying unused for years. We will set up the temple there,” Rajesh was confident.
“Just because we go ahead and build a temple, are people going to believe in the deity?”
“We will not build a temple just like that. First, a miracle should happen and then the temple will follow,” Rajesh detailed the plan.
“As per my plan, you will fall sick…seriously sick and the doctors will not be able to diagnose your condition. As your condition starts worsening, you will announce that you had a dream. In the dream, a goddess appeared before you and asked you to dig out her idol from the nearest banyan tree. The nearest banyan tree falls in my land. As per your dream, your family and my family will dig out the idol from the soil near the banyan tree. The idol will be consecrated and you will be cured. This will be our base miracle,” Rajesh said.
“First our families will start worshipping and slowly, by word of mouth, others will join us. As people will see that their wishes are getting fulfilled, worshippers will start flowing to our temple,” Rajesh added.
“But, this is a farce. How will people’s real wishes come true by praying to the false idol?” Somnath was sceptical.
“Imagine, 100 people come and pray in the temple. They all will have their wishes, but at least 50 will be working towards their dreams. Simple statistics say that 30 percent are likely to achieve their dreams. Those who get their dreams fulfilled, will anyway become staunch believers. Of the remaining 70 percent, 20 percent might leave forever. But they would never complain or bad-mouth about the temple. After all, talking against God is sacrilegious,” Rajesh went on.
“Now we have to focus on the 50 percent who are confused between belief and disbelief. We come up with propaganda that whoever did not get their wishes fulfilled in a month has some serious negative karma. They will have to do penance for nine consecutive weeks to mitigate the effect of their karma. At least 30 percent will fall for it. We will design some tough rituals as penance,” he said.
“Why tough rituals?” Somnath was curious.
“Tougher the ritual, greater the belief,” Rajesh reasoned.
“By then, more than 50 percent of the worshippers would have turned our believers. They will keep on pouring money into the temple and continue to do whatever we ask them to do. Further, new sets of worshippers will keep on coming to the temple. We will ask the worshippers to leave a note in a box if their wishes have been fulfilled. I am sure we will get ample notes for our marketing campaign through social media and elsewhere. Once we achieve a certain number of daily worshippers, we will touch the inflection point. Then we can relax and the system will take care of itself,” he sounded confident.
“What is the guarantee that all these worshippers will deposit money in our boxes?” Somnath asked.
“We will propagate that people who had put money saw their wealth growing multi-fold. We will get some notes substantiating this claim as well. Who does not love money? They will pour in money for the sake of more money,” Rajesh replied.
“I liked the idea. But will people behave as we expect them to?” Somnath was critical.
“Don’t worry. As long as humans have low levels of confidence in themselves and their efforts, they will continue to seek help from ‘above’,” Rajesh smiled.
By then, the sun had started setting and the sky was at its crimson best. The nearest temple had started playing devotional songs and worshippers were on the way to attend the twilight veneration. They stood up and started walking back home.
“I will get one idol from the antique dealer in the city. I will hide it in the soil near the banyan tree and you will have to come out with some convincing disease plan. We will meet tomorrow,” Rajesh said as he took the private road leading to his house.
Sangeetha G is a journalist in India. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Down in the Dirt, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Kitaab International, Indian Review, Storizen, The Story Cabinet and Borderless Journal. Her story won Himalayan Writing Retreat Flash Fiction contest 2022. Her debut novel is in the works.
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