The village called him a simpleton. His parents told him they’d given up hope that he’d succeed. His employer refused to send him alone to complete even the simplest of tasks. And as he had heard recently, the village soothsayer had informed his mother that he’d never get married. And instead of arguing, his mother just sighed as if she had known it all along, and paid the man his two annas.
Ranga was angry. Did no one see the way their words hurt him? Did anyone even bother? He’d run. He’d show them all. He’d move to a different village far away from all of them and then they’ll all miss him. And so it was, one early morning, Ranga ran away. Villages flew by under his foot, the sack of clothes on his back his only possession. The wind spelt freedom, the rivers he’d come to washed away his worries.
Exhausted at last, Ranga fell down on a patch of grass at the outskirts of a quaint village just as dawn broke. Too weak to move, he was asleep in minutes. The sun was high in the sky when he woke up, feeling thirsty and hungry. The only visible source of food that would quench both was a palm grove nearby. Ranga climbed up a tree, scratching himself heavily, his eye fixed on a single palm fruit. The higher he climbed, the farther the fruit seemed to go.
He succeeded finally, tugging at it just as it fell through his hands, rolling down. Infuriated, Ranga climbed down, not willing to be thwarted by a simple fruit. As luck would have it, the fruit kept rolling, as if possessed, and fell into the sludge a few feet away. Ranga went after it, furious and upset. He descended into the sludge, fully clothed, digging. The more he dug, the deeper the fruit went, until he was scrambling with the fruit just tantalisingly out of reach. A few villagers had gathered to watch the antics of this stranger and one of them shouted.
“Hey moron! What are you doing out there in the drying pond? You will be sucked in.”
“I am going after my treasure!” Ranga shouted back, digging harder, watching the sinking fruit.
The villagers laughed, watching as he sunk further and further into the drying pond. But suddenly, Ranga’s leg was sucked in, as if attached to a weight. He panicked, trying to swim up as the weight dragged him down. A few villagers jumped in, pulling him closer to the bank. They dragged him out, and with him came a huge, rusty corroded iron chest, his foot tangled with one of the supporting iron ropes.
Once he came outside, Ranga kicked off the chest, angry and frightened. It fell open, revealing hordes and hordes of gold coins. The astonished villagers stared as Ranga gave the chest an almighty kick and walked away. A silly chest had bested him, and yet another village now thought he was a simpleton.
Ranga collected his sack, walked to a nearby canal and washed himself. And then he heard the raised voices. The crowd of villagers approached him, waving their hands and shouting. It was a while before Ranga heard what they were shouting. Panic paralysed him, and he tried his best to escape. Only when they were so near did he hear what they were saying.
Surprised, Ranga felt himself hoisted on their shoulders as they praised his soothsaying abilities. A few random strokes of luck in the next few days (which included predicting the death of an ailing woman and blessing a marriage) made Ranga the resident expert in the paranormal. His repertoire kept growing with the years, and nothing happened in the village without the people consulting him. Food, riches and all the nice things found their way to him automatically. And so did a wife.
Ranga quickly learnt that she was a cunning woman, who deftly handled his finances and offered suggestions that pushed him to his limits. She also gossiped, filling up both her pot and her mind with stuff at the village common well. The information helped Ranga make more and more wild predictions, sometimes organising and clearing thefts, at other times fixing alliances, marketing businesses, solidifying his presence in the village.
The years passed, Ranga felt happier with every passing year. The bounty was good, he got harvests without owning lands, food without toiling and a house without earning. His coffers filled up, and Ranga felt the epitome of happiness five years into his marriage. The gods blessed him with a baby boy, and his happiness was complete.
The old ways irked him, and he often wondered aloud to his wife if he should just give up his bad ways and run away. The scorn and threats in reply kept his conscience away when she continued to direct his moves. The first signs of calamities came when his boy turned 17. The young man fell in love with the daughter of the village chieftain, and Ranga’s wife was more than happy.
But Ranga grew apprehensive by the day, wondering if this would mean the end of his lies and a hasty disgraced exit from the village. Neither his son nor his wife shared his apprehensions, and while the woman planned moves for the son to acquire the reluctant girl as his wife, Ranga himself plotted ways to escape the mess. His first tries to dissuade his son and wife went in vain.
Fate took an ugly turn when the village chieftain called him out one day, in public taking a dig at his fake predictions. Ranga felt humiliated and upset, not finding the right words to reply. But for the first time, the absolute belief that the villagers had on him started shaking. In fury, Ranga predicted that the blasphemy would mean a great catastrophe that would befall the house of the chieftain.
That night, the biggest argument broke out at his house. His son was furious that Ranga had done this to the family of the woman he loved, while his wife was worried that their masks would be torn. The poison was fed into Ranga’s ears as a plan started forming in her mind. The more he heard it, the better it seemed to Ranga to solve both his problems he faced.
The village chief’s daughter should die, effectively dissuading his son, and proving Ranga right in the prediction. The villagers’ fear would increase, and Ranga would benefit. Beyond the point of caring about good and evil, Ranga walked out of his home that night, a knife in hand and only one goal in his mind. Breaking into the house was easy, and so was locating the room of the young girl.
Ranga walked in, his heart thudding. He saw the sleeping form of the girl and raised his hands to stab her when someone tackled him to the floor from behind. A shorts struggle ensued as the man tried to unmask Ranga. Panicking, Ranga plunged the knife into the intruder’s stomach, quickly silencing the sturdy man. As his fingers bathed in the blood, Ranga’s heart fluttered harder. A vague sense of fear settled into his brain as he pulled himself free. Just as his shadow moved off, a shaft of moonlight fell on the face of his attacker.
Ranga howled in misery, realising that his son’s love had won over his fear and his wife’s plans.