The Temple In The Fog
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
"It’s not a good road. Nobody goes that way."
This was obviously not true – the path, though not broad,
was clearly in use – but I’d learnt long ago that it wasn’t wise to
unnecessarily disturb the natives. They’re primitive, superstitious people, and
can panic at anything. To start off on the wrong foot with one of them might
get me a reputation as a harbinger of evil as long as I remained posted to the
"All right," I said. "Have it your way." I turned my horse
towards the path he’d indicated. Once I looked back over my shoulder, and
through the fog I saw that he was standing outside his kiln, still watching me.
By the time I found the dak bungalow, the sun had finally
burned the fog away, and had taken the chill out of the air. The building was
not in particularly good repair, with peeling walls and a veranda the roof of
which was missing on one side, but it was large and sprawling, and I decided at
a glance that it would do. In my many years in India I’d often had to live in
places much worse than this.
The bungalow was charmingly sited. Behind it, on the other
side of a little river, wooded hillocks reached up towards the sky. On either
side, the scrub forest stretched, like embracing arms, enveloping the dak
bungalow and the path by which I’d ridden.
At my call, an aged chowkidar appeared, and led my
horse away after unlocking the bungalow. "My name is Chedupuram, sahib," he
said when he’d returned. "I will get you some water for you to wash."
He was a magnificent specimen of the best sort of native,
tall and strong-boned, with a high brow and a magnificent set of moustaches. If
only his skin had not been the colour of old mahogany and his eyes black as
pitch, you might have put him in a sergeant-major’s uniform in the Coldstream
Guards and nobody, I wager, would have been any the wiser.
"Thank you," I said. "And you’ve lived in this place all
"Yes, sahib." He pointed to a small hut behind the dak
bungalow. "That is my home."
The dak gharry with my trunk seemed to be taking a very long
time to arrive. When it finally did, I went to ask the driver why he’d taken
"It is a long way past the old clock tower, sahib," he said,
as he unloaded my trunk.
"Why?" I pointed in the direction of the straight path
through the forest I’d seen earlier. "There’s a much shorter way."
He paused and glanced quickly at me out of the corner of his
eye. "No, sahib. That is not a good way."
These peoples’ superstitions were really quite ridiculous, I
thought, but at least my things had finally arrived. Later, as the dusk lay
thick outside and the huge moths flapped softly against the lamp, I decided to
ask Chedupuram about it.
"Really, sahib," he replied, not looking at me, "that is not
a good way. You were told rightly not to go by that path."
"Why?" I asked reasonably. "What’s wrong with it?"
He didn’t want to tell me at first, but gave in after I
demanded an answer. You have to be firm with these natives. "It is the evil
I frowned. "What do you mean by evil god? I’ve been in
Hindustan thirty years, and I’ve never heard of an evil god."
"He lives in this land though, sahib," he said.
"Who lives in this land?" I demanded. "Who is this
So Chedupuram sat down and told me the tale of the god
Mootaipoochi and his consort, Kuruda.
THE STORY OF
MOOTAIPOOCHI AND KURUDA
years ago, when the sun was bright and new and the moon so close to the earth
that a man could climb on his roof and reach out to touch it, a god was angry.
Nobody knows why he was angry; it is not for us to judge the gods. But his
temper was directed at the king of a kingdom far to the north, whose name was
Kazhuththu. He told the king to leave his kingdom, or he would consume it in
Now Kazhuththu was a great king, an honest and just king,
whom all the people loved. So when the god told the monarch to abandon his
kingdom, the people, all of them, down to the youngest child who played in the
fields, together and in one voice decided to follow their king into exile. They
picked up all their possessions, took along their horses and their cattle and
their dogs and cats, and all of them went along with the king. It is said that
even the rats and mice of the kingdom loved Kazhuththu so much that they
followed along, slinking in the grass behind the people.
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