He came into the world on a bright May morning. Out of the ten babies born, he was the only male child in the hospital. There was no complication in the delivery. They had admitted his mother early in the morning, and he came right at breakfast time. The rejoicing family looked at the baby in disbelief as he was not crying. He cried when he first saw the world. But since the bath, he hadn’t flinched or cried. They named him “Mrithyunjayan.”
Mrithyunjayan’s brother Markandeyan was four years elder to him. His grandmother had readied Markandeyan about the arrival of new baby. He was consistently told for last six months that he would get a loyal friend to share his secrets with. More than the parents, it was Markandeyan who was elated to see the baby. It was love at first sight for Markandeyan. He vowed to protect and love the child forever.
Markandeyan was a difficult child. He used to run away from home, run away from school and was only interested in street cricket. Assuming that Markandeyan was interested in sports, father inducted him into a cricket academy. Markandeyan ran away from there as well. Their father spent a lot of time tracking Markandeyan when he ran out of the house, finding him on different grounds in questionable company. Markandeyan never really cared about what was happening because of him. Nobody was able to tell why he was like that.
They found an answer from a local astrologer.
When Mrithyunjayan was seven years old and his brother eleven, their father fell into an ill fortune. The father had always believed in hard work and efficiency. But the family is a different matter altogether. They started scouting the best of astrologers across the town and started paying them a visit. The father was not very happy about the money spent on these visits. Each visit brought additional expenses with it apart from the fees to the astrologers. They were asked to go to temples in different towns and offer things to the deities. Apart from the dwindling savings, nothing happened. That was when one of their cousins asked them if the children’s horoscope was affecting the father.
“It is not his fault,” the astrologer said. “His stars are aligned in that way. He will never tell you the truth. If he says something, it is up to you to decipher the truth. He will lie for no reason at all. I am not going to give you any directions or ask you to do offerings in the temple. Make him go to the nearby temple and pray to the navagrahas and hope for the best” He also added “But there are few things beyond astrology and star alignment. It is love and care of the parents. Who knows how emotions will play out? Give him a better environment, and he might change. As much as I believe in astrology, I also believe in psychology too.”
“Mrithyu?” their mother asked.
“Stop addressing him like that. The name “Mrithyunjayan” means one who wins over the death. Mrithyu, the shortened name, means death. You don’t want to invite death very lovingly into your family.”
“Sure saami,” His mother said. She didn’t know the importance of the name. “What does his horoscope say?”
“He will be a self-made man. He will have all the riches in the world. Soon people will address you people as Mrithyunjayan’s parents than vice versa. He will command respect and take up leadership roles. There is a small problem when he reaches the age of 29. But then again, he will not expect you to come to the rescue. He will be ok by himself. He will love you but not demand anything from you. Just let him be. The only thing I suspect that he won’t have is peace. But he will not make a big deal out of it.”
Thus the story of discrimination started. The word spread about the horoscopes of both the boys among the relatives. Markandeyan’s grandmother was very affectionate towards him. She had ordered all the families to fall in line with her. Whenever Markendeyan was up to some mischief, he was pardoned citing it was all the fault of stars. Markandeyan and Mrithyunjayan were too young to understand any of this. But they were thick as thieves. The only thing Markandeyan was sincere about is to care for his younger brother. Once his mother found Markandeyan fanning his little brother the whole night when there was a power cut. She had asked Markandeyan to fan him when there was a powercut and forgot about it. Tears brimmed in his eyes. He only stopped when Mrinthyunjayan woke up. He didn’t go to school for two days citing shoulder pain.
Mrithyunjayan accompanied his brother every Saturday to the nearby temple. They would pray to navagraha and then walk around the temple garden and return home. It was all good for three weeks. Then Markandeyan noticed few local boys play cricket near the temple. Since then Markandeyan never went to temple. After thrashing Markandeyan once their mother found out, she sat on the washing stone and wept. Mrithyunjayan slowly walked up to her and wiped her tears. “Anna likes cricket. He is a good boy” Mrithyunjayan said. “I am asking him to go because it is good for him.” His mother said.
“What is good for him? Going to temple on Saturday?” Mrithyunjayan asked.
“Yes. Markandeyan has some problem which only God can solve”
“Can you make me hot water every Saturday early in the morning?” Mrithyunjayan asked.
That was how it began. No matter what Mrithyunjayan’s condition was, every Saturday morning he would go to the temple and pray. Soon he forgot why he was going to temple. But he prayed for everyone. Waking up in the morning, his mother or grandmother massaged him with aromatic oils from head to toe and bathed him in warm water. Unlike his elder brother, Mrithyunjayan loved the feel of hot water on his body. He would then go to the temple, pray and come home for breakfast. Markandeyan was relieved that he did not have to to go with his brother to temple.
Nothing changed for twenty-four years. The Saturday ritual continued even when their grandmother died, when they shifted to the city or when Mrithyunjayan started working in night shift.
Markandeyan never changed. He didn’t finish his high school and had no inclination to go to work. He supported their father’s business for a while. Things became strained between the father and Markandeyan when there were consistent inconsistencies in finances. Markandeyan swore he never took the money, but everybody knew the truth. They didn’t ask him because they firmly believed he was not at fault. It was just the alignment of stars.
Mrithyunjayan’s story was different altogether. There was no support for him. People looked up to him with admiration. No seven year old has made it a habit of going to temple every week for his brother. People thought Mrithyunjayan was matured beyond his age and in the right way. When there was a difficult exam in the school, there was nobody to sit with him and help. They thought miracles would happen because his horoscope was good. People genuinely believed it and also sowed it into his tender heart. Mrithyunjayan always felt he was invincible. Star alignment or not, he gave his hundred percent and some more in each and every task he undertook.
Markandeyan’s way became more erratic when he stepped into his late twenties. He didn’t have a job and was trying to woo a girl. Nobody could say what she saw in Markandeyan, but she too fell in love with Markandeyan. Markandeyan would borrow money from Mrithyunjayan for mobile recharges, petrol expenses and even for buying gifts for his girlfriend. Mrithyunjayan didn’t mind. Once the father decided to close the business, things became little hard. Mrithyunjayan became the only earning member of the family. Being the perfectionist he was, he was hastily climbing the corporate ladder. He was not ready to bear the burden of both the house and office. He was not able to give his hundred percent either in the office or home. He started to lose sleep over it. One day his mother found him sitting in the balcony chair and staring at the moon one night. When Mrithyunjayan told him what was eating his mind, she put his hand on his shoulder and said, “You will figure out a way my son. That is what you always do. Your stars are aligned like that. You cannot escape it.” Mrithyunjayan sat there some more time listening to his brother’s blissful snoring.
When his brother had a breakup, the whole family except Mrithyunjayan cried for a week with him. Markandeyan went into a self-proclaimed depression for three years and refused even to lift a finger. Later he started talking to someone on the phone, and he wouldn’t speak if there were anybody in the room. He would sit in the balcony chair and talk till the morning. Mrithyunjayan thought about his break up. There was no significant reaction at home. They said he had to move on and he will get a better girl. Because of his… You know what.
All hell broke loose when Mrithyunjayan was asked by his father to arrange two lakh rupees. It was too high a sum for him to loan.
“What happened dad?” he asked his father.
“It is your brother again. I don’t know when would his good time start. He had loaned your mother’s jewels without her knowing. The bank is threatening auction now. The principal and interest come up to two lakh rupees now.”
“But why did he do that? Can’t you talk to him?”
“Do you think he will tell the truth? Has he ever told us what was going on? Now he will do a big drama about how he was in need of money and how things didn’t happen for him. I would have lent my ear if it was some other time. But we don’t have time.”
“I will have to take a personal loan for this dad. I will lose at least eight thousand rupees per month as payment for two years.”
“I understand. But your appraisal is coming up. This shortage will be compensated right?” Mrithyunjayan’s dad didn’t give him time to think. Mrithyunjayan just nodded. “We are looking for a girl to marry him off. If that happens, your mother and I will go and settle down in our village” he said.
“What about me?” Mrithyunjayan asked.
“What about you?”
“What about my marriage? Is it not your responsibility? Or do you want me to earn and provide for Markandeyan’s family for the rest of my life? What else should I sacrifice dad.”
“The astrologer told that you would find a girl for yourself. We didn’t think of it at all. You are handsome, earning well and we were just waiting for you to talk about the girl you like.”
“This is ridiculous. You always take care of brother and pamper him. I always have to remove the mess he had created just because his horoscope is not okay. I just wanted your love and care. But you give all your time to your elder son and think of me only when there is a problem.”
“He needs some extra care. Think of him like a specially abled person.”
“Don’t insult them. I have a team where I have more than 12 specially abled people putting in 12 hours work every day at the office. Can you ask your elder son to do that?”
“Will you be able to arrange the money? Mrithyu, old age is a curse. If I was your age or if I had the strength I wouldn’t be listening to all your whining. I gave you education, food, clothes, and shelter. Add to that your horoscope was good. You are privileged in some way. Understand that before you bad mouth your brother.”
“I will arrange it for you dad. But mark my words, you will have time to talk to me only when there is another problem.”
It happened in the way Mrithyunjayan had predicted. His father never tried to talk to him about his life or the difficulties he was facing. Mrithyunjayan found his solace in alcohol. He was able to talk to strangers in the liquor shop and pour his heart out. They didn’t judge him for his horoscope. Markandeyan was worried about Mrithyunjayan. It was heart breaking for him to see his brother go down the wrong path. Whatever his vices were, Markandeyan never thought about smoking or drinking. He knew that it was a one-way road and the end of the road was a disaster. Markandeyan waited for his brother to come home late. Without a worry about Mrithyunjayan, his parents slept peacefully. They knew he would be alright. Mrithyunjayan tip-toed his way into the bedroom and was shocked to see Markandeyan waiting for him there.
“What are you doing here?” he asked his elder brother.
“What are you doing to yourself?” Markendayan sounded hurt.
“As if you don’t know. Just let me be” Mrithyunjayan threw his bag on the bed and sat on the chair facing Markandeyan
“Look, I don’t know what your problem is. But I just want to say; I am here to talk.”
“To talk? Is that why you are here. Do you know what the problem is? Or rather who the problem is?” Mrithyunjayan was high on alcohol. It took a while for him to realize that he was yelling.
Markandeyan shushed him. “Somewhere between seeing you as a bundle in a white cloth to seeing you as a man who stinks of alcohol, you grew up. It feels like I didn’t keep up with you. Grandma always said I have to protect you no matter what. I gave my word to her.”
“Really? Do you think I need protection? How are you going to protect me? By finding yourself a job and taking the pressure off my shoulder.”
“Do you think I am not trying? Everything that I take part is ending in a failure. I don’t understand why it is happening?”
“Are you going to give me that horoscope crap? Lying is not in horoscope my dear brother. It is just good manners. You have to go to a doctor if you are a compulsive liar. Not to the temples.”
Markandeyan flinched. Mrithyunjayan didn’t give him time to respond “How can you lie to me? I know you love me. I know you care for me. If I have to leave the office early without breakfast, you would be the one who calls and checks me if I had something to eat that morning. Even now, you waited for me to have a conversation with me. But why do you lie? Why can’t you be responsible?”
“Believe me. I don’t know why I lie. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for it. You are right. I have to consult a doctor. Or May be like everybody believes it is just the way I am, how the horoscope defined me. If I would be spared of this curse, I wouldn’t even hesitate to kill”
Mrithyunjayan got up from his chair contemplating whether he should hug his brother. Markandeyan continued “But please, you take care of yourself. I know how much you struggle day in and day out. I have seen people unfairly attribute your success to your constellations. You are the most hardworking person I know of. Just do whatever you want which wouldn’t destroy you.”
“Please go to hospital.”
But as it turned out Mrithyunjayan was the one who had to stay in the hospital.
He went to the temple on Saturday as usual. He was wondering whether his parents would ever care for him. He was not sure what the problem was. If he had been born in a different family, they would have pampered him like a prince. It was a bad turn, and a school kid was speeding. Mrithyunjayan remembered that his head was bleeding. He smiled because his parents will have to take care of him now.
He was only half conscious when he heard his mother say the nurse “This is not any accident. We took his horoscope to the astrologer. The problem was with his father’s horoscope. My son took the crash that was going to fall upon my husband. Mrithyunjayan is always a winner. See he had come out of it and saved his father too.” Mrithyunjayan went back to sleep. He didn’t even want to see his mother.
“I know you are not sleeping” a gentle female voice interrupted his thoughts. “I have to bathe you,” the nurse said. She was cute, and her hands were soft. She had a thick black mole just above her left eyebrow. It looked contrast to her yellowish fair skin. She was the nurse who was taking care of him.
“It is okay. I can do that myself.”
“Don’t be silly. Your right hand is of no use. You can barely do anything let alone grip the soap.”
“No. It is just… I am shy.”
She laughed. She laughed so much that she had tears falling from her eyes to cheeks.
“Think of me as your mother,” she said.
“I can’t. I won’t think of you as my sister as well.” She smiled. She didn’t insist. An elderly nurse old enough to his mother came, washed, and powdered him. Love bloomed at the unlikeliest place for Mrithyunjayan. He couldn’t move. But still, they stole glances, laughed together. He didn’t object when she fed him. Markandeyan didn’t show any concern for his brother who was bandaged up in the hospital. He was in charge of looking after Mrithyunjayan in the hospital. He never turned up, and Mrithyunjayan didn’t mind.
He knew that his family gave much importance to the horoscope. Her family believed it too. On the day of discharge, she gave him her horoscope. He passed it on to his mother. There was no development for few days, and Mrithyunjayan was too shy to ask his mother. But when they didn’t show any sign of bringing up the topic again, he had to ask.
“Mrithyu! The horoscopes didn’t match.” His mother hesitantly said, “Your’s is a shudh jaathagam while she has some dosha.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means your horoscope is perfect without any fault. But it is not the case with her. If you both get together, you people won’t be happy.”
“We can go to some temple and make some offering.”
“It is not that. But her horoscope matched with your brother’s. We are going to ask her for Markandeyan.”
“How could you even….”
“Mrithyu! You know about your horoscope. The astrologer says that there will be no better match for him than her. If she gets married to your brother, he will mend his ways it seems. Can’t you do this favor for your brother?”
When Mrithyunjayan didn’t return home like he usually did, the parents were worried. He called two days later to tell them not to worry about him, and he was not coming back home. Nobody heard of Mrithyunjayan after that.
“Paati. Give me the coffee” Markandeyan’s son walked to the kitchen. Markandeyan’s mother had it ready.
“When will Amma come paati?” he asked sipping the coffee which his grandmother held for him.
“She is working the double shift in hospital today. Don’t shout and wake your dad up” she shushed the child.
The boy looked around and found a framed photo of Markandeyan and Mrithyunjayan, taken when they were kids. “Who is this Paati?” he asked.
“This is your father, and that is his brother.”
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know dear. But I am sure Mrithyunjayan is in America or Australia, in a big bungalow like a house with car, servants and all.”
“How do you know?”
“Because his horoscope is like that.”