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Harihar Pai



Harihar Pai


The Dinner of Death

The Dinner of Death

6 mins

There was a lavish dinner served on a banana leaf. Raj and Rohan enjoyed their exotic delicacies while seated in a lotus position on an old mattress. It has begun to rain slightly. The rain has augmented the taste of the onion pakoras served on the platter. 

It's one of the remote villages in South India. Ganapathy, their college friend, invites Rohan and Raj for dinner. It was a fortunate sequence for Rohan and Raj, who were touring the waterfalls nearby. It just so happens that Ganapathy's house is on the way to the beautiful waterfalls. In the return journey, Ganapathy invited them to dine with him. After a long drive through the semi-paved roads, a delicious dinner was more than any bargain. 

It's an old house situated amidst large coconut and Areca nut plantations. There is no sign of any other dwelling nearby in this secluded estate. 

"Even if someone shouts, there will be no help," Rohan thought. 

In keeping with his name, Ganapathy had a chubby figure. Rohan thought, "Such a delicious dinner can naturally make anyone chubby, especially Ganapathy kind of lazy guys who won't exercise."

Ganapathy's mother is in her late fifties. Short women with hypnotic eyes. She's very fair and looked like the Europeans. Rohan always found something strange about her. Especially when she smiles, Rohan gets a scary chill inside.

"What am I imagining? With so much love, she's serving us food. My brain habitually takes me in the wrong direction", Rohan thought.

When the dinner was over, they served the sweet dessert "payasam". Rohan thought of washing his hands first before enjoying the dessert. Raj was still busy enjoying the meals.

The wash area is behind the house. Rohan had to take a big round from the outside to reach there. 

While cleaning his hands, Rohan peeped cautiously inside the open window near him. It was a very dimly illuminated kitchen area. A cold breeze was drifting around. 

At the corner, he observed something hanging. It looked like a common vine snake. Rohan almost had his heart in his mouth. 

"Are we slow poisoned, or it's just my imagination?" He tried hard to look as much as possible but couldn't recognize it properly. 

"Is it what I'm thinking, or is it just some vegetable that's hung?"

Since the light was dim, he couldn't verify the object. He went further to see near the illuminated window. Suddenly, Ganapathy's mother appeared at the window. 

Looking at Rohan with  her big eyes, she asked, "Did you miss your way, son?"

Rohan was shocked. In a low-pitched voice, he asked, "Yes, how to go back to the living room?"

Ganapathy's mother smiled and levelled her finger in the direction of the room.

On his way back, Rohan recalled the story narrated by his grandmother.

"There's a community in South India, they're, from a so-called higher caste. A few of those community members are still following their old roots. It's believed they mix the slow poison called "Maddhu"  into the guest's food. 

The formula to produce the poison is unknown. Some think it to be the saliva of the dead green snake mixed with some weeds found in the forest. 

They mix it with a sweet dessert and serve it to the guests. The one who consumes the concoction will lose his appetite and die in weeks."

 "Grandma, why'd they do so?"

"Olden Days, this practice was undertaken, to settle the personal enmity, mainly the land disputes. They would be call enemies for a negotiated settlement. The host would serve lavish dinner as a token of progressively extending mutual friendship. The dessert served along with dinner would contain the poison "Maddhu." The consumer would die in weeks, and no one would suspect. 

This prevalent method is stated to date back to old kingdom days.

The enemy general or high-rank soldiers would weaken by slow poisoning. Nowadays, it has taken the form of superstition. They believe that all the good of the affected person will come to their family. For the welfare of the host family, they should at least poison one person in seven years.

 Although most of the community members have moved on from these superstitions, it's still rooted among the few."

In a flash, Rohan remembered the platter had no salt.

It's a prevailing custom among south Indians to typically serve a pinch of salt on a dinner platter. "Maddhu" with salt makes the person vomit, thereby reducing the desired effects of slow poison. During poisoning, usually, salt isn't served on the platter.

"Did it happen by chance, or is there a deeper reason behind it?" these were Rohan's thoughts. As he reached the living room, he paused for a moment. 

Raj was already eating the Payasam. Ganapathy extended the bowl of Payasam, "this is a special dessert made for you guys Rohan, have it."

Rohan's hands and legs were trembling. He quickly thought of an excuse, "My grandfather died this day. I won't eat any sweets to mark my respect for him." What followed was an unusual look from Ganapathy's mother.

"Should I alert Raj? What if it's not that what I am thinking? 

Raj also belongs to the same community. He might feel insulted and might even sever the friendship with me."

"Raj, may we leave at this time? I just received a text message that my grandma is ill."

A strange look crossed Ganapathy's face, "SMS? But we don't have a mobile network here.".

"The SMS arrived long ago just noticed it now," Rohan explained his statement.

Trying to pull Raj away from the location, Rohan asked Raj, "Will you join me. Let's leave together.".

"Rohan, I am not leaving tonight. I am too tired, carry on. I will meet you later", Raj said, eating the last bit of Payasam.

Hearing this, Ganapathy gave hysterical laughter.

Rohan thought, "If that's Raj's fate, so be it, but I should leave now." Before going, Rohan sends a message to Raj, "Kindly eat a lot of cardamoms, I have heard, it's good when you travel. It keeps you away from a throat infection." 

Rohan knew cardamoms consumed within an hour acts as an effective antidote to the Maddhu poison. Since there was a network issue in the estate, the message never reached Raj on time.

After that, Rohan was unable to contact Raj. Raj went to his village the next day. A few days later,  Raj suffered from a gastrointestinal infection. He stopped ingesting food. They thought it was minor and devoted minimum medical attention to him. His rare condition progressively worsened. He passed away before they could take him to his parent's house in the city.

Rohan was very much disappointed he could not warn Raj directly. "It is not my fault. In truth, I didn't know what was going on. All I did was speculate", Rohan explained to himself.

"Hi Rohan, you are right. I should have eaten the cardamom."

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