PC014: The Grand Cheat

By Hilary Moon Murphy
Read by Rajan Khanna
First appeared in Tales of the Unanticipated.

My finest cheat started long ago, before India was even a country. Most of us were still under British rule, one way or another. I was apprenticed to Sri Ghare, one of the greatest negotiators in the princely states. I lived with him and his wife in a fine manor. Though I was from a poor family, he always treated me like I was his own son.

When Sri Ghare’s wife was great with child, he was called to negotiate for the local rajah. Sri Ghare made me promise to take care of her while he was gone. When my master’s wife went into labor, the female servants shooed me out of the house, knowing that I would only be in the way. But I had promised my master, and I was very worried. What if something should go wrong with the birth?

So I cheated. I sneaked back into the house when the servants were too busy to check for me. At first, I only listened through the sheer, blue draperies that curtained off the women’s quarters, but all I could hear were screams, sobs, and muffled assurances. I crawled under the draperies, coming as close as I dared. The sounds were so awful, I was certain that she must be dying.

I meditated in the doorway to her rooms and prayed deeply for safety of mother and child. I prayed harder than I ever had before. I prayed so hard that I became aware of the god who was trying to slip past me into the rooms don’t ask me how I knew it was a god, I just knew – and I cried, “Hold!

“No one says ‘Hold’ to me, mortal,” the god rumbled.

Rated PG. Contains schemes, cheats, and tricksters.

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27 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Jennifer said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

    Wow, I really liked this one in the end. Cool!

  2. 2

    Tom Cagley said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

    Both the story was remarkable and the narration were remarkable. Have recently spent time in India the story brought me back to the mystery that is India.

    Thank you featuring Indian mythology.

  3. 3

    Benjamin said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

    Overall, I really liked this story.
    I really liked the setting, the rich cultural elements, the portrayal of pre-independence India. Hilary Moon Murphy really impressed me with how she weaved this nearly modern setting together with ancient Hindu mythology. I was also greatly impressed by Run of the Fiery Horse, in which the author conducts the same feat with ancient Chinese mythology.

    There was just one element of this story that really detracted from my enjoyment: the one-sided dialogue gimmick, the monologue/dialogue – where the listener/reader hears the storyteller telling the story to a third party, who remains voiceless.
    The dialogue becomes quite stilted and unnatural with this technique, since the one and only narrator must convey what was said by the other party and react to it at the same time.
    And it sounds so silly, like the narrators talking to a wall. After a while, to make matters worse, my mind starts to fill in the gaps with the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher! This does NOT contribute to the drama.
    I can take a few instances of one-sided dialogue – there was a bit of it in Barren’s Dance, but not too much. It was just over the top in The Grand Cheat, with the entire final scene taking place in a monologue/dialogue with TWO silent parties on the other side!

    Sorry about the rant, I just felt that this would be a really great story, if it wasn’t for that gimmick.

  4. 4

    thomasowenm said,

    July 2, 2008 @ 5:42 pm

    I second Benjamin’s setiments, the story was kept from being fantastic by the ending storytelling dialog. I really loved it up to that point. Though not as visual as some of the other podcastle pieces, this one had a lot more emotional impact for me. Miss Murphey deserves a strong A for this work, I only wish I could have put a plus with it.

  5. 5

    EverGreen said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 2:16 am

    That was a REALLY cool story. It’s funny, it reminded me in many ways of stories from the Arabian Nights. This is definitely my favorite podcastle so far.

  6. 6

    George said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 11:30 am

    Yes! Great Podcastle production once again!

    I like the way that Moon again weaves the mythology of the East into an intriguing tale. The reading by Rajan Khanna was also good.

    For me the best thing this story brought out was the mutability of fate. Truly, there is “no fate but what we make”, and we should all use our God given free will to be “Grand Cheats” whenever we see the need to make a change in the way things are.

    And – happy endings always make me feel good!

  7. 7

    Yicheng said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

    I enjoyed every part of this story. It was unique, well-paced, captivating, and well-read. I am very thankful that the narrator did not choose to read in a faux hindi accent. The story-telling tone, while a bit awkward in the end, wasn’t as bothersome for me, and seemed like a reference to the Jungle Book. This is now one of my top two Podcastle stories.

  8. 8

    Wilson Fowlie said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

    What a fabulous tale! I *love* stories in which the protagonist outsmarts someone more powerful. To me, they’re akin to Bugs Bunny tales, or movies like _The Truman Show_. This is now my favourite Podcastle story.

    That said, I must be one of the few listeners who wasn’t enraptured by Rajan Khanna’s reading. Not that it was *bad*. For one thing, I agree with Yicheng in being thankful for the lack of a faux accent! For another, it was good that he obviously knew how to pronounce all the names correctly (which is more than I would have, without help). I’d even call it ‘good’; I just didn’t think it was ‘all that’.

    Perhaps I would have liked it more if he’d gone back and edited over some of the (admittedly minor) stumblings he made. Yes, they were minor, but electronic sound editing is so trivial these days that there’s no excuse not to take the time to go back and fix them. Someone on the forum noted some background noise (which I also heard) of a child or something, which could also have been edited out.

    I disagree with Benjamin and thomasowenm: I think that the one-sided dialogue could have been made to work aurally/orally (I could certainly visualize it and see it working in text), but that Khanna didn’t quite get there.

    On the other hand, he didn’t over-emphasize his “T”s, which bugs me about Steve Eley’s readings. Like I say, I didn’t *hate* the reading; I just wasn’t blown away by it, like many people seem to have been.

  9. 9

    Rachel said,

    July 3, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

    “Perhaps I would have liked it more if he’d gone back and edited over some of the (admittedly minor) stumblings he made. Yes, they were minor, but electronic sound editing is so trivial these days that there’s no excuse not to take the time to go back and fix them.”

    Just in Rajan Khanna’s defense — he’s a friend of a couple friends of mine, and came recommended as someone with a good reading voice, but to my knowledge he’s never done anything like this kind of electronic reading before. (Many of our PodCastle readers are first-timers, as I’ve been trying to select people for acting ability over technological ability.)

    That’s not to say your mention of his stumbling isn’t totally legitimate, and I’ll definitely point it out to him when I next talk to him about reading for us. But I don’t think it was a matter of being too lazy to take the time to fix it so much as lack of familiarity with the technology. In other words, if you’re going to blame anyone, blame me. 😉

  10. 10

    CelticGoddess said,

    July 5, 2008 @ 12:26 am

    I really loved this story. As a high school English teacher, I am constantly urged (whether overtly or subtly) to teach the classic dead white guys, and, as a young white woman, I am constantly fighting this in one form or another (meaning, I don’t think that only dead white guys can write). So I was thrilled with this story of Indian mythology about the man so shrewd he out-bargains gods. *Star Trek insider joke follows* I bet the Ferengi will claim ownership of this one just as the Klingons have with Hamlet!

  11. 11

    The Uncredible Hallq said,

    July 5, 2008 @ 12:39 am

    I thought the closing bit was cute, even if it could have been a bit more polished. Not an amazing story–trickster tales like this aren’t the epitome of cutting edge creativity–but a good one all the same.

  12. 12

    Abbie said,

    July 5, 2008 @ 1:40 am

    Awww, I really liked this story. It was sweet and clever. As others have mentioned, I thought the dialogue between the story-teller and boy at the end was unnecessary and a little clique, but the story itself was lovely.

  13. 13

    Traveler said,

    July 6, 2008 @ 12:03 am

    Please find an opportunity to have Mr. Khanna read again. His voice tickles some kind of stress-relief center in my brain.

  14. 14

    robiggs said,

    July 6, 2008 @ 12:58 am

    Finally after weeek and week of so so stroy one the is very good.

  15. 15

    scatterbrain said,

    July 6, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

    Execellent, but the Indian mythology is a little weak.

  16. 16

    LittleLotus said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

    Loved it! The very thought of a human playing the trickster instead of a God made this story what it was. His creativity in solving the forced futures of the children really got me guessing how he would succeed. Although the ending was a cheesy Hollywood Happily Ever, as a listener I needed to hear that a human can once again think outside the box. Loved the reading as always (even with the few messups). Thank you!

  17. 17

    Brimmers said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    Fantastic – best Podcastle yet – well done to all involved.

  18. 18

    DaveNJ said,

    July 8, 2008 @ 1:15 am

    Love this story. It’s a fable of the best kind, telling a tale of intrigue and drama while teaching a lesson about the nature of contracts. It’s reminiscent of the tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights, but with a distinct flavor all its own. While I usually don’t like the first-person narration style of the piece (first-person speaking to silent counterpart), it works for the twist at the end and to keep the story going.

    The best fables have to be told, and that’s how this story works. Any other style wouldn’t do it justice.

  19. 19

    Dave said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    Nice one. The narrator needed to slow down just a tad, especially when supposedly responding to a grandchild, but it was otherwise well read. The story itself was charming and enjoyable. Good job, PodCastlers.

  20. 20

    V said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Loved the reading, loved the story. I’ll be looking for work by Hilary Moon Murphy again, and I’d like to hear more of Mr. Khanna too!

    I’m not quite sure why this one tickled my fancy more than Firey Horse, which was a good story. It felt more unified, simpler somehow. Firey Horse’s structure wasn’t as effective.

  21. 21

    Ellen said,

    July 13, 2008 @ 1:23 am

    I greatly enjoyed the story and the reading (although I agree with Benjamin’s criticism of the epilogue). It’s my favorite Podcastle story so far. People who enjoyed this might also enjoy “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” [http://podcast.starshipsofa.com/podcast/Ted_Chiang_The_Merchant_and_the_Alchemists_Gate.mp3].

  22. 22

    Archie said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

    Oh dear a Podcastle story I didn’t like. Have worked previously in the legal world for many years I was hoping for a much cleverer catch for the God. What we got was too simple and basic.

    Nice reading but the story was too light. The God had options to evade and really let himself be cornered. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

  23. 23

    Spork said,

    July 21, 2008 @ 8:23 am

    THIS was a very enjoyable and clever little story. I enjoyed this from beginning to end.

    I’ve always enjoyed stories with characters outwitting the characters placing obstacles in their way.

  24. 24

    The Fix | From the Podosphere: July 2008 said,

    August 16, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

    […] begins July with Hilary Moon Murphy’s “The Grand Cheat,” read by Rajan Khanna. This Indian-flavored story is about making deals with gods—or […]

  25. 25

    Quincy Archer said,

    November 5, 2008 @ 3:51 pm

    Oddly enough I dont do this much, but I just heard this story, and well it made me cry. It was weird. I didn’t bawl but there were tears and I couldnt hold it back. I liked it.

  26. 26

    Hot Deals said,

    November 28, 2008 @ 6:55 am

    Nice Deal 🙂

  27. 27

    The Grand Cheat « Writing Every Day said,

    January 8, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    […] There also seems for me something special about finding out that a story I enjoy is the author’s first fiction sale. So if you haven’t beaten me to it (which you might, since I’m way behind on my listening),  check out the reading on Pod Castle. […]

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