We Got It All Wrong…

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The Story Of A Cobbler And A Punditji in Kashi (For Children)

Part 1

Those were the times Kashi was a great seat of learning where pundit’s, vidwan’s and acharya’s flocked to learn, debate and settle arguments in theology. A living city that goes back in time farther than recorded history, shrouded in countless myths and incredible legends…

And, our story here is about a punditji, presently hurrying towards the ghats of Ganges for his daily bath when a strap on his footwear gave way. Dragging his feet through the street, he ducked into a side-lane where he knew he would find a cobbler, an old man, plying his trade close to the waters of Ganges.

The old man took the punditji’s footwear and repaired it fit for use.

cobbler hiveminer.com er

When the punditji offered him money for his services, he politely declined:

‘Sir, I have sworn to do at least one good deed every day. What could be better than being of service to a learned man like you?  This would be my deed for the day.’

The punditji would not accept: ‘Old man, I cannot remain indebted to you for what you’ve done. With time the debt would grow many times over if I let it remain outstanding. So, here, take this money which is yours…’

‘Sir, if that be so…I ask you for a favour.’

‘Eh?’

‘I sit on the banks of ma Ganga and earn a living from attending to her devotees coming here for a bath. I’ve done very little in return for the mother. Please offer these coins to ma Ganga when you take bath. Won’t you do this for an old man?’

‘Why don’t you do it yourself? You look alright to walk.’

‘You know as well as I do, Sir, a cobbler cannot commit the sin of stepping up to ma Ganga and letting her waters touch his feet. I’ve already collected sins enough to see me through a couple of births…’

‘Okay, okay, will do.’

The learned man entered the waters waist-deep, gently offered the coins with some words of prayer and proceeded to take dips.

Turning back, as he made towards the ghat, he felt a touch on his shoulder.

He turned around. A hand – it could not have belonged to anyone on this earth – had shot out of the waters, offering him a beautiful gold kangan.

A dazed punditji took it without a thought like a man under a spell. Within the few moments he needed to gather his wits the hand had disappeared under the waters. He understood – it was ma Ganga’s blessings in return for the coins he had offered.

Truly the divine-looking kangan belonged to the old man. He went looking for him, but was not to be found at his place.

The punditji, running late for his sessions, thought of reaching it to the cobbler later.

When he returned home for lunch, he narrated the strange incident of the morning to his wife.

One look at the kangan, the lady almost swooned. Wearing it on her wrist, she stood before the mirror and saw herself in different poses like a bashful bride with the tiny bells on the kangan tinkling to divine music.

She made it clear to the husband she had no intentions of parting with it now or ever.

The learned man tried in vain to impress upon her who was the intended recipient.

He even told her wearing the gorgeous kangan would arouse the suspicions in the minds of the neighbours, aware of their modest living and meagre means. They might even bring it to the notice of the authorities.  And no one would believe his story.

The mention of the authorities was an ‘Ah’ moment for the wife. She came up with a ‘brilliant’ idea that would solve the problem for them – if they took the kangan to the royal court and presented to the Raja, he would be delighted and was sure to shower them with gifts.

The punditji did not stand up against her idea.

On the following day, the couple had none too difficult access to Raja’s durbar where things went exactly like the lady had envisioned. A connoisseur of art and craft, the Raja held the kangan in his hands like it was some rare fragile flower, admiring the fine piece of jewellery, while the queen squealed in delight. A gift, it was, verily fit for none other than the royalty.

The couple were thanked profusely and gifts heaped on them for the priceless piece they had brought.

As the happy couple made their way to exit, the Queen turned to her spouse:

‘My Lord, wouldn’t it look fabulous if I had a matching Kangan for the other hand too? I’m sure the punditji would be able to procure it for me from wherever he got this one.’

Part 2

It was not the merely gifts that weighed the punditji down as they returned home.

The wife was unfazed: ‘What are you worried about? The Raja has promised us even more if only…’

‘Don’t you understand? From where and how do I get it a second kangan? And if I don’t, be assured we won’t be seeing daylight rest of our living years.’

‘Frankly I don’t know why they call you a scholar. It’s so simple…go to the cobbler again with another strap of your footwear broken – that’s easy to arrange. And tell him, ma Ganga was mighty pleased with his offerings yesterday. He’s sure to…’

‘You’re right, I must be an idiot of first order to go along with your cocky ideas. Now I know exactly what I should be doing…’

Disregarding remonstrations of the wailing lady, he gathered all the gifts the Raja had given into a bundle and hit the street as though even a moment’s delay might cause his fickle mind to change to wicked ways. Frantically he went in search of the cobbler; found him at the same place resting after lunch under the shade of a nearby tree. The punditji grabbed his hands, sobbed out the entire story as it was and placed the bundle at his feet as though he was unburdening himself of all the guilt. And desperately sought his help; for, he still had to get the second kangan for the Raja.

The old man was moved to tears, his voice choked: ‘Is that what my ma…she did? Really, for this man? That kangan…it would’ve looked best ma wearing it herself. I would readily give my life to have a darshan of her fully decked in such ornaments…you know, If you had at that moment prayed to her, Sir, she would have, I’m sure, blessed you  with her darshan in full form…’

Composing himself in a few moments: ‘Sir, what can I say? And what can I do to help you? If anyone can, it would be only she, ma Ganga.’ Pointing to the bundle, ‘An old man like me has no use for these trinkets – I already earn my two meals a day, by ma’s mercy. If I may suggest, kindly take this bundle and offer it to ma like you did yesterday. Seek her forgiveness from your heart and, I’m sure, my ma won’t let you down.’

That day there were not many witnesses to the strange sight of a fully clothed punditji standing in the waters of Ganga early afternoon and saying prayers. And even fewer, in fact, none saw the man of meagre means making offerings to the river, way above his station.

varanasi A-man-bathing-in-Ganges-River-Varanasi-Indai

Feeling greatly relieved, literally and mentally, by acting out the cobbler’s suggestion, he returned empty handed for his evening chores. He knew the storm that awaiting him at home would spend itself harmlessly in a while, but his predicament with the Raja was something different; and here, ma Ganga was his only hope.

With that comforting thought, he slept peacefully that night, greatly aided by his wife’s silence – she was too cross to talk to him, for letting the riches slip away from their hands.

Indeed a tumultuous day it had been.

Part 3

The day began like any other day, but not for long.

Just as the punditji finished his morning pooja, there was a knock on the door.

It was the royal guards with Raja’s summons to the court.

A knot formed in the pit of his stomach and was doing somersaults.

Still he managed to retain the air of confidence about him given by cobbler’s words as he got ready to leave.

A wife being a wife she decided to go along. After all the Raja would find it a bit more inconvenient to be harsh with a man accompanied by a helplessly dependent woman.

On the way to the palace, he suppressed the tremble in his gait with difficulty; once inside the palace, without much ado, they were swiftly taken to a private audience with the Raja.

The Raja meant business, it seemed. The kangan was sitting pretty on a silk covered silver plate right before him. The Queen was not to be seen by his side.

The brave front the punditji had sported all this time fell away before the Raja like ghee on a hot tava.. Without even looking up, he began stammering out his incredible account of how he came by the kangan, expecting the Raja to blow up in disbelief any instant.

Predictably he was interrupted before long. ‘Punditjiji, spare me your tale. No need to explain,’ far from being a wrecking-ball, the Raja’s voice was inexplicably laced with sympathy. The kind Raja suspected as much and wished to save the learned man from being compelled to concoct stories to save himself: ‘It has already been hinted to me how this kangan came into your possession though I may not know the details yet…And, importantly, you need not go searching for a second one for me. I know where it is and it’s very unlikely you can’t get at it.’

‘Eh?’

‘Yes, because it’s still with its rightful owner who is not likely to part with it…Ganga ma herself told me all of it.’

What was happening here? Too much and too fast for their grasp. The punditji and his wife looked at each other all too flummoxed.

The Raja filled in: ‘Yesterday night, I had this strange dream…Ganga ma herself appeared before me and said this kangan was the one from the pair worn by her and she wanted it back for herself as wished by one of her ardent devotees whom she cannot deny. She did hint at how she let this one go from her in the first instance…So, punditji, I plan to offer the kangan back to Ganga ma this evening. I ask both of you to be present at the ghats. And you, especially, to perform the ceremonies!’

He brought the meeting to a close: ‘You may go now to get the preparations underway for the evening with the assistance of my staff. ‘Yes, I forgot to tell you this…for some reason she wanted to accept the kangan from your hands, no one else’s, not even mine. And also she said you’re forgiven; for, you’ve suffered enough – she didn’t elaborate on what the offence was or the punishment.’

For the first time ever since he had gone to the cobbler for mending his footwear a couple of days ago, the punditji was breathing easily as though a boulder sitting on his chest had been removed.

They returned home in silence. There was time yet to warm up for the evening of rituals and revelry.

 

End 

 

 

Source: Based on a story from a Tamizh fb forum that I’m unable recall presently. Images from hiveminer.com and travelingsolemates.com

If You Feel Down And Under…

she’ll tell you – she knows the trick!

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I’ve shown conidence lots

in this grade. Evrey time I think

something is hard I try

to belive in my self and

it becomes so much

easyer 

                           – Anila (8 years)

Don’t know what’s the cat doing in there!

End

 

 

A Road-Show Of A Different Kind

It takes all kinds of people…

CHEMBURTired after taking a Pulmonary Function Test at a clinic, he insisted on walking back home under the hot noon sun, disregarding his wife’s protestations. He wanted to check out how well he was able to take it, given his labored asthma-afflicted breathing. Cataract in both eyes slowed him down even more.

It was not a long walk.  They reached the junction of the Central Avenue and the 11th (Cross) Road perpendicularly cutting and running on both sides of the main road. Easily crossing one way of the main road they paused at the divider running along the middle, waiting for a break in the heavy traffic going other way. A steady stream of three-wheelers speeding past held them back. Just then, suddenly, a motor-cycle shot out from behind, cutting right across in the way of the three-wheelers and stopped right in the middle!  A very dangerous move, the man thought, though there was just enough room ahead for these highly maneuverable vehicles to slow down and stop.

The man and his wife were rattled but he did not have the strength to pull up the rider of the two-wheeler – unexpectedly a man in mid-thirties, in civvies, not a brash youngster – for endangering his own life and possibly, of others.

In stark contrast, the rider was unruffled, his demeanor like that of a circus acrobat who had just finished successfully executing a tricky maneuver with precise timing and judgement. And, finesse. Or, better, like a traffic cop on Indian roads who unhesitatingly walks into an oncoming traffic knowing fully well he would come to no harm (of course, he has been proved wrong on occasions).

Just when the man turned squarely to the rider to convey by sheer look his shock and displeasure, he saw the rider with one hand stretched out to halt the traffic and with the other hand politely gesturing the couple to safely cross the road now without fear.

Reaching the other side of the road hurriedly holding my wife’s hand, I looked back to him, not sure if he should be thanked or admonished.

He was gone – the traffic annoyed at the inopportune delay had resumed with gusto.

End

 

PS: Not a fiction. Image from freepressjournal.in/mumbai/

What Is Love?

The Best Time Of My Life

Thanks to Ray Mitchell for pointing me to this piece from Joe Kemp.

community drupal org

It was June 15, and in two days I would be turning thirty. I was insecure about entering a new decade of my life and feared that my best years were now behind me.

My daily routine included going to the gym for a workout before going to work. Every morning I would see my friend Nicholas at the gym. He was seventy-nine years old and in terrific shape. As I greeted Nicholas on this particular day, he noticed I wasn’t full of my usual vitality and asked if there was anything wrong. I told him I was feeling anxious about turning thirty. I wondered how I would look back on my life once I reached Nicholas’s age, so I asked him, “What was the best time of your life?”

Without hesitation, Nicholas replied, “Well, Joe, this is my philosophical answer to your philosophical question:

“When I was a child in Austria and everything was taken care of for me and I was nurtured by my parents, that was the best time of my life.

“When I was going to school and learning the things I know today, that was the best time of my life.

“When I got my first job and had responsibilities and got paid for my efforts, that was the best time of my life.

“When I met my wife and fell in love, that was the best time of my life.

“When we came to Canada and started a family, that was the best time of my life.

“When I was a young father, watching my children grow up, that was the best time of my life.

“And now, Joe, I am seventy-nine years old. I have my health, I feel good and I am in love with my wife just as I was when we first met. This is the best time of my life.”
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End

 

Note from author: October 2008 update: Just a little background to this short story. After I had that conversation with Nicholas in 1990, I would share that conversation with people, who were anxious about their upcoming birthday. The birthday that usually represented the next decade in their lives. After approximately 4 years, someone advised me to send it to “chicken Soup for the Soul”. It was subsequently selected for their upcoming “5th Portion”. By the time it was published I had moved and attended a different Fitness Center. I never knew Nicholas’ last name and will probably never know if he, or anyone of his family members were aware that he inspired so many people with his philosophical comment on life. Interestingly, his commentary flowed out of him completely without taking time to ponder. Eighteen years later, he may still be with us or has passed on. Hopefully, he, or someone close to him will have made the connection.

Image from drupal.org

We Are The Army

Year 2030.

Polar icecaps had melted, oceans swelled. A deluge that would wipe out all of earth’s surface now appeared certain on the third day.

Flood

The politicians and the elected representatives of people demanded shelter in the deep underground bunkers provisioned for long stay during a nuclear holocaust.

The business men ordered their space rockets to be readied for a blast off.

The priests said it was just as in the scriptures and it was never too late to pray and ensure their place in the Heavens.

The stock-brokers advised his clients to sell off all their holdings and buy into real-estate firms as a huge upsurge was expected in construction activities once the waters subsided.

At a remote border post, the army sergeant called his downcast troops and said:

“We still have 72 hours.

Army 1

Let’s train ourselves to live under water.”

End
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Credits: newshopper.sulekha.com