Across The Waters With No Boat Or Bridge – A Children’s Story Of Tenali Raman’s Wit And Wisdom

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The pehalwan from the north was an instant hit. People dropped their jaws watching his amazing acts of physical prowess – he would have a couple of heavy-built locals stand on his out-stretched arm, pull a tree clean off the ground with bare hands or bend iron bars.

It was only a matter of time before he drew the attention of Krishna Deva Raya’s court where he was invited for a display of his strengths before the royalty, senior officials of the court and special invitees. A part of the beautiful palace garden was set up for the show. As a standard courtesy extended to all artistes, on arrival important dignitaries ere personally introduced by Raya to the pehalwan with a few words on who they were. When it was Tenali Raman’s turn Raya went overboard waxing eloquently about his wit. Not given to sharing the stage with anyone else, the pehalwan looked at Raman’s unremarkable presence in a traditional attire, his body language making no secret of where he stood on brawn vis-a-vis brain.  Raya noticed it right away and made light of it cautioning  the pehalwan not to get on the wrong side of Raman.

Introductions concluded, Raya went back to his seat and the pehalwan to his position for commencement of the show. In his opening act he came out cradling a baby, a little large-sized, in his arms; his audience amused at this light-hearted start – a L or XL bear mad with buzzing wasps held in an embrace would have been a more satisfying sight! Soon he was handling the baby like it was a soft-toy, tossing it from here to there, standing it up on his little finger in a ‘Krishna’s Govardhana’ pose, tossing it up overhead and catching it quite nonchalantly. It was in fact a toy for all to see setting everyone at ease – there was no danger to any life. Just when people began to wonder where it was going a wooden table was brought in; and a few of his people joining from the sidelines climbed atop and jumped up and down like they were standing on hot bricks, no one knew why. Were they trying hard to crash the table and failing? The pehalwan holding the baby effortlessly in one hand walked up casually gesturing them to get off. Once the table was clear, he dusted the top with his towel and showing great care and concern laid the baby on its back on the table, seemingly ending the frivolous miming act that no one really understood or even cared.

And perhaps readying himself for his second act, the pehalwan stood a little to the front of the table, taking time to wipe copious sweat streaming off his body. For the first time a few of the onlookers were intrigued – all that sweat in playing with a toy?

Suddenly there was sound like something was crumbling. Next moment they all saw the table crashing down and the baby landing with a thud bringing in a rush the people  who had earlier stomped on the table. They struggled to lift the baby out of the pile of splintered wood. They could not. They devised a rope around its waist and tried to pull with more men joining in to help. The baby wouldn’t budge. All this while the pehalwan stood unperturbed, his face slowly breaking into a hint of a smile.  Finally he stepped forward and shoving aside his men grabbed the baby by its crown and held it aloft on his palm for all to see like it was no more than a soft-toy.

When the penny dropped – this was no ordinary baby to defy the utmost exertions of many and neither was the pehalwan’s feat – he earned a generous round of applause.
And so followed many acts of sheer physical strength that left his audience awe-struck. Like carrying a human pyramid on his shoulders, holding back Raya’s chariot pulled by his prized horses…More than once Raya was seen to be enjoying himself visibly conveying his appreciation. And, so were his guests.

A great show-man he was, the pehalwan played out his acts knowing well how to ratchet up the tempo to a crescendo in a cycle only to be followed by another cycle more challenging, and another, keeping his audience right through on the edge of their seats.
In a final act, he lifted a massive cannon ball of iron and heaved it straight off the palace gardens (of course, landing safely).

As the ovation died down, it was time for Raya to honor the performer suitably and reward the pehalwan with gifts.

Just then, Tenali Raman got up from his seat.

‘Your honor, I’ve a small request to make of our esteemed guest. I’m sure it would be easily accomplished compared to the awesome display we saw today.’

The pehalwan confusedly looked at Raya.

Raya gave his nod.

‘Thank you, my lord, for your kind indulgence,’ Raman bowed.

‘It’s like this. Here it is, no cannon ball, only a small piece of cloth. I would like to see it thrown across this stream only a few feet wide. That’s all,’ Raman offered it to the pehalwan with insincere deference.

It was an artificial stream arranged to flow through the garden, fed from the fountains.

Too full of himself with the adulation showered on him, the pehalwan, seemingly exasperated  at the ridiculousness of the exercise, snatched the piece of cloth without a thought from Raman’s hand, made a mock show of bending down under its weight and then, crushing it in his hand, threw it across the stream with all his might as it were. He felt it was quite beneath him to even turn around to check on the outcome. Alas, for him, the piece of cloth, as it would, sailed through the air no further than a couple of feet  before being blown adrift by the mild breeze and dropping down in a crazy swirl into the stream.

Raman was at hand giving the stunned pehalwan another piece of cloth. Again, the result was no different. It was then the pehalwan realized the impossibility of the situation and his own folly in making the attempts.

When a third piece was offered, he shoved it back into Raman’s hands with a gesture that said: ‘All right, Smarty, I got suckered in.  It’s now your turn; try getting out of it, eh?’

Raman was clumsy dropping  the piece of cloth to the ground. He then picked it up, rolled it into a ball, muttered some mantra’s and sent it across the stream. And lo, there it sailed all the way like a cannon ball landing on the far side almost going out of sight.

How did he do it? When and from whom did he learn mantra’s? Raya was dazed as everyone was. The pehalwan fared the worst looking like someone punched him hard in his gut knocking him out of breath.

But first things first. A large-hearted and wise Raya did not allow Raman’s side-show to take the shine off the pehalwan’s hitherto awesome display of muscle power, bestowing on him the honors, words of praise and gifts rightly due to him. A mortified pehalwan made his peace with Raman – no use crossing swords with a guy who pulls potent mantra’s from his scabbard.

It was then Raman leaked out the secret of his mantra’s – there was no mantra’s, no secret. The ball of cloth that he threw across the stream had a pebble inside making the flight perfectly possible. He had picked it up along with the cloth that he had dropped on purpose.

Why did Raman let the cat out of the bag?

If it were not debunked at the earlies, he feared, people including Raya would want him on occasions to invoke those and other mantra’s for causes right or wrong. He would be held up to ridicule for failures, much worse, his loyalty questioned, despite his protestations of innocence and ignorance.

At this the pehalwan could not help laughing over his own imbecility and Raman’s wit. Preparing to leave the town, he gifted his emblematic silver bracelet to Raman and invited him to his home-land to learn from him some real mantra’s.

End 

Source: www, animationxpress.com

A Tale From A Mango Tree (Children’s Story)

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‘You, know, I’m the one taking all the risks, sneaking into houses. You stand at a safe distance ready to run away at the first sign of trouble.’

‘And don’t forget you’ve no act unless I pick you up and drop you over the fence, keep watch and get you back same way.’

The two men, one short and the other tall, were arguing under the Mango Tree over their fair share of the loot taken from an unwilling wayfarer whose misfortune it was to cross their path early in the evening, .

As always their wrangle was inconclusive and it was agreed to maintain the status quo at 50-50. .

The short man now emptied the contents of the wayfarer’s bag into a pile on the ground – it was all silver coins. Didn’t amount to much belying the heft. Cursing their luck over the insubstantial returns for their efforts, he dutifully did the ‘one for you, one for me, watched over by a pair of wary eyes,’

The meager split finished, ‘Okay…means we’re not done for the night.’

‘You’re right. You have anything in mind?’

‘I have heard there’s an widow living all by herself in the village. Old money. I suggest we pay her a visit tonight. A real cinch – we should be done and gone before the clock moves.’

It wasn’t dark yet and a little shut-eye was in order before attending to their business usually conducted after mid-night. The coins were secured in  waist belts covered by the dhoti folds, the turbans straightened and laid out on the ground and in a few turns they were lost to the waking world.

The entire proceedings were watched with dismay by Kaaga, the crow. The hapless wayfarer had rested under the Tree and even shared his food before running into these men. And now they plan to rob the poor lady.

He turned sad:

‘The kind lady…never missed setting aside every morning some cooked rice for us. But how do I alert her to their nefarious plans? We don’t speak their language.’

Awash with despair, ‘A shame that I know what’s going to happen and still helpless to do anything about it.’

‘May be we could do something,’ said the Mango Tree, a mute witness to the happenings till now.

‘How do you mean?’

‘It might just work…go and get Mooshika (the mouse) here – we need him.’

Soon enough an excited Mooshika scampered to the base of the Tree – for, it was quite unusual to be called at this hour.

‘You’ve told me some time ago you hoard things people leave behind or lose at the village tank and it’s getting so full up that you find it difficult to move around in your own home?’

‘That’s right. Badly needs cleaning up – since she’s isn’t around I don’t mind saying this.’

‘Anything in silver? Not coins.’

‘Oh, plentiful – chains, rings, tiny bells fallen off anklets, small diya’s (wick-lamps)…you know we have no use for these.’

Thereupon Mooshika heard from the Mango Tree what was to be done, which it accomplished silently in the next few minutes, helped by a few friends.

Just when the tall man got the spell right to open up the treasure chest inside the cave, he was rudely woken up by faint sounds near his ears of bells tingling.

A light sleeper he was as suited for his trade, he was immediately alert. Unable to discern any immediate threat he calmed down. Nevertheless it was safer for them to be ready for any danger lurking close by; so he woke up his accomplice.

As the short man got up, a rain of silver trinkets fell on the ground from his garment.

The tall man’s countenance hardened.

He fixed the other man with a malevolent glare: ’So you hid these from me…you cheat’.

‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’

The tall man silently pointed to the silver on the ground.

‘Oh…no idea, really, how they got to me…believe me you’

Trading mutual allegations, the feud heated up.

It was too late…the rising decibels had brought a crowd of unwelcome villagers to the spot.

Without a thought, they took off to keep the hide on their back…as fast as their legs could carry, stumbling and pulling themselves up and helping each other in their flight.

Never mind it was late, Kaaga cawed gustily, Mooshika and his pals danced unabashedly and the Tree sighed in relief.

End

An Unequal Contest In A Forest (For Children)

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Shasha was a young rabbit, grey in color, adopted by other animals when she was a baby.

She was frisky, friendly and intelligent too, liked by everyone but two – the two that made fun of her. One was Mahisha, the bull, strong in body with long horns and a bit boorish. You too would be if all you ha was a tail to whack off the pesky flies buzzing around his unreachable back. And Durchara, the sad and sleepy looking crocodile that animals were wary of. Of course he was neither sad nor sleepy. While meanie Mahisha would say: ‘How I love to play ball with you – you’ll make a nice furry one to kick around,’  Durchara would come up with: ‘One of these days I would like to take you around to interesting places you must never miss – most of all, inside my tummy.’ One had to be careful with him especially when he was not in good humor or he was hungry.

Impetuous young Shasha was not one to take things lying down – whenever she saw, she would tease them, of course, from a safe distance. Finally she would always dart off into the bushes saying with mock solemnity: ‘Just wait for the day you’re going to see how strong Shasha is!’ She was quite blithe about it with no idea what she would do and how she would make it happen.

The old Ulooka, the wise owl, and Kaaga, the crow, took up on themselves to be Shasha’s guardians keeping a close watch over her day and night. They knew about the pests that Mahisha and Durchara were and were thinking about fixing these two for good. At last they knew how. They were sure Gaja, the elephant would oblige them with what they needed.

On their next meeting, Shasha invited Mahisha for a trial of strength: ‘If you wish to see Shasha in true colors, come here to this place near the mango tree this Sunday morning.’

So an intrigued Mahisha presented himself at the appointed place and time

He saw before him a thick rope, retrieved by Gaja from an abandoned lumber-shed, lying on the ground running from where he stood to somewhere out of sight beyond the thick growth of bushes.

‘Mahisha, you hold this end of the rope in your mouth and I’ll be tugging at the other end out there. Let’s see who is stronger. Are you game?’

‘You kidding? One jerk – I’ll have you where I want…at my feet. Try something different. I want it to be fair.’

He relented finally when Shasha assured him of her seriousness.

Kaaga as the referee started the count-down at the top of his voice as Shasha wished Mahisha luck and dashed off to her position beyond the bushes.

On zero, the rope went taut grabbed at both ends.

Mahisha, going about it like a walk down the garden, even before he could register it in his head, saw his body dragged several feet forward.  What was happening? This wasn’t going the way it should. Was Shasha being aided by some spirit getting into her body? In any case he quickly recovered from the initial surprise and stood his ground. With a grunt that made all the animals in the forest stop in their tracks for a moment, Mahisha, now all ready for this strange trial of strength – he would figure it out later, slowly regained his position and was even gaining on Shasha.

Well, it wasn’t for too long before the tide turned again and Mahisha began yielding ground. He was all sweat and snort.

This push-pull went on for a while until the rope, frayed by constant rubbing against thorny bushes, snapped. An exhausted Mahisha, frothing at the mouth, was shot backwards like a shooting star in the skies to be finally stopped by a tree trunk. He lay helplessly spreadeagled, holding fast in his mouth one end of a long piece of rope.

Shasha was declared as the winner.

Strangely Durchara also conceded defeat at the same time in an identical contest with Shasha unknown to Mahisha. He was found in a helplessly grotesque pose on a sand bank by the riverside, holding fast in his mouth one end of a long piece of rope.

From that day Mahisha and Durchara looked at Shasha with new found respect.

Till this date they could not could put the two pieces of rope together to guess what had happened on either side of the bush on that day.  Could you?

End

Source: Adapted from tamilsirukathaigal.com

Mulla Nasrudin And The Seven Wise Men

Seven philosophers, logicians and doctors of law of repute were drawn up at the Royal Court to examine Mulla Nasrudin. This was a serious case, because he had admitted going from village to village saying: “The so-called wise men are ignorant, irresolute, and confused.” He was charged with undermining the social order in the State.

“You may speak first,” said the Sultan.

“May I have some paper and pens brought?”

Mulla folded the sheet of paper, made pieces of it and wrote something on each.

“Kindly have these distributed to these wise men who have happily assembled here for the purpose of indicting me. Let them write the.answer to the question appearing on their paper.”

This was done and the papers were handed back to the Sultan who read them out:

The first said:”It’s a food.”

The second:”It is flour and water.”

The third:”A gift of God.”

The fourth:”Baked dough.”

The fifth:”Affordable to all.”

The sixth:”A nutritious substance.”

The seventh: “It means sustenance.”

There was a moment of silence before Nasrudin addressed the Sultan and the court:

“Isn’t it strange they cannot agree about something they eat each day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic? Would you entrust matters of assessment and judgment to people like these? When they agree on the question asked of them –  ‘What is bread?’ – it may be possible for them to decide other things.”

Once again Nasrudin walked out a free man.

End

 

 

 

 

Adapted from: Idries Shah at spiritual-short-stories.com

Life: A River Of Many Currents

Ever since we landed in the same suburb, I have met B off and on in the vegetable market place outside the railway station.

A week ago, out of the blue, a cryptic mail from his daughter M carried the news of her mother’s unfortunate demise.   When I had met B last, he did tell me his wife was unwell and M left her job months ago to take care of her mother. And I had then questioned the need and wisdom of M leaving her job that she had finally snagged after a lot of bench time, not thinking much of the poor lady’s sickness. The family, living on B’s pension, sorely needed the money the young lady was bringing in, I thought.

M did not reply to email-request for house address to call on them.

A bit of a background about B at this point:

B was a topper in the class, well mannered, darling of teachers, easily a good looker, a singer with a mellifluent voice, liked by all…

But life is a bitch. I’ve no idea till date when, where and how things went awry for him. We had gone on separate ways after the college.

I do know he retired as a staff in a nationalized bank not very far from where he started out eons ago. An anticlimax I had never imagined for an eagle of the blue skies that he was. He dabbled in dramatics, didn’t go far.  When I met him years later – I moved into the same suburb where he lived – he was a very different man. Unkempt beard over sunken cheeks, hard of hearing, he sported strings of beads (rudraaksha) around his neck and many rakshai’s (lucky charms) tied on his wrist. He spoke of visions and favorable portents in his life with a religious fervor. On another track, he sounded excited about his ‘research’ on neem juice, experiments, results – he thought it to be a panacea for many ills. He expected Tata’s and the Ambani’s to line up anytime soon outside his residence for rights to his work.  On the whole, he didn’t seem to be the garden variety we had matured into.

He was shunned by many as an incurable and a delusional bore. I did not, I’m glad, by thought or action. When we met I usually heard him out,  managing now and then to get a word in on his parental duty to set and support his girl firmly on a course of education-employment-marriage just the way it is for other kids of her age; and gently easing myself off only if I had to.

Today I decided to visit the nearby bank – B had once told me he went there regularly to collect his monthly pension – hoping to get his address from them citing the unusual circumstances.  I knew this was not impossible as our systems and staff continue, despite the scorn heaped on them, to be sensitive to genuine problems. When I went in, unstopped by absent security, I saw a man appearing to be a senior staff, generally moving about and a few ladies lazing before their terminals – the bank had closed its operations for the day.   I went up to tell him the purpose of my visit: To know whereabouts of B. Showing no surprise at a stranger popping up suddenly before him after working hours , without further ado, he asked me to follow him to the end of a short hallway. And there I find who else!

After the initial surprise and happiness at this coincidence, I expressed my condolences over his loss and my anguish at not being around to stand by him.

What followed from B:

‘Her time had come, what could we do? It all started with a minor accident four months ago. She even recovered very well. But then…’

‘Don’t worry about me, take care of yourself. Don’t you forget your health issues…’

‘I’m quite ok financially. I get my pension which would get revised up very soon…M’s earnings till date are safely set aside for her marriage. In two to three years I’ll get her married off…My brother would help if needed. He is doing well…’

‘I came here to check on my loan application for a small amount. They told me it’s approved…’

‘M and I took her to the hospital at night by a three-wheeler. An ambulance, I was told, would cost Rs 9000…’

‘Don’t feel bad. I wasn’t alone. Lots of relatives and neighbors turned up for the funeral. On purpose I told my daughter to inform you only after it was all over. Given your health…’

‘Don’t trouble yourself coming home. These days both of us (B and M) are out almost all day. M’s running around to complete insurance formalities…’

‘Her people came in very late…’

 

What left me in dismay:

‘No priest would come to conduct the rites at the funeral. They wanted a full contract all the way for the following ten days of rituals at nothing less than Rs 80,000. Finally I cremated her without a priest, without the rites…’

‘My brother paid for the ambulance…’

‘It’s ok, I can feel her atma (soul) is with me all the time…In fact she told me at the end not to spend unduly over the ceremonies…My daughter and I gave away food to some poor…’

 

If you perceive contradictions in his observations above, it’s the truth trying to peek through despite his naïve attempt to paper over or reconcile certain unpleasant realities in his own mind.

In the fifteen minutes or so we were together, he was moved to tears for a moment just once as we hugged, as much bemoaning his loss, as over an old mates’s solicitiousness

When I left him, he. was not a broken man. He lives in peace and reconciliation in his own world very real in parts. I thought it is too cruel to ‘help’ him out of it. Nor I consider myself equal to the task.

Try as I might I’m unable to put down a vague sense of unfairness of it all continuing to nag me out of my peace.

But I know I’ll move on.

End

The Tank That Wasn’t

Part 1

The sweltering summer was mercifully coming to an end and the onset of monsoon only a month away. A welcome augury for the parched fields and the suffering village folks and their livestock’s.

The villagers were alert this year wanting to collect and save rainwater to last through next summer. Their head along with a bunch drawn from families of substance met the officer in-charge of village administration and development at the district head-quarters and voiced their concerns and the solution they had thought of: a tank should be built near their fields to provide water for their fields and homes all year around.

The officer heard them out patiently, checked his records and regretted his inability to undertake the construction as the meager government fund already suffering serious cuts was barely enough to cover sustenance through the year. He would certainly provide for this project in his budget for the next year. With luck it might even be sanctioned.

The villagers went into a huddle. They were loath to wait out another summer like the one they were going through without any mitigation . Something had to be done. What if they raised the fund by themselves?

The officer perked up immediately on hearing the suggestion and became helpful in pursuing the same. Within a few days, he confirmed it was possible for his office to allocate some unused government land for the project and undertake the construction if they could raise 3 lacs of rupees.  This mode of executing a project was without a precedent for his office. The hardship faced by men and animals moved his office to consider this project favorably. And with urgency as the tank would serve the purpose of providing relief only if it was ready before the monsoon arrived.

3 lacs of rupees was not an insignificant amount. A dissenting group felt they were not exactly dropping dead presently without the tank. So why not carry on as is? All considered it was finally decided to go ahead with the tank.

From there events rolled by at a fast clip. The money was collected and handed over to the officer. He was good as his word: within days workmen were sighted near a lowland outside the village.

Part 2

Six months later:

The new incumbent who took over months ago happened to meet the officer- now moved to a new district – in a staff training program. In the evening when everyone was unwinding over drinks: .

‘Many thanks to you I got this break. Let me know how I can return the favor. Anytime…’

‘Not sure I understand you.’

‘Remember the tank project?’

‘Oh, yes. What of it?’

‘You didn’t brief me on it during hand-over.’

‘Oh, I didn’t?’

‘You didn’t.’

‘If you say so…well, I did right with all other files, you must admit. This one thing – don’t know how it slipped my mind.’

‘So did the 3 lacs too.’

‘And what does 3 lacs fetch today, eh? May be a shrub-fence around the site? The true cost of the project would be not a rupee less than 25 lacs even considering only the bare essentials. Didn’t want to scare those jokers away at the first draw, you see. The records were maintained scrupulously for the money paid out.’

‘And there were no shrubs and no fence around the site – I personally visited’. In fact nothing to show for the project save a hole on the ground to stand a pole.

‘What do you think? Everything costs money. I had workmen do a recce of the site, collected soil samples and sent them for analysis.’

‘I know… must have cost you all of the 3 lacs in the kitty. To think you took up the project when you had the transfer order in your hand – ah, you’re one heck of a chap.’

‘’Service is our motto’ – isn’t that written up as our pledge? Am sure you would have picked it up from where I left. Goes to show how our machinery just rolls on regardless of the personalities…amazing isn’t it?’ Time and tide wait…no, time and project wait for none…cute, no? Thought of it just now as we are talking…must get included in our pledge. Frankly we should be thanking the Brits for installing these systems. Come rain or shine we…’

‘Must have been some very pressing situation.’

‘Mmmmm…yes, mate, strictly between us it was bad. If I had not coughed it up…anyway thanks, my friend, for covering my back. In fact I was quite worried for quite some time…really feared they would reach me somehow.’

‘Anything for a colleague.  After all hamam me sab nange hai (all are naked in a public bath). Funny I say this…there was no bath, no tank here- that’s the crux of the matter. But I must give it to you – you weren’t greedy.’

‘Now that we’re buddies, tell me how did it go for you and, yes, for the village? And you talked about some break thanking me for it…what is it?’

‘Wasn’t easy at all to face them, the villagers, and their queries. They demanded to be taken to the site and shown work done till date. Even threatened to take the matter to the Collector.’

’My god, that’s serious.’

‘Didn’t know what to do. At one stage, I seriously considered fingering you and letting myself out.’

‘Thank god you didn’t.’

‘I tell you it was quickly spinning out of control. And that’s when the report landed on my table.’

‘What report?’

‘From some little known cheapie lab you had sent the soil samples for analysis.’

‘And what did it say?’

‘Usual stuff – no surprises there. But a line in there set me thinking – said ‘arsenic content negligible.’

The officer was clueless where this was heading.

His new buddy continued: ‘I told those blokes I had to refill the areas dug up by you, almost overnight at great cost and effort as traces of toxic minerals were reported in the soil analysis – even showed them the ‘report.’ And as a responsible public servant, how could I take even the least risk in matters of their health…In the end they thanked me for what I ‘did’.’

‘Man, you’re a guru. Wish I had known you earlier…You know you should have taken a session for us today on ‘How to handle difficult situations?’ instead of those morons boring us stiff. But I still don’t understand this: while you certainly saved my hide, how was it a break for you?’

‘After my telling them at length, the villagers were more than willing to vouch before any authority why refilling was necessary and urgent. Our office very well understood refilling a large area wasn’t a cheap exercise. If digging up cost 3 lacs, filling up would…well, I don’t have to tell you…Of course the records had to be straightened out with the supporting documents and receipts.  I would be ungrateful if I didn’t thank you for the opportunity you sent my way.’

…The new buddy was not one to forget favors. He picked up the tab for the evening.

End

Source: Adapted from facebook.com/gauthamkrish

Sandalwood

So I accepted the situation my husband presented to me: after 17 years of marriage, years in which I had stayed home in London to look after the children, he had discovered that he was homosexual. The timing couldn’t

Source: Sandalwood