Celebration of life - short stories online
Celebration of life - short stories online
The village looked like a storm had hit it, there were dead branches, weeds, garbage and odds and ends strewn all over the place. In fact a huge hurricane had hit that small village of Pennur. Pennur was a good 100 km away from the coastal belt and yet it did face the fury of the storm. There were carcases of cows and dogs still lying around, and people were still looking for their dead among the living and the dead.
The little temple was still covered in partial darkness, the soft morning light had not yet reached it. The huge banyan tree stood between the light of the day and the temple. Around the tree was a raised platform and a holy man, a sadhu (Ascetic) as they called him found his refuge on this platform under the tree. He sat there, crossed legged, with a thoughtful look on his face, looking around and he saw people running hither and tither. He stroked his long dark beard as he took in the scene. His bony frame was covered in that orange garment of self-renunciation. His little cloth bag with a set of clothes, a plate and a cup, lay at his feet his only worldly possessions.
A storm had been raging all day and as the sadhu went to sleep under the tree, he said to himself, "I am ready to meet my maker this night, if I am called." Comforted by the thought, he slept like a baby until it was morning and found that the storm had passed. During the night the rainwater splashing from the tree did not trouble him so much, he had weathered many a storm. Now he peeped into the temple he noticed that the Idol was unwashed, uncared for and not worshipped. His thoughts went to the the temple priest, a greedy man, who robbed the poor to become rich. The priest never really cared to know the Truth, did he even know what the holy books said? The sadhu was sure he didn’t, if he had, he would be a man of compassion and love. He would care about the poor people of the village and be their guide, but that wasn’t to be, he preyed on their miseries and their fears and made money for himself in the name of God.
He saw a woman wailing and running, like one who had lost it all, he looked closely, she was Radha the priest’s wife. “Radha my dear”, called the sadhu,” what has happened? “ She looked at him with eyes that did not see, they were glazed with worry and fear. She had ears but they did not hear the sound of this words. She walked away in a daze just opening and closing her mouth as if in speech. Was she searching for her husband, what has become of him, he wondered. Was that why he was still not in the temple to clean and start the pooja, he thought, there were more questions than answers.
A little later two tired looking men who seemed like they came from a far away place, sat wearily on the raised platform after worshiping the idol. As if noticing the sadhu only then, they sat a respectable distance away from him.
"What brings you here dear people, you are not men of Pennur I can see?" asked the sadhu.
“Our sister lives here swamiji, we heard that the hurricane killed her husband, we came to see her...we were told that she has lost everything,” said the younger of the two.
Who is your sister, if I may ask?” inquired the sadhu politely.
“Meena the trader’s wife” answered the older man.
“Meena has two little children, have you come to take her back to your village? asked the sadhu again.
“Oh no! we have our own to take care of, Meena and her children will become a burden we cannot carry,” said the younger man hastily glancing sideways at his brother.
The sadhu looked at them sadly and asked, “Don’t you love your sister?”
“Yes, we do, that is why we are here,” said the older, looking a little uneasy with the questions. “And yet you wont help her? What will she do to take care of herself and her children?” asked the sadhu, his questions were addressed to no one, they were his thoughts voiced loudly.
“That is her fate.. what can we do?” said the younger. Getting up to go, before the sadhu could ask some more difficult questions.
The holy man looked sadly at them, as he thought, do they know what love is, do they even understand the heights, the depths, the dimensions, the purity, the selflessness of love. Love, that is a burden or just mundane, physical love, is no love at all, it is just deceit masquerading as love, he concluded his thoughts.
His mind which was churning around the events now turned to his life, his love, and all that he gave up for the love of God. He wondered, was it really love that made him give up what he possessed, to deny the love of the world, and to follow a path of love, which the world did not recognize as such. He did not find the perfect answers immediately, but deep within, he realised, that to love is to give and to give unselfishly. This he knew was impossible when he 'possessed', his ego, his pride, his achievement, his self-concept would blind his eyes, now that he had divested himself of such earthly burdens he was free to love again. Love all of creation, a love that surpassed all understanding, a love that he had never known before.
Deep in thought as he was, he did not notice Sudha coming up to him and lying prostrate at his feet. He looked down distracted by the sensation on his feet. He blessed her, laying his hand upon her head. She got up and without a word and turned back to go, he noticed that Sudha’s cow was still with her and it followed her as it always did. Sudha milked the cow and gave him a cup to drink. The sadhu looked directly into her eyes, there was perfect peace in those dark limpid pools, there was a certain joy in them, he noticed. She had something deep within her, in her atma (soul/ spirit) he thought.
The sadhu looked at her with deep love, “Woman” he said, “this is your livelyhood, you should sell it and get yourself the things you need”
Sudha smiled at him saying, “Swami, I am happy to be alive, I am celebrating life in giving of what I have, what if I had been one of those poor souls that had passed on in the storm that cost many a life. I just came from the village, I feel blessed that I could help feed the children of Meena and Radha who have lost their husbands, and many others who have no roof over their heads with the milk from my cow." She continued speaking, it was as if her deep thoughts made her voice softer and more tender as she said, "If, what I possess, is of no use now, at a time of calamity, what then is the point of possession or what is this life for?” so saying she climbed down the platform. Leading the cow by a rope she tied it to a tree a little further from the temple and went away behind the temple. In a few minutes she came back with a deep red hibiscus and some flowers that had weathered the storm.
She gave it to the sadhu saying, “ Swamy, open the temple and wash the idol, place these flowers at its feet, this is my thanksgiving for life.”
The sadhu looked at her and said kindly, “Do it yourself, woman”.
Sudha was aghast, she looked at him strangely and said, “Do you ask me, a woman and an outcast to do it? Have you lost your mind?”
The sadhu looked at her, his mind filling with peace, he said, “No, I am just finding it. If God is love, you need to be the one who serves Him. God lives in those who dare to love, you an outcast, have in you the true love, that I have longed for."
The woman did not understand much of what he spoke, she quietly filled a pail of water, poured it over the idol and laid the flowers at the base of the idol and walked away pondering on what the sadhu told her.
The sadhu looked at her form receding into the distance, and he thought, this woman, this outcast, is now the one who brings warmth and love to those who had made her the outcast. She feeds the poor and comforts the needy, she walks in love unaware of the filthy glances that come her way. This is love indeed he thought, what greater love can there be, than to love those who revile you... He looked into his soul and wondered if his love was as deep, if his love was as pure, if his love was as selfless... there was room for improvement he thought. He had so much to learn, learn he would, for that was his life’s mission. His ego had been set aside, Sudha would be his guru from now on. He would watch her and learn to give, as she did.