Divine barter


Unni lived with his grandmother for as long as he could remember. His parents had left for their heavenly abode, that is what his grandmother said, to be with Krishna. They would remain his guests for as much as they liked. So it was left to Unni to help his grandmother with the daily chores and long walk to get items in barter from the weekly market. The market was a good 10 miles away and their house was the only one in the area they lived. Nestled within coconut palms and a lot of cashew, jackfruit and mango trees was Unni’s house with a palm leaf thatch roof.

He had to visit the market every fortnight for vegetables and other grocery items. Since they did not have any other means of income, he had to barter the coconuts, tapioca and the fruits for getting other items from the market. So every fortnight, be it a sunny or a rainy day, Unni would have a gunny bag over his shoulder full of such produce and tread his way to the market and by late evening he would carry a bag of rice and other stuff back that he received in barter. Some of the times due to inclement weather, he would stay put at the market and reach the next day only.

One day his grandmother told him now that he was a big boy, he should visit the Krishna temple every fortnight near the market and get Krishna’s blessings and sweet offering. He took the advice and geared up to go on the first day of the month.. On his first visit, he travelled a bit early so that he would be in time for the worship and get the prasadam. The footwear was not helping him much since the old pair was worn out. He reached the temple in time put his sandals outside, entered and prayed for a long time but by the time he went to receive the prasadam it had finished since there was a huge rush of devotees that day being the first day of the new month. Sadly he came out wondering what he would give his grandmother. How would she believe that he did visit the temple? To his dismay, he could not locate his sandals among the scattered footwear of the devotees. There was really a good assortment of footwear, some new, some old, some costly, some cheap but not his. He made a few more inspections and still he could not locate his footwear.

A boy sitting next to the temple gate was watching all this and when Unni once looked up to him, he said, “why, you should take one of the many here and get going. It happens sometimes, and that is the only solution that I have if you are asking me”, he said with a mischievous smile. “No no, that is not fair, how can I take one that does not belong to me?”, said Unni in all innocence and started walking to the market bare feet. He reached the market with his produce for barter and many others like him came to him for exchanging his items for theirs. After the initial hustle had subsided, one old man came to him and asked for a bunch of bananas. He looked very poor, almost on the verge of fainting. But he had nothing to offer but a small portion of prasadam from the temple wrapped in a banana leaf. “Would this suffice for that small bunch of bananas that you have?” It was at this point Unni noticed that the poor man was wearing the sandals he had lost at the temple gate.

He took the prasadam in barter for the bunch of bananas that he had among the other fruits in his bag. When the old man found Unni looking at his footwear a few times, the old man asked whether he had visited the temple to which Unni nodded in confirmation. I am wondering if they are yours since I lost my footwear in the temple today, said the old man. So I looked for the oldest worn out sandals that I could wear since my feet are full of corns, I came across this old pair and took it. It has many holes in it, but it was so good for my feet after wearing them. Since you are not wearing any footwear, maybe you can keep it if it is yours? Unni said no to the offer and kept his silence. The old man thanked him profusely and went his way wearing his footwear.

Unni had to sit till evening before he could barter away all his items and that is when he decided to stay at the market and go home the next day morning, as he could sense a thunderstorm brewing. The next day morning, carrying his sack he was thinking of walking back the long way home when he met another old woman at the market asking if he had some food. He gave her the remaining prasadam of the previous day, took her blessings and continued his walking. He saw some one was following him. There were two horse carriages handled by able bodied men. The carriages stopped and the rich man and his wife in one of them asked if Unni wanted to come along with them, but he refused the offer saying his house was just a mile away and continued walking. The carriage went ahead but he could always see them as they travelled very slowly in front of him. Again when he caught up with them, he told the same and continued walking. The horse carriages disappeared into the distance when he was minutes away from his home. He felt so famished in mind and body when he reached home as there was nothing to offer to his grandmother. He told her of his trip and how he lost his sandals and could not deliver the prasadam though he had got it from the poor man.

The grandmother embraced her child and said she got to know all about it. “You are such a lucky child that Krishna took note of you on your first visit to the temple”. There is a pot full of prasadam for us and a pair of special footwear for you, said his grandmother pointing to them. How could she have received it. Unni thought. Let me narrate my part of the story, she said.

“A rich man had had an ailment that was refusing to go away inspite of all the medications he took from many physicians. Then he consulted an astrologer who asked him to visit the Krishna temple and sit in prayer for 21 days. On the eighteenth day he should fast for the next three days by taking water only. On the twenty first day, he should dress like a poor man with worn out clothes, after prayer, take prasadam and wear the most worn out footwear from the temple and walk to the market and break his fast from the most poor looking trader by bartering the left over prasadam for a bunch of bananas. After eating the bananas, he should continue walking like a poor man wearing the same footwear back home to get respite from his ailment”.

She then led out Unni out of the house. There, at a distance the horse carriages were standing. The rich man standing next to his wife walked over to Unni and embraced him and said with tears in his eyes, “for years I have enjoyed being rich thinking that all the riches I have earned is through my hard work and never parted or helped anybody. Then I suffered from this ailment, and took good advice. I was taught a lesson and I have made amends. In you I saw a role model that I can follow for the rest of my life”. Unni could recognise the old women he had met early in the day at the market in the rich man’s wife and smiled at her. She came near and blessed Unni. “I wanted to meet such a divine boy that I heard from my husband, you have been instrumental in curing him and you are no less than a god to us. Since my husband came to me without the prasadam, I though of partaking the divine offering if you still were in possession of it today morning and like charity personified you gifted the portion that was intended for your grandmother. I then suggested my husband to visit your house after going to the temple to make up for your loss”. “As a gift, I got you this footwear for the one I took”, said the rich man. “Please accept this horse carriage also for transporting your goods. I have many others in my stable like these. I have learnt the fact that for every goodness you barter, multifold goodness would come to you”. Saying so, he and his wife saluted them once more and took leave.

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