Yajnavalkya

This story is a sequel to my earlier post in poetry
Story of a Ruin

I thought of reposting this story during Navratri. My best wishes to all of my dear readers. May the goddess of learning bless us all…

A young scholarly man well versed in the scriptures who had set out on a journey to many great lands in the peninsula happened to come across a temple in a place near the Vindhya mountain range that stretched from the east to the west across the country. It was sometime afternoon maybe when the Sun was thinking of winding up for the day in a couple of hours and the hot sand was in the process of cooling much to the delight of Charna, the horse of Vedavalkya who was galloping at a cruising speed while his master observed the beauty of the place they had come to, but not before crossing a mighty river at a shallow point some miles away, though it seemed only a few moments ago.

Amidst the groves some distance away, he could see an ancient temple and reined Charna towards it as the destination. Vedavalkya thought there would be some habitation near it where he and the horse could rest for the night before proceeding to Magadha which was still a few days away. At a distance of a few miles, he could see a few hills jutting out of a thick forest. Having brought the horse to a halt, he alighted and looked around the precincts of the shrine but could find none to his surprise. He bound the horse to a rock with a short rope, which Charna could break loose easily if some calamity approached. Maybe there would be habitations at the backyard,thought Veda as he walked across.

No sooner had he put a few steps, when from nowhere a group of bandits on horses came up and were bent on injuring him. One of them rushed upon him on a dark horse and swished a dagger at Veda who while sidetracking him and the horse fell on the soft sand. The leader of them and the few others laughed at his plight. Before they could proceed to rob him of whatever valuables on his self and injure him, they all were startled to hear a laughter that came from a lady who had appeared on the steps of the temple. Veda was surprised to see a beautiful girl nay a lady, dressed in an attire which only the well to do could afford, and who though looked at him with soft eyes, was at the same time laughing at the band of thugs, who took to their heels and vanished into the distant forest from where they had appeared to come.

Getting up, disheveled from the sand, his long hair matted with the dust, he got up and approached the young lady and with folded hands asked, ” Oh Devi, from where have you thus appeared to save me in time?” to which she replied with a assuring smile, “Why, isn’t this place mine, where I have resided for a long time? I was watching you for long and was wondering if you would miss this place on your journey in your quest for furthering your knowledge“.

I am deeply indebted to you for saving me, but am also confused as to how your pleasing laughter to the ears caused the bandits to flee in fright?” asked Veda. “That is another story, which I would narrate along some day, but now you look very tired, why don’t you get fresh with the water near that well and I am sure you would find some fodder for your horse near the barn and the hut you see yonder“.

Veda approached the well, cleaned himself of the mud, drank some cool water and took a wide vessel that appeared to be a drinking pot for the cow standing there and munching and observing the stranger that was him. He then went up to the barn and took two sheaves of hay for Charna and walked beside the hut and observed the open door it had. There was nobody it seemed at first glance, but then there was a glow coming from someplace inside it. Though curious, it seemed inappropriate to trespass as per his morals, and he walked up to the steed and handed it to him along with the vessel of water for him to drink.

Call me Mitra” the voice came from so near that he almost jumped. She was standing at a distance smiling at his bewilderment but the voice seemed so close as if she was whispering in his ear. There seemed to some aura about her but he couldn’t pin point it down as to what it was. “Why don’t you take a bath in the river and come for the evening prayers?, the offerings are ready for the Goddess in the shrine” to which he consented and hurriedly walked across to the river flowing at its own sweet pace. It was quite some time he had taken a bath in a river in the last two days and the warm water did him good to clear up the fatigue in his body.

With fresh clothing from his haversack, he groomed himself to let the water drain from his long flowing hair before he climbed the steps of this seeming divine temple. Built in solid rock columns it somehow gave the impression that this temple was hewn out of a solid rock that existed ages ago at this place. He came near the sanctum and was surprised to see the worship items that had been arranged in front of the deity along with a few well lit lamps. It was his turn to get dazzled as the form of the goddess which appeared dark so far dazzled in a slow ever growing glow and became so bright that he could not look at her for more time. He prostrated before the divine and by the time, he got up after his prayers, the form had subsided to the initial warm glow resembling the presence of a smoldering fire within.

Veda got up and sat in meditation for quite some time into the night before he got up and was aware of his surroundings. The form of the goddess had assumed the original dark hue. The items of worship had disappeared and there was only the sound of the owl and the crickets in the silence. Charna was sleeping in his standing position as all horses did especially when it was not familiar territory and the sounds from the nearby forest not helping much as assurance to the poor creature.

There was no sign of Mitra, whom he thought would have retired to the hut or a row of huts behind the barn. This was no time to enquire and he took a sheet and laid it on the steps and was sound asleep in a few moments.

When it was dawn as heralded by the chirping of the birds and the neigh of Charna, Veda woke up just in time or so he thought, before Mitra could chide him for sleeping so late. Although an early riser, the travel had left him a bit tired. He rushed to the river had a quick bath and returned in time to take Charna for a quick gallop around the place before he could think of having some food. The horse was happy to go places and he set up a pace which would take them to the perimeter of the forest but Veda checked him not to dwell in too deep for he knew that wild beasts and men existed who would not stoop to venture out to see a welcome meal presented before them in the early morning. He patted on its hind leg and swerved him back to turn towards the temple for he had to meet Mitra, have some grub if she had something to offer and be on his way to the next destination.

The horse trotted its last steps before it stopped for him to descend and survey the barn and the hut and any trace of Mitra. This time, he would have to go near the hut and call her to come out if, as per his thoughts, she stayed in it. “Looking for me“, the voice boomed near along with the chime of anklets as she walked up to him. She had a plate of fruits and a sweet dish ready for him to savor. He gratefully thanked her for it and sat on a stone seat nearby after she had seated herself at a nearby one. “Oh but I should be feeding Charna first“. “I have already done that” she told him as if she read his thoughts. Charna was busy feeding at some grass and sprouts of ground nuts, that she had spread in front of him.

After having the morning ritual prasad/offering presented to the Goddess, he was thinking of leaving when Mitra said, “What is the big hurry, stay here for a few days, be in the company of the Goddess and get her blessings before you set out“. Veda was in two minds, one part of his was now asking him to stay, for he definitely thought there was much more to learn from this place than all the places he had visited so far, but one part was also worried to leave, considering this place looked strange as did Mitra who was smiling at him as if she understood what he must have been thinking.

Don’t you worry about your stay. You could be lodged in one of the huts behind the barn and your horse can share the barn with the cow until you stay put here”. “But then who stays in the hut next to the well, is that you or someone else?”
Oh no, that hut is the hermitage of the Sage Dhuwija who happens to stay here for most of the time doing penance. After a week on the full moon day, he will leave this place to the south of the Vindhyas, but before that I will set up a meeting with him. Beware, he is no ordinary sage, he will put you to the test and if you come out of it with success and life, I will reward you“.

and what reward are you thinking of giving to me after the meeting”, in half jest asked a smiling Veda. “That will be known to you when the time comes. Come, now I will show your lodging so that you can see if it suits you well or do I need to set something else there“. “I am a wandering pundit in search of knowledge, don’t bestow any more luxuries than I need at this moment”, said Veda.

What is it that you seek Vedavalkya?, asked Mitra, “is it just knowledge or something more“. How did she know my name, or did I tell her already, he seemed confused but answered “I seek knowledge to refurbish my soul and in the material context, i need knowledge to govern for I am the prince of Videha and the kingdom has seen better days than the present state it is in now. I have been sent out by my ageing father to seek that knowledge to administer them and the power to be invincible to seek protection from my neighbors when ever the need arises. For a King to rule wise and well and protect his subjects, he himself should get a shield of protection from the Lord without which he would be subjected to many attempts of disconcert and a ruler who falls to a mortal wound takes his state along with him”. Hmm pondered Mitra looking so deep into his eyes, he wondered if he could stare back without blinking at those beautiful yet striking eyes. The case of the bandits fleeing at her laughter was still in the back of his mind, but he had not ventured to ask her, what it was that made them flee! Just plain laughter it could not be, there was something more, but some times the glance and her ever knowing face curbed him to voice his thoughts. By now, he was sure she was a mind reader and kept quiet.

She showed him the hut and asked him to meditate for a week, “Just take plain water and the fruits that I bring to you in the morning, that should be enough for the rest of the day. Come to the temple in the evening and offer your salutations to Her and seek her blessings. Get up in the morning, be at the river as the first rays of the Sun fall upon you. Never ride your horse during these seven days till I ask you to. Remember these, I will meet you every evening when you come up the temple steps and do not wish to seek me, any other time”. So be it, with folded hands said Veda to the ever smiling Mitra but when she had said all these, he had seen streaks of some sternness in her eyes or did he feel that way, he was not sure. She appeared to be the same age as him, but sometimes when she talked especially when she put forward the commandments, she appeared to be ageless.

Veda surveyed the interior of the small hut, there was a wooden bed and a box to keep his belongings, a couple of windows to the east and one to the west all made up with matted reed and leaves and some wooden finish here and there. There was a lamp lit inside in one corner. there was a rack of a fresh set of clothes for him kept for use. Was there some divine help here or who else could furnish these things at such short notice, or were they kept for some guest who was expected here, he knew not. A leafy tray of fresh chosen fruits was kept for him. They looked inviting and delicious and he had his fill before he ventured out for a walk. He carefully avoided the hut near the well, thinking he might spot Mitra and thus break the vow he had promised and came back in a span of an hour spying Charna happily grazing in the barn next to the cow who looked at him as he came near. Putting his hands on her head to which she did not express anything, he then ruffled the mane on Charna before going back to his hut and set himself up for meditation. He closed his eyes and the form of the Goddess came to him. He focused himself on her and sat in a deep trance for many a hour he knew not. The slanting rays of the sun through the window caught his eyes and disturbed them and when he opened his eyes, he knew evening was fast approaching.

As per Mitra, he prepared himself for the evening salutations, by going to the river, taking a bath, donning a fresh set of clothes, he hurried back through the sand to be in time for the evening ritual. As he climbed the first step, Mitra met him on her way out, telling him to light the lamps and pray to the Goddess for divine help to achieve his goals. Just as the previous day, Mitra had kept all the worship paraphernalia ready. He lit the lamps and looked up with folded hands towards the Goddess.

The glow as the previous day appeared, as he prayed to her and when he opened his eyes, he could see the Goddess divine in all her splendour exuding rays filling the places with the atoms of light striking him and rebounding back. He felt as if washed by her glory and a strength that seemed to grow in his mind and body as he stood there. Finally he prostrated again at her feet for many long moments and as he got up, the glow had subsided and strangely the offerings had disappeared. He stood again hoping Mitra would appear but there was no sign of her coming and he bowed down again before coming down the steps back to the hut by the barn.

After seven days of such ritual followed strictly by Vedavalkya, on the seventh evening as he got down the steps, Mitra was smiling at him standing next to him, from where she appeared all of a sudden, he was at a loss to explain. So you have passed the first test well, Veda and now tomorrow I will usher your self to the holy Dhuwija who would test your knowledge. You should answer him to the best of your knowledge though there will be some harsh tests you would be subjected to at the same time”. “What harsh tests? gasped he “that you will find out in due course, but do not lose hope and maintain your calm however rigorous it may seem for the rewards are great”.

They walked together to his hut but she did not enter and bade him good sleep. He stood at the door as she walked across to the next hut at quite some distance and disappeared into it. He wondered when he would ask her the question, who she was, but then there was still time to ask it, but first he thought of how he would fare with the Sage. Mentally he said his prayers and went to sleep. In his dream he saw that Mitra was riding his horse and had ventured into the forest to seek out the bandits and their hideout. She rode daringly with Charna getting accustomed to her style as if he knew her for ages. Presently as the bandits came out, all swords in hand, she raised her hand and to his wonder, he could see her hand now wielding a spear. She threw it on one of the men and nailed him. Others rushed on to her giving huge cries, but then she came down from the horse and in a maze of dexterity what he could see in a matter of moments was, everyone had hit the dust and it was at that time Veda saw Charna hit on his side by a small wound from one of the swords of a bandit. She looked back at Veda, he who was hiding behind the trees. That look was really fearful and he got up from his dream sweating. After having a mug of water, he got up surveyed the surroundings, everything seemed peaceful. Everything looked fine and then he went back to sleep and got up only in the early morning.

The next day morning Vedavalkya got up, had his morning ablutions done and prepared himself mentally by meditating on the Goddess and was he charmed to see Mitra’s eyes upon him as he opened his door. “It is time for me to introduce you to the rishi. Be calm and answer his questions. Once he acknowledges you, then maybe you can be free to ask yours. But I again warn you, during this time you have to be fearless and not of weak mind as you will be tested as required by the Sage”.

They walked beside the barn, and he looked to Charna and immediately saw the fester caused by the wound, so the dream was true, he thought. He didn’t look at Mitra much less ask her about last night’s foray into the forest made by her. Not dwelling even a moment to pause by his dear horse, he moved on, accompanied by the young lady. She got in and foretold about Veda’s visit to the Sage and came out. She looked once at him and walked away to the temple. With slight hesitation, Veda stood at the doorstep, when again he was startled by her ‘now go inside‘ voice that came so close even though she was a good 20 steps away from him now.

He stepped in, the hut had a glow of the sun, the glow of enlightenment, wisdom, knowledge all put together. The sage welcomed him and asked him to take a seat opposite to him on a seat of grass which it seemed was hot with embers and dark ashes. Obediently he sat with a clear mind, the seat was fine, maybe it was a glow, it was not hot at all.

“Son, what do you seek? Do you seek wealth, knowledge or wish to live long?”

Sire, I seek knowledge and your blessings so that I might live long to accomplish my mission of imparting peace and justice to my people of Videha“.

It is good that you seek the welfare of others along with the self and not at the expense of others“, said the Sage.

I see that you have read the scriptures well, that shows on your face but I want to test your determination and courage while testing how far you will suffer to get these“.

I will ask you 5 questions, son be prepared. Answer them best as you could, formulate and answer them in your mind if not through your tongue“.

“Yes Sire, I am all ears..” to which the sage smiled and said, “only the ears to hear the question would be sufficient“.

My first question dear, what are the six means of knowledge to know the self?”

Veda replied they are “Pratyaksha—–Under this comes our five senses—-Visual, Auditory,Touch,Taste, and Smell. Also our thoughts &emotions in our mind. They are also directly known or seen.

Anumana—–We do not directly see the object in reference, yet we associate two things cause of experience. Like if we see smoke,we instantly conclude that there must be fire somewhere.

Upamana In comparision. Like we see a new animal and come to know about it with reference to a similar thing seen earlier.

Arthapatti—-is presumption. Like if someone is fat and he says I do not eat the whole day, we persume he may be eating at night.

Anupalabdhi—–Means non-availability or non-existence. We know very clearly the absence of a particular thing or person by it’s non-availability at this time & place.

Sabdha—–Means the words of a knowledgeable person.It is a revelation about something by a wise person.

Just as he had answered the first question satisfactorily, to his horror, the seat on which he sat became hot and hotter, so that he could think of nothing else but the fat melting and the smell of burnt skin, but he stay put where he was, remembering Mitra of the experiences he would have to face while facing the venerable sage.

Somehow he lost the sense of smell and the pain dulled as the Sage went on to ask his next question. “Who is the person whom we consider wise?”
Veda’s tongue seemed to weigh a ton now as he could not lift it to answer, try as he might. Then he thought of Mitra and the Goddess and saluted her in his agony and mentally answered to the Sage,” It is the wise man who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings and it is for that very reason he does not hate anyone“. Veda looked down and to his horror, he now knew why he couldn’t spell the answer, as his very tongue was lying beside him. This could only be a dream he thought, but the seat again started getting hot and Veda waited for the Sage’s next question with abated breath.

What is one thing that causes bondage and at the same time liberation?”
Veda replied mentally, “It is indeed the mind that is the cause of man’s bondage and liberation. the mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, while when dissociated from such sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation“.

Just as he had finished answering, his eyes dropped off from its sockets and he went blind but still luckily he could hear as that was good enough for this session.

How is the atma known?” was the next question put forth.

The Atma is really worth seeing. One should ‘see’ the Atma by Sravana,Manana,& ‘Niddidhyasana’ which means that one should first hear these scriptures from a ‘right teacher’, then reflect on what is being revealed by ‘Him’, and finally meditate on it ,till the knowledge is assimilated throughly” was his mental answer to the sage.

After this answer he lost his hands and limbs as they were cut off suddenly and scream he couldn’t, the pain he was experiencing already was too much so that the loss of his limbs did not much add to it. He was surprised why he had not fainted by now, and then attributed it to the blessings of the Goddess. Mitra had prepared him for it well in the last seven days.

Now what remained was his trunk and head which lay prostrate in front of the sage. Was the next blow the death blow, he wondered, even ready to take it as it came, if it did come.

My last question, Son, if you answer well, this trauma and agony should end, but your answer should contain the misery you are experiencing now. Here it is, listen to it carefully. How does the knowledge of the scriptures, the Vedas help you?”

Vedavalkya, a poor semblance of himself answered mentally, “The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already; they can only help to take away the veil that hides the truth from our eyes. The first veil to vanish is ignorance; and when that is gone, unskillful behavior goes; next desire ceases, selfishness ends, and then all misery disappears”.

The answer was to the point, just as the Sage expected him to. Mighty pleased, the Sage got up and placed his hands on Vedavalkya and blessed him saying, “Your parents had rightly named you as Vedavalkya and you have truly lived up to the name given by them, but answers that were given by you in great agony just as I was sacrificing your body parts as offering to the mighty Goddess who wanted to test you all this while through me, Son, have bestowed on you the new name Yajnavalkya. Go back to your kingdom as I deem you fully fit in the knowledge that you wished to acquire through her blessings. There is no need to go to farther lands, for you are knowledge incarnate with my blessings. Go in peace and take Mitra with you, she is an expanse of the Goddess herself and where ever she is with you, victory will be yours”.

The blessings of the sage made Yajnavalkya whole again as he recovered all what he had lost a while ago and shown with a lustre never before and as the sage took his hand, Mitra stepped in and the sage placed her hand in his.

Both stepped out of the hermitage, the test was over, he had come out successful, just as he had hoped. Mitra was all smiles looking at him as she took him one more time to the temple as though it seemed only a few moments of test, the sun was setting and it was time for the evening ritual. There were a lot of questions he wished to ask Mitra, but again he kept silent till the ritual was over. This time too, she asked him to wait at the steps as she ascended to make the preparations for worship of the Goddess and then came down as he climbed the steps to pray to the Goddess who seemed to be in all her glory. A beam of light from her struck him and with that he knew he was granted immunity from the many perils he would have to face when he would rule over Videha some day in the near future.

After taking her blessings, he came down and saw Mitra waiting for him next to the barn. Charna was being readied by her for the journey back home where she would accompany him, a wise woman to add to his knowledge and hold discourses with him as two equals that would be the pride of Videha as they lived as much as they wanted in the city.

“Are we riding back to Videha this very night?, asked Yajnavalkya. “Sure, why can’t we in this bright moon light”. “and what about the sage and the Goddess? asked he. “You forgot, I told you the Sage would move from here to the south of the Vindhyas on the full moon night and it is fast approaching. As far as the goddess is concerned, her larger expanse remains here for the next person who would come here after a thousand full moons, and a part of her has detached from her to serve her and worship her, the role which I played so far. See, there she is, Vaishnavi, she is all set to take over from me”. Yajnavalkya looked across to the temple and could see a female form waving at her. Assuming courage Yajna asked, “Could you now please tell me, what caused those bandits on the first day of our meeting to flee?”. “My face, Yajna” with a smile Mitra said, “just as it is pleasing to you and for every right minded, it harbors a fearful form that even the evil could never withstand and add it to the laughter emanating will be like the sound of heavy drums sounding next to their ears. So never ask me to show that face to you”. “No No, I am happy to see your smiling face” replied Yajnavalkya as they rode into the moonlight.

In due course of time, Mitra and Yajnavalkya on Charna’s back, rode night and days to reach Videha to the great satisfaction of his father who then relinquished the throne in his favor for a golden period for many years which the people would cherish….

I hope the Goddess who inspired me to write this story blesses every reader who reads this

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Blessings

Accumulate blessings not riches
dear love not desperate hate
sweet knowledge not sour ignorance
know yourself not about others.

Know well your nature to correct it
for we all have grey lines of fault
some seldom may point these out
some biding to take advantage of it.

These very flaws minute as they seem
take away our right to dear places
we could have so well reached
for time is a precious commodity
that can seldom be bartered.

Pure thyself by chanting His name
clothe your selves with His stories
illuminate thy self with his glory
when time is ripe for angels to arrive
be the lamp among the lost crowd.

As they take you undisturbed
to a place of peace you barely knew
with gained blessings on your crown
you chance upon His mighty throne
at His tender feet by His loving side.

Where no sorrows can abound
only carefree birds that chirp
the lovely scrolls of your Life
that got etched as you well lived
in times, good, bad and sad.

For each of us has limited time
so as you run around to make a mark
let the mark of blessing be upon you
leave no stone to accumulate it
for in the end it is all what matters.

To Him who holds store of good things
of blessings distributed to the needy
May you add to His cherished stock
as you reach him safe and sound
the ultimate heights you asked for.

The Fakir

Pic courtesy: IndiaMart

The whole land is thine

The kitchens cook for thine

The looms spin for thine

What is wealth without you

Who owns the land but you

Who gives shelter but you

Who gives work but you

These were the verses sung by a fakir as he roamed places far and wide, ate what he received from kind people, wore what they gave him, slept on the bare ground or some place offered by the host at night.

He must be covering many lands remarked some, for his visits were once a year or sometimes longer.

One day the landlord in a village was rebuking a villager for not paying his loan instalment in time, when the fakir appeared.

Why are you shouting at him? asked the fakir.

Why shouldn’t I? He leases the land I own. Gets the seeds that I provide. Uses the water from my pond. Takes my bullock to plough and now says the crop is poor, the rains were poor!!

Okay, but haven’t you given all these on a selfish interest? When the good Lord gifted you with all these riches, did He charge any interest? And who said you own the land. When you die one day, inspite of all the riches that you lord over, won’t that be the day when this land owns you? The land doesn’t belong to you or him. You and we all belong to the blessed land…

The Lost Life

It had been three days since I moved in with my parents. My father had got transferred yet again to this hill station after 5 years. He would be in charge of the repairs section of the Sanshet dam constructed around 40 years ago and which now stood towering in the distance.

I had barely finished college, scraped through it you could say. Pass marks in all subjects. At least I was consistent. I was wondering if I could apply anywhere with such an academic record. I had got up in the morning today earlier than I was used to. The morning mist looked inviting. The coffee cup was still waiting for me to pick it up. The newspaper sheets were flipped till I reached the appointments page for any such job that might suit my credentials.

As I was going through the various vacancy ads, I heard someone calling. Thinking it was some one calling dad or mom, I continued only to know the person whoever it was calling was trying to elicit my attention to her.

I opened my window pane to see Meena looking eagerly waiting for me as if she wanted me to show something. Meena was my classmate in school at Sanshet school before I left this small village town after my dad’s transfer.

Her hands were empty save for a couple of glass bangles on both. There was some calf love between us during those days, I must confide, which both of us were proud to admit. Her eyes seemed to talk. They looked sad and yet there were streaks of shine happy to see me after these long years which seemed ages to me.

I got dressed casually, put on my slippers and walked out of the room through a door which could open directly to the courtyard where stood a beaming she. Her silver anklets looked the same as her pretty frock she used to wear long back. Her form was the same when I last saw her. She had not changed one bit.

Before I could ask her anything, she took my hand in hers, clasped them tightly and beckoned me to follow her. The morning dew on the grass was making things slippery for my feet as the initial walk now became brisk and it was clear she would have broken into a run over the mounds and crests of fine green grass that adorned the beautiful country side, had I complied.

Where are you taking me, I enquired of her, my eyes riveted on that beautiful face etched in memory which I used to dwell upon in my loneliness and depression bouts at college.

Meena was the foreman’s daughter and they lived in the officer’s quarters that was half a mile away. But today she was taking me elsewhere. I tried to start another conversation thread. How have you been. Did you finish college? In silence she smiled at me; the same patented smile of her which I had taken care to imprint and nurture and chisel on in memory. The years spent with her in school was a dream run never to come again but the good Lord had given me the ability to replay those beautiful moments. She didn’t reply even this time but her lovely eyes did.

Where are you leading me, Meena? I thought you were taking us to your parents. How are they? Still the silence prevailed but I could see that she had slowed her steps while still holding my hand tightly.

There appeared a desolate house and I wondered if something was wrong as she led me to it. She opened the door to the house which welcomed us in with a creaking yet haunting voice. Except for a couple of old wooden benches and a chair there was nothing in this room of this shelter.

All of a sudden she let go of my hand and went into the other room. I thought maybe to bring me some water who was not used to such long walks in the morning mist which only aggravated my asthma. I now remembered I had not taken my Asthalin Inhaler before venturing out with her.

I waited for a few minutes and still when she didn’t appear, I came out, circled the house twice looking for dear her. Calling out to her also did not elicit any response. Sure she was playing a prank as was her nature. I walked to the officer’s quarters and located her house which was the fourth in the second row of houses that had got a fresh coat of white paint.

I walked in unwelcomed, so I thought, based on old memories. Her father looked very uneasy and tired sitting in the easy chair. His eyes looking into the far distance trying to solve some puzzle in which he looked entangled. Addressing him, I offered my salutations but he looked through me as if I didn’t exist. I walked around the kitchen hoping to see her mother or her but none I could see there. I walked back into the living room that looked lifeless and my eyes fell upon the picture of her mother that was garlanded with non fading flowers and was I shocked again when I saw another garlanded frame of Meena.

I sat next to her father and tried alerting him to my presence but he either looked blind and sounded deaf or both or was it I, who was dreaming all this while. I smiled how crazy dreams could get..it was a matter of time before I woke up from it. But things remained the same and I got up as there was no point sitting in front of her crazy father or was it me who had gone crazy.

As I walked back she appeared again briskly trying to catch up with my footfalls. She held my hand as we walked in silence. I tried to play along with her act not showing what I had learnt upon the visit to her house. But the silence was killing me. Are you on a vow of silence? I asked not expecting an answer. “No”, she answered taking me by surprise. I wanted you to know what had happened after you people had left. I used to frequent the typing institute to hone my skills in it. I must have gone two years and got a good speed.

One day on my return through these same paths there was heavy rain accompanied by thunder and I had to take shelter in that house where I took you today. I couldn’t venture out that evening and got trapped there in the incessant downpour. Someone came there, a stranger. It appeared he was staying there without nobody knowing except me in my misfortune. I never saw his face in the darkness but he sensed my vulnerability and took advantage of it and as I resisted him, little did I know that he would snuff the very dear life out of me.

He fled the place and was never to be seen again in this territory of mine she said with a change of tone. Now as I looked at her she was not the diminutive Meena I had known. She was a beautiful woman yet of a pale self. Were you waiting for me these years? Yes she replied I knew you would come so that we can spend some ages together in bliss. How can we, what makes you think…. I broke off, not knowing what I should say.

Come, let us go your house, said she, sensing my thoughts…Wanting to give a glimpse of what a life i had lived I started to enlighten her. After I had left Sanseth, I had got into bad company at college. First smoking then drinking which seemed soothing at first before I got addicted with drugs whatever I could lay my hands on or whatever the peddlers could give me.

A once healthy me was a pale self now, with frequent attacks of asthma adding to the aggravation. I tried to wean away from all these considering the love of my parents and you who I knew doted on me and would wait once I came back after graduating. It was easy to kick smoking but not doping. The drugs were the demons who came to you every night and pestered you till you relented and met their demands. They pleased and praised you and left early morning with you defeated. Yesterday it looks I had a heavy dose or else how could I explain your appearance though you now appears lost to me. I couldn’t understand how such misfortune could come in our lives.

Life’s lessons are sometimes too harsh and at too short a notice. You never know what hit you and slowly we reconcile ourselves to the grim truth of reality. Isn’t life a chain of events like beads in a rosary caused by karma and a mix of choices that we make? With a throbbing head and with the shadow of Meena in tow, I walked into my quarters where could be heard a wailing from my mother with father holding her crying self over my body now lifeless, eyes looking into the distance trying to make out the purpose of dear life.

How some stream that we take channel us into paths best avoided and before the gravity of it sinks in, we get drowned before anyone could help us. There is no point thinking over it now nor staying here anymore, Meena said, as she held my hand and led me out into the sunshine…

On the look out

Who looks at the crow in flight

and the lovely butterfly in sight.

Who ĺooks at the sun on shine

and the glowing moon so shy.

Who looks at the woman smiling

as she surveys the cows grazing.

Who looks at the clouds sailing

as the wind makes trees moving.

Who looks at the river flowing

flooded with heavy rain falling.

Who listens to the thunder falling

with looks of fear on faces passing.

Who listens to the birds chirping

in the silence of the ants climbing.

Who looks at the water while rowing

as the fish come to see who is sailing.

Who looks at the children playing

turning deaf to parents calling.

Who looks at mighty Lord so loving

who made mother nature pleasing.

A chance meeting

According to Aviation data companies in the past year there were an average of 9,728 planes — carrying 1,270,406 people — in the sky at any given time… there are about 25000 plus number of crew members serving that huge number above.

I had got into the plane on a normal clear skies day with the wind at 10mph. The weather was hot and there was nobody I could complain to about it at that time. The plane was not planned at the sky bridge and the airport bus was to ferry us to the Boeing 737 that was parked on the tarmac quite close to exit 3 of the runway, so that it could make a quick getaway considering that it was already 30 minutes late from departure. The inbound run from the country to which I was flying was delayed and that set off the cascade as far as flight times was concerned.

The airport bus ferried us, about 60 passengers in all, in one bus. It seemed this was one day where everyone who had booked the flight were available at the exit gate considering the departure time had already elapsed. The bus made its way and moored itself to the star board side of the flight SD439 and as we came out of the air-conditioned comfort, the heat and the wind made quick bites at our skin as we climbed on to the flight deck, with hand baggage in tow.

The passengers including me settled into our seats by keeping our baggage and duty free supplies in the cabin loft, as we made minor adjustments to the seats and got ready for a 3 hour flight in the mid summer noon sky. The air hostesses; 3 of them were making us comfortable to get ourselves seated and I was glad the flight was not to even half of its capacity. That meant either I would get or not get a companion by my side seat. I was thinking of taking the window seat if no one took it and so my eyes were on the landing deck to see if any new passenger would come onboard.

None appeared, and the flight crew got the orders to close the doors and get ready for take off. The safety instructions came up on the screens, and we readied ourselves, as the jet taxied on to runway 2 waiting for the final signal to take off. Within minutes, it picked up speed and we were in the air taking a steep ascent before we leveled at 1000 feet or so, my eyes glued on to the screens for altitude and speed information.

You seem to have an eye for details, came the voice from behind. I turned back to see one lady who looked like an hostess sitting behind me. I wondered why she had taken that position, as most of them should have been at their designated seats during take off. Don’t worry I am off duty today, she said reading my thoughts.

Hello, I said, yes the take off and landings are special as also a bit nervous to me. Which one you fear most, asked she. By the way, I am Lucy and you,? I introduced myself. I fear takeoffs because of the plane taking its time as it gathers speed and the bumps on the runway not helping much. But did you know, landings are more difficult for the pilots to navigate. Yes, I replied but for the passengers like us, it seems a bit more easy.
Hmm she replied, looking straight into my eyes, I averted mine from her, as I felt a bit uneasy.

After the seat belt signs had gone away with the jet at around 10000 feet and still climbing, it was time for the refreshments. I opted for a can of juice and crackers and made myself comfortable. The lady behind was not to be seen as she appeared to be at the rear in the pantry. I shifted to the window seat though there was nothing much to see at this moment..this is the captain speaking we would be hitting rough weather in a couple of minutes so please put on your seat belts..the crew was running around to take the empty cans when the first wave of turbulence hit us..the plane dropped a bit giving us the butterflies and the wings outside were flaying wildly..hope they can take the stress..i prayed to myself..

Why do we pray when things look pretty bad. That’s how we are wired I guess I said smiling to her second appearance now next to me. Where had you gone..Oh just to see my fellow mates at work. Hope they were happy to get an extra hand today…Nope I didn’t assist them they needed no help since there are only few passengers to feed.

The liqour and soft drinks round had started and one of her colleagues came over stopped asking what would I prefer to which I thanked her saying it is fine. I won’t be having any. She went across to the passenger in front. Why, she didn’t ask you for any drink. It is okay. I don’t. Why did you say No..was it because I am sitting here, it was her turn to question. I do not while travelling, I replied.

Normally there are 4 persons who serve us. Is someone absent or is it you who is playing truant I joked.

There are 4 generally but I guess with 67 pax, 3 is a good number, she said as she held my hand firmly.

Within seconds the jet hit another volley of turbulence and I felt glad she had held me at that moment. Did you see that coming? Mmm experience you see, she smiled her sweetest smile revealing a set of pearl white teeth.

The other crew members looked a bit dazed or sad I couldn’t pin point on what exactly it was. It looked they were going about their tasks in a depressed way or was it stress.. I couldn’t guess.

Looks like your colleagues are tired or is there something else to it. You are very observant; yes they are tired. They didnt get rest yesterday night nor they were rested today. It happens to us; the stress, the separation from loved ones, all gets into us one day or the other and takes it toll on us. Life is a tough taskmaster on the ground as well in the air. How I worked to get this job and see how lifeless it seems now. We never get grounded once we get snuffed off in the midst of a tragedy.

At 30,000 feet the engines were cruising smoothly though my mind was disturbed after hearing her talk.

I didn’t want to change the subject yet asking her as to why she thought so, might be taken as intrusion of privacy.

What chances do we have while we are forced to land on water. I asked her and why do you people smile so much?

We are in a pressurised metal capsule depending on 2 engines and wings with a lot of electronics onboard. Add to it the weather, skills of the crew in the cockpit and the decisions they make, all this makes it stressful to us while we play host to hundreds of passengers like you. Some are at peace while some are curious and others too demanding at times… so we smile all the time; make it a part of our habit and suppress the frown to far off corners.

This job might seem glamourous to you from the ground but like each job it has its pros and cons.

What about my first question?

We do give instructions on how to conduct yourself if at all we need to land on water..but coming to think of it, it all depends on the reason which caused us to try to land on water. First of all this is no seaplane or an amphibian. The chances are less unless the plane is still manageable and the sea calm as a sheet which is rarely the case. You cannot have both options on your side unless the Lord decides to come on your side she said with a sad smile this time.

Have you served on other airlines or is this your first? This is my third and last she said with a delay..Contemplating retirement or a career switch asked I as she looked to me in her late thirties. Yes, a switch which I pulled yesterday. You see I am no longer serving…I called it a day yesterday..time to settle elsewhere where my … mind beckons. Her stunning eyes had me in their grip..I guess I should leave you now. You need to rest I guess, must have been a hectic week for you? Yes it was I smiled back. The cabin lights were switched off now and most of us were trying to grab a bit of sleep.

I saw her walking back to the crew members in the pantry.

I got up when another crew member asked me to adjust my seat as we were preparing for landing…I looked around for Lucy, she had not moved out of the pantry or must be resting herself in some seat as she was off duty.

Within minutes the plane landed at the destination, the pilot thanking us for taking the pleasant journey. I readied my retrieved backpack from the cabin loft and waited till the cabin doors got opened and we walked into the skybridge. I looked around for Lucy but she was not to be found…maybe I will catch up with her on my next flight, soothing myself, I got into the booked cab taking me home about 40 minutes away from the airport.

I got home and had my hands on the morning news paper in the evening. On the 3rd page I came across a column that read Air hostess commits suicide in hotel room yesterday morning…

The Hidden Gold

Omprakash and Jaiprakash had migrated to the town with their mother from the village after their only strip of land was usurped by the landlord on the grounds that they did not make their payments toward the money they had loaned a few years ago.

Omprakash, the elder of the two was a lazy fellow, always complaining about others and even Jai, his brother. This had gone for a few years and their mother did not do much to reverse this habit of Om. They lived in a small shanty on the edge of the town, as they could not afford anything better.

One day, Om took up an argument with Jai and almost came to blows with him, and Jai was told to leave the house and never ever show his face to Om. Their mother was helpless as both of them were grown up now and she could not offer much to bring down frayed tempers.

Jai soon set up a small shop where he borrowed goods on credit from another shopkeeper and started selling them. With his hardworking nature and pleasing manners, customers thronged to his shop and within no time he prospered. A part of his earnings, he did sent to his mother through his assistant.

Om, though he had driven away Jai, was curious to know how Jai fared and one day went and stood in front of Jai’s shop for quite some time. Jai didn’t notice him as he was busy inside.

That evening Om started complaining, as was his usual wont, to his mother.
“I saw Jai today in his shop that he has setup. But he didn’t even bother to look at me, even though I stood for a full 15 minutes to glance at his face. I am sure he has got his hands on some hidden gold, as otherwise, how can he set up this shop in no time?”.

Om’s mother was tired of this and wanted to put an end this conversation soon. “You only drove him away last time saying you don’t want to see his face again and now you,  yourself go and stand in front of him to get a glimpse of his face?”.

She continued “Jai doesn’t need to get his hands on any hidden gold to prosper. His hard work and endearing nature alone would suffice to bring prosperity to him. If you go and drive him from there, he will go to another place and still prosper. The hidden gold, that you talk about, is hard work and a sincere nature. He has found it and therefore is way ahead of you. For you, it is still hidden by your veil of jealousy and attitude”.

Om had no answer to this, and walked off in a huff as such emotional taunts laced with philosophy from his mother never made any dent on his psyche…