Work is Worship

For those who have followed me recently, am republishing this post written 3 years ago, a long one for the happy weekend read.

Harish had come to the city 3 decades ago and barring a small stint at a bakery in his early formative years, he became a rickshaw puller just like thousand others across the country. Over the years, as the country progressed, there came the cycle rickshaws followed by the auto rickshaws but like many others Harish would not move up the ladder and persisted with his manual one and never thought of changing cities and pitched his tent in Calcutta where he had arrived in the 70’s.

Harish was in his late sixties and his daily schedule would be to have to his breakfast which consisted of rice gruel and a banana and then he would disappear into the big bustling city crowd and would be spotted at locations taking his passengers usually one or two with their luggage in tow. Passengers rarely remembered him, as for them, he was a means of cheap transport to be quickly forgotten as soon as they landed at their destinations. It always invoked the curiosity of people who have had the time to observe people like Harish to wonder about the source of  energy to pull their passengers with just two hands to their destinations miles away on roads that sometimes sloped upwards and downwards.

rickshaw puller
Credits: The Sunday Tribune

Harish due to some thought ingrained in his childhood had never visited a temple or never thought about the gods in them and always wondered whether people did get the benefit of visiting them. He must have carried hundreds nay a thousand in his umpteen trips up and down to holy shrines spread across the city. It was rather a coincidence, a strange one at that, having carted or transported so many devotees, he had never visited or entered a shrine so far, though he knew the gods and goddesses by their pictures that were splashed across by the religious minded across the city walls and in the outer precincts of the temples.

Harish lived alone all these years except for this month when he got company. It was Nandhu, a boy of 8 years, whom he had rescued from the streets on a night trip. Nandhu seemed to be abandoned by his relations in the city or he appeared genuinely lost as he thought. By the look of the poor boy, he appeared to be from a very poor background and experience told Harish to keep him with him till he grew up in age to fend for himself.

It was already 7 pm and since Nandhu was down with fever in the hut for the last two days, Harish had him at the back of his mind all day when he was scouting for work in the sun and rain who played their parts to perfection all through the day. Today was a bad day and he had made barely 60 rupees. Without at least 70, he could not take Nandhu to the doctor who lived near their shanty house for medicines. Moreover he had to get some food for dinner for both of them. He had been roaming through the city but somehow luck eluded him today. It only dawned upon him now that he had skipped his lunch like so many other days in the past.

A light drizzle had started and Harish was hopeful that someone would hail him to escape it. As minutes ticked by, he knew he had to reach and get Nandhu to the doctor before 9 PM after which Sarmaji, the doctor would not see anybody. At his wits end, his legs impatient and his mind failing to control them, in despair he cried out to the Lord, whom he knew very feebly, for help and looked around desperately for that one passenger who could give him the last 30 rupees after which he could wind up work for the day. With his legs aching and stomach on a raging fire he wondered if he would ever reach home today.  The small shops in the lane, where he and his cart were at standstill, were downing their shutters as the shop keepers too sensed that it was high time and with the rain not helping, they least expected any one to turn up at their shops.  The sun having set an hour ago, it was quite dark except for the feeble street lights which were quite a distance apart.

It was at this point of time, a couple emerged with some baggage and asked him if he could take them to the Ram Temple which was at a mile’s distance. The couple appeared young and dressed neatly in nice clothes, Harish wondered if he could reach them to their destination in time. Moreover the road to the temple was bad and had a slight slope and it would require all his strength to pull them across it. It was that moment of time the couple asked, as if in one voice, how much he would charge them. Harish was in two minds. He did not want to scare them away as he desperately needed the 25 or 30 as he had calculated earlier and asked them for 25, which was very fair considering the time and the weather.

The couple hopped on to his carriage after a bit of bargaining and settling it at 20 rupees not withstanding Harish’s fervent pleas. After the price had been fixed it was left to Harish to show his experience to handle the cart and his passengers deftly as he pulled them slowly on to their destination. It took him a short and gasping run in the last 200 meters before he reached the temple just in time or so he thought. The couple got down and thanked him and he had to wait for the lady to count 20 coins and hand them to his outstretched hands. A lightening streak flashed, as she handed him the money, with the help of which he could see the charming couple’s faces. It seems they were newly married and had come to the temple as was the custom in those places on a Thursday. He saw them climbing up the stairs and entering the shrine.

The despair call to the Lord an hour ago had worked and Harish wondered if it really was because of the Lord’s blessings, he had gained this last trip. Since it was so late and he having made his wages for subsistence for the day, he thought of entering the temple for the first time in his life. He had a lot of doubts as he climbed each step. What if the Pujari or the temple priest would shout at him for coming in such shabby and torn clothes? Nevertheless he walked on and entered the temple. There was no one in sight and having gained courage with each step, he walked on to explore the inner precincts of the shrine. He came to different places of worship allocated to each god or a goddess at various places inside the shrine. All this time, he was looking around with fear and awe, as with time, he still could not see anyone in the temple. Holding on to the coins, he at last reached the sanctum sanctorum where he saw the main deity and his consort and immediately recognized them by their robes and faces as his passengers who had graced his rickshaw, a few minutes ago.

Tears ran down his eyes and he felt his life had met its purpose having transported the Lord and his Consort in his rickshaw to the temple. As he prostrated on the floor in front of the shining glory with folded hands, he took care lest the coins would fall away and was struck with surprise when he counted them later to be exactly 25 coins, the price that he had asked initially and that too shining gold coins…

The innocent barter

 

scales

A shopkeeper in the Dharia village always seemed busy, giving groceries to his customers who used to flock to the shop till he closed his shutters by 7 pm. A group of retired people and laborers used to come and sit talking to each other on the wooden planks laid out in front of the shop and comment on the happenings of the day, or about the columns in the daily newspaper which one or two would take turns to read loudly to the benefit of those who were either lazy to read or had pitched their tents only eager to hear gossip.

Every week, on a Saturday, a small boy named Golu used to come to the shop to sell the clarified butter (ghee) his mother used to make at home from the unsold buffalo milk that had few takers in a solitary tea shop and a couple of neighboring houses. The buffalo was the only means of livelihood to his family. Every time, he used to carry a kilogram of ghee and would barter it for a kilogram of sugar or pulses from the shop, as was the agreement with Bansal, the grocer.

As Golu would make his appearance whenever dusk was approaching, some of the elders would inquire about his family, some about his buffalo while some used to tease by calling him as Gheelo (take Ghee). Some used to chide him for unnecessary things just to make him cry, to make merry for themselves, while the only sane guy among them, Raichand, scolded them for showing such behavior to the poor lad.

One day, as Golu came with a kilogram of Ghee, Bansal, the grocer kept it on the weighing scale, as he was busy handing over some condiments to another customer. Someone’s attention in the group fell upon the ghee packet lying on the scale. On the other balancing pan, was a weight of 1 Kilogram. The ghee packet pan was floating in the air and therefore he deduced that the packet contained less than  the weight intended. As was their wont, the issue quickly grabbed the attention of the retired folks and some started making arguments in the shop saying that Golu and his family had been cheating Bansal all this time.

Now Bansal was in his elements having taken up the cue and started shouting at Golu. Such allegations coming at short notice from all quarters forced Golu to tears and he started crying loudly.  Raichand who was also in the shop and who was a retired sales tax inspector consoled the child and asked the others to maintain silence while he got down to inquire as to what could have gone wrong. He was one man who never thought of implicating anyone unless the facts were laid out before him.

Once Golu’s crying had subsided to sobs with deep breaths in between, Raichand asked him, “Golu, could you let me know, how do you weigh your ghee at home in the packet before you bring it here”. Golu between sobs, pointed at Bansal and said, “I always weigh our butter pack against the sugar or the green gram packet that is given to me in barter”.

Sands of time

An instance of a dream that I had some days back

A person (me) goes with a message to a distant village

on the way he has to cross a hot desert with obstacles

he meets many a person at various points in his journey

he is surprised to see the same people in the village

but there is something different as people here are sad

but whom he met on the way were very joyful and helpful sandsoftime

got me wondering, if I ever met them in the sands of time…

 

 

Story of a Ruin

 

Hindu temple, Ubud, Bali
Pura Temple, Bali

 

On the banks of a winding river
covered by shade giving trees
stood an old temple now a ruin
one day, was I mighty surprised
to see myself walking towards it?

The glaze from the noon fiery sun
as it struck many majestic pillars
at first blinded me; I could now see
a deity of a goddess unattended.

Offering my salutations to her
I looked around to spot anyone
who would come this desolate way
but alas, no one seemed to exist
except me, in these lost quarters.

I walked down the once trodden steps
when having heard a sharp noise
I turned around to see, to my wonder
the old sanctorum door now shut
who had shut that door, I wondered.

I went around to the farther side where
trees grew abound next to a cool pond
with water flowers growing amid aplenty
my eyes spied in the shade of trees
a monkey and a squirrel eyeing in awe.

The cool breeze and the fruits in bounty
took me to a dream of bygone days
I dreamt of that very place back in time
how festivities rocked the still ground
where people flocked and lost in joy.

The temple fair with all its pristine glory
had attracted one and all, near and afar
a visitor like me now in different attire
it was then I spied upon a beautiful girl
who stood in the precincts of the temple.

Was she beautiful, or was she radiant
there was something about her charm
eyeing all who seemed to be lost in fun
wondering who she was, bright as the sun
my mind at sea, churning with thoughts.

I climbed the well laid lovely temple steps
a flood of devotees praying to the goddess
somehow the glow on the face of the deity
could very relate to that on the young girl
one in divine and another in human form.

Making casual inquiries it was made known
she was the very child of the temple priest
a staunch devotee who cared for nothing
engrossed in the ardent service of his folk
worship of a mother who was his child.

I circled with the crowd, and at every turn
her radiant smile, of the ever mighty holy
my doubts cleared with the compassion
she bestowed on us with her look of love
a mother truly pleased at her children.

At a loss, to keep the discovery to myself
do I make it known, not had I, the courage
should I approach her the wonder she was
would she listen to me as others of her age
or be wise as a woman of a countless age.

One day, she was playing prank with kids
getting close, away from the little ones
when she sensed my faithful approach,
the graceful, the all knowing smile asking
how was I attracted to her, all these days.

Garnering courage, I went near divine her
while the kids were not at close quarters
asking her, was it true, what I had sensed
she being the divine in human form said
keep it to you, which I did all this time.

Days were spent meeting and asking
had she powers that she could exercise
could she keep the village blessed
she would wait for them to pass a test
would then, she decide to be a part of it.

A few months passed by, days of joy to me,
but one day, the priest’s daughter fell sick
the ailments added to her father’s plight
one said of a physician at the king’s court
might help her to tide over her such illness.

A journey to the palace place was too far
calling the physician might invite wrath
a young lad, i was to carry the message
private it was, to the medic to respond to
a person who still glowed, despite her pain.

I went to the king’s court and with difficulty
manage to get his consent, for the call
but he asked for a big fee, which I doubted
any one, of the village could well afford
but they could have grouped and helped.

With sad tidings, I brought the message
no one cared or willed to help the priest
who rendered selfless service for them
helped bring them blessings from Her
just as She had blessed him with Her.

Chiefs and the landlords refused to help
in kind or in money, left him disconsolate
the priest died,  heart broke, just as he was
was this test you told of, she faintly smiled
she was to pass away, with me by her side.

Rain clouds hovered to the delight of all
but my wet plight only, no one could gauge
I lost her that very night, her hands in mine
radiant as ever, her loving eyes upon me
was it in torrents, it poured from the sky?

The river, beside the village, rose in anger
submerged banks with all its people
the waves climbed the forsaken temple
did they also wash away our lost selves
I must be delighted to part with my body.

It all came back to me, I was driven here
a place where once, I loved a  girl of  glory
a divine Odyssey it was,  that got me here
I now, left to reminisce the story of a ruin
a pleasure if She would come again for me.

 

Treasure your savings

I had no dreams to be big, though sometimes I felt, I could at least buy a bicycle when I grew up, to tread on  the beaten path by many a person. But today, I have so much with me, I can share some for the needy who is not so bountiful in life as I am.

I worked in a bountiful junk store, that had rusted items for sale and all hard toil and a breaking back could only get me a meager pay and some sidekicks from the grumbling keeper.

One day, a disheveled guy came in, counting his coins, looking for an axe. It was he who introduced me to small time savings. Little did i know that day, when he stepped in as a fatherly figure, he would teach me to save for and sustain in difficult times in his own classic way. He would come now and then to the store, looking for odd things, and sometimes with a bag of rice, hanging on his shoulder, when one day, I thought of trailing him and followed him  at a distance by the pine forest, to find  that he lived alone in a make to do hut.

With a few books, that I had read from the junk store, he resembled a person like Robinson Crusoe. He would put a pot, scour some rice with his palm, and watch it disappear into a rumbling pot that sounded like a hot spring. He would eat the meager stuff with gusto, stretch himself for a while, and then wander out in the woods for firewood and what things, only time could guess on his return. He resembled a Goliath laden with firewood and fruits when he used to come back from those outings.

He had a strong body, now worn out with age as were his boots. I wondered who he was, living a lonely life and away from society. What could have caused him to be in such a state with a heap of clothes, and hanging wrinkles around his neck. Sometimes, I took him to be a Rip Van Winkle, when he stretched himself near his dwelling. A kerchief wound over his neck, he would look all around, as if someone might follow him. What was that he feared, thieves or ghosts?  my little mind would always wonder those days.

Was he a pirate lost and shipwrecked and had come to the coast, and could he have some treasure hidden like the fugitive Joaquin Murrieta of the California gold? Always, he carried a small purse, tied to his worn out belt with wooden twigs. He would count it like a bead string, now and then, and with a smile, and sometimes a sigh he would tie it and look around with fear and sometimes at me, who was lost in gazing at him, whenever he made such visits to the store.

In spite of all this, at the store, he would ask me how much had I saved, for the future was bleak with scavengers and vultures bound to take your treasure and casting you away like rusted junk. He would address me as, “Son,  how much have you saved today?”,  to which I would reply something like 50 cents. But he had no time to listen to my replies or enquiry, as he got lost as soon as it seemed, he looked sane. For a week, in spite of my busy schedule, I noticed his absence one day, and went searching for him at his house near the woods of pine. He was not to be seen there. Fearing the worst, I searched for him at some distance in the thick woods, but fear got the better of me, and I had to beat a hasty retreat back.

The next day, I happened to take my shop owner to a nearby medical camp to help him tide over his fever that had got aggravated. When we were leaving after getting the medicine, I saw our man, on one of the hospital beds. I rushed in and inquired of him, but as always, he looked lost, and was murmuring something. I could not stay there for long, since my owner was calling me, and had to rush to assist him on the way back home. In the evening, I rushed back to the camp, where i saw the doctor and asked him, what was it, that caused my hero to seek medical attention. The doctor looked grave, and said that it was too late to save him, since he was dying of some condition, that i could not understand at that time. I went up to his bed, where he was lying, with his hand on his shillings bag, which was shaking on his shivering. The doctor came and stood beside him and said. He is truly a remarkable person, never cries in pain, in spite of the pain he feels, and always has a smile before he gets lost in his own world. He even paid me for my services from his meager store of coins in his bag. Somehow, I couldn’t take it and gave it back to him, fearing that he would lose his life, on losing his precious treasure.

Every day for the next few weeks, I used to visit him in the evening, and became good friends with the doctor. Every day, when I was at his bed, he used to ask me with a smile, “Son, how much have you saved today?”. To show him my daily savings, I would take the coins with me and show it to him, thinking that would help him to distract himself from the pain. One day, as per the doctor, my fatherly figure had spent all his savings in his bag to buy sweets to distribute it among the sick in that camp. I was moved as was the doctor, for to us, during this period, his bag had become significant, something larger than life, and this act of his meant, he was giving away his life. Fighting back tears, I left him quite late in the night, and was terrified by the darkness on the way back to my shed next to the store.

That was the last day, I heard him asking me about my savings, for the next day, the doctor gave me the sad news and asked me, if I wanted to see him for a last time. I declined the offer, since I wanted him to be seen asking his usual question , “Son, how much have you saved today?”.