On the festive occasion of Onam, here is another story for my readers.
Mani had lost his home to the local landlord after having failed to pay his loan installments that were overdue for quite some years. It was a small house he had, but the landlord had his sights on the large tract of land on which the house stood. Every year the poor farmer used to take some loan for sustenance and agriculture, but the rain and the wind gods were not always kind to him. Every year, whenever he grew fruits and vegetables on this land, the rain and winds played havoc leaving him in dire poverty year after year.
He used to pray daily at the small Krishna shrine and tell him about the difficulties he faced every day in life. How Indra and Vaayu, the gods had unseated him from his home, despite his multiple prayers day in and day out. Now this year, on the verge of Onam he had lost his house and had to seek shelter at his best friend Gopi’s house. Though Gopi was kind enough to give shelter to him and his small family, it didn’t look good that he should stay for long at his place. Moreover, Gopi also was a small time farmer who subsisted on his trees for basic survival.
The landlord had taken over his land and house, saying that Mani owed him more than the land he had usurped in lieu of the unpaid loan. He went and begged the landlord to give him one more chance this year, as he would try his best to bring up the plantations with the weather gods willing. The landlord did not budge an inch as usual and Mani retreated back to Gopi’s house dejectedly.
It was evening time and Mani as usual was found crying at Krishna’s temple talking to him at the sanctum as to what transpired between him and the landlord. The temple priest also was sitting next to Mani while he was talking. The priest was a great devotee himself and he was the mediator for devotees like Mani. He asked him to touch his shoulder and look at Krishna. To all wonder, Mani could see Krishna himself standing in all grandeur as a small boy in the sanctum. “Do not worry, dear Mani, I will take your case with the weather gods and see to it they turn favorable to you for the years to come. With regards to your land and house, we will see to it tomorrow at the Onam celebrations. Go today and rest in peace and have a sound sleep”. A weeping Mani replied, “I am deeply blessed” as he prostrated before the Lord who had disappeared shortly after giving him hope. The priest smiled at Mani and said, “Do not worry Mani, now that Krishna has taken up your case, he will see to it that the house and the land returns to you in no time. Who but He, is the lord of all lands.”
Mani was in great spirits and told Gopi all what had transpired between him and Krishna. Both families went to the temple the next morning to get the blessings on the Onam day. They took the prasadam and went to the village ground where the celebrations were to start. The start to the festivities was made by the landlord who was the chief guest by virtue of being the landlord of the village. All the villagers were indebted to him and they could not think of anyone else to invite as the guest for the proceedings.
The landlord was in a great mood, and there were a lot of games in which everybody including he participated. Mani again went to him during the ceremonies and asked if he could at least give him his house. “Yes”, he laughed “if you could beat me in three games”. The third game will be of my choosing and not any of the games that are organized in this ground today”. Mani again lost all hope and looked lost, but the temple priest came to him and asked him to contest with the landlord. “Why worry when the Lord, the master of all ceremonies is on your side”. Lots of villagers by hearsay came to know about the deal between the landlord and Mani and crowded around them to watch.
The first game was archery, both were given bows and three arrows by the event organizers. There were some fresh harvest fruits that were pasted on a board and the person who could shoot the maximum fruits down were to be adjudged the winner of the contest. The Landlord as was his wont was to start first. He was always the winner all these years in this game during the festivities and took up his bow and sent the arrows on to the fruits in a flurry as a accomplished archer would do and shot down a few fruits. Now it was Mani’s turn, who took the bow with trembling fingers. the presence of the landlord next to him itself was overwhelming. He sent the first arrow, which dislodged a fruit to the surprise of everybody. His second arrow brought down a couple of them down to the applause of everybody. The priest standing nearby asked Mani to bend the bow to the maximum before sending the third and last arrow. He did so as told, and the arrow brought down the board and the entire fruits along with it. The whole roaring crowd then moved with them to the next game venue.
There were a dozen odd plantain trees, and each participant had to cut down the bunch of bananas to the count of 10. The person who brought down the maximum bananas would be declared the winner. The landlord as usual started first and brought down around hundred bananas. It was Mani’s turn and he went about his work like he did in his plantation and came out a winner.
The landlord was in a fix. He could not let Mani win the last game as otherwise he would have to hand over the house and land, a thing which he never wanted to do. He was like Duryodhana in the Mahabharatha of yore, having usurped Yuddhishtra’s kingdom and never wanting to give even a needle point of land back. Krishna had come disguised to the celebrations and unknown to the priest, was standing next to him. He patted the priest on his back and when the priest turned, there was an old wise man who looked familiar yet could not pinpoint as to where they had met earlier. “Do not worry, it is me your favorite”, Krishna said laughingly. “The disguise is working that means, even you could not recognize me. Let me go and play my mediator role and see if the landlord relents to giving Mani his property”. “And what if he doesn’t”, asked the priest looking grave. “Do not worry, there wont be a war here. but he will lose all his wealth before the next Onam celebrations.
Having said that, Krishna walked to the landlord. The landlord was surprised to see his uncle in the midst of the celebrations. He had not seen him for a long time. The gray haired wise uncle of his talked about Mani and requested him to give him back his land but the landlord his cousin wouldn’t relent. When Krishna in his uncle’s form persisted, the landlord became angry and asked, “on whose side are you, his or mine”. “I am always by the side of my devotee”, said a smiling Krishna. The aged uncle with wrinkles couldn’t walk or see properly. Yet he had brought two fine horses as a onam gift for his cousin knowing well how he liked riding and how good he was in it. The landlord was happy to receive the gift from his uncle whom he had long forgotten. The landlord in arrogance, spoke, “if Mani can beat me to the river on horse back”, offering him one of the horses, “I would give the property back with no more conditions attached. Do you accept the challenge, Mani?” The whole crowd went silent. The landlord looked at his uncle and said, “you, of all people, wanted me to give his property, and here I am willing to do it provided he beats me in this last game.” Some villagers and children already had started running to the river end which was the finishing point for this to be contested race.
A dejected Mani looked at the priest and the landlord’s uncle. There was no hope for him now for he had never mounted a horse before, let alone having rode a horse in his entire life. The uncle intervened in the challenge. “I agree cousin to the contest but it is not fair to Mani. He has not rode a horse, looks like in his whole life. Let it be a contest among equals and you would be praised and respected among all the villagers”. “Who is the other equal in this crowd other than Mani, he asked in all directions to which his good old uncle replied “If you would permit me, I can ride a horse though I am quite old for it having lost touch for many years. I will participate on his behalf”. “Nothing doing, if he wants his house and the land back, let him ride, and not you on his behalf”, replied the landlord. “But son, you have to make some amends, you must choose someone to ride the other horse, what if Mani rides the horse and breaks his neck”. “Uncle, why are your risking your life for this petty Mani”. “That is what I am also asking on this auspicious day, why are you holding on to his property, wealthy as the Lord that your are”, asked Krishna. “See the whole crowd is waiting with baited breath as to what you will decide.” “Okay Uncle, let us both ride, you on his behalf, like old times and see who reaches the river bank first”. “There you are now, speaking like my old time good cousin”. Both got on to the horses. “Mani come, I will take you for a ride of your life”, said the old man and the crowd goaded Mani to mount the steed.
It was a tall horse, and Mani surveyed the crowd all around him as he sat behind the landlord’ uncle. He was tense and the old man asked him to hold him tightly. The priest came up to him and told him not to worry. and touched him gently on his wrist. To Mani’s surprise, the curly locks of the golden haired Krishna caressed him and was he surprised to see Krishna seated in front looking back at him with a smile. “Now do not get emotional, just hold on to me tight and from here starts the downfall of the landlord”. Waving to the crowd, the old man steadied his horse and told the priest to wave the flag for them to start the race. The crowd went into rapture and started running towards the river bank, confident that the old man had it in him to win the race and with it, their aspirations. How they wanted the old man and Mani to win and set an example to the landlord that every one’s land cannot be snatched by him without a protest.
The landlord sped off in good speed with Krishna and Mani off to a slow start. It was a good enough distance to the river bank for the horses. When the landlord had vanished into the distance, Mani’s horse picked up speed and the villagers could see now what a gifted horseman the old man was while riding his horse. They screamed in delight and ran as fast as they could to the finishing point. Within a few moments, the landlord was agitated to see his uncle overtaking him. He tried his best but could not beat his uncle to the finishing point. When he stepped down, his Uncle asked him to keep his word which he did to the delight of Mani and all the villagers who were rejoicing all around him…
Author’s note: This story came to me fleeting while listening to this devotional song