If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Hey Swamiji !

There was a time when the Ganga waters were effluent. The river tore down bridges, pebbled ridges and cemented borders. She was furious during the monsoons and angry during winter. In the region of the foothills of the Himalayas all the towns were crowded with temples and tourist spots that were watered by the Ganga.

The river Ganga has been controlled and guarded by the authorities so as to minimize life risks for the tourists. Still once in a blue moon someone may be heard to have lost a dear one in these waters. The stream flows swiftly by a natural downward slope and carries away all the things that are daily dropped into the water. People drop all sorts of things into the river and watch them disappear under water immediately. If a body dropped into the river like a thing it would disappear equally swiftly.

Once, on the banks of the river near the Lakshman Jhula, a family spread out its picnic basket. It was a family from Haridwar. There were indeed two families, one of a brother and the other of his sister. There were four children and four adults. They were oblivious of the fate that was about to gust out their enjoyment. But I’ll talk about that later.

Chintoo and Mintoo were two brothers of about twelve years in age. Their uncle lived in Haridwar. Ever so often they visited his place. In October,  during the Diwali vacations, the days were pleasant and in the evening there was a cool breeze that refreshed them. They preferred to stay out late in the evening and take a stroll hand in hand with their cousins in the crowded market to look at the fancy items in display. Their uncle also took them out to Mansa Devi temple riding on a tonga.

The ropeway to the Mansa Devi temple was a familiar ride for them. They enjoyed it every time they came to Haridwar. They looked forward to the day when they would be grown up enough to be able to go up to the summit of the hill on foot. On top of the hill they found a viewpoint with a telescope which they would invariably peep through. They quarreled with each other to decide who would be the first to view through it. They loved the garden on the terrace, and at times when it rained they loved to get drenched, howsoever their mother protested that they might catch flu.

Their reckless manner made their father swear every time that he would not bring them to Haridwar again. But each year, after several phone calls from their cousins who were more or less of the same age, they boarded the bus from Delhi to Haridwar and reached their uncle’s house during a break from school.

The last time, in May, when they came to Haridwar, they had visited Mansa Devi temple again. After that they took a bus to Rishikesh. There on the ghats they sat in the evening dangling their naked legs. After the Sandhya Arati of Goddess Ganga, they went into the ashram.

In the ashram, out of curiosity, their uncle took the children to a swamiji. He showed swamiji each boy’s palms. All the four boys sat cross-legged in front of the swamiji. The swamiji insisted on seeing both the palms of the boys. One by one they held out their palms together open in front of him. He did not touch any one. He did not bend forward with a lens to magnify the lines. He did not wrinkle up his eyes to tell what he saw in their palms. The light from the bulb hanging from the ceiling was adequate for him to foresee the future of each boy.

To Mintoo, he said that he would grow up to be a big officer. He would have only daughters and no son. But one of his daughters would eventually make him proud.

To Babloo, he said that he should be a good son and obey his parents. To his parents he said that they should be considerate towards Babloo’s feelings and never force him to do anything against his will. They found the instructions contradictory so they asked, “Swamiji, Will Babloo do well in studies?” At Babloo’s age no one thinks of anything but studies. The Swamiji took the hint and decided to drop the topic of his marriage and assured the parents that Babloo was very intelligent and diligent in his studies.

To Chhotu, Swamiji said, “What do you want to do in life, Bachcha?” Chhotu promptly said, “I love painting!” This annoyed the parents and they clicked their tongues. Swamiji turned to them and said, “Don’t be annoyed at his childish wish. He will grow up to wish many more things in the world and all his wishes would be fulfilled. Did you understand Bachcha? All your wishes would come true!” At this Chhotu got up with satisfaction spread all over his face and Chintoo took his position before the Swamiji. Chhotu’s parents quietly made up their minds that they would teach their child what to wish for.

Swamiji looked at Chintoo’s palms and said, “You are a very naughty boy. You are always up to some mischief. You should be more careful otherwise you are likely to bring grief to your parents.” Hearing this admonition Chintoo meekly said, “Yes Swamiji”. His mother complained, “Chintoo eats a lot of sweetmeats, I don’t know what to do with him!” Swamiji kept silent.

That October, all of them decided to go on a picnic to the Lakshman Jhula. It was a pleasant time of the year. While in the sun they did not need to carry any sweaters. And the sun did not hurt either. Babloo and Chhotu carried along playing cards and Chinese Checkers to play on the picnic spot. When they reached there, they spread out their mats and according to their plan, they took out the games. But Mintoo was too eager to touch the water. His father tried to stop him but when he did not listen and started running towards the water’s edge, the father asked the elder boy, Chintoo to go after him. Now both the boys started playing with the waters of the river.

They were throwing mud into the water and fetching soiled flowers out of the water. They squatted next to the edge and used sticks to catch floating objects. The father saw their huddled backs and fumed. After calling at them a couple of times, Mintoo turned his head and shouted, “We are not coming back!” At this the father rose threateningly and both the boys dashed towards a boulder near the edge of the water. They climbed up the boulder and teased their father. Chintoo stood up straight on the boulder and waved his hands. It infuriated the father and he stepped forward. As he did so, Chintoo lost his balance and fell behind the boulder.

No one could see him at once. Mintoo called out his name and climbed off the boulder. The others saw that he was shouting at the river. They rushed towards him. Mintoo said that Chintoo had fallen straight into the water.

There were others in the picnic spot. They had all gathered together to look into the water. A local youth had plunged into the river to save the boy, but the fact was that no one could see him. No one could even see his body.

The authorities sent a search party into the river. They showed the aggrieved family to a shelter. In the shelter, among others, there was a swamiji. The drowned boy’s mother rushed towards him and threw herself at his feet. She cried, “Swamiji, please assure me that my son would be found! Swamiji, please give back my son!”

Swamiji was startled. He had no powers. He did not even know how to read palms. He was a mere ascetic who wandered from place to place in search of inner peace. Being accosted by an aggrieved mother, he could not do anything; nor did he snatch away his feet from her grasp. He found everyone staring at him expectantly. He wondered what would be a suitable reply to this bereaved group. The rest of the people had to be impressed too.

“My child, your son’s body would be found if he died before four o’clock. The holy Ganga takes away only the purest of souls; be assured that your son has gone straight to heaven.”

Everyone checked the time.


Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


As of June 25, 2015, The Bactrian Room is closed to submissions.


Search This Blog

Notice of Copyrights

Original material on this site is copyrighted by the authors and artists. No material may be copied or reused without the permission of the respective author or artist.