‘Alakh Niranjan’ (God resides within oneself) shouted the Sadhu (Indian monk) outside her house. Aparna was busy cooking dinner inside the kitchen and didn’t hear the shout from the monk. Traditionally the monks in India shout ‘Alakh Niranjan’ to show their presence, it was to gain the attention of the residents residing in the house where they stood begging for alms. ‘Alakh Niranjan’ he shouted again, louder. Aparna did not miss this time, she looked outside the window. The kitchen window faced the main gate of her house across the porch. The figure in front of her was all but pleasing. A man standing about 50 meters away from her, heavily bearded, long hair matted on his shoulders possibly unwashed since ages, slim body, saffron clad and only carrying a wooden Kamandalu (Water-pot) and an alms bowl. She was alone in the house and she did not want to go out and attend to the Sadhu. The Sadhu acknowledged the glance that Aparna was giving him and once again shouted ‘Alakh Niranjan’ with his arm holding up the water-pot. Aparna was brought up with the ideals to never let anyone go hungry or thirsty from the door-step, she was in a dilemma. She was afraid of the shabby looking monk and on the other hand her ideals bestowed upon her by her parents were at stake. She decided to honour the teachings of her parents, she walked outside to find out what is it the Sadhu needed besides water.
From the door of her house to the main gate across the garden, it would take her about 50 steps. As she walked towards the monk, she felt that her fear was vanishing. She could feel a certain positive energy encapsulating her as she reached him. She had never felt so relieved around anyone, in a moment she was willing to dedicate her life to the wellbeing of the monk, she was ready to follow him as his disciple but she could not do it. She mentally made him her true God, such was the power of the monk. Her materialistic responsibility to bring up her 3 year old son stopped her from dedicating herself to her God. She was a widow and her son was her only family. She looked at the face of the monk, what looked beastly and disfigured from the distant kitchen window, now looked like the face of a calm, smiling and soothing deity, a face that could make anyone a worshipper, a believer in the power of God, a newly incarnated self aware human being. Aparna was a couple steps away from the monk, she kneeled down and bowed at the feet of the monk – A gesture to show the immense respect she had for him. The monk smiled and blessed her Sada Khush Raho – Always be happy. Aparna stood up and with her hands joined together and head bowed, she asked politely “Baba, tell me how can I be of your assistance?”
“Please bring me some food and water my child” replied the baba with a calm but heavy voice. The heaviness in his voice echoed his old age. He was older than her father, Aparna thought.
“Ofcourse baba. Please come in and give me the honour to serve you with my hands”, Aparna invited the monk to come in and have the meal in peace instead of carrying it and eating it in seclusion.
“No, my child. I cannot enter your house. I have vowed to ask for alms from outside every house, and it is how it will be”
“Who am I to force you to break your vow? Please be here baba, I will bring you the food”, replied Aparna and immediately rushed towards the house.
“Wait”, shouted the baba. Aparna stopped instantly, turned around to face the monk again.
“Yes baba?”, questioned Aparna.
“You are very kind my child. Ask for a blessing, I will grant any wish of yours”, the sadhu asked her sincerely.
“Baba, I am blessed to serve you, I do not need anything else”, Aparna was being honest. She felt content with her life now that she had the honour to serve the monk.
“Very well my child, ask something for someone else, someone in your family maybe”
“Baba, there is only one thing I could dream of. Please bless my child with the power to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, make him strong enough to fight for the ones who are oppressed by the evil forces of the world, those who can’t speak for themselves”
“Tathas Tu”, said the baba with an arm raised in the air – a gesture to bless her and granted the wish.
Aparna joyfully went inside the kitchen and came outside with food and water for the person who had just granted her the boon. She was shocked to see that the Sadhu was gone. She ran around the neighbourhood but did not find him. She asked passersby if they had seen the monk, but none of the people she asked had seen anyone dressed in Orange or saffron robes. Aparna was disappointed. She could not fulfil her wish to serve the sacred man of God, her God himself. She gave up an hour later and returned home to prepare dinner for her son. She did not eat that night. How could she?
Years passed. Aparna did not mention the incident to her son. She saw her son grow up to be a national leader and as she had wished for, he was the voice of the poor and suffering people in the country. He ran an NGO that served hundreds of thousands of homeless and poor people around the country everyday. At times Aparna would remember the monk who blessed her child, smile and thank him, but she could never get over the fact that she wasn’t able to serve the stranger who had blessed her child. She would still worship him as her God.
More time went by, Aparna was a proud grand-mother of 2 beautiful children. She was still healthy at 89 and lived alone in the same house. Her days went by in meditation and cooking for herself. Occasionally when her grandchildren would visit, she would make sweets for them. She did not mind living alone, it was better that way she thought. She did not want to be a burden on her son’s family. One such morning, after she had cooked her lunch, she sat down on the porch meditating. Suddenly a loud voice shook her up from her trance, she could not understand the words that were spoken so she became more attentive to the incoming voice, eyes closed, she waited for the person to repeat himself. Alakh Niranjan the melodic voice rang inside her ears. Elated, she opened her eyes and looked at the main gate, there stood a man in Saffron clothes with a similar Kamandalu and wooden pot that she saw years ago at the same place. How is that possible? Shouldn’t he be dead? Is it really him? All kinds of thoughts ran in her mind. She stood up and paced herself towards the gate. Her weak vision did not allow her to see the face of the Sadhu from the distance. She reached the gate and fell into the feet of the saint. She was bowing down to her God.
The monk said calmly, “Mother, please do not bow down to me, I am like your child, you ought to bless me”.
Aparna looked up, she saw a young man looking at her, eyes shining, face lit up, hair matted on shoulders-still dirty, and a small beard. He was really young. He seemed bright and learned. He wasn’t the same Monk, but for her he was a sacred man and he deserved the respect she gave him.
Aparna stood up and said, “Baba, please let me serve you, I have been waiting for this moment all my life”.
“Yes Mother, I am here to eat, I am hungry, please serve some food”, begged the monk.
“Please wait, I will be back in a minute”, replied Aparna and ran towards the house. “Do not leave”, she shouted.
“I will not mother”
Aparna was back in a minute with the hope to see the monk waiting for her, somehow she knew he would be there and she was right. The monk was eagerly waiting for her to bring him some food.
The monk collected the food and water that Aparna served and left. He didn’t grant a wish to Aparna and Aparna did not want one. She had achieved what she called ‘Nirvana on earth’ now. Happiest in years, she went to bed thanking the monk, God and her stars to let her fulfil her long awaited dream, to allow her to be at the service of a holy man. That night, she had a dream. In her dream, she saw the old monk from years ago at her doorstep again. She saw herself serving food to the monk.
“Why did you not let me serve you earlier my Lord?”, asked Aparna.
“My Child, you had only 2 wishes for yourself, one to serve me and other to see your son become what he is now”, replied the sage.
“Yes baba, and you made me wait all these years to fulfil my wish to serve you”, she complained.
The monk laughed and replied, “Such is the universe my child, we all come here with a purpose and once the purpose is fulfilled, it is time for us to leave.” He paused. “Your purpose, was to serve a man of my kin, and to lead your son in achieving the greatness he has achieved now”.
“Baba, you made me wait more than 5 decades to finish my purpose on this planet, why?” asked a now perplexed Aparna.
“Because, my child, had you served me the food then, you would not have a purpose left to live. I granted your wish for your son, and hence the only reason for you to be here was to serve food to me and if I allowed you that, your soul would leave this body of yours and attain salvation” he explained.
Aparna understood what the monk was trying to tell her, but she was still confused “Baba, I understand that. I would die after achieving my purpose here, but then why keep me alive all these years if I could have fulfilled my purpose so many years ago?”
The monk was waiting for this question, “For your son. He needed a mother, a loving mother who would see him grow, achieve great heights, be successful, have his own family. You needed to be alive for your child. He would have become all this with or without you, but he wouldn’t have been this happy if it was without you, for him you are the world”.
Aparna’s eyes were full of tears. Her life flashed in front of her like a movie on a celluloid screen. She knew now why she wasn’t allowed to serve the monk. She relieved all the memories with her son in that moment. She never felt so satisfied in her life.
“I am ready, baba” she said to the monk in her dream. She smiled one more time thinking about her son as she breathed her last breath.
Cover photo source: esgeemusings