The long route to heaven

A Bengali tale

 In a town not far from Kolkata, there once lived a holy man. As by convention, he wore only saffron-coloured clothes, a long beard and a rudhraksha mala. Needless to say, he had many followers who believed that he could show them the path to God. It was perhaps his garb that brought in many followers; his wisdom and knowledge certainly could not have.

It was the holy man’s practice to travel the countryside in search of new members to his ashram. More members meant more importance to the guru and of course, more money. On one such travels, the saffron-robed guru met a simpleton named Bhijoy.

The people of Chotapuri may not have thought highly of Bhijoy but they certainly loved him. There was an air of simplicity, honesty and trust about that young man that attracted people to him. Bhijoy worked in a rice field all day long, and in the evenings, contemplated on spiritual matters. He often wondered how he could reach God or even get a glimpse of him. Hence, when a guru, a holy and learned man it seemed, came to his village, Bhijoy was excited. Here was a chance to get answers to all the questions that were troubling him.

The people of the village made the holy man comfortable in a nice clean hut. After the man had dined and rested, Bhijoy gathered enough courage to ask a question that had always intrigued him.

Guruji, pranam! May I ask you a question for which I am convinced you have an answer?” said the simple man, bowing to the holy man. The guru was pleased. “You are right, young man. I do have all the answers. Go ahead and ask your question,” he replied patronisingly.

Guruji, please teach me a prayer or mantra which I could chant to reach God.”

The holy man was flustered by the man’s simple yet profound request. For one, he knew no prayers; and second, his people and the villagers looked expectantly at him for a worthy reply. He wiped the beads of perspiration off his forehead and said flippantly, “Young man if you wish to reach God, follow this simple method. Stand on one leg with both hands raised above your head. God will come down to take you up to the heavens!”

With that advice, the holy man and his followers left the village. Bhijoy was thrilled over the guru’s words. He resolved to give it a try from the very next day.

Many years went by, perhaps, even a decade before the guru and his men came again to the village. The “holy visitors” were nonplussed to see a middle-aged man standing on one leg with both arms raised above his head. They stopped in front of him.

“Why are you standing like this?” asked the guruji who had of course forgotten that it was his advice given to the man many years ago. “A holy man once told me that this was the way to reach God. I took his advice and hence, I have been standing like this for I don’t know how many years now!”

The holy man recalled that incident and he had the grace to turn red with embarrassment. Just then there was a flash of light in the sky and the man who had stood on one leg for God to take him up to the heavens rose up magically. “He is going up to God! This is a miracle,” cried one of the guruji’s men. “God loves the Faithful,” called out another.

They could not believe their eyes. However, even in such a glorious moment, the guruji remained selfish and cunning. He leaped up and caught the faithful man’s feet. This was, he knew without a doubt, the only way he could reach God. The guru’s men too were clever. They also jumped up and caught the guru’s feet, hoping that they too could go up to heaven the easy way. Unfortunately, they only managed to bring the guru and themselves crashing down to earth while Bhijoy who had done the penance reached God.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. November 23, 2012
 
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