A Story From India

by Sachin Srivastava

The Child

Brahma, the creator. His one day equals our one million years. Brahma's one cycle- Kalpa- equals our one thousand cycles. But each Kalpa begins with a day of healing and wholeness. That one day, Dhanvantri, the first healer of creation, blesses everyone with a panacea. It is called Kalpataru day: the day when impossible can be asked for- and received.

The child got up from the bed and prayed fervently- even before he looked at the toys and his personal play station in the corner. Yes, he did it every day. He prayed with the fervour of a dying man- and the faith of a prophet. Yet, he prayed not for devotion or salvation. He just prayed for his tongue to be freed. Yes, sometimes it worked - like greased lightening- and sometime, oh.. how to explain..it is embarrassing and painful.

Sometime it just dug its heels in like the village donkey and moved no further, try what he may. The tongue had a mind of its own and no one knew it. The child certainly had no clue- how his tongue would behave in the class on a particular day. Not knowing was even worse.

Vishnu one day, got totally fed up, with the prayers of the child. People ask for Gyan, divine love, discrimination, eternal life, even progeny, fame, riches, long life.. but this insistent prayer- Lord, fix my tongue- was not only unusual, but demeaning too.

"Am I good for nothing else but straightening people's crooked tongues? I mean, how do people get these notions? Imagine, asking me to fix their tongue!" Vishnu thought with some irritation. Finally, he relented and appeared to the child. The child tried to explain his problem but was increasingly getting stuck at 'T' 'D' 'P' and 'B' sounds. The only sounds he was able to make were- Um, er, uh, well. Vishnu got hold of his wandering mind and tried to re-focus. Gradually he began to understand the struggle, the child was undergoing. He said, finally: "Okay. Don't worry. Tomorrow is the Kalpataru Day- the first day of the next cycle. Go and see Dhanvantri!"

Dhanvantri was supremely busy. It was that one day in the entire cycle when he worked extremely hard: no intermediaries, no second opinions, no referrals and no googling. He would just take spot decisions and tell people then & there, what to do for their problems of body and mind. The crowds were unimaginable. A crowd management team was working non-stop and unobtrusively. Children, elderly and women were being given priority. A huge crowd was sprawling on the front lawns, eating popcorn and waiting for their turn. It was like famous pashu mela (animal fair) of Kurukshetra!

Every now and then, Dhanvantri will raise his head from his desk and shout to his volunteers: "Any sign of the child? Send him straight in". But there was no sign of the child... Where was the child?

The child started the day with a breakfast in bed- it was a beautiful day, as seen from his bedside window: auburn east sky, finches and seven sisters singing beneath his window and a lightness in the air, he had never felt earlier: something unusual is going to happen today, the child thought as he decided to go to loo and wash up. Then, he decided to finish off the story he was reading to bed last night. Just two pages were left; why not finish it off- he thought. Yes, he has to go and see Dhanvantri, but the Kalpataru day lasts the whole day- yes, till the sunset. In any case there is a huge waiting line- visible from his window. Instead of waiting out there, he might as well wait here, in his bed. Who could grudge a child enjoying a little story in his bed on day one of the Kalpa?

At the end of the story book, he discovered with some surprise- there was a free ticket to be redeemed. You just had to fill a crossword puzzle and send it off by post: you would get gift hampers worth Rs one thousand! Now, who wouldn't want that? And if you are a child, solving puzzles comes naturally to you..doesn't it?

Finally when he got up to get ready, he discovered that he had to put in a new pair of shoe laces in his shoes! What a misery! Why do things have to go wrong, when you are in a hurry?

The crowd milling in front of Dhanvantri's clinic had thinned out to a mere trickle now, late in the golden hues of afternoon. Yet, no sign of the child. Dhanvantri recalled the unexpected call from Vishnu, rather late, last night: I am sending a child tomorrow. Special case. After Dhruva & Prahlad, I have seen such fervour for the first time. Amazing...

The child was still struggling with his shoe laces, then, with his other gadgets- the pocket rabbit, without which he never left home andÉ

At the end of the day, as the sun was about to set- the intercom in the clinic budged: Sir, the child is here. But time is up. Shall we send him in? Dhanvantri almost shouted: Yess. For God's sake!

The child walked in, half expecting a rousing welcome. Nothing of the sort. The old man sitting across the huge table narrowed his eyes and kept looking at him and- at his watch. After full one minute, the old man spoke:

"The way Vishnu talked, I thought it was some very very serious problem."

"I-I- it is my Lord."

"Hmm. Don't think it is. If it were you would be here well in time-" Dhanvantri's nostrils flared with impatience and repressed anger. His face was like dark sky in the month of Ashadh (Monsoon).

"S-sir, I tried. I was extremely busy since morning. As soon as I was free, I ran.. " The child continued bravely, even if a little inaccurately.

Dhanvantri got up and pronounced as he walked away: "Time is up. All I can grant is a kind of magic : Neither the world, nor you will ever think of it as a problem. It will remain a private game of daily hope and daily surrender between you and your tongue. No one will ever understand it. It will remain like a.. like a.. puzzle, you are so fond of solving- to the end of the days on this earth. No solution - just a little magic, that is all I can offer now.."

"But I came for a cure.." Child interjected hurriedly.

"Sorry. No disease, no cure. Just a puzzle". - that was the final answer as Dhanvantri floated behind thick curtains, beyond the reach of mere mortals.

The facility could not be closed down as long as a single mortal remained inside. Angels from maintenance department hovered around uneasily. But the sobbing child was rooted to the ground, his face buried in his arms, his rabbit lying next to him... Who could ask him to leave?

Days passed. When the sun goes on the southerly journey, everything goes to sleep for six months. Even Gods go to sleep. But the clinic staff was still in quandary: how to shut down the clinic with the child still inside? Finally the Angel in charge phoned Dhanvantri: "Sir, we cant close up the clinic. That last child refuses to leave. What shall we do?"

"WHAT! That child is still there? You mean, last six months he has stayed in my clinic?" Dhanvantri rubbed his eyes in disbelief and shot up from his water bed, next to his private Jacuzzi. He knew desperate people could come up with desperate acts- but this was madness: six months in that one place? He will have to do something soon, else there will be questions; All kind of questions from ethics committee...

Part 2:

"C-C-Can finite causes lead to infinite results?" The child was ready with his first salvo, as soon as Dhanvantri walked in.

Dhanvantri, a little woozy with his sudden dash to the clinic, could see that the child was brimming with questions, counter-questions, imputations and disputations- since he had nothing else to do but to rehearse this very dialogue in last six months. Yes, the kid was over-prepared for this interview. He knew well that many mortals who really had nothing to say would often use triple C in such situations - Convince, Confound, Confuse!

"Of course not. What are you driving at? But wait a minute, let me order a milk shake for you, first.."

"No, Thank you Sir. I will survive yet another day without milkshake-" The child continued with a brave face- "But your command does exactly that: for my mistake of just one day- you condemn my problem to people's indifference forever and ever! Isn't that an illogical case of finite actions leading to infinite results? And just by saying that there is no problem, does it go away? Does the pain too go away by your little magic? Does.."

Dhanvantri cleared his throat impatiently. He had had enough of mortals who loved to argue with gods, having read paperback editions of Nyaya, Darhsan and Logic.

"You are a child but pose like a wise man!" He interrupted firmly- "You are assuming that there IS a problem in the first place. You have to prove that assumption FIRST. I cannot hand out remedies for imagined problems. And if you are so fond of imagining problems, imagine a solution as well!"

"But I have a p-p-problem. Cant you see it? Feel it?" Child took courage, grabbed Dhanvantri's hand and put it on his heart..on his head.. finally on his mouth.

"Okay, okay. Let us say, it is a problem. But then- how was it that you arrived so late on the Kalpataru day? The way Vishnu had spoken to me, I had an idea that you will be brought in on a stretcher, with Oxygen and IV running- right at the head of the queue in the morning.." Dhanvantri had a little irritating smile on his face now.

"Okay- " The child changed the tack "Sir, tell me one thing: whose devotion is greater- of the King who gives up his empire or of the beggar who gives up his begging bowl?"

"Size and shape do not matter. Certainly it is the inner intent, which matters. "

"Then, why do you doubt my inner intent and suffering?" Child sang out victoriously.

Dhanvantri was in a dilemma. There was no precedent of ever reversing a Kalpataru day pronouncement. But something had to be done. When someone says something- it has to be taken as a truth, until of course, later events prove it otherwise. That has been the gold standard since the beginning of the creation between men and gods. And why should he not believe the child? Dhanvantri searched his heart and really found no reason, to disbelieve the child. Deeper he thought, more he wanted to believe in him and help him out but..

Oh, why these mortals create these situations! Why can't they simply follow the rules, meant for their own good?

As the two angels from Child welfare wing escorted the child off, he heard, Dhanvantri, talking in a low grumbling voice. As if he talked to himself:

"Laws have to be obeyed. The cycle has begun. What has been said is said. The magic is out there, in the air. But when time is ripe, repeat this mantra- and it will break the magical spell and you will be healed from inside.."

The child slipped from the angels grasp and raced back to Dhanvantri: "What mantra? Can you please repeat a little louder?"

Angels grabbed him tighter this time and gently brushed a Mayurpankhi feather across his face. His body went limp. Everything melted in a white swirling mass of thoughts, sounds and forms. Shapes changed, names changed, time flew by- till it was another day, another place.

The child on earth was like other children- but different! He was aware of the difference but never could put his finger on it. This sense of being different came and went, all the time. But it left a mark on his thoughts, feelings, moods and personality. Have you ever heard a symphony- like Pastoral symphony? Played by a 100 instrument orchestra? On a true hi-fi surround system? Wow! Now, take a thoroughly wet blanket and throw it on top of those speakers. What do you hear now? Yes, only noises. You will have to be a Chopin or a Beethoven himself, to pick up the notes and guess the genius behind it.

That is what this child was like: subdued, lost and a little bit confused. He lived in imagination. Almost exclusively. For example, he always wanted to talk to the girl with the blue tiffin box in the class- but never actually did. He wanted to be the class monitor too, but declined it with an imperial disdain, when offered by the class teacher! Yes, his life was a mystery- to himself and to others. And a magic too. Things happened or failed to happen- all as if by magic! No rhyme, no reason.

And that 'magic' thing reminded him of a long lost dream: an old man mumbling something about his life being like a magic.. He tried hard to recall but thoughts would fail him. As he would drift off to sleep, he would often worry: is he normal? Will he ever be normal? What does it mean to be normal? What should he do to feel like normal?

Sometime he felt that he had figured out the whole thing in his head. The last piece of the puzzle was found: he should just act and behave like normal people. That would certainly make him a normal person. Again after some days, he felt that in doing so, he was living like someone else. When was he going to live his own life? His own dreams? Oh, what a nuisance! What a pain!

He had solved a Rubic cube under 3 hours - but this puzzle was taking a lot, lot more time. He grew up to be a man- but of the same kind. A man with the wet blanket on! But since man has bigger shoulders, he carried a few extra wet blankets on top of the original one! But inside, he heard the muffled notes of a primeval symphony. An ancient composition. One day as he showered, he heard it again- the music was like a background score to an imaginary flight over a vast landscape, a forest, a green canopy, a meandering river, a noisy waterfall..

The gentle beginning of the symphony merged into an allegro (fast) movement- a build up, like a thunderstorm during the monsoons, bursting into a crescendo- and then he heard the rumblings of the mantra, as the allegro changed into allegretto movement towards the end of the symphony of his life. He recalled the whole scene suddenly from before the beginning of his days: When you think you had had enough of the magic, repeat these words: "I stammer" - and you will be set free..


(Dr Satyendra Srivastava, wishes to acknowledge the role of Marian, his wife, inducting him into the beautiful world of western classical music, which shaped this story over a long period.)

added April 10, 2011