“I have no desires in my life. Wish Mahadeva grants Moksha and shows me the way to heaven” said an old sanyasi to the middle aged lady, who was giving away the leftovers of the day. “Don’t you have some lime pickle to spare? Afternoon food becomes a little sour, a pickle does help in such situations”, grinned the old man with his entire teeth exposed. She does not answer but stares at him, and walks back inside her home.
He was a tall man in a slim frame. In his mid sixties, he was a nomad, wandering village after village, searching for food and paying occasional visits to the local Shiva temples. He was a staunch shaivite with utmost contempt for the worshippers of the sleeping god.
He truly believed that if he gave up every desire, he would truly reach heaven. Every time he stole a beedi from the local fruit seller, he would remind himself that all true Shiva bhaktas smoked, and it was admissible for people who had given up all desires. He gave up his dhothi, after visiting Benares and wears only a komanam (loincloth) now. Saves him the time to wash and dry.
It was a hot evening and the sanyasi bumbled across, wandering the streets, offering free advice to whoever gave him food or some copper coins. He was tired, sweaty and dusty. The summer has been very hard last couple of weeks. He took bath, only couple of days in a week, mostly because the process helped him cool off the heat. He found himself closer to the dirt track that led to a small tributary of a river. He remembered to have come to this village for the float festival, a couple of years back. The cool breeze from the water body and coconut trees reminded him of his younger days. He always wanted to be famous, but never worked hard at anything.
Sanyasi did not know how to swim. He found a spot closer to the peepal tree that had its roots inside the river. This gave him room to put his feet inside water. The water was cool and soothing. It was a full moon day and the moon’s reflection on the river glittered like a silver plate. “My father used to eat on a silver plate” he sighed, “I do not know if he is still alive”. He sat there quietly, with reminiscences of his childhood.
It was getting really dark and he decided to get in to the water. The water was colder than before. The current was slightly stronger. Without attracting much attention, he scrubbed himself with some coconut coir that he had picked up on the way. He quickly scanned the neighbourhood, if he could see any women.
“It’s been a couple of days that I took bath, leave alone washing my only possession”, he spoke to himself. He went further inside, till the water reached his chest, scanned the surrounding one more time and carefully removed and rinsed it. His eyes still surveyed, if any child or lady quickly came his way.
“Help help!” the old man screamed, a green water snake swam through the tide in long twisting curves. In all the commotion, he lost his balance and fell back in to the river. He struggled to find ground and caught the root of the Peepal tree to stabilise himself. He huffed and puffed spitting water that he had drunk. When he gained control he quickly realized that his komanam was no more in his hands.
He was very disturbed that he had lost his only possession. “Now how do I get out of this river? What if some women saw me like this? The villagers would tie-me up and stone me to death for being indecent?” worried the sanyasi. He thought if he stayed for a little while, a passerby might help with some cloth, to cover himself.
It was more than an hour and he could not spot even a dog. Mustering up courage, he decided to walk along the bank using the cover of darkness. The old man decided that if he found a way to spend the night, he would request the first man he meets and save himself from more embarrassment. He decided to take a walk along the dirt track and slowly to the middle of the village. The villagers had retired already, with only a lonely dog barking in fear.
“Wish I had been born a dog, least I would not have to worry about a silly komanam”, he sighed.
He had walked towards the end of habitation and he could hear the sounds of horses and the smells of dung. He decided to peep in. It was a stable with two horses, and it was quite spacious. Sanyasi was happy that he found a place to crash for the night.
He found a heap of grass to lie down. Just as he was ready to close his eyes, he heard a faint snore. “Do horses snore?” he wondered. There was a young man maybe nineteen or twenty sleeping, unmindful of his dhothi lying a foot away from him. He could hear more sounds. This time there was some rhythm and jingle. The sound bells grew louder.
“Is it a woman? Oh Mahadeva! What do I do now?” sanyasi was petrified at the predicament.
He quickly hid behind the wall just the size to cover up to his waist. But he ducked in, so that he wouldn’t be visible.
“Are you sleeping, lazy bum?” the lady came dangerously close to the young man, who was sleeping with no clothes. The lady was very beautiful and had a glow, only found among women from the princely class. She had brought some sweets made in ghee. The smell of cardamom, saffron and ghee traveled close to the old man, who became more curious as to what was transpiring.
“Hey, wake up! Wake up you lazy fool! I had escaped the guards to see you and spend some time”, the lady was disappointed now. After a bit of prodding and nudging, the young man woke up.
“Would you like to get moksha and go to heaven sweetheart?” asked the beautiful lady.
“Moksha and heaven?” old man was very curious now. “I have been waiting all my life”.
Sanyasi lifted his head to peep at what was happening. Maybe they had a secret key to heaven.
“Are you able to see heaven?” She asked him again. “Yes I can see,” replied the young man.
The old man was very angry. “I had given up all desires, just for the going to heaven, but these young people seem to see heaven?” Sanyasi was disappointed and had to know more.
“Did you enjoy heaven?” now she asked with a coy smile.
“Wow, what an experience!” replied the man.
Sanyasi couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and found that they were dressed like him. He wondered, “If they could find heaven, why is it that I could not find it?”
“Hey there, where is heaven? How did you find it?” he asked the couple loudly.
“You will not be able to find it old man!” he said it with a laugh and the lady joined him.
Sanyasi was astounded.
Poor old man, he has still not understood desires, leave alone renouncing them.
This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.