It was after lunch. I was sitting on a chair in the lower verandah of the Ashram, talking to Jaya and Skandaswamy. Others were busy with their respective work. We were waiting for Poojya Swamiji to return from Vyasa Tapovanam. He had gone there in the morning for a meeting on the Bhaagavataa Tattva Sameeksha Satram and was getting delayed.
As we talked, I could see an old man coming through the gate. He was walking very slowly with the help of two walking sticks held in his hands. "Must be one of the regulars whom Swamiji gives some help," I thought. I also wondered how much money Swamiji would give him usually. As Swamiji was not in the Ashram, it was my responsibility to give him help.
I went inside, came out with a ten rupee note and stretched it our to him. Instead of receiving the money, he spoke in a very shaky voice. Most of his words were not even audible.
"Amme!" he said, addressing me, "I need thirty rupees, Amme. I have to go to Kozhikode for treatment. Medicine and food are free there. I need only the fare to reach there – only thirty rupees! It would be a great help to me if you give me that amount".
As he spoke, I observed him closely. He was very old – too old even to stand erect. The two sticks supporting him were made crudely out of bamboo stems, may be by someone who took pity on him. His face was swollen. His eyes also were swollen and watery. I wondered whether he could even see properly. His dry rough skin gave him a shabby appearance. He wore a ragged dirty dhoti and a shirt equally dirty. With a blank expression on his countenance, he evoked a lot of sympathy in my mind.
I asked him wherefrom he had come. He came from a distance, he said. Somebody had directed him to this Ashram, assuring him that the Swamiji here would certainly help him.
When I handed over the thirty rupees to him, his face lit up. He looked at me with grateful eyes and tied the notes carefully in one corner of his dhoti. I asked him whether he would need more. He nodded negatively and murmured, "Amme, normally I would not have come this way. Only because somebody suggested, I came. And see, I got the thirty rupees I needed!"
"Amme!" he said, "you have done me a great help." He kept on repeating this over and over again with a lot of emotion.
I asked about his family, only to hear that he had none to call his own. I was visualizing this forlorn figure in a hospital far away in Kozhikode – lying all alone in a bed. In this condition of health, how will he go there and with whom? Will he be able to reach the hospital? Will thirty rupees really be enough? But he refuses to take more... what else can we give him, which may be useful to him... all these thoughts rushed past my mind, while I listened to his murmur.
I remembered that some poor villagers come to the Ashram asking for old bed sheets whenever someone in their house is ill or has to be hospitalized. They express their relief and gratefulness on receiving bed sheets especially during the rainy season.
"Do you need a bed sheet?" I asked him, thinking he might need one in the hospital. His face lit up with happiness: "It will be nice to have a bed sheet. Then I can cover myself when it rains." Jaya went in to fetch a bed sheet from our stock of old clothes. On second thoughts I asked Jaya to get a new dhoti too. I was sure Swamiji would have given him all these and even more had he been present.
When Jaya gave me the packet, I went up to the Neem tree under which the man was standing. With lot of love and sympathy, I hung the polythene bag in his stretched out hand telling him about the contents. The old man's eyes were gleaming. Were these tears in his eyes? Did he feel touched by the love and concern we expressed?
Looking up, fixing his clouded gaze on my face, he whispered: "I had asked for only thirty rupees, but you have given me so much! I was destined to get all these things, perhaps. I never come this way, but today someone guided me here. It is all God's wish! Oh! What a day! How much of love and compassion I got today!"
"If our Swamiji were here, he would have given you even more. You would have experienced divine love and compassion. He would have talked to you a lot," I said.
Looking at me with his watery eyes, he said, "I will go to Kozhikode now and get admitted in the hospital. Somebody will definitely help me get into the train. I will cover myself with this bed sheet; I will cover my head with this munduDhoti)... it is cold in these rainy days..." He went on murmuring in a happy and delighted note. (
But he stopped abruptly as if something painful had struck him and he was not able to contain the pain. He gazed at me intently and said, "Amme, you have shown such compassion and given me so many things without my asking. But old and sick as I am, after going to Kozhikode I do not know whether I will be able to come back and see you again. Will I ever come back? Will I ever see this Amma again?" His voice was soaked in sorrow now.
He turned to go. His each step was painful. It was then that I noticed that he was wearing torn slippers of two different sizes and colours! His feet were bruised and heels cracked, swollen. There were dirty big nails too, protruding out of the toes.
I looked at Skandaswami. He understood my mind and said, "Amma, we have chappals to give." I went to the man who had moved only a few steps by now. "Wait, wait! Your chappal is very torn. We are bringing another pair for you." He stopped, turned slowly and looked at me. With a beautiful loving but sad smile, he said: "Madi Amme (enough, Mother), these chappals are enought for me. I can walk."
"Wait a little," I pleaded, "we will give you some bananas (nendra pazham). You must be quite hungry by now!"
But he did not agree. "Amme," he said hesitatingly, "I don't want anything more. What you have given me is more than enough."
I stood under the Neem tree in front of the old guest house and watched the frail figure totter towards the gate. Apparently a forlorn figure, cared by none, owned by none, except by the Creator perhaps! But how contented was his face now – as if the whole world meant nothing to him after he received the thirty rupees he sought for!
I got back to my daily chores, but the scene remained in my mind – the old man's wrinkled face, his gleaming eyes, the contentment he enjoyed, his refusal to accept more than 'his minimum needs'! How many of us can take such a stand? How many can accept their unfavourable fate without grumbling and brooding? Apparently very poor, is he to be called poor? Was not his mind rich with contentment and acceptance?
The last two lines of the verse Poojya Swamiji often recites from Bhartrihari's Vairaagya Satakam (Verse 53) kept ringing in my ears:
Sa tu bhavati daridro yasya trisnaa vishaalaa
Manasi ca parituste ko'rthavaan ko daridrah
When I had first heard Swamiji recite the verser, I was struck by its rich content: "They alone are poor, who foster raving desire. When the mind is contented by itself, how does it matter if one has wealth or no wealth?"
I also remembered what Baba used to say: There are people who live happily with contentment even if they are living under a tree eating pounded rice. But there are others who grumble and are unhappy even though staying in palatial mansions, eating lavishly.
Throughout the day so many things happen. But there are some moments which remain etched in the mind. One more pearl gets added to the garland of eternal moments.
Harih Om Tat Sat. Jai Guru.
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