• A Story of our Times

    Grand parents tell stories

    Grand parents tell stories

    Grandfather tells a story

     

    During our summer holidays, I loved going to our grand – parents’ home in the hills. I especially enjoyed the evenings when our grand – father would tuck us in and regale us with a story. Some of them would be short, while others would go on for days. Many of them were later on adapted for TV serials – though I suspect it could have been the other way around. But the fun part of it was the way he told them; he would be totally absorbed, he would make animal noises, and change his voice to suit character, the mood and the moment. He had been an actor at one time, but then he got married; and you know what happens after that: somebody else takes over all the talking part.

    How the story began

    The story I am about to tell is one such, and was especially meaningful, because we had had an argument over arriving late for appointments. Grandpa had had a stint with the Army, which had made him a stickler for time all his life, as old – timers tend to be, and many of his stories centered around the importance of being on time. This one is a lot more than just that, but it started with that.

    Getting late for the Doctor’s appointment

     

    At the village fair - buying stuff

    At the village fair – buying stuff

     

    Games at the village fair

    Games at the village fair

    We had planned a visit to the village fair for a couple of hours before the scheduled appointment with the doctor. I learnt that day that village fairs cannot be planned affairs. That is, you can plan when you enter, but you cannot plan your exit time. We ended up spending rather more time and money than we intended, with the result that we were several hours late for the doctor’s appointment. Another thing: in villages, loud protestations will usually get you into the doctor’s room, but grandpa was really peeved by this behavior. This seemed to rankle in his mind even after dinner, because he was talking about it even at bed – time.

    More games at the village fair

    More games at the village fair

    The Troubled King

     

    Barren foothills of himalayas

    Barren foothills of Himalayas

     

    Living in hardship in the himalayas

    Living in hardship in the Himalayas

    It was story – telling time, so he started it in the same mood.”You know,” he began, “this reminds me of the story about this kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas. The King was very benevolent and just, and most of the kingdom was peaceful and prosperous. But the region right at the foothills was not so very prosperous; the people living there were mostly tribes. The land was not very easy to cultivate, it was barren. The hills did not provide an easy living, and the people lived in hardship. There were many small tribes and they were in constant war and conflict. It was a big headache for the king, and he could do very little for their uplift. He worried about it night and day, and dearly wished some way could be found to improve the situation.

    The Monk

    “Now, in the foot-hills lived a mendicant, a detached soul. In all such stories, you will always find such characters – they provide you a contrast from the other characters who are either greedy, or jealous, or selfish, or cruel.”

    The Raging River

    “There, in the foot-hills, also was a river – not a very helpful river, I am afraid! It was in spate most years – during the monsoon, it flooded the region, and people lost their lives trying to swim across it. They could not save their crops due to the flooding. They dearly wanted a dam to be built, and a bridge over it; but the lack of peace in the region meant that such construction was not easily possible. It was at best a treacherous proposition.

    Flooding river

    Flooding river

    To Build a Dam

    “The King, hearing about the Monk, and learning he was well – respected, and hoping he would be the right person to find a way for the improvement of this region, summoned this mendicant, and asked him what could be done. The Monk spelled out the needs of the region – the dam and the bridge to be built, the cost and the resources that would be needed. The King instantly sanctioned everything. ‘What else?’ he asked of the Monk. ‘I will,’ said the Monk, ‘ speak to the leaders of that region and make sure they cooperate.’ In this way a plan was hatched for improvement of this region.

    Crops damaged by floods

    Crops damaged by floods

    The Minister Arrives

    “One day, a Minister arrived at the Monk’s hermitage. He was the King’s envoy, bringing with him the requisite gold and resources for constructing the dam and the bridge. He was, however, a day late; the Monk’s disciples informed him that after waiting for him till late evening, their Gurudev had left at night for the foothills, to attend another meeting – it was a secret meeting they knew nothing about, the only thing they knew was that he would be back the following day.

    The Minister with his entourage

    The Minister arrived with his entourage, but was late – Guruji had left

    The Construction Begins

    “The minister was very angry for not being received and for being made to wait. When the Monk returned, he fussed and fumed. He threatened to return without handing over the things the King had sent. Before the Monk could explain anything, he ordered his soldiers to put him in chains, and thereafter began construction of the bridge.

    Sabotage!

    “Over the next few weeks, work started at a fast pace and the soldiers, who were well – trained, started building the dam. But soon they were faced with resistance. The warring tribes began sabotaging their work. They would find the work done in the morning undone by night. Their best engineers would be found dead with their throats slit. Some of their laborers were ambushed.

    “The commander in charge of construction summoned the Minister, who panicked and informed the King. When the King heard the Monk had been put in chains, he rushed to the spot, freed him, begged him for his forgiveness, and asked him to explain everything.

    Local Politics

     

    “With folded hands, the Monk explained, ‘O King! On that day, when Mantriji came with his entourage, I was to meet the opposing war – lords of the major tribes in the region. They have been at war for centuries. A glimmer of hope was appearing at that time. The daughter of one is madly in love with the son of another. I was negotiating between them to join this young couple in wedlock. Should these two tribes unite through marriage, peace could reign in the Valley. To me, peace in the Valley through this marriage is far more important than the dam through your money; so which meeting was more important? When Mantriji got delayed, I had no choice but to let him be received by my disciples. But these chains didn’t allow me to complete the negotiations, and lead to the unfortunate events that followed.’

    “Off With His Head”

    “The King turned to the minister, trembling with rage, and for a few terrifying moments everyone thought that was the end of Mantriji. Gradually, the King controlled his breathing, and then said, ‘Mantriji, if I were to be as impatient and angry as you were, your head would roll on the ground. But as the just ruler of this kingdom, I give you one chance to undo what has happened here.’

    All’s Well That Ends Well

    “So the humbled Minister then set about to make peace between the warring tribes, and then with their help completed the construction of the dam and bridge over the river, which helped control it, preventing floods, bringing peace, harmony, and prosperity to the region.”

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