By Roshan, New Age Islam
07 June, 2015
One day, Naru the sage set off on a journey, taking along with him his disciple Chomi.
It was early afternoon, and the duo was tired. They hadn’t had anything to eat since morning.
“Where should we go, Master? I am really hungry,” said Chomi.
“There’s a mansion of a rich trader nearby,” Naru said. “Come, dear, let’s head there. Maybe God has destined that we should have supper in that man’s house.”
When the duo got to the gates of the mansion, they were stopped by a stern-looking guard.
“Who are you? What do you want?” the guard gruffly asked them.
“Brother, we are wandering mendicants. We would like to meet the master of this mansion,” Naru said.
The guard, who held ascetics in great regard, felt ashamed for having been rude. His tone suddenly changed. He now spoke very respectfully. “Please forgive me, sirs, for having been impolite,” he said. “I’ll go straight to the master of the mansion and tell him of your arrival. He will be very pleased, no doubt.”
The guard rushed to the chamber where the master of the mansion was resting after having had his lunch. “Sir, there are two wandering ascetics at the gate,” he informed him. “Do you think we should call them in and serve them a meal? It is only blessed people who get this privilege.”
“Wandering ascetics! My foot! They must be a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings!” the master thundered. “They don’t want to work, and they want to live off hardworking people like us. Shoo them away this very minute!”
The guard hurried back to the gate. “I’m sorry, sirs,” he said to mendicants, “but the master of the house does not want to meet you. I am deeply ashamed, but what can I do? Please forgive me.”
“It’s perfectly alright,” said Naru cheerfully. “Very understandable. May God bless you, kind man.”
Saying this, Naru and Chomi went their way.
“Master, I’m really hungry,” said Chomi after they had walked for an hour. “I don’t think I could take another step!”
“Don’t worry, son,” Naru replied. “See that little mud hut there! We’re bound to get dinner there. Come, let’s go!”
As they approached the mud hut, Chomi began to wonder if Naru had got it wrong. The hut was so small and so very run-down that it wasn’t possible, he was sure, that its occupants had anything for themselves to eat, leave alone for two hungry strangers.
Naru read Chomi’s mind. “Have faith, dear. You’ll have a hearty dinner here tonight,” he assured him.
“God’s blessings on this home! Anyone here?” Naru called out when they reached the hut.
A middle-aged woman, who looked far older than her years, opened the door. When she saw the two men and recognized them as wandering mystics, she ushered them inside. “What an honour!” she beamed. “Imagine, you visiting our humble hut! This is God’s grace; otherwise we don’t deserve it in the least!”
The woman rushed to a dark corner of the hut and drew out an old reed mat. She dusted it and spread it out on the floor for the duo to sit on. “Please sit, and make yourself comfortable,” she said to them.
“My husband should be back in just a while. After that, God willing, I shall serve you food.”
The woman’s husband had lost a foot and a hand in an accident some years ago and so was unable to work for a living. He and his wife survived on what he earned by begging in the nearby villages. People would give him food and a few coins, and sometimes used clothes and wood and cow-dung cakes for fuel.
That afternoon, the woman’s husband returned with a little pouch of rice. It would be barely enough for him and his wife, and since he had got no vegetables that day, they would, he thought as neared the hut, have to make do with boiled rice and salt for dinner.
The woman heard her husband’s footsteps as he approached. She rushed out of the door and whispered to him, “Two men of God have blessed us with their presence. Let us feed them what you have brought back today.”
The man was famished—he hadn’t eaten anything other than a bit of bread and an onion all day—but he did as his God-fearing wife had said, handing over to her the pouch of rice that he had collected that day.
The woman set about cooking the rice as her husband and the two visitors busied themselves in conversation. When the rice had boiled, she poured out the water in which the rice had cooked into a cup and kept it aside. She said to herself, “I’ll go hungry, but at least my husband can get to drink this bit of rice-water after our guests have had their fill. It won’t fill his stomach, but something is better than nothing at all.” Then, she placed the cooked rice, along with a bit of sugar and a ball of jaggery, on a banana leaf and set it before Naru and Chomi.
“Take the name of God and start, sirs,” she said.
Naru and Chomi got down to eating, while the woman and her husband sat in a corner and watched them intently. It wasn’t always, they joyfully mused, that one enjoyed the good fortune of serving such guests in one’s home.
While Naru ate slowly and deliberately (each time he chewed, he took the name of God—and if you do that with awareness, you can’t eat in a tearing hurry), Chomi polished off all the rice that was set before him in a jiffy. He had, after all, been famished the whole day.
The woman’s heart trembled when she noticed this. He was still clearly hungry, she knew. But there was nothing left in the house to eat now, except for the cupful of rice-water that she had saved up for her husband. If she gave that to this guest, her husband would have to go to sleep on an empty stomach.
For just a moment the woman vacillated. But almost at once she collected herself. Guests like these were sent by God, and she knew what it was that she had to do.
“There’s still some food left, sir,” she said to Chomi. “You must have it. I know you are hungry.” Saying this, she served him the cup of rice-water that she had intended to serve her husband. Chomi gulped down the rice-water with great relish.
“Hmmm! That was wonderful,” he said when he had finished. “What a lovely meal!”
“Bless you, Mother!” said Naru as he got up to wash his hands. “We must leave now.”
“Yes, Mother! May God bless you and your worthy husband, too!” Chomi chimed in.
“May God bless you, too” replied the woman. “It was with His grace that you blessed our home with your presence and gave us the chance to serve you.”
“Yes, that is true,” said the woman’s husband. “Thank you this blessed opportunity.”
Naru and Chomi walked out of the house and into the darkness.
“I’m going to ask God for a blessing—one for the rich trader and one for this poor couple,” Naru remarked as they trudged ahead.
“And what is that blessing?” asked Chomi.
“I’m going to request God, ‘God! This trader whom we didn’t get to meet. He has a huge business. If he refuses to reform himself, please may his business multiply ten times over!’” Naru explained. “And for this couple I’m going to entreat God, saying, ‘God, they had just a pouch of rice, and yet they were so joyful. Please keep them blessed with that in the future, too!’”
Chomi was aghast “Master, you aren’t serious! Surely, you aren’t!” he exclaimed.
“But see what I mean, my dear,” Naru explained. “If the trader doesn’t mend his ways and his business multiplies ten times over, he’ll get so involved in the lures of the world that he’ll completely forget everything else—God, spirituality, his soul, everything that can help him in the life after death—and destroy himself in the process. So, the expansion of his business will be his punishment if he doesn’t repent! And if this humble, devout couple continues to be content with a little pouch of rice, for which they are so thankful to God, they’ll continue to glorify God and to serve others for God’s sake. Imagine the great reward they’ll get for that, in this world and in the next!”
“Oh, I see now what you mean, Master!” exclaimed Chomi. “You are, as usual, right!”