The price of WaterSep 1st, 2007 | By | Category: Articles
As the waiter…boy would be more appropriate, placed the cup of tea on the table, I remarked that they had a very nice village. Overhearing this, one of the elders from the other table smiled at me and said that it indeed was, but it was not always like that. My work for the day was finished and there was a good 50 minutes to kill before the bus would arrive , so I was glad because it seemed like the old man was going to tell me a story. I picked up my tea cup and moved to the other table. I was worried that they might take it as an intrusion, but fortunately I was welcomed with smiles and they moved around to make space for me. I asked the old man what he had meant by what he said. He didnt need much of a goading. He was only too ready to part with his story and began immediately:
Sir, there was a time when this village was doomed. The stream running nearby had dried up and the only source of water was a good ten miles away. It was hard enough just to bring water to drink and cook and the fields had begun to go barren. Most of the youth had left the village or were getting ready to. The old would have left too, but some of them were no good for the city life or were too old to move and some had strong ties to the village and said that they would leave it only when God would call them to Him.
One dark evening, in this very village, wandered a monk. He was one of those that believed in going from door to door and seeking alms and living on what people offered them. He knocked on the first house, which belonged to this old man, who lived with his very young daughter.
"Can a poor man get something to drink?" the monk said as the old man opened the door.
"Come in, Sir", said the old man.
" I would rather have a glass of water and then I will be on my way. I have a long way to go." replied the monk.
"There is no water Sir, as the young one has gone to fetch water. She should be here any time soon, so please come inside and rest a while."
The monk wanted to go away but the old man didnt want to send a holy man away from the door without fulfilling his wish, so, he insisted on the monk's staying. Moreover it was beginning to get dark and it was another of those nights. The sky was overcast and lightning illuminated the whole landscape every minute or so. Rain was imminent. But the old man knew better.
“ I think, I will have to spend the night here.” said the monk.
“Sure. It will be our good luck to be your host.”
When some time had passed and there was no sign of the old man's little one getting any water the monk couldn't help but say" I am still very thirsty."
Here the old man became sad.
“ Is anything wrong, Noble sir”
As often happens, people don’t hold back and pour out their hearts to strangers specially holy ones, the old man too narrated the whole unfortunate story of the village. The story in short was that the rain Gods had not blessed the village for twenty years now and the stream next to the village had dried up and the villagers carried on living their miserable lives totally dependent on a small stream ,ten miles away, which itself seemed under threat.
The monk was silent for some time and his face took on an expression of extreme gravity.
“ What if I arrange water for your village ? What are you village people willing to give me in return? I am a monk, my wants are not many but I do want something that is in this village.”
The old man’s jaw dropped. When he had told his story, he had expected only a sympathetic ear. The monk’s response had caught him by surprise and he didn’t know whether to take him seriously or laugh at him. For the time being he decided not to laugh.
“ Many people have tried. Sir, Many wells have been dug but there was no water. We are cursed.”
“What are you willing to give me, is what I am asking.”
The old man now decided that this monk was crazy or was playing a trick on him, But he didn’t care- he was too old for games.
“ Anything you want. Anything.”
At that moment the old man’s daughter came home and the glass of water as asked for by the monk was brought to him. He was fed and they retired for the night.
Next morning, the monk got up went about his daily routine. The old man thought that the monk had been joking last night and had now forgotten all about it.
As the monk was about to leave, the old man said, with a smile,“ have a nice day, Sir, and don’t forget to give us the water you promised.”
“ Oh ! so you want that. OK then, but in return I want Aarti”
The old man was shocked…
Aarti was the most beautiful girl in the village and all the young men that were left in the village were looking forward to the day when it would be known that she was ready for marriage. The old man felt really angry. No wandering monk could talk about a daughter of the village like that.
The old man thought to himself, "This man has crossed his line and holy or not, he needs to be taught a lesson"
"OK, but if you don't get us the water, we will be free to punish you as we like."
"I accept that. In exactly thirty days from now, at this very spot where I stand a stream of water will emerge from the ground. On that very day I will come to claim Aarti as mine. Be prepared and fare well"
With these lines the monk turned and in no time had disappeared. The old man wasn't sure if what just happened was a dream or reality."
Here the elder had stopped, because there was some commotion on the other side of the street in front of the shop. And my bus was also there and if I didnt take it I would have to stay in that village and on enquiring I found that there was no decent hotel in the village. So reluctantly I boarded the bus and came back. But tomorrow I go back and hear the rest of the story. Good Night diary."
Kabir couldn’t help but think how strange the ways of men were. He, himself, got up that morning and instead of leaving for work, took the bus to the village that he was at on the day before. At the village, had heard the rest of the story and come back and now was, once again, busy writing at his table.
“ I thought I could wait to hear the end of the story but something about it would not let me rest till I had heard it all. So, this morning at 11 am I found myself at that same teashop as yesterday, instead of being at my desk at work. Strange faces are recognized easily in small villages and I was greeted warmly. The teashop was empty this morning, so as the boy brought me my tea, I asked him if that old man came here every day. The boy said,
“No, only once a while.”
That was a little worrying. What if he didn’t come today? I asked the boy if he could tell me where the old man lived.
“ Just down the street,” came the reply, as the boy pointed out the house of the old man.
As soon as I had finished my tea, I quickly got up, paid my bill and left for that house. A knock at the door bought a young lad of about fourteen to the door. He didn’t say anything, just hooked up his eyebrows and looked at me as if I was a being from a different world. I might have been.
From his age, I figured that the old man might be his grandfather.
“Is your grandfather home,” I asked.
Again without saying a word he turned and started walking and I stood undecided at the door. After taking a quick few steps forward and realizing that I was not following him, he turned back and beckoned me to follow him. The house was very different from any that I had ever seen. I could fill many pages of this diary with the description. But that can wait for some long, slow, rainy day when I have nothing better to do but blacken the pages of this diary.
For now, let me stay with the old man sitting in a corner, smoking a traditional pipe. He asked me to sit down and I took a seat next to him.
“ I am sorry to bother you this early, but I would love to hear the end of the story that you begin yesterday”, I said.
The old man gave a smile and said it was nothing, just a tall tale of the village and had he known that I was so affected by it, he would have finished it off yesterday itself. I felt like an admonished school kid. But now I was there and I needed to hear the story and when the old man saw that I was not to be sent away without completing the story, he began:
Aarti was the apple of every eye in the village– young, old, male or female. So, when the monk had asked for her as the price of water for the village, the old man called a meeting of the village elders. After due deliberations, it was unanimously decided that the monk was nothing but a prankster and if he was ever to dare show his face in the village again he was to be punished severely.
Days passed, like they usually do. But on the twenty first day there was a uproar in the village as the spot where the monk had stood and uttered those prophetic words was damp. There had been no rains the night before, nor was anyone found responsible for it after a thorough enquiry was undertaken. As the day passed, the villagers thought that the damp spot would dry up, as the Sun got higher up in the sky. But neither did it get any drier nor any wetter. Just every day it got a little wetter. The first time of the day any eye fell on it, the spot seemed a little wetter to that eye and remained that way till the next day.
Now, no one knew what to do or expect. Everyone was waiting for that thirtieth day, when as the monk had said, the water would rise from the bowels of mother earth- the mother that had kept them thirsty for so many years.
Every day more and more villagers gathered in front of the old man’s house. People had even begun to throng in from neighboring villages- relatives, friends and even strangers. Like it always is, you wait with great expectation for an event, but when it comes you realise you were in fact relishing the wait and some more wait would not hurt. But soon it was the day, thirty days had passed and whatever was to happen was to happen today.
There was a huge crowd that is impossible to describe due to its diversity. The spot was wetter than it had ever been before. In fact, now, about mid-day, you could see a trickle flowing out of the earth. There could be no doubt now that the monk’s words were coming true. The elders who were standing right next to the hole in the ground looked helplessly at each other. There were in danger of losing the daughter of the village.
Aarti, had been left at home with the women. The men though thinking it all to be a joke didn’t want to take a risk with Aarti. She was the reason some of the young men, had not left village but stayed.
The water stream kept increasing until it was about half a feet in diameter.
Then, the whole crowd that could see what was going on let out a collective gasp of surprise. Those who could not, tried to ask the next person what had just happened.
From the hole in the earth, along with the water, the head of the monk had begun to emerge. As soon as this word was out, there was a silence, which was so intense that one could reach out and touch it.
The old man who was the reason for all this thought himself responsible for all this and he went in and quickly brought out an axe. By this time the monk’s head was out and his neck had begin to emerge. The old man, axe in head, moved towards the monk. Everyone knew what he intended to do, yet no one stopped him or wanted to. It was like the whole crowd had one will and the man was acting out what they all wanted him to do.
With one quick blow he swerved off the head from the neck.
The water stopped flowing, but there was no blood. The head just disappeared as if it had never existed. It all seemed like a dream, but for the gaping hole in the ground.
Then a booming voice was heard. It seemed to close in on the crowd from all directions.
It said :
“ You fools!!! Don’t bargain for something you can’t pay for. Aarti has been mine and will be, now and forever. We are lovers for all our lives, always meant to be together. I wanted to bless this village with a river of its own for taking care of my Aarti for this long. But before I did that, I wanted to test you and I am glad that I did.
But unlike your gratitude, my love for Aarti is eternal and for her sake and the people who brought her up, you will have your water. It will flow forever from this hole. Only if you had waited till I was up to my waist, you would have got a bigger source. But you deserve this.”
With that there was silence again and every man in the crowd was sorry for what had just happened. No one blamed the old man though, for what he had done was what all of them had wanted done.
But since that day we have made a little temple near the water source and we treat every passing stranger with great regard and respect. That, Sir, is the story of this village.”
With these lines the old man finished the story. It had a weird effect on me and I still am not able to define what I feel. Could it be true? Do such things happen? What can I say? All I know is that Love is eternal and man eternally foolish.
With these lines Kabir shut his diary. His eyes was heavy, and he soon fell asleep and was in dream land dreaming about a cut head, bleeding water instead of blood.