Friday, 2 May 2014

2. The Joy of the Villagers

Gadai's Annaprasanna
Chandramani and Kshudiram took all care to protect Gadadhar. Soon, he was the darling boy of the village ladies. Relatives from far away places came to see him. Everyone called him lovingly as ‘Gadai’.

As promised by Lord Gadadhar, Kshudiram had no worries about maintaining his newborn son with his meager income. A relative supplied him with a milch cow to provide milk for the baby. Kshudiram’s friend, Dharmadas Laha conducted the Annaprasana ceremony for Gadai on a grand scale. The whole village gathered and was given a sumptuous feast. 

As a student 
Gadai was a very intelligent and sweet child. His early education started on the lap of his father. Within a short time, he learned their family genealogy, devotional songs and also simple slokas. He had a strong memory. Once he listened to something, he remembered it effortlessly. A few years later, he was sent to the village school. Gadai showed his keen intelligence by learning his alphabets quickly. He also enjoyed painting, modelling images, singing devotional songs, acting religious drama and other such fun activities. However, he had a strong dislike for arithmetic. 

Adoration and absorption in nature’s beauty 
Gadai reached his sixth year. One day, he was walking along the ridges of the paddy field. He was happily munching a basketful of puffed rice. Suddenly, he caught sight of a flock of white cranes flying below a dark blue sky. 

As it was the rainy month, dark clouds had gathered. Gadai marvelled at the beautiful sight and stood still. Soon, he felt an unspeakable joy filling him and he forgot all about his surroundings. He fell down, scattering the puffed rice. A few villagers noticed him and carried him to his house. Chandramani and Kshudiram called the village doctor to examine his health. “But, I am alright. I was feeling very joyful,” Gadai assured them. 

Kshudiram’s Demise 
Kshudiram passed away in 1843. Gadai was then seven years old. The loss of his father, turned him into a pensive child. Now onwards, he spent more time at home. He helped his mother with the household chores and also entertained her with his sweet singing and reading of the Puranas. Soon, it became a daily routine. All the ladies in the neighbourhood, would come to listen to Gadai singing and chanting hymns. He also entertained them with his excellent mimicry and acting talents.

One Shiva Ratri, the villagers had arranged for a religious drama. This would help them to keep the all-night vigil. The hours of the drama drew near when news came that the leading actor could not come. A quick search for an actor started. Some of Gadai’s friends came to him and pleaded him to play the role. Gadai could not refuse them. Soon, he was dressed as Lord Shiva and he came on stage. Everyone was awestruck to see his beauty and face that was radiating peace and serenity like the Great God Shiva. However, Gadai stood still, absorbed in thinking of Lord Shiva. He did not hear the commotion when people started calling his name. He did not move a bit and tears started rolling down his cheeks. Finally, he was carried away from the stage. Only the next day, Gadai regained external consciousness. 

Attraction to Holy Life 
During this time also, Gadai started visiting the village rest house. Holy men, on their way to Puri, often halted at Kamarpukur for rest. Some of them would stay long. Gadai became close to the monks. He loved to listen to them talking about God and other religious matters. By observing their lifestyle, he realized that some of the holy men were sham and only a few are really sincere. He started to spend more time with the genuine holy men. He served them with their daily chores, like getting fuels and cooking. At first, Chandramani was happy with this.

One day, Gadai came home wearing a loin cloth like a monk. His body was smeared with ashes. With joy, he said to his mother, “Look, mother, how the monks have dressed me!” Chandramani became worried. What if the monks took away her darling son? This came to the notice of the monks. They came to Chandramani and assured her, “Do not worry. How can we separate a mere child from his mother? It will be a sin.” Chandramani felt relieved and as usual, she permitted Gadai to visit the monks. 

Stick to the Truth 
Gadai had now reached his ninth year. His Upanayana ceremony had to be conducted. It is an important occasion for a Brahmin child. He will be taught the secret of the Gayatri mantra and invested with the sacred thread. After the Upanayana, the boy had to beg his food for three days. 

Gadai had promised to Dhani, his wet nurse that, he would beg his first meal from her. This was surely against the custom where a boy must beg his first meal from someone with the same social status as he. Dhani, however, belongs to the blacksmiths community. So, the elders in his family did not agree to his wish. Gadai became adamant. “I have given my word. If I break my promise, then I become a liar. A liar cannot be a Brahmin, and is therefore, not entitled to have the Upanayana,” he expressed his decision. Knowing Gadai’s nature and the truth of his words, finally his wish was granted. As promised, Gadai begged his first meal from Dhani and called her mother.

Wit amidst Fun 
In those days, scholars often gather in religious festivals at homes and engage in debates and discussions on religious issues. Once, Gadai and his friends were attending a festival in the neighbourhood. A few scholars were discussing about a scriptural point. Soon, the friendly discussion turned into a heated argument. All the children were excited to watch the scholars arguing and some even started to mimic like the scholars. Gadai too, at first laughed and enjoyed the fun. But soon, he started to listen attentively. After a while, he whispered to a scholar. “Sir, could the answer be this?” The scholars were dumbstruck that a child had come up with a solution to their discussion. They accepted his answer and praised him. 

Purity Wins Over Pride 
His innocence and pure nature endeared him to all. No one distrusted him. No one felt shy before him. During this period, the purdah system was strictly followed in the villages. No outsiders were allowed into the women’s section in the houses. However, Gadai was an exception to this rule. As everyone saw him as their own, he used to go freely into all his neighbours’ houses and talk with the ladies. 

Durgadas Pyne was a strict follower of the purdah system. The ladies of his family were kept indoors, and they were not allowed to go out. Durgadas also often boasted that no man had ever seen the women’s section in his house. One day, Gadai overheard this. Though, he was merely a boy, he expressed his opinion without fear. “Sir, you cannot keep the ladies chaste by locking them at home. What is required is to give them moral and religious education. Moreover, if I want, I can see the women’s quarters in your house.” Durgadas took this as a challenge.

A few days later, a lady came to Durgadas. She looked like a poor weaver woman. She pleaded for shelter as it was getting dark and she could not return to her village alone. Trusting her story, Durgadas allowed her to go to the women’s section in his house. The ladies of the family were pleased with the weaver and gave her some refreshment. They showed her the rooms and allowed her to spend the night there. 

A few hours passed. Gadai’s brother Rameshwar was calling from the street, “Gadai, oh Gadai! Where are you? Mother is searching for you!” Gadai answered back, ”Yes, brother. I am coming!” Then, he rushed out of Durgadas' house, wearing a sari. With surprise, everyone realized that Gadai had fooled them with his excellent disguise and mimicry. The whole household roared with laughter. Durgadas stood watching the scene in astonishment. But then, he too started laughing. He realized that Gadai had taught him a lesson by removing his pride. Since then, Durgadas allowed the ladies of his family to visit Gadai in his house to listen to his religious singing.

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