The old man's prayers for the king

There was a king who became very, very sick. His queen was extremely worried and his sons, the princes, were also very worried that their father would die. For months and months the king suffered, and it seemed his days were numbered. He was almost like a dead man.

Finally, after many months, the king’s health changed for the better and he managed to come to the court for the first time. Everybody was so happy and delighted that the king was getting better. All were in the seventh Heaven of delight, specially the queen and the princes. They were shedding tears of joy.

While they were all celebrating, the gatekeeper of the palace opened the gates for some courtiers to enter, but an old man came inside instead. This man was old, but he was quite fast. The gatekeeper chased him, but the old man ran and fell flat at the king’s feet, saying, “O King, I am so grateful to you.”

The gatekeeper began apologising profusely to the king. He said, “Your Majesty, for five days this old man has been loitering near the gates. I suspected him, but I never thought that he would be so smart as to come through the gate when I was distracted. With your permission, I will now stop chasing him and start thrashing him.”

The king said, “Wait, wait. Let us give this old man a chance to tell his story.”

The old man said, “Your Majesty, we heard in our village that you had fallen very, very ill. I am extremely devoted to you. Like me, there are many, many villagers who are so devoted to you. You are such a kind-hearted king. Where will we find another king like you? For the past few months we have been praying and praying. Along with many others, I prayed to Mother Kali: ‘Divine Mother, please, please, cure our king. He is so good. We will never be able to find another king who is so kind-hearted, so compassionate, so forgiving.’ We prayed and prayed, and Mother Kali listened to our prayers. Four or five days ago, I received the message that you were getting better. I was so happy. I offered prasad to Mother Kali, and I have brought some prasad for you.”

The old man had brought the prasad in a small bowl inside a dirty, filthy bag. He dropped the bag, touched the king’s feet and ran away. Everybody was shocked. The bag was dirty and filthy and it had a terrible odour. Some members of the court wanted to chase the old man because they believed he was a rogue. But the king held a different opinion. He said, “Where can you find such a nice person? I know he is telling the truth.”

Then the king told the gatekeeper, “I am giving you ten thousand rupees. Run as fast as you can and catch him and give him the money. If you cannot give him the money, then I will fire you. What kind of gatekeeper do I have?”

The gatekeeper took the money and ran after the old man. When the fellow saw that he was being chased, he cried, “I am outside the gate. Why are you still chasing me?”

The gatekeeper screamed, “Wait, wait, wait! The king has given me something for you.”

The old man did not believe him. He thought that the gatekeeper would thrash him, so he did not stop. The gatekeeper had to run very fast to catch him. He gave the old man the bag of coins, saying, “This money is for you from the king.” Then the gatekeeper returned to the palace.

The king told the members of his court, “Look, this old man has brought me stale food, but to me it is like nectar. He is poorer than the poorest. Five days ago he cooked this simple village food and offered it to Mother Kali. It smells bad, true. But his heart is made of beauty. His heart is full of love. His heart is full of fragrance. Do I have any person here like him? His heart is made of beauty, love and fragrance. I can feel it. I can see it. He is the one who really cured me. He and others from that village who really love me cured me. It was not your prayers. You only worried, and some of you perhaps were secretly happy because you thought that soon I would pass away and you would be able to exploit my kingdom. I need people like this old man. His heart is all beauty, all fragrance and all love for me.”