Compassion-affection versus deception-destruction
The story of GanapatiThese are all true stories about a little Bengali village boy named Ganapati. Ganapati came of a large family. He had many aunts, uncles and cousins. One of these cousins, whose name was Suren, was the cause of a most serious tragedy in the family. If ever Ganapati were to write a novel about his cousin’s life, perhaps he would get the Nobel Prize! It is exactly like one of Shakespeare’s plays in which tragedy becomes such wonderful comedy!
The grandmother's predictionBefore Ganapati was born, his grandmother predicted that he would destroy the whole family and turn it topsy-turvy because he was born in a particular month. They say that whoever takes birth in that month will be the cause of the family’s destruction. That was Ganapati’s grandmother’s prediction. But Ganapati’s mother immediately protested. She said that her son would bring the family lots of name and fame, and they would have the joy and pride of having among them the golden kettledrum that is played in Heaven.
Another grandmother prophesied that Ganapati would be a clerk. For a village woman to have a grandson who is a clerk is a real achievement. What she actually meant was that Ganapati was destined to deal with paper. She was right! In his later life, Ganapati went on to write many, many books. Instead of becoming a clerk, Ganapati became a poet and author. This is how her prophecy came true.
Ganapati used to admire Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors. Of all the Mughal emperors, Akbar the Great was the one who wanted most sincerely to unite Hindus, Muslims and Christians into one religion. He tried extremely, extremely hard to bring about his lofty goal. For him, there was only one religion, which was love of God. Ganapati was happy that, according to historians, the emperor Akbar was an expert in playing the _madal_-kettledrum. Akbar had many singers and musicians of the highest order in his court. He also had many, many musical instruments at his disposal, but he liked the kettledrum the most.
Ganapati's fatherGanapati’s father was extremely well-respected in the village where he lived. When he retired from his job as chief inspector of the Assam-Bengal railway line, he opened up a bank in Chittagong. The bank was inside a very grand and beautiful building. The name of this bank was “Griha Lakshmi,” which means “House of Lakshmi.”
Ganapati’s father worked at the bank, along with Ganapati’s maternal uncle and Ganapati’s brother Ananta. The bank had four or five small extra rooms where they used to sleep overnight during the week. Ganapati’s cousin, Suren, who was about fifteen or twenty years older than Ganapati, would also sleep at the bank. Then, on the weekend, they would return to their family in the village by boat.
Happier timesSuren’s parents had both passed away when he was quite young. So Ganapati’s parents had assumed responsibility for bringing up Suren. He came to live at Ganapati’s house and Ganapati’s father treated him like his own son.
Suren was so affectionate to Ganapati’s whole family. Any time that he needed or wanted money, Ganapati’s parents gave it to him happily, lovingly and unconditionally.
Suren's special surpriseWhen he was still quite young, Suren became a revolutionary. Eventually he was arrested for his involvement in India’s independence movement and went to jail for his anti-British activities.
In the jail the prisoners kept a very small, cute animal as a pet. It was forbidden to take anything out of the jail, whether it was a bird, a squirrel or any other animal. But on the day that he was due to be released, Suren thought of Ganapati and wanted to bring him a gift. So he decided to smuggle this little animal from the jail as a gift for his youngest cousin.
Normally, Suren never wore a hat or cap. But on the day he was coming out of jail, he put on a very dignified suit and a tie and wore a hat. Under the hat he was hiding the little animal. Because he was wearing such gorgeous clothing, nobody suspected him and he was able to fool the guards.
When Suren gave his little cousin the cute animal, Ganapati was thrilled. Ganapati was four or five years old at that time, and he liked his present very, very much.
This was the kind of close bond that Suren had with Ganapati’s family!
A marriage in the familyGanapati’s mother and one of Ganapati’s aunts wanted Suren to get married. Taking advice from Ganapati’s father, together they chose a bride according to the Indian custom.
The aunt gave lots of money for the marriage ceremony. Ganapati’s parents also gave very generously. None of their sons or daughters planned to get married, so they were very happy that at least one member of their big family would be leading a family life.
Everybody liked Suren and they all were so delighted that he was getting married.
The fateful dayGanapati’s parents had bought lots of jewellery for the marriages of their three daughters, but these young girls did not want to get married. This jewellery, along with the jewellery of Ganapati’s mother, aunts and cousins, plus their family savings, was all kept in a safe at “Griha Lakshmi.”
One day all of Ganapati’s relatives returned to the village to observe the Durga Puja festival. Ganapati’s father entrusted Suren with the job of guarding the bank. But what Suren did was steal all the money and jewellery from this safe, and then disappear.
That was how he guarded the bank!
The innocent locksmithSuren did not have the key to the safe, so the night of the robbery he brought over the locksmith. The locksmith knew Ganapati’s family and liked them so much. He knew that Suren used to live at the bank during the week with Ganapati’s father and he trusted Suren.
Suren told the locksmith that Ganapati’s father wanted him to return immediately to the village with some of the jewellery so he could give it to someone. But, unfortunately, Suren said, he had misplaced the key to the safe.
So the locksmith opened the safe and went away. He was completely innocent. When he found out afterwards what had happened, he struck his head and chest with his hands over and over again!
The father's forgiveness-powerSuren was so clever. When he robbed the family bank, he took only the family money and jewellery. He knew that Ganapati’s father would not sue him since it was a family matter.
Many people advised Ganapati’s father to sue him, but Ganapati’s father said, “He is like a son to me. If one of my children had done this, would I sue?”
His father insisted on paying back his relatives for the jewellery that had been stolen. Fortunately, Suren had not bothered stealing anything from others. Otherwise, Ganapati’s father would have faced a most serious financial crisis.
Ganapati's uncle becomes deeply upsetGanapati’s maternal uncle was his father’s dearest friend and greatest admirer. When this uncle learned that Suren had stolen the family’s money and jewels, he thought that Ganapati’s whole family would be ruined.
He said to Ganapati’s father, “What are you going to do?”
Ganapati’s father tried to reassure him. He said, “Do not worry. We will not suffer at all. I have so much property and also I have money in other banks.”
But Ganapati’s uncle was not convinced. He had such love for Ganapati’s family that eventually he became insane with worry and anxiety.
Flooded with tearsShortly afterwards, this uncle committed suicide by jumping into the path of a moving train. The train severed his head from his body. The train authorities placed the body inside the railway station in a glass cabinet, with the head on top, as if the uncle were still alive. Ganapati’s older brothers and sisters were horrified and shocked when they saw this. They did not allow Ganapati’s mother to see her brother because they knew she would have fainted.
Later Ganapati’s father went to the crematory hall. When everything was over and he came back home, his eyes were flooded with tears.
A peculiar scoldingStrangely enough, just two days before he committed suicide, this uncle spent the evening with Ganapati’s family in their village. There he saw Ganapati playing with a tennis ball. Immediately he came up and started scolding Ganapati. Normally this uncle was always so affectionate to the little boy, but this time he was acting very strangely. He said, “It is evening. You have to be very careful. You must go home and study. If you do not study, you will be illiterate.”
At that time Ganapati was about nine and a half years old. He could not believe that his uncle was scolding him, since he was usually so affectionate. When Ganapati went home, he told his mother what had happened. But she said that his uncle was right — evening was the time for him to study.
What love can doThere are many stories about the love that this maternal uncle had for Ganapati’s whole family.
Ganapati’s eldest brother, Samrat, was extremely close to this uncle’s eldest son, who was named Kulai. Both Samrat and Kulai were many years older than Ganapati.
It happened that Kulai became sick and had to go into the hospital. After two or three weeks, his case became very serious. Then, early one morning he died.
On that particular day, Samrat was supposed to take his final examination at college. Ganapati’s uncle knew that if Samrat came to learn that his dearest friend had died, he would feel sad and miserable and not do well in his examination. So he cleverly, wisely and compassionately kept his son’s death a secret.
On the morning that Kulai died, the cook in Ganapati’s house did not appear. So this uncle started cooking for Samrat. While cooking, he was smiling so happily.
He told Samrat, “When you come back from the examination, I will have a most delicious meal for you. I will also cook a second meal for your dearest friend, Kulai, and you can bring it to him.”
Then he pretended that Kulai was making a surprising recovery. Samrat was so delighted to hear that his friend had taken a turn for the better, and he was looking forward to visiting him that evening. So he was doubly happy when he took his examination. He always stood first, but on that day everything came easily to him. Because of his unimaginable happiness, he finished his examination in a very short time!
That evening, after eating the meal that his uncle had cooked, he brought the second meal over to the hospital for Kulai. There he heard the sad news that his dear friend had passed away earlier that morning.
In the Indian system, the body has to be burned on the day of death. So already the body had been taken to his maternal uncle’s house. Samrat cried and cried as he went to his maternal uncle’s house to see his dearest friend for the last time.
Ganapati’s maternal uncle had fooled Samrat only because of his tremendous love and affection for him. Otherwise, how could a father do this kind of thing?
Ganapati's childhood promiseAny time this uncle visited Ganapati’s family, he always brought Ganapati five or six toys. And whenever Ganapati went to his uncle’s house, his uncle would treat him like his own son. He made sure that he had exactly the same toys to play with as his own youngest daughter, Dipali.
One day, while Ganapati and Dipali were playing together, Ganapati boasted, “When I become great, I will give you a most beautiful necklace.” At the time, Ganapati was eight and Dipali was six.
“Will you keep your promise?” begged little Dipali.
“Definitely I will,” said Ganapati.
When Ganapati and Dipali grew up, they rarely saw one another. Ganapati and his family moved to a spiritual community in a faraway town and Dipali got married and had five or six children of her own. Her husband was quite wealthy.
Many years later, when Ganapati was an adult, he went to America to open a spiritual centre of his own. One day, out of the blue, he received a letter from Dipali. She wrote, “When we were young, you promised to buy me a necklace. Will you keep your promise?”
Then Ganapati remembered the promise he had made when he was just a little kid. He immediately sent money to his sister, and his sister sent the money to Dipali so she could buy a very nice necklace and fulfil her heart’s desire.
In this way, Ganapati kept his promise.
Ganapati sees his mother in the eyes of a tigerIt was at the house of his maternal uncle that Ganapati himself almost lost his life.
When Ganapati was around eight years old, he went to visit his eldest maternal uncle in the village of Kelishahar, which was six miles away. The village was near a chain of mountains which were covered with dense forests. Ganapati was extremely fond of roaming in these mountains.
About two o’clock one afternoon, when his friends were all in school, he decided to go for a walk on one of the mountains. He had been to that mountain many times before with his friends and relatives, but they had never gone beyond the edge of the forest.
This time, since he was alone, Ganapati was getting more joy from his adventure, so he decided to wander into the thick of the forest.
Ganapati was very fond of a certain kind of fruit called jujub. There were many jujub trees in the forest, so he climbed one of them and ate to his heart’s content. When he climbed down — lo and behold! — facing him, only ten feet away, was a tiger!
But rather than showing a ferocious face, the tiger seemed all mildness. Furthermore, Ganapati saw his own mother’s face reflected in the tiger’s eyes.
Seeing his mother in the eyes of the tiger, Ganapati felt no fear and raised no cry; he remained calm and serene. The more he looked into the tiger’s eyes, the more affectionate he felt the tiger was.
After about five minutes, very slowly he turned his back to the tiger and started walking away very slowly and cautiously. When he had covered about a quarter of a mile, he looked back to see if the tiger was following him. There was no sign of the animal.
Then he ran for dear life, crying and shouting: “Save me, save me! I saw a tiger!” When he finally came to his uncle’s house, he was trembling and screaming.
A mother's premonitionSome of the villagers showed Ganapati sympathy while others scolded or mocked him. But his aunt was holding him with such affection, as if he had really been killed by the tiger. She was acting as though he had died and then come back to life by some miracle.
Although it had been decided that Ganapati would return home after spending four days at his uncle’s house, his mother arrived quite unexpectedly that same day. While she was taking her afternoon rest, in a dream she had seen her youngest son being attacked and killed by a tiger. She came with her servant to her brother’s home, practically insane with grief, assuming that her son was dead.
Ganapati was literally bathed in the sea of tears shed by his mother and aunt in their joy at seeing him alive and safe.
Shephali's consolationWhen Ganapati’s maternal uncle committed suicide because of his concern and worry for Ganapati’s family, he left behind his wife and three daughters. His wife never, never, never blamed Ganapati’s family for her husband’s death because she knew what kind of love her husband had for Ganapati’s father. His daughters felt the same way as their mother.
One of his daughters, Shephali, was staying at Ganapati’s house at the time her father committed suicide. But her sorrow and suffering were nothing in comparison to that of Ganapati’s mother.
When Ganapati’s mother heard the tragic news, she began to scream. She and her elder brother had been so close to each other. She was so grief-stricken that she was practically doing somersaults in the air. How bitterly she cried!
Shephali tried to console Ganapati’s mother in so many ways, but she was not successful. Her own father had died, but she was desperately trying to console her father’s sister!
The father fulfils the uncle's requestThis maternal uncle was closer than the closest to Ganapati’s father. When he was alive, so many times he had begged Ganapati’s father to give up smoking for the sake of his health. But Ganapati’s father did not listen to his repeated requests. Ganapati’s mother also used to smoke the Indian hookah, but less than his father. Then when the father used to come home on the weekends, the mother was a saint; she never smoked. She was afraid of her husband, so she never smoked on Saturday and Sunday. She did not want her husband to know that she smoked, but he knew.
The day that the uncle died, Ganapati’s father said to himself, “What kind of love do I have for him if I cannot give up smoking?” On that day he gave up smoking for good. He never touched cigarettes or Indian hookahs again.
His first and last time smokingGanapati’s parents never allowed their children to smoke or even to drink tea. Ganapati drank tea once in Chittagong and at the Indian spiritual community two or three times. Later when he would visit India, he would drink tea like anything. In his childhood home, tea and coffee were forbidden, and chicken was also forbidden, although in Chittagong the children could eat duck or goat meat. Then in the spiritual community there was no meat or fish allowed.
Once one of the servants instigated Ganapati’s eldest brother Samrat to smoke. After tasting cigarette smoke for a few seconds, the poor brother’s head began rotating. He was on a swing, and he fell down and got hurt. His right eye was very badly damaged.
Ganapati’s eldest sister was quite short, like a dwarf, in comparison to this brother’s height. When she discovered the cause of his fall, she commanded him to come inside a particular room. She bolted the door from inside and started beating him. He was crying and crying. He was much stronger than his sister, but how could he beat her? Respect is respect. How could he stop her? So he had to accept her beating. Then he took an oath that he would never smoke again because he was so badly beaten. That was his first and last time smoking.
Luckily, little Ganapati never wanted to smoke. When he saw his brother’s fate at the hands of his sister, he said, “Who wants to be beaten?”
The family feelingThe story of Suren did not end with the bank robbery.
After Suren disappeared with the money, his wife stayed at Ganapati’s house for about a month. She was so sad, embarrassed and miserable at what her husband had done.
But Ganapati’s family was not at all against her. On the contrary, they showered her with affection and concern. Ganapati’s parents treated her as part of the family, like another daughter.
And neither Ganapati’s father nor his mother held anything against the culprit.
Return my wife!After some time, Suren began telling people that he would sue Ganapati’s father if his wife was not returned to him. By now, the poor woman was missing him too, but she could not decide whether or not to go back to him.
Ganapati’s father thought that since she missed her husband, the best thing would be for her to go back. So he gave her a very large sum of money and asked her to go back to her husband.
That was the last time Ganapati ever saw her. He was about eight years old at the time.
She had been extremely, extremely kind and affectionate to Ganapati — just the way her husband had been.
A cruel punishmentThere is still another unfortunate episode in connection with Suren. After the theft, one of Ganapati’s aunts insulted Suren mercilessly for what he had done. So Suren decided to punish this particular aunt.
He went to her house and told her that Ganapati’s father had touched the electric wire in the bank and had been electrocuted instantly. He said Ganapati’s brothers had brought their father’s dead body back from the bank to the village. How could he tell such a lie!
Ganapati’s aunt believed him. She was also grateful to him for bringing her this news, although it was extremely sad. She had great affection for Ganapati’s father, and she immediately began walking to Ganapati’s house. The house was three miles away, and she was crying pitifully the entire way.
When she was only eight or ten blocks from Ganapati’s house, she saw the village doctor and said to him, “You do not know what has happened?” Then she told him the sad story.
He said, “If your brother-in-law had died, I would definitely have been called to the house. I do not think that story is true.” But Ganapati’s aunt did not believe him. She continued walking to Ganapati’s house, crying and screaming.
The first thing she saw when she came near the house was Ganapati’s mother basking in the sun, reading the Mahabharata. Then she noticed that all the other members of the family were acting very normally.
Suren had been following his aunt secretly the whole time. He was wearing some kind of disguise and watching her from a distance. The moment she realised the truth, he threw off his disguise, gave her a smile and ran away.
Encounter at the high courtGanapati enjoyed going to the Chittagong High Court to watch the lawyers and jailbirds. Usually one of the family servants, either the maid or the cook, would bring him. Then he would stay at his second maternal uncle’s house, where his sister Madhuri lived.
On one particular occasion, about two years after Suren robbed the bank, it was decided that Ganapati and the servant would spend the whole day in town and go back home in the evening.
At the court, they were both enjoying themselves listening to the speeches of the lawyers. All of a sudden, Suren appeared out of the blue and grabbed Ganapati’s hand. Ganapati got the shock of his life to see his cousin again.
Suren said, “Please tell your mother that I have spent all the money that I stole from them and now I am living only on potatoes!”
What a pathetic scene; what a pathetic story!
When Ganapati came home that evening and told his mother the story, she was furious. “Why did you have to talk to him?” she said, and she went on insulting and scolding him.
Ganapati said, “He came up and grabbed me and told me about his suffering. What could I do?”
“So much money he took!” she said. She found it difficult to believe that it was all gone. Then she said, “Perhaps he has squandered the money.”
In a few moments she began shedding tears for her unfortunate nephew: “My sister’s son has no money. Alas, he is living on potatoes only!”
Such was Ganapati’s mother’s compassionate heart!
The story continuesMany years later, a doctor came at around midnight to the house where Ganapati’s brothers and sister were living. Their house was in a spiritual community thousands of miles away from their village home. The doctor, who was a very nice, well-educated man, said that he was Suren’s son. He was able to tell correctly the names of all of Ganapati’s family members, so everything was absolutely true.
The only thing he did not know was that his father had robbed Ganapati’s father’s bank. Suren did not have the heart to tell his children what he had done, and neither did his wife. They had simply told their children that Ganapati’s relatives were now all living in a spiritual community.
Ganapati’s eldest brother was virtue incarnate. He took this doctor to his aunt’s house. His aunt was fighting with herself over whether she should hold a grudge against Suren’s son. But after a while she just went and embraced her grand-nephew.
Afterwards, this doctor brought his mother, his wife and his four-year-old daughter to visit Ganapati’s family and they all stayed at the family’s house. His mother started asking to be forgiven. She said, “Because you people are not married, it is easy for you to forgive. For others, it would be impossible, but we feel that you will forgive us.”
Ganapati’s sister, Chanchala, and his aunt were trying desperately to end the conversation so that the son would not find out what his father had done.
He knew it all alongAt this time, Ganapati was no longer living in India. He was running his spiritual centres in America.
Suren’s wife told Ganapati’s family that her husband had seen something in Ganapati even when he was just a child of three or four. She said that her husband had told her that he knew all along that the little fellow Ganapati would one day become a spiritual giant like his predecessors.