The Road to Salvation – Mukti Marg

Whenever Jhingur looked at his cane fields a sort of intoxication came
over him. He had three bighas of land which would earn him an easy 600
rupees. And if God saw to it that the rates went up, then who could
complain, Both his bullocks were old so he’d buy a new pair at the Batesar
fair. If he could hook on to another two bighas, so much the better. Why
should he worry about money? He was convinced that nobody was as good
as himself–and so there was scarcely anyone in the village he hadn’t
quarrelled with,

One evening when he was sitting with his son in his lap, shelling peas, he
saw a nock of sheep coming towards him. He said to himself, ‘The sheep
path doesn’t come that way. Can’t those sheep go along the bank? What’s the
idea, coming over here? They’ll trample and gobble up the crop. I bet it’s
Buddhu the shepherd– just look at his nerve! He can see me here but he
won’t drive his sheep back. What good will it do me to put up with this? If I
try to buy a ram from him he actually asks for five rupees, and everybody
sells blankets for four rupees but he won’t settle for less than five.

By now the sheep were close to the cane-field. Jhingur yelled, ‘Arrey,
where do you think you’re taking those sheep, you?’

Buddhu said meekly, ‘Chief, they’re coming by way of the boundary
embankment. If I take them back around it will mean a couple of miles
extra.’

‘And I’m supposed to let you trample my held to save you a detour! Why
didn’t you take them by way of some other boundary path! Do you think I’m
some bull-skinning nobody or has your money turned your head’ Turn ’em
back!’

‘Chief, just let them through today. If I ever come back this way again you
can punish me any way you want.’

‘I told you to get them out. If just one of them crosses the line you’re going
to be in a pack of trouble. ‘Chief,’ Buddhu said, ‘if even one blade of grass
gets under my sheep’s feet you can call me anything you want.’

Although Buddhu was still speaking meekly he had decided that it would
be a loss of face to turn back. ‘If I drive the flock back for a few little threats:
he thought, ‘how will I graze my sheep?’ And Buddhu was a tough man too.
He owned 240 sheep and he was able to get eight annas per night to leave
them in people’s fields to manure them, and he sold their milk as well and
made blankets from their wool. He thought, ‘Why’s he getting so angry!
What can he do to me? I’m not his servant.’

When the sheep got a whiff of the green leaves they became restless and
they broke into the field. Beating them with his stick Buddhu tried to push
them back across the boundary line but they just broke in somewhere else. In
a fury Jhingur said, ‘You’re trying to force your way through here but I’ll
teach you a lesson!’

He put down his son and grabbing up his cudgel he began to whack the
sheep. Not even a washer man would have beaten his donkey so cruelly. He
smashed legs and backs and while they bleated Buddhu stood silent
watching the destruction of his army. After this carnage among the host of
sheep Jhingur said with the pride of victory, ‘Now move on straight! And
don’t ever think about coming this way again.’ Looking at his wounded
sheep, Buddhu said, Jhingur, you’ve done a dirty job. You’re going to regret
it.’

When Jhingur came home and told his family about the battle, they started
to give him advice.

‘Jhingur, you’ve got yourself into real trouble! You knew what to do but
you acted as though you didn’t. Don’t you realize what a tough customer
Buddhu is! Even now it’s not too late–go and make peace, otherwise the
whole village will come to grief along with you.

Jhingur thought it over. He began to regret that he’d stopped Buddhu at all.
If the sheep had eaten up a little of his crop it wouldn’t have ruined him.
Jhingur didn’t enjoy the idea of going to Buddhu’s house but urged on by the
others he set out. It was the dead of winter, foggy, with the darkness settling
in everywhere. He had just come out of the village when suddenly he was
astonished to see a fire blazing over in the direction of his cane-held. His
heart started to hammer. A field had caught fire! He ran wildly, hoping it
wasn’t his own field, but as he got closer this deluded hope died. He’d been
struck by the very misfortune he’d set out to avert. Buddhu had started the
fire and was ruining the whole village because of him. As he ran it seemed
to him that today his held was a lot nearer than it used to be, as though the
fallow land between had ceased to exist.

When he finally reached his field the fire had assumed dreadful
proportions. Jhingur began to wail. The villagers were running and ripping
up stalks of millet to beat the tire. Among the men Buddhu was the most
valiant fighter; with his dhoti tucked up around his waist he leapt into the
fiery gulfs as though ready to subdue the enemy or die, and he’d emerge
after many a narrow escape. In the end it was the men who triumphed, but
the triumph amounted to defeat. The whole village’s sugarcane crop was
burned to ashes and with the cane all their hopes as well.

It was no secret who had started the fire. But no one dared say anything
about it. There was no proof and what was the point of a case without any
evidence! As for Jhingur, it had become difficult for him to show himself
out of his house. Wherever he went he had to listen to abuse. People said
right to his face, ‘You were the cause of the fire! You ruined us, if you hadn’t
fought with Buddhu would all this have happened?’

Jhingur was even more grieved by these taunts than by the destruction of
his crop, and he would stay in his house the whole day. Jhingur thought and
thought and decided that Buddhu had to be put in a situation exactly like his
own. Buddhu had ruined him and he was wallowing in comfort, so Jhingur
would ruin Buddhu too.

Since the day of their terrible quarrel Buddhu had ceased to come by
Jhingur’s. Jhingur decided to cultivate an intimacy with him; he wanted to
show him he had no suspicion at all that Buddhu started the fire. One day, on
the pretext of getting a blanket, he went to Buddhu, who greeted him with
every courtesy and honour–for a man offers the hookah even to an enemy
and won’t let him depart without making him drink milk and syrup.

These days Jhingur was earning a living by working in a jute-wrapping
mill. Usually he got several days wages at once. Only by means of Buddhu’s
help could he meet his daily expenses between times. So it was that Jhingur
re-established a friendly footing between them.

Spring came and the peasants were getting the fields ready for planting
cane. Buddhu was doing a fine business. Everybody wanted his sheep. There
were always a half dozen men at his door fawning on him, and he lorded it
over everybody. He doubled the price of hiring out his sheep to manure the
field; if anybody objected he’d say bluntly, ‘Look, brother, I’m not shoving
my sheep on you. If you don’t want them, don’t take them. But I can’t let you
have them for a pice less than I said. ‘The result was that everybody
swarmed around him, despite his rudeness, just like priests after some
pilgrim. Buddhu’s house also began to grow. A veranda was built in front of
the door, six rooms replaced the former two. In short, the house was done
over from top to bottom. Buddhu got the wood from a peasant, from another
the cow dung cakes for the kiln fuel to make the tiles; somebody else gave
him the bamboo and reeds for the mats. He had to pay for having the walls
put up but he didn’t give any cash even for this; he gave some lambs. Such is
the power of Lakshmi: the whole job–and it was quite a good house, all in
all–was put up for nothing. They began to prepare for a house-warming.

Jhingur was still labouring all day with but getting enough to half fill his
belly, while gold was raining on Buddhu’s house. If Jhingur was angry, who
could blame him! Nobody could put up with such injustice.

One day Jhingur went out walking in the direction of the untouchable
tanners’ settlement. He called for Harihar, who came out, greeting him with
‘Ram Ram!’ and filled the hookah. They began to smoke. Harihar, the leader
of the tamers, was ? mean fellow and there wasn’t a peasant who didn’t
tremble at the sight of him.

After smoking a bit, Jhingur said, ‘No singing for the spring festival these
days! We haven’t heard you.

‘What festival? The belly can’t take a holiday. Tell me, how are you getting
on lately?’

‘Getting by,’ Jhingur said. ‘Hard times mean a hard life. If I work all day in
the mill there’s a tire in my stove. But these days only Buddhu’s making
money. He doesn’t have room to store it! He’s built a new house, bought
more sheep. Now there’s a big hiss about his house-warming. He’s sent paan
to the headmen of all the seven villages around to invite everybody to it.’

Then Jhingur and Harihar began to whisper, plotting their course of action-the
method, the time and all the steps. When Jhingur left he was strutting-he’d already
overcome his enemy, there was no way for Buddhu to escape now.

On his way to work the next day he stopped by Buddhu’s house. Buddhu asked
him, ‘Aren’t you working today?’ ‘I’m on my way, but I came by to ask you if you
wouldn’t let my calf graze with your sheep. The poor thing’s dying tied up to the
post while I’m away all day, she doesn’t get enough grass and fodder to eat.’

‘Brother, I don’t keep cows and buffaloes. You know the tanners, they’re
all killers. That Harihar killed my two cows, I don’t know what he fed them.
Since then I’ve vowed never again to keep cattle.

But yours is just a calf, there’d be no profit to anyone in harming her.
Bring her over whenever you want.’

Then he began to show Jhingur the arrangements for the house-warming.
Ghee, sugar, flour and vegetables were all on hand. All they were waiting
for was the Satyanarayan ceremony. Jhingur’s eyes were popping. When he
came home after work the first thing he did was bring his calf to Buddhu’s
house. That night the ceremony was performed and a feast offered to the
Brahmans. The whole night passed in lavishing hospitality on the priests.
Buddhu had no opportunity to go to look after his flock of sheep.

The feasting went on until morning. Buddhu had just got up and had his
breakfast when a man came and said, ‘Buddhu, while you’ve been sitting
around here, out there in your hock the calf has died. You’re a fine one! The
rope was still around its neck.’

When Buddhu heard this it was as though he’d been punched. Jhingur, who
was there having some breakfast too, said,’ Oh God, my calf? Come on, I
want to see her! But listen, I never tied her with a rope. I brought her to the
flock of sheep and went back home. When did you have her tied with a rope,
Buddhu”

‘God’s my witness, I never touched any rope! I haven’t been back to my
sheep since then.’

‘If you didn’t, then who put the rope on her!’ Jhingur said. ‘You must have
done it and forgotten it.’

‘And it was in your flock,’ one of the Brahmans said. ‘People are going to
say that whoever tied the rope, that heifer died because of Buddhu’s
negligence.’

Harihar came along just then and said, ‘I saw him tying the rope around the
calf’s neck last night.’

‘Me?’ Buddhu said.

‘Wasn’t that you with your stick over your shoulder tying up the heifer!’

‘And you’re an honest fellow, I suppose!’ Buddhu said. ‘You saw me tying
her up?’

‘Why get angry with me, brother! Let’s just say you didn’t tie her up, if
that’s what you want.’

‘We will have to decide about it: one of the Brahmans said. ‘A cow
slaughterer should be stoned–it’s no laughing matter.

‘Maharaj,’ Jhingur said, ‘the killing was accidental.’

‘What’s that got to do with it!’ the Brahman said. ‘It’s set down that no cow
is ever to be done to death in any way.’

‘That’s right, ‘Jhingur said, ‘Just to tie a cow up is a fiendish act.

‘In the Scriptures it’s called the greatest sin,’ the Brahman said. ‘Killing a
cow is no less than killing a Brahman.’

‘That’s right, ‘Jhingur said. ‘The cow’s got a high place, that’s why we
respect her, isn’t it’ The cow is like a mother. But Maharaj, it was an
accident–figure out something to get the poor fellow off.’

Buddhu stood listening while the charge of murder was brought against
him like the simplest thing in the world. He had no doubt it was Jhingur’s
plotting, but if he said a thousand times that he hadn’t put the rope on the
calf nobody would pay any attention to it. They’d say he was trying to
escape the penance.

The outcome was that Buddhu was charged with the death of a cow; the
Brahman had got very incensed about it too and he determined the manner
of compensation. The punishment consisted of three months of begging in
the streets, then a pilgrimage to the seven holy places, and in addition the
price for five cows and feeding 500 Brahmans. Stunned, Buddhu listened to
it. He began to weep, and after that the period of begging was reduced by
one month. Apart from this he received no favour. There was no one to
appeal to, no one to complain to. He had to accept the punishment.

He gave up his sheep to God’s care. His children were young and all by
herself what could his wife do! The poor fellow would stand in one door
after another hiding his face and saying, ‘Even the gods are banished for
cow-slaughter!’ He received alms but along with them he had to listen to
bitter insults. Whatever he picked up during the day he’d cook in the evening
under some tree and then go to sleep right there. He did not mind the
hardship, for he was used to wandering all day with his sheep and sleeping
beneath trees, and his food at home hadn’t been much better than this, but he
was ashamed of having to beg, especially when some harridan would taunt
him with, ‘You’ve found a fine way to earn your bread!’ That sort of thing
hurt him profoundly but what could he do?

He came home after two months. His hair was long, and he was as weak as
though he were sixty years old. During the two months many of his sheep
had been stolen. When the children took them to graze the other villagers
would hide one or two sheep away in a field or hue and afterwards slaughter
them and eat them. The boys, poor lads, couldn’t catch a single one of them,
and even when they saw, how could they fight’ The whole village was
banded together. It was an awful dilemma. Helpless, Buddhu sent for a
butcher and sold the whole flock to him for 500 rupees. He took 200 rupees
and started out on his pilgrimage. The rest of the money he set aside for
feeding the Brahmans.

When Buddhu left, his house was burgled twice, but by good fortune the
family woke up and the money was saved.

It was Savan, the month of rains, with everything green. Jhingur, who had
no bullocks now, had rented out his field to sharecroppers. Buddhu had been
heed from his penitential obligations and along with them his delusions
about wealth. Neither one of them had anything left; neither could be angry
with the other–there was nothing left to be angry about.

Because the jute mill had closed down Jhingur went to work with pick and
shovel in town where a very large rest house for pilgrims was being built.
There were a thousand labourers on the job. Every seventh day Jhingur
would take his pay home and after spending the night there go back the next
morning.

Buddhu came to the same place looking for work. Once when he was
going with a shallow pan on his head to get mortar Jhingur saw him. ‘Ram
Ram’ they said to one another and Jhingur filled the pan. Buddhu picked it
up. For the rest of the day they went about their work in silence.

At the end of the day Jhingur asked, ‘Are you going to cook something?’

‘How can I eat if I don’t?’ Buddhu said.

‘I eat solid food only once a day, ‘Jhingur said. ‘I get by just drinking water
with ground meal in it in the evenings. Why fuss!’

‘Pick up some of those sticks lying around,’ Buddhu said. ‘I brought some
flour from home. I had it ground there—it costs a lot here in town. I’ll knead
it on the hat side of this rock. Since you won’t eat food I cook I’ll get it ready
and you cook it.’

‘But there’s no frying pan.’

‘There are lots of frying pans: Buddhu said. ‘I’ll scour out one of these
mortar trays.’

The fire was lit, the flour kneaded. Jhingur cooked the chapatties, Buddhu
brought the water. They both ate the bread with salt and red pepper. Then
they filled the bowl of the hookah. They both lay down on the stony ground
and smoked.

Buddhu said, ‘I was the one who set tire to your cane-field.’

Jhingur said light-heartedly, ‘I know.

After a little while he. said, ‘I tied up the heifer and Harihar fed it
something.

In the same light-hearted tone Buddhu said, ‘I know.

Then the two of them went to sleep.

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