THE ANTS BECOME THE WITNESSES

1

The temple festival was fast approaching... The old man sat, head in hands, thinking, "O, Lord Shiva, what shall this old man do now? Only nine more days for the temple festival!"

He had retired from the job thirty-four years ago, after serving as a teacher sincerely and diligently for thirty-five long years. A pensioner now, he walked two miles to his old school to collect his monthly pension of rupees twenty! Almost his entire life was spent among children. But he was not blessed with his own. No doubt, it was a worry, which brought him recurring unhappiness; but to his wife, it was much more. Not a day passed when she had not to wipe tears from her red, swollen eyes. There was no answer from Lord Shiva for the life long prayer of these two simple devotees. The old woman died at last, fifteen years back, leaving the old man, to make a solo-journey through life.

During the past fifteen years, he had sold almost everything saleable in the house, just to keep the devil of hunger out the door. It started with his wife's gold bangles … …rising prices vs. fixed pension!

Days rolled by. For the old man, each emerging day became harder than the day passed. His every small asset melted in the oven of poverty. The house became empty, except for the supporting pillars.

...And here was the old man, on the threshold of the annual temple festival, entertaining a very strong doubt, whether he would be breaking the custom, which he had succeeded in maintaining all these years and decades.

"A glass of water with a piece of gur (jaggery)" - that was the tradition of the house. "The tradition is as old as the temple and my house. I have no moral right to break it", muttered the old man, cleaning the outer portion of a jar. It was a big jar, which came well above his waist and could hold eight buckets of water. When his moustache was steel black, he could lift, turn, and swing the heavy, empty jar easily. The jar, filled with water, was invariably kept on the open gallery of the house. The old man's house being the first, in the temple yard, many a devotee visiting the temple would come to his door and ask, "Grandpa, water please!"

It was becoming difficult to manage the simple job of giving water, single handed, during the rush hours of the festival! Also, the number of devotees increased every year.

It took over two hours for the old man to fill the big jar to its neck with the copper pitcher. Of late, he had given up drawing water from the deep well himself, and majority of the women there obliged him and received his blessings.

And then, there was the problem of a fairly large group of children in the vicinity. For, many of them came to him for water six times in a day, as the piece of gur was their attraction. Being a teacher by profession, he had developed a natural love for them. He could handle a child of any type with patience. He regaled them by telling a songs-story.

"Children, children, listen to me, Waste no water, waste no water, There's a ghost near the temple well, If you spill the water, he'll drag you to hell!"

"Only nine more days for the festival. The pension date is three weeks far. I have with me just rupees two from the last month's pension!" Therefore, the latest problem that haunted his mind day and night was how to get at least ten kilos of gur required during the days of temple festival!

At a distance of about hundred yards, the old man saw the temple worker unloading from a bullock-cart, a number of big tins of gur and taking them one-by-one to the temple store house. One… two …three … the old man counted twenty-four tins in all, now safe in the storehouse. Tins containing fresh, yellow blocks of gur, for use during the temple festival feasts. The golden gur!… The old man pondered, pondered and pondered again and at last, he arrived at a decision!

The storehouse was never locked.… Late in the night, he slowly pushed the door open and did not forget to restore it to its original position, once he was in. Within seconds, the old man found what he wanted. Next, he opened the bag and proceeded further with his plan, his already shaky fingers now virtually trembling upon being called to do a job inconsistent with his dignity and his real nature. Nevertheless, he began to grasp as much as possible to finish the unpleasant task as fast as possible…

…The old man was safe outside the temple storehouse with the bagful of booty! Never in his lifetime, did he feel the night so long and tortuous! Next day, in the evening, he stood before his Lord and prayed, "O, Lord, please bear with me for a few days. On my receiving the pension, I will redeposit whatever has been temporarily taken away by me from your storehouse to serve your devotees… Alas! The course of destiny has led me this far!" Tears of devotion overflowed from his eyes, as he gave a solemn assurance to his Lord and stood there meditatively for some time. But to pray in tranquility was not possible for him, when his inner-self questioned his action of impropriety!

The next morning, when some one asked, "Grandpa …water …", the old man trembled. Somehow, he managed to bring the glass of water and the piece of gur - the gur belonging to the temple storehouse!

"The gur is full of ants! Do you see it, Grandpa?", said the water-cum-gur-thirsty devotee. "I must see from where they have arrived." The old man lifted the tin and examined, trying to locate the beginning point of the procession of the ants. From the room they were proceeding towards the gallery through the window. In the gallery he could clearly see in the sunlight, the formation of thousands of ants racing. They were rushing with the enthusiasm and ferocious spirit of soldiers marching ahead to charge on the enemy. They were exchanging notes among themselves as they progressed, as if they were on a secret mission. They rushed with small particles of gur in their mouths, looking as though they were eager to report the accomplishment of the task entrusted to them!

"From the tin, to the window… from the window to the gallery…from the gallery to the yard… What a big line!" - The old man followed the ants, being curious. From the outer yard, the line had reached the inner yard of the temple! Then, from there, the old man saw the ants with particles of gur in their mouths, climbing the walls of the temple sanctuary in lightning speed! In that bright glow of lights, the old man saw his Lord from a close range dumbfounded! A picture floated in his mind's curtain, wherein he saw thousands of ants standing before the Lord, with particles of gur in their little mouths, like mute messengers, out to defend Truth! …A thousand witnesses to his theft!

The old man rushed back to his house. With shaking fingers, he put the blocks of gur into the cloth bag and went to the temple storehouse as fast as he could… The old man prayed, "O, my Lord, after ninety two years of this blessed life, what is it that is still in store for me! What a way to test my integrity! Pardon this old man for this sin and give him shelter at your feet and relieve him from the mortal bindings."

The Lord answered his prayers and took him to his Eternal Abode the same night!

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