The incidences of this story are more than 2000 years old. I was much younger then, but details of those memories still clearly float in front of my eyes. With the passage of time the scenes may have turned a little sepia but they still play back faithfully. The landscape was hilly all around, but the hills were not very tall. The trees or bushes were very few and far apart. Yet it was not exactly a desert.
On that particular day, sun had just gone behind the western hillocks. Winter had set in. So, it felt quite cold after sun set. But unaffected by the clean, cool breeze of dusk, I noticed three wise elderly men resting on a plateau near my village. They were watching the redness of western sky and scattered patched of red clouds. Their smiling eyes seemed to be looking far away in the distance, as if they were able to see the edge of the world. They seemed to be enjoying the uninterrupted panorama all around. These wise men were there because they were tired of their journey and were hungry. One of them untied a knot of his simple whitish cloth containing some bread and few boiled eggs and was eating silently. Others were in the process of opening their pieces of bread, meat and potatoes from the pockets of their tattered but flowing robes. Their faces looked peaceful. They had three cloth bags, each filled with carpenter’s tools, like hammer, saw and plainer. They seemed so content as if the whole world belonged to them. They had kept their tool bags very respectfully, close to them. I thought they might be traveling saints or sages who spread the message of love and harmony among all. They surely did not look like carpenters to me. I approached them curiously. As they saw me one said, ‘oh hello, come here taste this bread’ and offered a piece to me. The offer was so unexpected that I just took the piece and humbly took a bite. ‘Are you carpenters or saints?’ I asked. They all seemed amused. Huh huh huh, one laughed. Both, we are both. We move from village to village, teaching people values of love, family life and respect for your profession.’ Other filled in, ‘and if it is required in every new village we do carpenter’s job too, since we need to survive until we move on to next place.’ ‘We don’t live on alms. We like to earn our bread. You go home now it is getting dark’, last one said. ‘Let me stay’, I pleaded. ‘My village is right down there and I can sprint down to my home in a few moments.’ They seemed to agree.
I knew all the saints then used to preach only about virtues of love, living harmoniously in a family, to be useful to your community, importance of studies, staying healthy, caring for young ones and respect for elders. All the saints did have self respect of earning their own bread, rather than living off society.
The redness of the sky had faded and gradually was turning dark blue. A few bright stars had emerged in the eastern sky. I noticed that there were three exceptionally bright stars just above us. To my utter surprise the stars had the same formation in the sky as the three resting saints on the earth. I thought when you feel love, you see it in everything that you see and if you think you met spiritual people you connect heaven to it. But it is just a co-incidence, I knew. The narrow path going down looked very lonely and dark now. As I watched, they decided to spend the night under those stars. May be they too will notice the formation of stars when they look up while lying down; I thought.
If one looked down from the hill top, two villages could be seen in the distance due to their twinkling dim lights and the rising smoke from a few thatched roofs. Saints fell suddenly quiet. They had begun meditation.
In a few minutes I heard some voices. They seemed to be coming from unseen part of the path down below. I looked. Nothing was in sight. Even in meditation saints seemed to be concentrating on those human voices. As the sound grew louder they opened their eyes and we all looked in the direction of those sounds. They looked a little surprised now. Soon they noticed three people. I too saw them. As they approached near we could see, a balding old man, an old woman and another woman who had a very large stomach. ‘Oh’, one said, ‘she is having a baby.’ Another one, ‘where are they going? Reaching any where from here would take them very long’! ‘They also must have walked a long way to get here’, third said. They felt sorry especially for the young woman and wondered why at such time they all had to venture this far! The voices became a little clear now. It seemed that they have been thrown out from their own village due to the shame of pregnant woman. Perhaps she was not married or may be her husband died. Men were so horrible and superstitious those days. They believed that if the husband died then the woman must be evil. Poor women, they really had bad deal those days.
Whimpering and crying pregnant woman suddenly stopped walking and sat down moaning with pain. Old woman looked at her face closely. The man was breathing hard standing a little away. She walked to him and spoke softly. She then guided pregnant woman away from the path and took her behind small bushes. The man too sat down on path now and buried his forehead between his palms. His head moved side to side. Even from that far he looked a picture of frustration and sadness. Stifled cries of woman were filling the air and the anxious old woman kept saying, ‘Meera don’t scream so loudly. Be soft Meera!’
On the hill these saintly carpenters knew what was going to happen next. And I was going to learn something new. Suppressed painful cries of the young woman went on for a few moments more and then a long silence descended… finally bubble of silence broke with a weak howl that announced the arrival of a new soul. Watching this drama from a distance was such a strong experience for us all. They raised their hands in prayer and looked up. Stars were already looking at them. They mentally blessed the new born and got busy among themselves.
But what happened next was totally unexpected! Old woman had wrapped the crying baby in a cloth and kept it by the side of path. We were horrified to see that the young woman was being forcibly dragged by the other two and leaving the new born behind on the deserted path. The young woman was so reluctant to leave the baby. Being weak she got dragged away. She kept crying bitterly, looking back all the time at the small bundle kept at the side of the path; at the mercy of… no one in sight.
Trudging slowly three of them turned around the hill and went out of sight. Their voices too faded away… and soon the cries of the baby started filling the empty space once again. The saints looked at each other and at me. It was impossible for anyone to just sit and not reach out to rescue the baby. They collected all their stuff and started walking down in a careful hurry. The family had left the baby along with the name of its mother, Meera!
They picked up the noisy bundle gingerly. It was a boy. He kicked and wriggled. I too saw his face. He had black curly hair. His frantically moving fingers got caught in beard of its carrier. They put some water in his mouth and looked around at the trees to find some fruits. I found a dead wood and threw it hard at a fruit tree. It sent some fruits back. I got them to the saints. They squeazed the fruits and dropped the juice drops in baby’s mouth.
Darkness of night was everywhere. A saint carrying the baby told me that they will need to reach the baby some safe place, where regular feeds for it can be arranged. One put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘it was high time you too went home’. I agreed. They quickly organized their things started walking in the direction baby’s family had gone.
Being alone I too started climbing down to my house. I knew they will have tough time, finding the baby’s parents. And they if don’t find them the baby some how will have to be brought up by them only. Soon three carpenter saints and the newborn baby turned out of sight.
I sprinted down. My mother had all the rights to yell at me. But I felt so very happy with the unbelievable experience I just had. It was an amazing story to tell her and everyone else.