A Step Before Heaven?
Chhotu filled water in the earthen pot kept on the small window sill of Ramesh Dada’s room. Ramesh Dada turned towards him and smiled. The smile was dripping with affection. Chhotu smiled back and went to sit near him, like every morning. This was their usual chatting session. Chhotu would always have infinite questions and Ramesh Dada had almost all the answers.
Ramesh Dada, like many others, was a resident of ‘Parlok Gaman Awaas’ - a home for people who were on the verge of leaving for the next world. People came here, or rather were brought here, to await death. The home was built many years ago, at the banks of the holy River Ganga. It has always been believed that leaving this world at the bank of the holy river, ensures that all one’s sins get washed off; and it makes for a sure entry to Heaven. Most of the residents were old, pretty much tired of life, and stayed there with blank eyes and empty souls. But were their souls really empty? Didn’t they carry within them a lifetime of stories, buried deep down? The feeling of being unwanted, and uncared for, had stopped hurting them any more. They were not even scared of death now. All of them had seen death from such close quarters! Some of them came here of their own accord, based on religious reasons. They spent most of their waking time in worshipping God through various rituals. They too had no fear of death. When anyone died, there was no mourning; in fact, the cremation was kind of a celebration, performed amidst the beating of drums and singing of devotional songs.
Chhotu was the grandchild of the manager of ‘Parlok Gaman Awaas’. He was about ten years of age and, having been born and brought up in that environment, he had an extremely empathetic heart. He failed to understand why people left their loved ones here, in order to breathe their last. He had a very happy and close-knit family, where everyone cared for each other. So, seeing these aged persons, he would often wonder what could have possibly brought them away from home. Today, Chhotu had a lot to talk about. Sarla Dadi had left for her heavenly abode a couple of days ago. She was bed-ridden for the past few months. Since the last one week her condition was deteriorating. Everyone knew that she was going to die. Her son and daughter were informed, but no one came. After getting the news of her death, they were expected for the cremation. The manager received a call from someone, informing about the arrival of Maya Devi, the daughter-in-law of Sarla Dadi. She was supposedly a very active social worker. She, along with the family, came; many others also accompanied them. The local authorities too had joined in for the cremation. It was quite a big affair.
“Dada, who is a social worker?” asked Chhotu.
“Someone who does work for the people in the society,” Dada replied.
“So, Maya Devi works for people in the society, right? But why would she do so? She didn’t have time to look after Sarla Dadi, and that is why Dadi was here, right? So how did she have time for others?” Chhotu was confused.
Ramesh Dada smiled softly, “You always have time for people you love. Many a time people don’t love each other, and that is the beginning of all problems. Love is a beautiful blessing that, may be, many are not blessed with. They don’t love, and yet they crave for love. So they start looking elsewhere. When you can’t love your own, you can never love others. Then the game of illusion begins, and it never ever ends. You know Chhotu, we search for God in all sorts of religious places, but we forget that God lives in every being. Caring for every being is worshipping God. When you really care, then everything falls in place. There is no confusion, and life seems beautiful. All the great masters and the learned ones have said the same thing; simply love and care for everyone, and that is Godliness. We read, we hear, but we fail to accept and imbibe this simple truth.”
“So you mean, Dada, we need not actually worship God at all? No need for religious places as well?” Chhotu asked in disbelief.
“These places of course help us to go and express our gratitude to God. It makes us feel that God is accessible. There is no harm in that, provided we practise Godliness in its real sense,” Dada seemed to be lost in some other world.
Chhotu walked out of the room, slowly. His tiny head was filled with all that Dada had told him. Faces of Sarla Dadi, Maya Devi, Ramesh Dada, all kept floating in front of his eyes. He went and sat at the banks of the River Ganga, quietly looking at the water flowing by. Suddenly a cry fell into his ears. He turned and saw an old lady had slipped on a small rock, and had fallen down. Chhotu got up and ran to her, and helped her get up. She seemed to have twisted her foot, and was in great pain. Little Chhotu put her arm around his own neck and, bearing most of her weight, tried to help her walk, slowly. Soon the lady’s son, who had gone to get some water to drink, came running towards them and they both helped her get into an auto rickshaw. The lady blessed Chhotu wholeheartedly, and the rickshaw moved out of sight. Chhotu stood there, with a smile on his face.