In a particular village, there were two older men called Gopal and Govind. Gopal was a sound-to-do man with twenty acres of land, a large herd of cattle and a big house, while Govind was a small peasant with five or six acres of land. All the same, they moved like brothers.
They had taken a vow to pilgrimage to Banaras and worship Lord Visweshwara. Govind was ready to make the journey at any time, but Gopal was always having one obstacle or another. The house was extended one year, and he opened the cattle shed the year after.
“What about the pilgrimage, Gopal?” Govind asked. “Are we making it this year or not? The delay is always due to you.”
“Don’t worry!” Gopal replied. “We shall make the journey all right. It’s no joke preparing for such a journey. You need at least a hundred rupees. You can’t raise an amount like that all of a sudden.”
“Promise to start tomorrow, and I’ll raise the money,” Govind retorted. “Being the richer man, you shouldn’t say that!”
Goaded by Govind, Gopal decided on the pilgrimage. He spent a month leaving all his affairs in his son’s charge. He told the boy in detail how to mind the farm and the cattle- yard, how to sell the crop, what to sow in each bit of land, what to store and in what quantities, how and when to pay the taxes and so forth. He also told the members of his household how to conduct themselves in his absence.
Govind sold his two bulls to a merchant, took a hundred from him, and arranged to pay the balance out of the crop sale. He called his son and said, “Well, son, you shouldn’t expect me to guide you always. To manage things as best you can.”
Then both the men started on the pilgrimage to Banaras. For a month, the journey went off happily. Wherever they halted, they found rest houses and hospitality. Invariably they were provided for the trip with extra food, and they did not have to spend a pie out of their purse.
But when they reached the region of the Vindhyas, they began to face hardships. That year the area had no rain at all. A terrible famine stalked the land. All the wells and tanks were dried up, and people had to buy water. All the choultries were closed down. Even for a crust of dry bread, one had to pay a large sum.
“Let us cross this country as swiftly as we can,” Gopal suggested to his friend. They rested only for six hours at night and walked the rest of the day. The land was desolate. They hardly saw any human being on the way. Though they were past their prime, the two men kept up their pace resolutely.
One midday, Govind told Gopal, “I’m very thirsty. I shall have some water in that house there.”
“I shall go ahead,” Gopal said. “Don’t lag and waste your time.”
Govind entered the yard of the house he had seen and asked loudly, “Who is it?” There was no reply. He stepped into the house and was surprised to see the inmates lying like logs all over the place. Govind could not make out whether they were dead or alive.
This house belonged to a poor peasant. The peasant, his wife, his mother, daughter and son laboured on a small tract of land. The family never had a square meal, even when the ground yielded much. The famine was their undoing. The land did not produce a single grain. The milch cow was the first to be sold. Then the various bits of furniture, the vessels and the utensils went one after another. Everything was sold, and for the past seven days, not one had eaten a morsel of food. For the last two days, there was no water too. The previous day the peasant’s mother started with a mud pot to fetch water from the well. But she fell, and the pool was broken. She could not move again.
When Govind saw this family, particularly the kids, at death’s door, he suffered from unbearable agony. He found a flat mud pot in a corner and went out to fetch water. He found the well at some distance from the house, brought water from it and poured it down the throats of all—The members. Govind was carrying a couple of thick slices of bread. He wetted pieces of bread and fed the children first, then the others. In an hour or so, all of them could sit up.
But they were by no means past danger. Govind went into the village and brought a few pots and provisions. He gathered a heap of dry kindling. After several weeks the poor peasant’s family had a complete meal that evening. They looked on Govind as God himself. The kids called him grandpa. When he saw them laughing and moving about, Govind’s heart was filled with joy.
Govind thought of leaving that night and joining Gopal. But what would happen to this family if he went away now? In another week, they would all be at death’s door again. The mere recollection of that scene made him shiver.
“Uncle,” said the poor peasant, “you’ve come to help us when God himself has forsaken us. But, how long can you go on helping us?”
“Something must be done, you know,” Govind replied. “Let us till the field and grow some vegetables in the yard.”
“I sold away the cart and buffaloes. The field is under mortgage for thirty rupees. If I cultivate it, the yield will go to the creditor,” the poor peasant said.
Govind took the peasant to the money-lender, paid the debt and freed the field. He spent another forty rupees on a cart and a pair of buffaloes. The low-income family seemed to get fresh energy from Govind. The very sight of the artificial them is exuberant.
Three months went by. Crop stood high in the peasant’s field. All the members of the family toiled to grow vegetables in the yard. These were a good source of income for the family.
“I can go now,” said Govind to himself. “These people can get on without me. Gopal will have reached Banaras by now, lucky soul !”
But when Govind spoke of leaving, everyone protested. The kids, in particular, said, “Don’t go, grandpa!” They even shed tears. So he had to sneak out at night when everyone was asleep. Coming onto the road, he counted his money and found that he was left with twelve rupees and some change.
“How can I go to Banaras with such a small amount?” Govind thought. “Well, God wills otherwise.” He heaved a sigh and turned back homeward. After a month, he was with his family again.
Now, while Govind went to drink some water, Gopal walked for a mile and sat down in the shade of a tree to have his midday meal. After dinner, he had a short nap. Then he woke up and waited for Govind. After waiting for a total of two hours in vain, Gopal realised that Govind might have passed by and gone ahead while he was having his nap. There was no other explanation for Govind’s delay. He had stopped only to drink some water. So Gopal got up and began to walk briskly.
Weeks and months passed. At every village, he came to Gopal and inquired if such and such a person with a bald head had gone that way. But not one person seemed to have seen Govind along the entire route.
At last, Gopal reached Banaras. He bathed in the Ganges, visited all the temples and finally went to Lord Visweshwar’s Temple. The inside of the temple was packed with pilgrims. Being an aged man, Gopal could not push himself inside the place of worship. Those luckier than himself were around the linga, touching it and purifying themselves. Gopal could see their faces in the brilliance of the lights. While looking at them, Gopal had a great surprise. For, even as he was looking, a particular person touched the linga with his forehead and rose. His bald head gleamed in the light, and Gopal recognized Govind.
“Ah, my friend,” Gopal said to himself, “you were ahead of me, after all!” He was glad that Govind managed to get to the interior and decided to wait outside to meet him as he came out. He waited till evening until everyone went out, but Govind was not among them. He disappeared.
Gopal stayed three days in Banaras and visited Visweshwar’s Temple every day. Every time he saw Govind and his bald head near the linga and waited for him, he did not see him come out.
Gopal went to Gaya, Prayag and other sacred places before starting for home. On his return journey, he saw the house where Govind had stopped to slake his thirst and went to the house to get news of Govind.
Then he learnt all about Govind. Govind stayed with that family for three months. He never reached Banaras!
“Ah, my friend,” Gopal thought, “you are the Lucky Soul! I now know how you always managed to be near the linga. Well, it appears one needn’t go all the way to Banaras to touch the Sacred Linga and be purified!” Gopal heaved a sigh and turned his feet toward his home.