In a particular village, there was a well-read and learned Brahman who was very proud of his learning. He would look upon illiterates as helpless creatures. In his opinion, the lives of the tillers of the land, hewers of wood and drawers of water and even the various types of artisans and other servants of society were entirely wasted.
One day this learned man had to cross a river. He got on a ferry. The ferryman waited for some time to see if anybody else would come along and then started crossing the river with the Brahman alone.
As the ferry crossed to the other side, the Brahman looked at the ferryman straining at the oars and was filled with pity and contempt. This unfortunate fellow must have been doing this work practically all his life, nearly all day round. There was no learning in him whatsoever.
“My good man,” said the Brahman condescendingly to the ferryman, “You are as good as dead.”
“Sir, why do you say that ?” said the ferryman in surprise.
“Have you learnt the Sciences?” asked the learned Brahman.
“No, sir! I know them not!” said the ferryman.
“Ah, then you are half dead !” said the Brahman triumphantly.
“Have you learnt any Puranas?” the Brahman asked.
“No, sir! Indeed, I didn’t!” replied the ferryman. “I am too busy on this job to spare any time for listening to Puranas.”
“There you are! You are three-quarters dead. Let us see if you read at least some literature!” said the Brahman.
“Oh, sir! I do not know how to read, leave alone literature!” the ferryman replied.
“See what I mean? You are only about ten per cent. Alive. You can hardly be called a live man,” the Brahman concluded.
Even as they were chatting like this, a mighty wind rose, and the river’s waters rose in flood. The ferry began to toss about on huge waves. The sky was overcast with dark and fearsome clouds, and it started to rain in torrents.
Soon the ferryman lost control of the ferry. Every time the ferry tilted to a side, it began to take in some water. The ferryman threw down the oars, which were now quite useless. Having decided to abandon the ferry, he shouted to the Brahman in the gale, “Sir, do you know how to swim?”
“No, my good man,” replied the Brahman. “I do not!”
“Then, sir, I must tell you that your life is completely lost!” said the ferryman as he jumped into the waters and swam away towards the shore.
Chandamama October 1955 | P Gopala Gowda