This is part of my ongoing series on the Mahabharat, an epic poem of ancient India. For links to all previous Mahabharat posts go here. Or you can simply click on the Mahabharat page link above.
This is the third part of the Upmanyu - Lost and Found series. To read the first part go here and to read the second part go here.
You've all been very patient with the delay in publishing this series. I thank you. I don't deserve you. I feel as if perhaps I'm Upmanyu and you are my Guru Ayuddhaumya.
Last week we saw that Guru Ayuddhaumya took a huge risk with his unruly student Upmanyu by letting him take the cows for grazing. This is what happened next:
Guru Ayuddhaumya tried not to worry all that morning. He was ruthless in the lessons, making the children recite complicated mathematical theories to keep his own mind occupied. It didn't work though. He knew the theories too well to let them take up much of his thoughts. Halfway through the day he couldn't stand it anymore.
The guru left an elder boy in charge of the lesson and set out through the fields, looking for Upmanyu. Keeping a sharp eye for signs of trouble, he walked for just over an hour when he saw a handsome boy sitting peacefully under a tree as the cows grazed around him.
It was Upmanyu, doing nothing wrong.
Ayuddhaumya stared in wonder. When he could tear his eyes from the boy, he looked to the cows and they all seemed fine, serene, contentedly munching on the sweet grass.
He quietly returned to the school, deep in thought.
Ayuddhaumya decided that each day thereafter he would send Upmanyu out with the cows and in the evenings try to instill some learning in the boy's head. He didn't think it would work but he would try.
Except that it did work. Well, with nature lessons at least. Upmanyu started to listen when the guru talked about different plants and their properties and how they could help or hinder life. He listened as the guru explained nature's cycle, how each animal was linked to the next in a huge circle of creation, from plants to insects to fish and birds to animals like cows and tigers and elephants.
The boy still refused to learn mathematics or scripture or art but Ayuddhaumya suspected that he'd discovered a way in.
There was something about being around the cows that inspired this child to be still. Inspired an urge to listen.
Could it be that they quietened his mind? Gave him peace? Focused his attention?
Could it be that the boy had simply been too stimulated before, and now was able to concentrate because his senses had slowed down?
If that was the case then those overstimulated senses had to be calmed even more. Then perhaps he could learn languages and music and science. And the scriptures! Perhaps he could learn so much if only Ayuddhaumya could find a way.
Each day the students would go out and ask for food alms from the villagers. It was an age old custom that taught the children humility and humanity too. Those who recieved alms shared with students who hadn't recieved anything and this helped to encourage friendship and increase those close bonds of compassion and sharing.
But Upmanyu hadn't made any friends in the school yet. His earlier behaviour hadn't endeared him to any of them (what with his beating them with canes and disrupting their studies) and they all avoided him so as not to get caught up in his trouble-making. He himself refused to go out for alms with them (since he didn't like to be humble) and Ayuddhaumya had been feeding him from his own alms as a result.
But the guru wanted Upmanyu to make friends. The good influence of others was invaluable in steadying the mind. A sense of humility wouldn't hurt either. Indeed, it was vital.
Taking a deep breath, the guru told Upmanyu there was nothing to eat in the school.
"Nothing?" the boy asked, after having been out with the grazing cows all day.
"Nothing." Guru Ayuddhaumya said, emphatic. He watched the boy closely.
Upmanyu chewed on his lip but was silent. The guru could see his mind turning.
Without asking his guru's permission (which Ayuddhaumya was well used to by now, however shocking it might have been in the beginning), Upmanyu turned and wandered off.
Ayuddhaumya was on high alert all evening, expecting the boy to have set fire to some corner of the school in a fit of petulance, but there were no disturbances. He wondered if one of the other boys had shared some food with him but when he questioned them, they all said no and that they'd thought he'd already eaten and gone to sleep. And when the guru checked, the boy had indeed gone to sleep in his place in the boarding house, as if nothing was wrong.
The next day was the same. Upmanyu didn't even ask for food from the guru this time. He simply came back to the school and sat for nature lesson and then went to sleep. No naughty antics. No tantrums. This happened the next day too. But when he questioned his students once more to see if they were giving Upmanyu food, they all said: "No, Gurudev."
And yet Upmanyu didn't look like he was wasting away. Clearly he was getting food from somewhere.
Finally, as Upmanyu walked behind the cows at dusk, the guru approached him.
"What have you been eating, Upmanyu? You haven't come to me for food for some time."
Without bowing or greeting his guru as was custom, Upmanyu answered. "I ask for alms of course."
The guru just barely controlled his urge to gasp. "Where?"
"In the villages when I pass by with the cows."
Ayuddhaumya shook his head. "But the other boys never see you asking for alms."
"That's because I do it earlier than they do, before it's time to come back."
The guru saw how he'd been outmanuovered. The boy had stooped to asking for alms, but still managed to avoid the other boys.
"That's not right, son," he told Upmanyu. "If you ask for alms before the other boys then they won't know which houses have already been asked and that can cause conflict. It's not fair to them because then they might go hungry."
The boy pursed his lips.
"Do you understand me, Upmanyu? You're to ask for alms at the same time as everyone else."
There was a moment, then the boy gave a faint nod.
"And another thing. It is against etiquette for you to eat before offering your alms to your guru. Next time, you bring it to me first, understand?"
The boy nodded again.
That night Upmanyu listened during a lesson on astronomy. Ayuddhauyma wanted to jump up and sing the Lord's praises but maintained a solemn expression.
And the next day, the boy brought him a bag of alms that a generous house had given him. There was rice and vegetables and several sweets. The guru was dismayed at all the butter and richness, which would surely affect Upmanyu's overstimulated senses. Not only that, but he'd not gone out with the other boys. He'd waited to see which village they were going to, then gone to a different village instead, in the opposite direction. He was still relying only on himself.
The guru took the cloth filled with the alms and set it beside him. "Bless you," he told Upmanyu.
The boy watched him, waiting to be handed the food again.
Ayuddhaumya looked back, unmoving. "You did well today," he told Upmanyu. "Go now, and eat with the others."
The boy turned somewhat to follow orders but still waited, expecting the food back.
The guru smiled blandly and moved the cloth further away, well out of Upmanyu's reach. "Off you go," he said.
With a stunned look on his face, Upmanyu backed away and left the guru's hut.
Ayuddhaumya was on high alert again that night, expecting trouble for sure. But there wasn't one peep out of Upmanyu. It made the guru uneasy. Had he been too harsh? He didn't mean for the boy to not eat, but he did want him to talk to the other boys, to learn to share.
Still, he didn't want the boy to starve. He resolved to let Upmanyu eat his alms from now on, however rich and overstimulating they were.
But Upmanyu brought no alms to him the next day.
He summoned the boy. "Where are your alms?"
"I don't have any."
"I wasn't hungry."
"Why weren't you hungry?"
"I milked one of the cows and satisfied my hunger with that."
Guru Ayuddhaumya almost laughed. In just the previous night's lesson he'd spoken of how a cow's milk was a complete meal, containing all the nutrients necessary for life. The boy had obviously been listening and applied the theory to his situation. And once more he'd avoided mingling with the boys. He'd even avoided asking for alms. It would be funny if it wasn't so frustrating!
The guru gave a look of horror. "You drank the cow's milk before her calf could eat?" he gasped. "Son, that is very wrong. You must never drink a cow's milk before she has fed her child." For the first time since the guru had known him, Upmanyu's face showed concern, his brow puckered in doubt.
"It's wrong?" he asked, his voice small.
"Very. The calf might starve to death." Ayuddhaumya made sure to add the word "might" so that it wasn't a complete exaggeration. "Never do it again. Besides, the cows must be milked here so I know how much they're producing and can check that they're healthy. Never drink the milk before I give my permission."
Upmanyu bowed his head. "Yes." He was silent for a moment. Then, hesitantly, he folded his palms and bowed properly. "May I go now, Gurudev?"
The guru gave no hint of his surprise at this display of manners. "You may."
That night, before going to sleep, Ayuddhaumya watched Upmanyu stop by the barn and talk to a cow who was standing with her calf. Obviously, this was the cow he'd milked earlier in the day. The guru didn't hear what Upmanyu was saying to them but as he watched Upmanyu stroke and pet the calf, it seemed to him that the boy was asking forgiveness.
And the guru saw that the mother cow took a step forward and nuzzled Upmanyu's shoulder, giving it.
To be continued...
Go here to read the fourth part.