Dear Little Doves
(Translated from my Hindi Story, कबूतरों के साथ )
incurable disease afflicted him like an inexpiable black curse. So deadly was
the disease that even one would not like one’s sworn enemy to be diagnosed
of that. Who is not aware of the horrendous consequence of cancer? It was all
in the destiny of his family to be rendered destitute, and in time situation came
to such a pass that nobody else was left to come to their rescue. True, he was
a government employee and that was how whatever medical reimbursement was admissible
just pushed the wheels of life a little ahead. And one day doctors in that
Mumbai hospital where he was undergoing the treatment advised him to go home. Respecting
their advice he just left the hospital bed. At home he stuck to his bed and waited patiently
for the day to come when he would breathe his last.
fellow I’m talking about was Ram Khilaban Pandey, a sorting assistant in a certain
mail office. He was at the doorstep of his middle age, say on the right side of
forties. Had he not come face to face with this deadly disease he would have served another
twenty years. He was a person of robust build and more than his physique his
moustache endowed him an imposing personality. Ferocious—honestly, one could
use the word for a precise description of Ram Khilaban.
God only knew it, what else did he
wish to do during his twenty years of service? He was not a soul to be satisfied
with the salary he used to receive at the end of every month. So paltry it
was! He practised moneylending, became a leader of a group and as there was
need to terrorise others in those pursuits, he did not hesitate to resort to
that. In this way, he managed to register a powerful presence in his circle. He
ever hated to join the issue as to which one was moral and which one was not. Like
all practical persons in this world, he just believed in the popular adage: End
justifies means. And for him anything that was practical had got to be
moral! So much clear was he in his mind about what he thought or what he
did that he did not care a damn as he took pigeons out of their nests to eat
them. Well, he was not eating them raw but saw to it that the birds were made
into savoury dishes first before he actually relished them as his food.
There were many
among his colleagues who did not approve of the style of Ram Khilaban, but only
a few of them could muster courage enough to actually dissuade him from this.
Especially his senior colleague Prabhudayal used to advise him, ‘What’s that
you’re doing, Ram Khilaban? Poor little birds they are, and what harm have they done to
you so that you’re killing them almost one every week? And eating them so
unrestrained disposition, one good quality about Ram Khilaban was that he did
not retort in reply to Prabhudayal’s words of advice. He was the only person
that received the respect of Ram Khilaban. So, faced with the vigilant watch of
Prabhudayal, he had to change his plan of stealing pigeons from the office. He
used to patiently wait for the day Prabhudayal would be on leave so that he
could take pigeons from the mail office without any restrictions.
It was not a
fact that supervisor Prabhudayal wielded so much power over Ram Khilaban only on
account of his seniority. Rather, as a person he was the possessor of a cultivated religious
temperament. He used to advise Ram Khilaban on religious lines too. Sometimes,
he would not hesitate to sanctimoniously remind Ram Khilaban about his caste.
Khilaban, you're a Brahmin, aren’t you? And does it behove you to indulge in all these?
Your entire clan is vegetarian but you don’t hesitate to relish the flesh of a
pigeon?’ once the supervisor Prabhudayal exhorted.
did not respond to what Prabhudayal said in the spirit of mild reprimand. Rather
he chose to remain silent. He was not interested in opening a stultifying session
of Q & A, not in the least. As for him, there was no answer for the
question that Prabhudayal posed, in that the world was also the abode of millions
of meat-eaters. Then he thought, ‘When a pigeon is not a human being, why then
should there be so much fuss about my killing it?’
But one day
realisation was to dawn on Ram Khilaban. In fact a ray of knowledge illuminated
the dark cell of his mind all of a sudden. The event that happened was
something like this. That day Ram Khilaban stole a pigeon and per chance the
supervisor Prabhudayal was on duty. On other days he used to twist the neck of
those birds a full round that killed them instantly, but on that day he had forgotten
to complete that formality. He just hid it inside the bag and came to
‘Sir, may I go
out for half an hour?’ Ram Khilaban sought for permission from Prabhudayal.
‘But why? Don’t
you know mails will arrive at any moment now? What’s so urgent with you
that you want to go out at this moment?’ asked Prabhudayal.
‘I hate to remain
absent at this moment but then what to do? I’ve some unusual rumbling in my
stomach and I want to go home and swallow some pills.’ Hardly had Ram Khilaban
finished his words than a pigeon managed to set itself free out of the bag and reached
Prabhudayal. Exhausted and panting, the poor little bird sat on the table.
could have managed the situation had he not reached out to the bird to take it
on grip. But what else could he have done when his hands acted so compulsively?
understood everything. Why did Ram Khilaban ask for permission to go out of the
office for a spell of half an hour, where from did an exhausted and
half-strangled pigeon come to perch on his table, why did Ram Khilaban
take the bird in his grip—everything was clear to Prabhudayal. He became
crestfallen. It was his realisation that despite all his efforts, he had miserably
failed to exert any influence on his wayward colleague. All these years he
could not kindle in his mind even a spark of compassion towards living beings.
Just in a
matter of minutes Prabhudayal was out of his mood of despondency. He was now
agog with new optimism. Why can't he make another attempt? Having spent all
his life in experimenting and meditating, he was by now spiritually matured. In
fact he was too matured to be let down by this temporary setback. He believed
that there is always an abundance of goodness in human beings, ready to bloom
at any moment. That is why we are all humans. The only prerequisite for such efflorescence
is the company of spiritually awakened souls. One should wait for the arrival
of one’s moment of spiritual break.
‘Do you know,
Ram Khilaban, who these pigeons are?’ asked Prabhudayal in a tone that was soft
but profound. He was calm and serene, unperturbed at the vicissitude of the
was shocked. He began to ponder, ‘Well, a pigeon is, after all, a pigeon. What
else could it be if it’s not a pigeon?’
colleague greatly confused, Prabhudayal said, ‘Look my dear, don’t think that
these birds are simply pigeons. This one was a sorting assistant in this very
office in his previous birth. His name was Brijbhushan who died of a massive
heart attack. Aha, the poor old soul didn't stay away from his letters and
parcels till he breathed his last.’
words were pregnant with meaning, nay full of profound spiritual content. And they were
powerful too. Had it been a different moment Ram Khilaban could not have
understood them. But now there was receptiveness all around: his internal self was
clearly ready to receive and internalise those spiritual strokes. Until this moment Ram
Khilaban had discarded many things as either too banal or too abstruse, but now
rays of new light fell on them just to illuminate them afresh. The lovely little pigeon sitting
before him was not a simple bird; it was reincarnation of human soul. Thus Ram
Khilaban could not help being submerged in the surge of his new realisation. And he wondered, ‘Eek! Were those
hundred-odd pigeons I’ve eaten so far my great ancestors? Have I been so blithely
unaware that what I was eating all these years was the flesh of human
beings? Am I such a demon?’
Back home Ram
Khilaban fell ill. It was all shock and shriek for him. He took leave from office. Then he consulted doctors, from
the family doctor to the specialists of the town; got hospitalised and moved
from the local health centre to the district headquarters hospital. And finally
he reached Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Mumbai. By that time cancer had already
spread from stomach to other internal organs. There the doctors sprang into
action and chemo vials were injected into his body one after the other. Some
result definitely came to be seen, improving the quality of life greatly, but that was only for a few days. Finally
doctors advised Ram Khilaban to go home. And the fighter in him understood what the doctors meant by
on the same bed
continuously for two months, Ram Khilaban was bored to a hilt. Now he
was not afraid of
death. He had arrived at his own findings about life and death. People
of uncertainties. And death for him was not going to be an uncertain
any longer. He was ready to fight any attempt to tut-tut at him, for he
had begun to imagine his way ahead. Even he would share it, in case
anybody would benefit by that. He thought, ‘Shouldn’t I go to my office,
even for a while? After
all, I’ll be living there even after my death, won’t I?’
He sent a word
to Prabhudayal through one of his relatives. And Prabhudayal visited Ram
Khilaban without any loss of time.
It is often
seen that spiritually immersed people love to adore people who are about to
die, for the one who is going to die will be meeting God soon. Prabhudayal was for
choosing the right words, a manner of articulation that would best console Ram Khilaban. More than
medicine, moribund Ram Khilaban needed consolation urgently and Prabhudayal was
there to reel that out.
and behold! Ram Khilaban was totally fearless. Prabhudayal suspected
the fellow had
already known the secret meaning of human life which had eluded him so
despite his rigorous penance all through his life. How else a person so
painfully enduring the death throes could adopt such a lofty posture
‘Sir, I wonder if
I could go to office just for once,’ pleaded Ram Khilaban.
‘Oh yes, by all
means,’ agreed Prabhudayal without so much as a twitch of hesitation.
When both of them reached office, it
was already night. All drafted for night duty were busy disposing their work.
There were heaps of mail all around. Seeing Ram Khilaban everyone was drawn towards him. All wanted to know his
wellbeing and he, too, replied to those friendly queries smilingly.
Finally Ram Khilaban went near the
pigeons, resting snugly in their nests for the night. The birds could recognise
his presence by moving their heads, some of them even crooned briefly but they were
far from being afraid of him. Had it been the case of any other day they would
have shown panic reaction. They would have fluttered their wings and taken a
desperate flight in all directions to escape the doom. But today no such thing was necessary. The
birds knew everything: they knew only a friend was standing before them.
Ram Khilaban came home and returned to his bed.
Just two days later he breathed his last.
A N Nanda