The Gift by Mullapudi Venkata Ramana
Telugu Original by Mullapudi Venkata Ramana. Translated by SaRaDa
When one hears the name of Mullapudi, one can accurately recall the jokes and his original book of Appa Rao and all that nostalgia. While I read the the stories from Janata Express, I was pleasantly amazed to read the last of the stories called 'kaanuka'. I am translating the same verbatim here for all. The story is so touching that I do not know how many times I read it. In a span of 15 days, I read it about 100 or more times. Here it is for all of you. I never knew Mullapudi wrote such a nice story. Enjoy.
Towards the end of the story you will find words "Neti", "Neti". A jnana yogi who wants to realize the absolute Brahman, adopts to this method. He denies the complete world and accepts the only truth that everything is Brahman. His method is said to be method of denial. He denies saying that "not this", "not this". This is translated into Sanskrit as "Neti", "Neti". Mullapudi had woven this analogy beautifully in the story. BTW, the book was written around 1959 and what I read was a reprint in 1993/4, I think.
Since dusk, darkness that enveloped the trees is descending down like the river Yamuna and is covering up the earth like an ocean. Sky high darkness is surrounding the earth - like the color of Krishna, like the house of Nanda. Beneath the tree amidst the darkness, the small fire is moving like the red upper silk cloth of Krishna. They are making peculiar shades on Gopanna - who is busy burning the thin iron rod for making the flute - and on the heap of flutes he already made. In a few hours Sapthami (7th day of the lunar fortnight) will be here. Krishna's birthday - which is on Asthami - is fast approaching. Gopanna could not finish the flute which he started making for Krishna, twenty five years ago. At least by this Ashtami he has to finish and give it to Krishna. If he can not give this Ashtami, he can never give for this life. He ran out of time.
"Papa eat your food", said his son, younger Gopanna. Gopanna did not hear this. His mind and heart are in Brindavan. Krishna will come there. It is about time krishna came here. Gopanna could hear the bangle sounds, smiles and anklets of the Gopika ladies. At this end, the bamboo bushes are whistling slowly. Mixed with all these informal sounds, in a few moments Krishna's flute will sound its magic in a melodious way.
Gopanna knew not how many days he spent in Brindavan. Like a leaf on the tree, a flower of the creeper, a particle of sand, a drop of water of Yamuna he listened to Krishna's flute. All those perfect rhythms he remembered. He tried to remember one rhythm and see the full flow in his imagination - like a saint doing penance. With that he came back to his hut and with a new bamboo tried to make a flute to play the same rhythm. If the same rhythm came out, then he promised to give that to Krishna. But the flute did not turn out very well. All his breathes, Gopanna spent for tuning the so made flute. One breathes countless number of times. If one is to waste all of them what is the way ? When Gopanna listened to the flute of Krishna, he spent hiding in the bushes unseen by Krishna, he listened with such an attention, that he even forgot to breathe. When the music was over he came back and made a flute to play what he remembered. But when Gopanna played the flute somehow the rhythm was not good. Even some irrythmic sounds came out. Gopanna looked inside the flute and softened those inner edges. And when he got ready to take the flute to Krishna, somehow the flute never produced the needed sound.
Gopanna made thousands of flutes before and played to his great satisfaction. But after reaching a level, putting the flute aside he tried to get a feeling of the music. When the so felt music is imagined and lived with, he realized a truth. To feel the actual real music, use of some instruments and voice are worthless. Can one tie down the waterfall in a bamboo pipe ? It is ignorance to compare an ocean to small pot of water. The music one can imagine and feel can be million times greater than one can sing or one can experience through singing. As his imagination went beyond his tolerable levels, it occupied the entire universe. Gradually, the music that came from the sacred Ome again converged to Ome and was getting known to him in a melodious and beautiful way. Unlike the normal composed music there are no bad rhythms in this music. Like the unique truth which is composed of the semi truths, in this music, even if there were some bad rhythms, they stood beside the real music and the totality was even more beautiful and melodious. In every atom there is God. In every sound there is music. Gopanna realized these basic truths. But Gopanna's weak frame could not tolerate this. His limbs could not withstand this. He was in a heart broken situation. When happiness and beauty come so close, Gopanna could not think, that it would be so miserable a life. Now that he realised it but could not escape.....
It was Krishna's flute that brought him down to earth from this level. The moment he heard Krishna play the flute, Gopanna was wonderstuck. This music is even better than the music he could imagine and feel and also easy to digest. From that day he followed Krishna like a calf following her mother. In the beginning, the Gopika ladies were doubting why Gopanna appeared wherever Krishna went with them. But in a few days they treated him as a stone or tree and completely ignored this man.
Gopanna could not understand how Krishna composed such melodious music out of a simple bamboo flute. At one time Gopanna went and stole the flute of Krishna. When he came back to his hut and pulled his upper cloth in which he hid the flute, he could not find the flute. "From the chief of the thieves I stole. What a useless thing " Gopanna thought. But that very evening the chief met Gopanna and smilingly said " Gopanna, you took my flute. So make me a new flute then ". Gopanna put a pale face to hear this.
From the next day Gopanna started making the flute. With renewed energy and enthusiasm he started his work. The flute that is getting shaped in his hands will very soon go to the holy hands of Krishna and He will put life in that flute. This thought made Gopanna very happy and he made flute with greater interest. Gopanna softened the holes where Krishna's lips would touch the flute and where His fingers would dance. As the flute became ready he tested gently playing it. It did not have the needed rhythm. Moreover, it looked as if two or three flutes were played at once. Has the flute too become more happy since Krishna would play it ? Gopanna threw it out and made one more. The same thing happened. Next day he brought so much bamboo. He made many flutes. None suited the needed rhythm. Make a flute, play it, throw it......
"I will not show my face to you, Krishna, without giving the flute ", thought Gopanna. From then he did just one thing. He went to Brindavan and listened intently to the music of Krishna, came back and made a flute. In the beginning every one in the village admired Gopanna. Later they thought that from the madness of music, Gopanna begot the madness of flutes. Much later every one laughed. The flutes Gopanna threw out, some boys used to pick up. Gopanna put those in his attic, since he feared that given an ill fated day any of those flutes can go to Krishna. What a shame if such a thing happened ! People used to blame Gopanna saying " Why not start a good shop my dear ? You can even do some business ! ". For at least to laugh at these comments, Gopanna had no time neither desire nor energy.
Twenty five years have passed. Krishna grew up. He is not coming to Brindavan. He got used to city life. He is more involved in politics now. But even then after every birthday, Gopanna started with renewed energy, making flutes promising himself that even for the next birthday he would deliver. Birthday used come and go. The perfect flute, Gopanna thought to make, but had not been made. Why that irrhythmic sound as if some one cursed, as if some one is scoffing at him ?
"Papa eat your food", said younger Gopanna again. Gopanna turned his head this time and looked at his son. "What a pity, he is a motherless child", thought Gopanna - even fatherless child, with a surviving father since Gopanna never took care of this boy, busy making flutes. Rather the boy himself is preparing some food intern to Gopanna. To some extent this is a good sign since from this Navami (9th day and comes after Ashtami) the boy would not feel much for his father once Gopanna is gone forever. Who can care for another ? Every one has to carry his own cross.
"Sure", said Gopanna "but tomorrow is Ashtami and you have to carry this flute to Nanda's house and without any one observing, give it to Krishna. Will you do that ?"
"Alright. So eat your food", said younger Gopanna. "Will you carry ?" asked Gopanna again. "You ask me to carry now. But tomorrow morning you will say that this flute is not good and I need not go". "No. I will not say that my dear boy, it will be the perfect flute. Whether it is or not, I am not going to test it in the first case", replied Gopanna.
Early next morning, Gopanna got up, gave an oil bath to his son, put on the best dress of silk clothes and decked him with all that he could to see that younger Gopanna looked exactly like Krishna, the kid. Gopanna was stunned. What is this ! BalaKrishna Himself is here to see me. Did he come here to ask me the flute I stole from him once ? Suddenly he folded his hands and prayed to Krishna. Younger Gopanna could not understand this. All this decorations and bedecking are new for him. He came forward, catching his dad's chin in his hand asked "what happened papa ?". Gopanna replied "I prayed to the Lord, my dear boy", coming back to his normal mood. "Now, then you are ready. Where is the flute I kept here yesterday ? Let us find it and you will go with that to Krishna". "I kept on this attic, papa. Since if there are some rats at night, we can not find it in the morning", said younger Gopanna. Gopanna grew pale. Basically rats live in the attic and how can this boy be so foolish ?, he wanted to scold younger Gopanna left and right, but did not have the heart. He climbed to the attic and found the thousands of flutes he threw before. Which is the real flute he made, Gopanna was dumbfound.
He brought all those flutes down. He has to find out the real flute he made. He started his tests all again. He played the first one. "Not this", he threw it away to his left side. He played the second. "Not this". Lunch time came and gone. Left side heap is increasing and the right side decreasing. Younger Gopanna lost all the enthusiasm and interest. His clothes are getting dirty, he was getting weak since he ate nothing from that morning. Younger Gopanna did not have the guts to talk to his father. Gopanna is still testing all the flutes, saying "Neti, Neti".
"Papa, birthday is coming to end. It is dusk and getting dark. Will you not give me the flute ?", asked younger Gopanna at last. Gopanna did not hear this. In this heap of flutes there is a true, perfect flute. Is it perfect ? Gopanna does not know. There should be one in this heap. There must be....
Towards the end of the evening he came closer. Only two flutes remained. He tested one. "Not this", he threw it away. He took the last of the flutes into his hand and said "This is !". "You do not want to test it ?", asked the boy. "No, not required. Give it to Krishna. He will test it. If it is not good in rhythm, He will make it rhythmic. Go, run", said Gopanna. He did not have the guts to test it, know the truth and die. The boy did not waste a second. He feared, that if he stays a trifle longer, his father would say "not this". He ran out through the door into the darkness.
Twenty five years of storm has come to stall. Did he send the true, perfect flute to the Lord ? Gopanna does not know yet. But does he have knowledge to test whether the flute is perfect ? If the flute is not perfect Krishna Himself will test it and make it perfect. Did he think that Krishna is not capable of setting his flute right ? Gopanna smiled to himself weakly. He felt weak and exhausted. When he tried to feel the music in his imaginations in the earlier years, he felt the similar moods.
What a mistake. Twenty five years of mistake. A life time mistake. Has he thought that Krishna has no knowledge of making the flute, he made, perfect ? Will Krishna be angry ? No, "Crazy Gopanna", He would think. Then He would put the flute at his lips and from the belly which is origin of the sacred ome, and from the origin of the Vedas, from the holy body, from the beautiful lips the song would come and enter my flute. From the lips that ate the butter and drank the milk, from that lips, sound would eventually enter my flute....
While Gopanna was at it, he observed that a melodious sound of music came out of the flute lying next to him and stroking him gently. What is this ? He threw out that very flute this day ! In the next second the flute on the other side and in the third instant, a third flute gave the same music. Gopanna was wonderstuck. In a small span of time, all the flutes are playing the divine music which he tried to put in those flutes and thought they were imperfect. Gopanna got up in hurry and went round his hut touching each flute with his hands. There is not a single useless flute. Every flute is perfect. Gopanna lay back hearing the music and feeling happy. After the music is over, he could hear the steps of someone approaching. Younger Gopanna must have come back. He would tell whether the flute he sent is perfect or not. It does not matter whether he knew the truth or not. Gopanna realized a greater truth now.
When he turned the head in the direction of door, he found Balakrishna standing there. "You Yourself came here ? " Gopanna got up and put his palms together for a salutation. "Papa, papa, I gave your flute to Krishna and he played it. He gave me food and kissed me here. But papa however he played... no matter how many times he played ... nothing came out of it. No one could hear anything. But Krishna had been nice to me. He gave me food and he kissed ... younger Gopanna was talking.
Gopanna took a random flute - that played the divine music non-stop till then and got exhausted - lying next to him, put at his lips and kissed it gently and affectionately.