SURDAS’S MOMENT OF GLORY
It had been raining incessantly in and around Mathura last few days. Coming so soon after an unusually torrid summer , the first few days of rain came as a very welcome relief. Children danced on the streets, farmers took out joyful procession and ladies served celebratory feasts and faithful performed thankful pujas in the temples. But when the rains did not stop even after a week , it became a nuisance soon graduating into full scale calamity. Rains gained strength to become torrential. Flash floods inundated low lying areas, washing away thatched roof huts and kutcha houses, rendering people homeless. Misery and distress enveloped every one. Of several villages that bore the brunt of rains, Srirangpur village was one. It was in the north of Mathura and boasted of a very famous citizen called Surdas, the poet. Confusion reigned supreme as clamour for relocating to higher grounds became frenzied. But to leave their houses unguarded presented new problem as criminals and opportunists gained courage to indulge in large scale looting. People were faced with a dilemma of having to decide between standing guard in front of their houses or running for safety to high grounds.
Surdas’s family was one such family facing this dilemma. They decided to move out to high ground to escape the fury of floods as Yamuna breached the banks at several places adding to their misery. They locked up their house and began their trek to safety. The grand niece of Surdas was entrusted with the task of helping the aging and blind Surdas. They made slow progress. As they moved along in orderly fashion helping one another a flash flood swept them off their feet. .The niece tried to hold fast to the blind Surdas but the current was stronger and she let go her hold on Surdas. She advised him that in the event of separation, he should hold himself in one location so that they would trace him and get him back. Surdas discovered that he had lost his bearing totally and had to join another group working their way to an old temple..He swam upstream in waist high water calling frequently his grand niece .It had become dark and people hurried to reach some place to spend the night
Surdas was hungry and cold. His old limbs had taken a severe beating and he longed to put his body down to rest. There were many around him in same state.. The elders with some strength left in them tried to mobilise some food. Children had started crying.. In that wet condition , they could not light a fire to cook some thing. Some one located an orchard of fruit bearing trees near the temple and soon they were munching on fleshy guava fruits. .With a little food inside , people looked around for some thing to lift their spirits. Some one recognised Surdas and invited him to sing bhajans to divert people’s mind from their miserable experience.
Surdas thought for some time. He was in no mood to sing. He was worried about his family. He missed them , especially his grand niece who always joined him in singing. Today, like in his earlier times he had to sing alone. In his anxiety ,he saw singing as an open an outlet to drain his stress and he sang a song that brought to memory happier days in the sun.
That day you lifted a mountain
To save your people from rains,
To give them shelter and warmth
They hailed you as Govindhaa,
Where are you now ?,
The same rains have visited us again,
Bringing misery and pain
Rains no doubt are your blessings
Too much of amrit is also not benign
So show mercy and hold up these rains,
we have had enough,
ocean of mercy, My Giridhari lal.
For ever we are in your debt,
Different are your ways of blessing us
Come wipe the tears of terrified children,
Help us to reach our home and hearth
Bring solace to our souls so troubled
You are a magician, work your miracle
There is no time better than now,
We are your faithful herd
My Giridhari lal
The people knew of their plight, but when it is sung in style and in chorus , emotion gets hold of you and makes you think of the almighty. Fervent prayers in chorus reach heaven wards to push and nudge the good lord. Loud singing and clapping of hands had drained their energy and they dozed off to blissful sleep. The night passed of peacefully and a new day dawned bright and dry. They were thankful to Surdas for the pretty song that was composed extempore. People were unanimous in declaring that it was Surdas who had worked the magic, to bring sun out once again in all his brilliance.
They now planned to move back to their houses. One elderly gent asked Surdas, where he would like to go.
“I have to wait here. My family would be trying to trace me and I should stay put in one place.” He sounded very hopeful. They wished him luck and went their way. But in their mind the song lingered, especially the lines
“For ever we are indebted
Different are your ways to bless us.:
Soon Surdas was alone in that deserted old temple. He was tired of sitting in one place for long. He felt like stretching his limbs. He set out to walk around for some time. He soon found out that the ground was slushy and dangerously slippery. He had kept his walking stick. He used it with good effect, testing the ground for firmness before stepping ahead. He was scared that he would slip.
There was an unused well in the temple compound. The parapet wall around the well had collapsed during rains. The flash floods had eroded the path leading to the well making it slope dangerously towards the well mouth. Surdas’s walking stick settled on a stone and the stone turned twisting the stick and catching surdas on wrong foot.. He slipped on the slopes and went skidding down. He tried to arrest his fall by grabbing at things around. But it was all wet and whatever he grabbed came to his hand. He could not break the fall. Fear gripped him. He had never felt so inadequate in life before inspite of the blindness. Now he was blind in every sense of the word not knowing where he would stop. He cried out ‘krishna’ loudly and fell. It was a long drop. When he crashed into the waters of the deep well , he knew he was in real trouble.
. Once in the water, he tried to make himself calm. He was a good swimmer and managed to keep afloat. Once in a while he called out for help , but no one was near by to hear him. .He began to pray as he swam around trying to assess how big the well was. He kept himself close to the wall and swam along the wall and realised it was a large round well. It took some time for him as he never could know if he had completed a full round. If the well had a large opening, people would be using the water. So he must wait till somebody shows up at the well mouth. He kept his ears tuned to hear the rattle of a pulley and sound of lowering rope tied to a pot. He knew that many such wells have steps leading to water. He had heard ladies often complain how difficult it was to climb up those steps carrying a heavy pot of water, on their heads. He thought if he could reach those steps he could climb out. So he began to search for the steps feeling with his hands for a break in the wall. For a blind man it was frustrating work, the moss on the wall and water plants that grow hindered his work. He was aware that even if he found the steps , it would be too difficult for him to climb up. He was more likely to fall back into water. He tried to avoid negative thoughts crowding his brain. He began to think of Krishna and prayed .He had immense faith in his Lord .He should be prepared to be rescued. .So he kept himself alert .He could not find the steps. His heart sank. He knew that the lord waits for man to use up all his resourses of self help before rendering help. It happened to Draupadhi and Gajendra, the elephant King. He knew help would come. He was tired. He leaned against the wall to rest. He heard some noise, he turned up and cried out for help. The effort was too much. He swooned.
He heard some steps and splash of some one diving into the waters.Some one was now very close to him. He reached out towards the noise,’Krishna, you have come for me. I knew you would come sooner or later’. He was in a delirium. The man caught him just as his head slipped under water. He felt the soft hands around him. Strong hands bodily lifted him out of water and put over broad shoulders. He put his hands around the neck. He could feel the soft curly hair of the rescuer, the strength of his shoulders. As they came out of water, Surdas could see a flash of blue.He could hear the man hum a tune and distinctly recognised the lines
I am for ever indebted to you
Different are ways you bless us.
The lines from his own sung just the previous evening in the temple. He was thrilled. He wanted to say some thing to the man but he just could not speak. The man put him down on the ground. He could feel the hard ground and grass under him. The man rolled him over and wrapped him in a fine silken cloth and with a jerk removed the wet clothes around his body.. The man gave a vigorous rub down up and down the legs and the hands. Blood circulation was restored .Surdas felt refreshed and wanted to thank the man but he was still unable to speak as he felt he was in some sort of semi coma. He kept a tight hold on the hands of his saviour. Surdas could now smell the scent from the garland of flowers around his saviour’s neck. He could also feel the golden bracelets in his hand. The man bent and patted surdas’s cheek very affectionately
There was silence all round. Every cell in his body seemed alive and he felt supremely blessed to be so alive. A soft wind brought him back to consciousness and he could now hear sound of running feet. Then there was a rush of people running towards him. The man who had saved him went away with out waiting for any one to thank him. His grand niece was now calling him from close. She was crying calling out ” Grand Pa, grand pa”. Surdas reached for her hand and pressed it to signal that he was okay .Slowly he spoke,’Ragini, do not cry. I am okay’
In between sobs, the girl muttered, ’thank God, you are alive. I thought you were gone.”
Surdas was happy that his family had reached out to him. He told the little girl, “I was trying very much to put myself out, blundering into the well. But your god refused to take me in till I see little Ragini again.’ The girl laughed
She said, ’so sorry Grand pa, we got separated because of that stampede when the flash floods hit us. I could not hold on to you as we got pushed around by people. We were all running like mad people. I hoped you would manage to reach high ground
Surdas never blamed any one for his own in adequacy.
The little girl asked, ‘Grand Pa, where did you get this yellow silk cloth. It looks so good on you. Did you not say that your Krishna always wore yellow silk?
I don’t know dear. The man who lifted me out of the well put it around me.
“you fell into the well. How ?
I told you. I should have stayed put in one place like you told me. we had taken shelter inside the temple and spent the night there. I was foolish. I wanted to walk around on my own. I slipped in the slush and blundered into the well..
Ragini was shocked.”how long were you in water?”
Quite long , I suppose. I kept myself afloat some how.I frequently called out for help. But nobody seemed to be near by for long. Then this young man turned up from somewhere and brought me out. Actually I had slipped into a semi coma like condition , not knowing what I was doing. Only after he revived me, I became aware.
“Did you recognise that person?”
No dear, you know I can not see. But when he was holding me tight, I put my ear close to his throat and I could hear he was humming a tune known to me
‘what song ?’
The song that I sang in the temple last evening. HE KEPT HUMMING THOSE TWO LINES
I am for ever in your debt
Different are ways you bless us
Beautyful lines , grand pa. You must sing that song again for me .
Sure, my dear.
You know grand pa, when ever you go for your bath in the river, I always worry about you. There is a perpetual fear in my mind that you can easily drown if you are not careful.. Here , you see , it almost happened.
The fact dear , is that it did not happen
Long live that young savior.
They could laugh about it so easily.
You know some thing.when I was floating around in water and passing out for brief spells, I had a vision of another deluge. I saw myself being washed away like so many other things. It was like the proverbial terminal floods they call pralaya. God is supposed to use pralaya to destroy all life on earth so that life can begin a fresh That is the way of God to cleanse this earth of all accumulated sins. I saw that deluge in all its glory. I saw myself as a puny little thing bobbing up and down in the waters. Then I saw a green banyan leaf on which a child of immaculate beauty was reclining. As the leaf moved up and down in the water , the child made squeeking strange noises and kicking his legs. Then the child would put his big toe in its mouth. When the toe was removed from the mouth, it would drip honey. I saw that leaf along with the child float towards me. The child saw me and squeeled in delight , reached out to me with tiny hands and plucked me out of water and put me besides him on the leaf.
It was a fantastic vision. I think that was the time the young man appeared to save me.
The vision vanished there after.
When I came back to consciousness, I was on firm ground all dry and with this yellow silk cloth wrapped around me. My dirty cotton doti was gone.
The little girl heard all this in silence and remarked,; So strange, so nice .I am lucky grand pa, to hear all that you say. I want to thank that saviour some time.’
End of chapter1