December 5, 2020

Laha

(c) J. Singh, 2016

Thirteen year old Pradeep Singh rubbed his eyes and yawned as he sat up in bed. It was still dark outside, and the pre-dawn air was crisp and fresh. His Dadaji (paternal grandfather) had already risen and was taking a bath with what Pradeep could only imagine to be ice-cold water.

Pradeep shuffled to the bathroom down the hall and washed his face. He was not ready for a shower yet. Everyone else was asleep, but his Dadaji had seen fit to wake him instead of his younger brother or sister. He really preferred to crawl back into bed, but he felt a sense of responsibility for the old man -- someone had to look out for him. What if he had an accident while bathing, and everyone in the whole house was still asleep? But that's not what Dadaji had woken Pradeep for, and he knew it. Dadaji was a very religious man, and it seemed that he wanted to pass on some of that knowledge to Pradeep. Well, thought Pradeep as he dried his face with a towel, this way we both get what we want.

Dadaji emerged from the bathroom wearing a white kurta and pajama, his long white beard flowing down in waves and a small blue turban on his head. He walked slowly and painfully, almost hunched over. Pradeep was instantly at his side, holding his arm and helping him with each step.

"Bless you, my boy," Dadaji said between strained breaths.

They made their way to the empty guest room and sat on the floor. Pradeep handed Dadaji the gutka which was wrapped in a soft silk cloth. Dadaji brought it up and touched it to his forehead in a gesture of respect, then gently unfolded the covering cloth and opened it. Pradeep sat cross-legged on the floor beside Dadaji, quietly observing but lost in his own thoughts.

Dadaji began reading the morning prayers in his weak, raspy voice. He was already out of breath before he even began, but he persisted. It wasn't long before he began to pick up the pace, and then Pradeep saw an unbelievable transformation occur before his very eyes. As the old man read the ancient verses, his voice seemed to change. It became deep, full, and strong. It was clear and energized. It didn't sound strained or raspy anymore. His breathing had cleared and came easily and smoothly. He sounded like a young man. Whereas he had been hunched over before, now he sat up with his back straight, and head held high. Even his physical appearance seemed to be different, he appeared to have less wrinkles and his shoulders spread out and he seemed to be bigger. He seemed to be larger than life. Pradeep stared in astonishment as his frail old grandfather seemed to morph into a vibrant, energetic, strong man far younger than his advanced years. His voice seemed to take on a quality of such strength and vigor that soon it sounded like he was thundering through the sacred words he was reading. The entire Universe itself seemed to be manifesting through him at this moment.

Pradeep stared in awe as he watched his Dadaji recite the sacred verses in this state. Finally, when he had completed the last prayer, he reverently closed the gutka and as he did so, it was like a light had gone out. Dadaji seemed to return back to that tired, weak old man, sitting there hunched over, finding it difficult to even breathe.

Pradeep must have been staring with his mouth open, because Dadaji glanced at him with a smile and a wink. And then Dadaji looked straight at Pradeep with a twinkle in his eyes.

"You are a merchant," he whispered to the boy, "and you have come into this world to make a profit. Trade this commodity, and you will return to your home with honor and glory!"

Pradeep didn't understand exactly what Dadaji had meant. But he nodded anyway. He couldn't quite articulate any questions, especially after what he had just witnessed. Was his grandfather some sort of magician, he wondered, or did he possess some supernatural powers? He helped him to his feet, and together they slowly shuffled out of the guest room. The day was dawning now, and the morning light was pouring in through the windows. It was a new day, and the house was filled with the sounds of people waking up. Pradeep could hear his mother in the kitchen downstairs, making tea and breakfast. He helped Dadaji down the winding flight of stairs and to the breakfast table.

"Pradeep, Pitaji (father)," Pradeep's mother smiled warmly at both of them. "Have
breakfast!"

Pradeep smiled as he sat down to breakfast with Dadaji. Apparently, today he had
gained more in the bargain than he had anticipated. His intuition was telling him that his grandfather had given him some very precious advice, and a very special gift. His mind couldn't quite figure out exactly what that gift was. But in his future, already written but unrealized, the gift lay waiting to manifest, waiting to bloom and bear fruit.

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