A Hundred Rupee Note
May 1, 2005
An hour ago, when four of us were leaving the Vinoba Ashram for an 11 kilometer walk to the Gandhi Katha, three other kids decide to spontaneously join us. One of them is Medha, a 9th grader girl whose grandfather had walked for six years with Vinoba Bhave. Two other are brothers, Avinash and his older sibling Jigo. It is only an 11 kilometer walk, but it feels like a mini-Vinoba pilgrimage of the next generation.
As seven of us are walking in the heavy, 3:30PM heat, one of the adults throws up, gets a heat-stroke and has to return in a rickshaw with another walker. The remaining five of us keep going.
And then Avinash finds the hundred rupee note. The question now is -- what will an 8th grader do with this jackpot?
From the beginning, Avinash is pumpedup about doing this walk. "I won't get tired at all," he tells me to show that he's got the stuff. "But it is pretty hot," I counter his enthusiasm. "Oh yeah, no problem. I play cricket in this weather, all day!" We smile and I swing him around, surround his neck with my arms, and give him an inverse hug.
So when Avinash finds the hundred bucks, he sort of knew that it was a result of his intention for this mini-walk. He doesn't know what to do, so he lifts his head up such that the bill of his cap faces the sky; his big eyes are looking to me for advice.
"This is your test. God is trying to see how much you love money," I say, knowing full well that he is somewhat excited at the prospect of having 100 rupees in his pocket. Previously, his Dad had given him one 2-rupee coin to put in his pocket for any emergency on the journey.
When you meet Avinash, you can just feel that he's got a huge heart. So I try to push him: "Maybe you can return the money back to God? Maybe you can give it to someone else along the way?" He immediately agrees, much to my surprise. Rubbing his head with my palm, I tell him, "Keep it in your pocket. Some need will come up on the way."
And again, we keep walking.
Since we don't know the way, we have to ask for directions every two minutes. Instead of mapquest-dot-com, India relies on human beings. That's bad in some ways, that's inefficient in certain other ways, but it's heartwarming in few very important ways.
"Bhaiji, kareli baag?" we ask a random stranger. The man instructs us to go left, then right (actually, his hands are showing left and right, but verbally he's just telling us to go straight, as is the tendency in India :)). Those directions concur with our previous information, so we head in that direction.
Just then, an old man yells out to us from the back. "Eedhar aaa-au, eedhar aa-au," he calls us in Hindi. We turn around to see that he's indeed calling us. He's a really old man, single handedly pulling several hundred pounds of weight on a bullock cart. His frail, weak physique is almost hidden in the aura of his bright face and clear eyes. "Come here, I will show you a short cut," he says in an inviting way.
"Listen, don't go that way. It's very long. You guys are walking so just cut through this park. It will save you a lot of time," he tells us as if he's offering us a jewel.
We thanks him and head in the direction he pointed to.
I look to Avinash, and he knows exactly what I'm thinking. That hundred rupee note in his pocket is itching to get out. He nods his head, effortlessly puts his hand in his pocket, and we turn around to find the old man who is already heading in the other direction. "Dada, Dada. One more thing. We found this on the way," we say together, while showing him the note. "It's a gift from the universe, and we think it was meant for you."
Without saying anything, the old man graciously accepts it. And we part ways.
Everyone is pumped-up, especially because this whole ten-minute episode fit in exactly with our topics of conversation along the way. Instead of buying something material with that money, we made an old man smile. "Did you guys see how happy that 'dada' was?" the kids start to talk amongst themselves.
Guri decides to encourage their altruism by buying ice-cream for all three kids, from our dollar-a-day budget. We are all excited to see each other so geniunely happy.
When we meet up with other "adults", people get to know about our experience. Everyone is proud of Avinash and his buddies, and the kids repeatedly tell others about how happy they were to see the old man smile.
People offer tons of stories about the role of money in the lives of sages. Gandhi said, "There is enough for every man's need, not every man's greed." One famous saint saw a big note on the ground and because he didn't want his wife to get tempted, he covered it with dirt; his wife sees that and says, "What's the point of covering dirt with dirt?" Ramakrishna Paramhansa never touched money; one time, as he sat on a cushion, he immediately got up as if a scorpion had just bit him. He says, "There's something under the cushion," and sure enough someone had left some money there. Vinoba Bhave also went for decades without touching any money.
If Avinash would've bought ice-cream with that hundred rupees, the story would've dissolved right then. Instead, Avinash gives it away, feels a deep joy in seeing the "old man smile", shares the merit with all of us who were walking with him, creates conversations about need and greed amongst the adults who hear about it, and feels encouraged by his proud parents. Giving begets more giving.
To have the heart of an eight grader, is to know that giving is natural.