Once upon a time, long ago, in an Indian village, lived a Thatha. What is a Thatha? A Thatha is a grandfather of course. Any grandfather! He need not even have actual grandchildren. It is enough if he looks like one.
Then everyone will call him Thatha. A little white hair, a little white beard. Not dyed. A warm brown wrinkled face. Twinkling brown eyes. Wrinkles and Twinkles are very important in any proper Thatha. Grandchildren may be borrowed, but you must have your own wrinkles and twinkles. A nice knobbly stick, not very straight, is optional, but very desirable.
So, one day, this Thatha made a mistake. The actual mistake he made is not very important. I think someone paid him twice for the same work, or he thought they did, and he took it at the time, but he really grieved about it later. But he did not give it back. So he grieved about it a little more. Then he spent the money on something. May be he fed some hungry orphans – he did that sometimes. Or may be fed himself. He did that too sometimes.
Actually, Thatha liked singing, way, way, more than he liked working.. and he had a secret quest, that everyone knew about. In India, it is hard to keep secrets when everyone is so interested in you. So secret actually does not mean something that no one else knows about. It really means something that you wish, everyone else would stay out of. Of course this cannot happen. And Thatha knew it.
Thatha was looking for a small magic grain. He had fashioned a sieve out of wood and wire. It was his own design. It was a sieve that would let all seeds pass through it, except the magic one! He had read about the magic grain in books that he owned and books that he borrowed, and in books that he owned because he had borrowed them. He grieved about these books that he had not gotten around to returning, but he kept them anyway.
He had snacks that could be crunched and snacks that could be munched and snacks that could be chomped. He had snacks that he could lick and snacks that he could chew and snacks that he could swallow. It is amazing how much Indian neighbours can pack for you in little cloth bundles.
As he went along, Thatha would sing. He would sing from the bottom of his heart and at the top of his voice. He had a deep reverberating voice. Cows and goats and sheep and birds would look upon him delightedly as he sang. Children would follow him as far as their parents would let them and then some. They could not really turn back. Then their parents would have to chase after their children to bring them home. Then they too would walk along with Thatha, listening to his songs.
They would invite him home for a snack or two and feed him till he couldn’t eat anymore. Then they would repack his little cloth bundle and ask him where he was going. Thatha would tell them about the books and sieve and magic grain. They would excitedly bring out all the kinds of grains they had and they would test them in the sieve. When all of them passed through the sieve, they would shake their heads and laugh at Thatha. They would say, “Such magic grains don’t exist, you are wasting your life looking for one. If there had been a magic grain, it would have been found by now.”
The children were more helpful. They swore that they had seen the exact grain that Thatha was looking for. Some said north, some said east and some said they had seen it in faraway lands across the sea or under the sea. Some said, they had one just till yesterday when a sparrow had flown away with it. Thatha would ruffle their hair and give them a hug and be on his way.
How far he traveled, we do not know, and neither did he. As he grew tired and sadder, his songs grew better and better. People who heard him would stand transfixed, unable to move or think. It was only the extremely tone deaf and practical people, who would remember to feed him and repack his little bundle. They were the ones who had the grains fetched and tested in his sieve. They were the ones who told him to give up his impractical search. They were the ones who made sure he slept on a bed at least when they could make him listen to them.
Thatha traveled on and he grew older and older. In his travels he saw many places and many kinds of people, his songs grew wise as well as beautiful. They were full of beautiful thoughts and stories and the music was unimaginably wonderful. Even the people who were tone deaf, were captured in that wonderful philosophy and wisdom. Now it was only the people who were deaf to music and closed to philosophy that made sure that he was fed and rested. They put ointment on his feet and oil on his back. It broke their heart to see him weak, and they sent word for all the grains as far as they could, and personally tested them in the sieve for him. They told him to give up his silly search and to stay with them where they could take care of him.
Thatha wended his way forward. People of one village made sure that someone went along with him at least till the next village, in case he needed anything. Young students ran behind him, making notes of his songs so that they could sing it later. They made sure that he had water to drink and some shade over his head. People said that it was a great good fortune to serve him and competed with each other for that honour.
Then one day…. Thatha saw a huge tree under which there sat a sage. Around him sat hundreds of disciples in silence. He paused his songs and went towards the sage. Some of his protective villager friends, apologized to the sage on his behalf. “He is just a thatha sir, he sings a lot and forgets to eat. He has a sieve and looks for a magic grain, we are just keeping an eye on him, till he reaches the next village safely. He is a foolish man on an impossible errand. But he harms no one. Please don’t be annoyed with him”.
The sage looked kindly at Thatha. “Is this the grain you are looking for?” he asked. It was a beautiful grain, full of a million colors and a joy just to look at. Thatha tested it in his sieve and it was the one!
Then he sang that day. It was a wonderful perfect song of joy and wisdom of journeys and adventures and treasures found and friends made. Even the most practical people in the world forgot to feed him that day. All animate creation stood still. They say the stones and rivers and wind had to take it upon themselves to care of him and the others. They say, that day, the Sun laughed!
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