THE SWEET THIEF

Shyam Kumari


 

   (Sometimes the Divine puts on a human body and then he takes on every weakness of humanity upon himself. It is his Lila or "play". Here the Divine child Krishna acts as a thief. The story is based on a folk-tale of Vraja.)

   Krishna was especially happy that morning. There was lots of activity in the house. The neighbouring milkmaids of Gokul had come to help Yashoda Ma and Rohini Ma with preparations for a special Pooja (worship service) to be held that night. Of course they brought their cow-herd youngsters along. Thus the whole group of Krishna's friends were together and looking for things to do. Manu, Sudam, Subal, Neel, Anshu and Benu were watching the preparations in the courtyard.

   Soon they wanted to help. All of them followed Krishna to one side where a milkmaid was readying sandal paste. (A paste is made from rubbing a piece of sandalwood on a wet stone. It is very fragrant and is used in worship and for anointing the body.) They pleaded with her, "Please! Please! Let us prepare the paste!"

   She smiled and let them take turns in rubbing the sandalwood piece on the wet circular stone. But the boys soon tired of this and wandered over to the barn where Nanda Baba, along with the other milk men, was decorating the horns of cows with garlands. The children helped put the Tilaks (dots) on the foreheads of the calves and garlands around their necks. Then they ran back to the courtyard and sat around the maids who were weaving the garlands. They handed them flowers for some time.

   Then, tiring of this pastime, they ran towards the kitchens where Yashoda Ma and Rohini Ma were busy making laddus. There were heaps of gram flour bobs fried and soaked in sugar syrup, mixed with almonds and dry raisins and saffron. Maiya and her helpers were shaping them into balls which they put into big trays. Then they covered them with gold and silver foil. It was a day of fast for Yashoda Ma and her friends. In the evening Maharishi Garg would come to do Pooja and then they would offer worship to the moon-god. Only after that would they end their fast. These big delicious and nutritious laddus would be distributed as Prasad.* (*Prasad is the name for food offered to the gods as part of the worship. Later it is given to the worshipper to eat. It is considered to be blessed and very beneficial.)

   When the boys saw those laddus suddenly they began to feel hungry. Krishna said, "Ma! We are all very hungry. Won't you give us some laddus?"

   "No, my son, not just now. These you will receive at night after the Pooja. Come! I will give you Shrikhand (a sweet made of yoghurt and sugar with raisins, almonds and saffron), butter, sugar candy, mangoes and bananas," replied Yashoda.

   Krishna insisted, "Ma! Please give us laddus now."

   "I surely will give all of you as many as you want, but not just now," Yashoda tried to reason with Krishna.

   Krishna took hold of her scarf and again insisted, "Ma! We want laddus only."

   "Please, Krishna, don't insist," Yashoda replied.

   Balaram said, "Come, Krishna, now we will eat Shrikhand and have the laddus later tonight."

   Krishna obeyed his elder brother Balaram, but a little reluctantly. Rohini Ma brought out many delicacies for the children's breakfast. The children enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Krishna teased Subal by taking a bite out of his mango. Subal retorted by putting a pat of butter on Krishna's cheek. Krishna rubbed some curd (yoghurt) on Subal's chin. All the friends laughed and clapped in glee. It took Rohini Ma full one hour first to feed the children and then to make them wash.

   After breakfast the children wandered everywhere. When they came back to the courtyard Yashoda Ma was putting the big trays of laddus in the store-room. Such delicious laddus would have tempted even the gods and not only Madhumangal who was the oldest and fattest among Krishna's friends and was especially fond of laddus. Sometimes he ate a dozen of them at one time!

   Yashoda smiled when she saw the children's longing glances. She closed the door of the store-room, then locked it and tied the key into the end of her scarf and said, "Krishna! Do not even think of trying to steal the laddus. They are meant for the worship of Vishnu. If you steal them Lord Vishnu will be angry."

   A secret smile flitted into the eyes of Krishna for he himself was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. But outwardly he pretended to be angry, "Ma! Am I a thief? I will not take your laddus, not even if you ask me to. I will not talk to you." With that parting remark Krishna joined  his friends.

   Since that day was a holiday the boys did not have to take the cows to Vrindavan. They decided to skip ropes in turn. Two of them swung a rope while one of them jumped. Everyone enjoyed his turn. Only Madhumangal did not join his friends in their fun. He looked sad as he sat in a corner.

   Krishna called out, "Madhumangal, come quickly. It's your turn."

   Madhumangal replied, "I don't want to play."

   Krishna, who could not bear his friends to be unhappy even for a moment, went and held his hands and tried to pull him up. But Madhumangal refused to budge.

   Krishna sat by his side and asked, "Why will you not play? What is wrong?"

   Madhumangal did not answer. Krishna shook him and said, "You will have to answer."

   Meanwhile all the children had gathered around to listen. At last Madhumangal said in a very soft voice, "Krishna! I am hungry."

   Krishna was surprised. He said, "How can that be? We have all breakfasted only half an hour ago. Anyway come with me. I will ask Maiya to give you lots of fresh butter and bread and milk thick with cream."

   Krishna again tried to pull him up but Madhumangal still did not budge. Other boys also tried to make him stand but he did not. He said, "Krishna, I am not hungry for bread, butter and milk."

   "Then hungry for what?" demanded Krishna.

   "I am hungry for those big laddus Maiya has made."

   As soon as they were reminded of laddus all the children began to say, "We are hungry for laddus, we want to eat laddus. We can't even walk due to hunger."

   All the children sat on the ground suddenly feeling too weak to walk.

   Balaram pleaded, "But the laddus are meant for Pooja. If you eat the laddus before Pooja, Lord Vishnu will be angry."   

   Again that secret smile flitted on Krishna's face. He was in a difficult situation. Yet when he saw the sad faces of his friends he decided to ask Ma Yashoda once more.

   Maiya answered to Krishna's pleading on behalf of his friends, "No, once and for all, no. I can give you any amount of butter, curds, bread and fruits but the laddus you will not get before night."

   Krishna became angry, "Why does not Ma understand that my friends are hungry only for laddus?"

   He argued for the last time, "Ma! Give only one to Madhumangal. He is a Brahmin. Lord Vishnu will not be angry if you give one to him."

   But Yashoda Ma firmly refused.

   Krishna was not to be defeated. Whatsoever he decided to do he did. He came to his friends and began to plan how to steal the laddus. Yashoda Maiya knew how determined her son could be. On the alert for mischief she sat by the side of the store-house and began to churn curds. All the other milkmaids had returned to attend to their household chores. She was alone.

   Krishna and his friends went behind the store-room and began to play ball. But Krishna kept one eye on Maiya. As soon as she put her hands in the earthern pot to gather and take out the butter, he threw the ball into the store-room through its back window and all the children shouted together, "Our ball! Our ball! Look, it has fallen into the store-room."

   Yashoda clearly heard their cries. But she could could not leave the butter half gathered because if she did it would not easily rise again. Krishna knew this and had made his plan accordingly.

   In a moment, along with Sudam, he ran to Maiya and said, "Maiya, quick, please open the store-house and give us our ball."

   "My son, wait for ten minutes. My hands are full of butter. As soon as I finish taking out the butter I'll give you your ball."

   "No, Maiya, we cannot wait for so long. You give us the key and we will take out the ball," suggested Krishna.

   Yashoda became suspicious. She refused to give the key.

   Then Krishna said with his most innocent expression, "Maiya! Don't you have trust in your son? Look, first I will take the key and open the door. Then Subal will tie both my hands with my waist-band. I will then go into the store-room and will kick the ball out. Can I steal laddus with tied hands?"

   Yashoda Ma fell into the trap and consented to the plan. In one moment Krishna opened the key bunch from the end of her scarf and then opened the lock and the door. Then he tied the key to Maiya's scarf again. Now he opened his waist-band and asked Subal to tie his hands. Maiya was reassured to see his tied hands. Still she kept looking towards the store-room. She could never be sure of her naughty son.

   As soon as Krishna entered the store he picked up a laddu very gently with his mouth and ran towards the back window. Madhumangal took it in his hands and Krishna ran back to pick up another laddu. He had to stretch his mouth to get hold of them. Thus in a few minutes he had transferred 12 laddus to Madhumangal -- one for each of them.

   Maiya called out, "Krishna! What are you doing? Come out with the ball, my son."

   Krishna had the last laddu in his mouth. As soon as Madhumangal took it he shouted back, "Maiya! It is not easy to take out the ball with no hands."

   Finally he kicked the ball near the door. As soon as he was about to cross the doorway Madhumangal beckoned him back frantically. Krishna ran on tip-toes wondering what the matter could be. Madhumangal reached through the bars and wiped Krishna's lips because some gold foil was stuck to them.

   Krishna ran and gave a final kick to the ball. He said, "Look well, Ma. My hands are still tied. Do not complain afterwards that I stole your laddus."

   In a trice Subal untied Krishna's hands and Krishna picked up the ball. Maiya had no suspicions at all. Krishna relocked the door and tied the key back into Maiya's scarf. Maiya smiled and gave them each a small ball of fresh butter.

   Popping the butter-balls in their mouths Krishna and Subal ran to rejoin their friends. Each boy was eating a laddu. How delicious they were! Two had been kept for Subal and Krishna. Subal began to eat his share. Krishna took up his laddu and gently shoved it into Madhumangal's mouth. Laughing, Krishna said, "I hope you are no more hungry, my dear Madhumangal."

   Madhumangal was surprised and a little ashamed. He had forced his friend to steal but Krishna had not eaten even a bite.

   "Has Krishna no desires?" he wondered. 

   Reading his unspoken thought Krishna answered, "Truly, I have no desires." While he said this, for a moment his face seemed full of a bright light.

   Then he joyously called out, "Now let us play a new game."

   Strangely, after that day, Madhumangal never felt any greed for food.

   Krishna's friends always wondered at the heavenly taste of those particular laddus. There seemed to be something different and special about them. Nothing afterwards ever tasted quite so good as the sweets Krishna stole for them. But don't forget, they had been touched by the divine lips of our Krishna.

   And something even stranger happened. When Ma Yashoda went to the store-room to fetch the laddus for the evening Pooja she found not a single one missing!

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