The Burning Hand
By Nandita Bose
Once there was a kingdom by the banks of a river. It was a rich land with trees, ponds, animals and birds. The kingdom was ruled by a king. The king had a bad son whose name was Prince. Prince would not listen to anyone and play all day long. Then, when he got tired of playing he began to hit and slap his playmates and all those around him. Slapping was his favourite game. He even slapped his pet dog. The king tried to punish his son. But do you know what Prince did? He slapped his father – slapped him so hard that the old king died. You see Prince had now become very very tall and big. His arms and hands had become very powerful. But too much of anything is not good. Too much slapping had made the palms of his hands sore and red – full of blisters.
Now when the king died, Prince became the king. He spread terror all around. He only ate and slept. When there was no more money in the royal treasury he looked around. His eyes fell on the trees and ponds. He felt angry with them for just being there and not coming to any use to him. So he called his prime minister to turn these trees and ponds into money.
The Prime Minister was a wily man. He advised the king to sell these and quickly found buyers from cities. So all the trees were felled and ponds were drained of the fish, frogs, snakes and ducks. Seeing this destruction the birds flew away to the opposite bank of the river. The people were too afraid of Prince. They left their homes and quietly went away to the opposite bank of the river where the land was luxuriant and full of promise. The clever Prime Minister also, seeing there was nothing more to squeeze dry, left Prince and took the last boat to the opposite shore.
Now, Prince became serious and worried. He eyed the opposite shore – its lush verdant green as the clouds gathered over the tree tops. He could even hear the twitter of the birds who sometimes came to his side of the river, do a jig and then fly away taunting him. It made Prince even more angry. What was he to do with his anger?
Then Prince did what he had never done before. He began to think. It was difficult for him to think but he thought and thought. He then remembered that at the far end of his kingdom where the river took a bend and vanished at a turning point, there lived a sage with matted locks and red eyes. The sage was their family guru, but Prince had never bothered about him even when his father the old king was alive. Now he thought of going to the sage and trying to please him. He had heard from his father that the old sage was full of tricks as he walked with the gods in heaven.
So Prince went off to meet their guru. He had never done so much walking and was tired and thirsty when he arrived at the grove beneath the banyan tree. In the midst of miles and miles of flat barren arid land with only mutilated tree stumps, stood the banyan. For some reason the tree loggers had been afraid of going near this ancient tree; they had left it standing with its innumerable branches, leaves and hanging roots. Dusk was falling. At first, Prince was a bit frightened to see the old man with matted locks and a snake coiled around his neck. But fear was something new to the young royal. He shook it off and approached the sadhu and slightly bent his head in a show of scant respect.
“Guruji – I am …”
“Yes Prince, I know you. What do you want ?”
The voice of the guru rolled like thunder through the leaves of this gigantic tree. Prince began to mumble.
“You are our family Guru.”
“Days are now bad for us but we have always given you …”
The sadhu interrupted, “What do you want?”
Prince tried to put his wishes into words but become tongue-tied looking into the burning eyes.
The sadhu laughed. “You want a favour, a boon. I am just a sadhu – I cannot give you a boon. Ask for a boon from the god of this snake – Shiva. He is easily pleased. Ask him for a boon. But think well before you ask. ”
Prince became excited. “What will I have to do – what will I …?”
“You must do tapasya – stand on one foot for days on end without eating or drinking and Shiva is sure to come.”
“Will I be able to do this? How can I do this?”
“I will give you the strength to do this tapasya and thus repay whatever your family has done for me. But – but think well about what you want before asking. Think well. Think well.”
So saying, the sadhu took a leaf, dipped it in his pot of water and sprinkled it on Prince.
At once – immediately Prince found himself standing on one leg unable to move.
The Sadhu took up his water pot, and placing the snake firmly round his neck, he moved away towards the river as night fell. Prince cried out in terror, “Guruji, I cannot move. I cannot move!”
But the sadhu assured him “Shiva will come to give the boon. Ask and you will get. Till then nothing will happen to you. You will stay where you are!”
And so time passed. Prince remained rooted as his hair became long and matted. His nails grew and grew. His clothes became rags as birds pulled at them to line their nests. One bold crow built her nest on top of his head snuggling into his tangled locks. Ants moved in to share the rotting food the bird brought for its fledglings. Rats scrambled over his legs disturbing the ant colony that had settled there. Prince felt and sensed everything but he could not do anything – not even cry. So all he did was pray to Shiva. He believed since boyhood in one thing – whatever the family guru told became true. So, Prince prayed and prayed. Slowly he forgot the rats and ants – his mind became focused on Shiva. Then, one day, the miracle happened. There stood Shiva before him wearing a tiger skin with a snake around his neck. Prince was confused. Was it really the god? Or was this Guruji with a tiger skin around his waist?
The heavenly figure said “I am pleased with your penance. Your tapasya has moved me. What boon do you want?”
Prince knew what he wanted. His thoughts were always limited to slapping. He did not know how to think of anything else. But would he be able to slap now that his palms had become sore? He found a solution.
Prince said, “Oh Shiva! Grant me the boon that if I touch anyone on the head that person will burn to ashes.”
Prince thought that in this way he would be able to easily conquer the king on the other side of the river and take over that pristine land.
“So be it!” said the god. “When you touch the head of anyone with your palm that person will burn to ashes.”
Clouds moved in with enveloping darkness. Shiva vanished. Prince now found he could move his legs. Stretching himself he stepped out of the shelter of the tree and stood tall in the middle of the treeless plain. Thunder rumbled and growled. For the crow-family the timing was perfect. The fledglings and their parents flew away. Ants began to nibble the remains in the nest on Prince’s tangled locks, with gusto. Prince’s head began to itch and itch. Angry and furious Prince raised his free hand to scratch his head as lightning flashed across the sky. And then … You can guess what happened! He was immediately burnt to ashes.
Mother Nature sighed in relief and joy.
THE END- Total nr. of readings: 1,926 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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