The Celebrated Pundit had many disciples and admirers. Among them was the landlord of the area who lived on the other side of the river.
The landlord had commissioned a poor milkmaid, Moti, to supply a tumblerful of milk to the Pundit, every day in the morning. The milkmaid discharged her duty faithfully, day after day. She crossed the river by the help of a ferry boat and returned home in the same way after delivering the milk at the Pundit’s household. Often the Pundit himself received the milk. Moti prostrated before him.
She did not fail in her duty even if on some days it rained heavily.
“What a great privilege it is to serve a great Pundit!” she would tell those who would sympathise with her for her continuous toil.
The Pundit was an eloquent speaker. Whenever he gave a discourse, hundreds of people gathered to listen to him. The milkmaid too made it a point to stand behind the audience. Not that she understood much, but she was sure that the Pundit was speaking about God and Truth and similar tough and complex matters. “How much knowledge the man must be possessing to hold so many people spellbound for hours. Only one who is very near to God and Truth can command such wisdom!” she thought. She was happy that she made a humble contribution towards the Pundit’s physical well being by regularly supplying him with pure milk.
“Even if the landlord fails to pay me for the milk and my labour I will not fail in my duty! ” she resolved.
One day, while receiving the milk, the Pundit told Moti. “Woman! Can you bring the milk at the least an hour before the sunrise for only a month? I am under a vow for performing a certain ritual for which I need the milk that early.”
“I will do as you say O Master!” the milkmaid assured him enthusiastically.
But the next day, by the time she reached the Pundit’s house, it was already daybreak.
“Pardon me, Master, for my lapse. But what could I do?” said the milkmaid apologetically. “I was present on the bank of the river long before sunrise. But the boatman did not turn up that early even though I had informed him of the need for me to cross the river while it was still dark! He said since the river is in spate it would not be possible for him to ply the boat in darkness.”
“You could not cross the river without the boatman, eh? I wonder how then the mystics say that one could cross even the ocean of life by uttering the name of Vishnu!” commented the Pundit jocularly, sure that the poor woman would hardly understand the importance of his wise observation.
“Well, sir, nobody had told me that!” said Moti in a murmur.
“That is secret!” said the Pundit once again jocularly.
“Who but a pious and great sage like you could ever know such secrets! Thank you sir passing it on to me,” said Moti.
The Pundit could not check himself from bursting into a Loud guffaw at the woman’s naivety.
Days passed. The period of the Pundit’s vow came to an end. He told the milkmaid, “Moti, I must say that you have served me very well. I appreciate the pain you took in getting up in the small hours and milking the cow and delivering the milk to me at dawn. I bless you!”
Moti bowed to him. “so, sir, from tomorrow I report as before soon after the sunrise; is that all right?”
“Fine,” said the Pundit. And then he remembered the boatman. “Moti!” he said , “Tell the boatman how pleased I am with him.”
“But, sir, I never bothered him, knowing well that he could not come that early!” said Moti.
“Who then plied the boat for you?”
“Boat? Why Sir? I did not need any boat!”
“How then did you cross the river?”
“Good God!” muttered Moti. “You, who can remember hundreds of pages of scriptures, forgot the secret you passed on to me the other day?”
“What do you mean?” asked the Pundit, intrigued.
“I just utter the name of Vishnu and walk across the river!
The water remains ankle-deep for me!”
“Ankle-Deep? But isn’t the river in spate? Isn’t it fact that even in the hottest summer there is enough water in the river for boats to ply?” asked the Pundit.
“But I apply the secret!” Moti was surprised that the Pundit had totally forgotten his own secret formula!
“So, now you remembered !” said Moti feeling happy. “From tomorrow I will take recourse to the boat. Let me apply the secret for the last time whole returning today.”
Moti stepped out onto the road. It was a foggy dawn. No doubt the woman was kidding him – concluded the Pundit and the followed her tiptoe.
Upon reaching the river the river-bank, Moti put her empty pot down and, with folded hands, paid obeisance to the river. Then, picking up the pot, she stepped into the water.
Struck dumb, the Pundit saw her crossing the river walking with ease.
The Pundit almost fainted.
While demonstrating the miracle of faith, the story also draws a contrast between scholarship and innocence, between the knowledge which scholarship secures, but which remains a mere theory and the knowledge that works through ones complete faith and surrender to the Lord.
State Council of Educational Research and Training (2019). Term-2 English Standard-8. Crossing the River - Manoj Das (pp. 131-137). Published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation.