Once upon a time – Not because stories start with a ‘once upon a time’, but because this story is set in an era that pre-dates Jataka tales, but may be not Indus valley civilization – In Kamala Mandala, an eastern kingdom of Ancient India (in the current day region of coastal Odisha) lived a young Brahmin by the name Padma Nanda. He practiced Brahmacharya (Sanskrit word for celibacy); married to the path of learning and wisdom despite being in the fourth decade of his life. Padma was a learned man, the greatest and most revered astrologer in Kamala Mandala. He could read people’s past and predict future like the other Brahmins read verses from Vedas, yet for some reason he was insecure, anxious and could not trust others. He had this strange fear that someone was following him, people were after his life and generally unsure of what was happening behind his back. In his life Padma feared none but god, but of late he perpetually felt a coil of increasing fear serpent within him.
Though Padma could read past and future, he was desperate and sought to be aware of what was happening at his back. But as nature had designed his body like any other human being, he could not see what was going on behind him. Neither could he naturally rotate his head to turn back like an owl. (This would have meant damaging the delicate blood vessels in his neck and head) The disquiet in the grilled cage of his mind reached a crescendo and he even forgot how to sleep. He was fast turning into a paranoid and stopped talking to others, not even to his mother, Sarasvati. As would any mother feel under this circumstances, she was distressed. She surely wanted to help her only son but was irresolute on what to do. Padma after all had been the one who took all the decisions in the family, he was the one who was smarter than anyone else she knew. He’s been the one who solved all her problems and often with such equanimity that Sarasvati had concluded that there can be none wiser than Padma in the entire world. Unclear in her mind, finally she broke the barrier of silence that her son had built around himself by employing a weapon that most mothers of that age often used. She started crying loudly and inconsolably, which ultimately forced Padma to relent. He confided in her the source of his agony. Like anyone else would, after all he also desired respite from this perpetual state of restlessness.
After some deliberation Sarasvati, who was not as learned as her son, came up with a suggestion to hire a bodyguard who would constantly keep an eye on what was happening behind him; practically pair of eyes which could see the opposite way, things at the back. Padma was able enough to take care of the proceedings in front of his eyes. She even suggested her to engage the services of three guards for round the clock coverage. The idea seemed sensible, just that Padma had lost the ability to trust anyone. In truth, he had even lost trust upon himself. How could he trust the guards, not one but a handful of them?
Padma seemed to have finally found a solution. “Why not have an eye at the back of my head, why not?” He was convinced this was going to work. His eyes turned purposeful as he murmured “Let me speak to my Guru, sage Ananta. I need to consult him”. Whenever, if ever, Padma faced a dilemma in his life he would take advice from none but his Guru. Sage Ananta, the recluse rarely spoke and if he ever spoke his words had a strong message with a cryptic bearing. But Padma was a special disciple of the sage and he had exclusive access to him. To Padma’s predicament he spouted a few lines like this:
“The Mind is but like fingers with a lump of clay,
when idle and unsteady, with your balance it does play.
The Mind with increasing void to fill,
Extends it’s claim upon the toiling senses,
Until it weakens all the layers of defenses,
That’s the moment when you need a strong Will”
“Find the root cause of the problem, not what you emerges on the surface. There is much more than what meets the eyes.” quipped the sage. But Padma, in a frame of mind that he was, possibly failed to grasp everything that the erudite sage warned him against. He stood firm that his problem was very deep and he’d cerebrated enough over it. A man of limited words that he was, the sage resisted further debate and mooted silently “There is no truth without the way to truth. There is no depth without the way to depth. Everyone has to go through the grind. We have to experience it for ourselves. There is no book or seer who can teach you what works best for you”
The sage appeared to relent to the incessant pleas and thus came his voice “ Padma Nanda, if you want something really badly you’ll get it, even if it means breaking the universal rules” He further counselled “But be sure of what you want”
“The path of austere penance is the way to achieve your goal. Deep meditation and noble silence will help you” were the last lines from the Sage.
As it used to be the practice of those times, Padma sat down still in a long meditation under a very old Peepal tree. And as it happens, days passed and so did a few months and seasons. And as it had happened before, Lord Brahma was pleased, appeared before Padma and told him to ask for a boon. The urge to ask for this boon had never died within Padma. He knelt at the feet of Brahma and said thus “Kindly grant me the vision of a third eye at the back of my head”. Now this was not something Lord Brahma had anticipated or heard of before. Very unusual boon. Yet, he relented. He had never broken his word and for him granting this was not unattainable, though he felt it was a little impractical. He also wondered for a moment what Padma would do with this queer boon. “Anyway, that’s none of my business” Lord Brahma said thoughtfully to himself.
The first few days with the special power of the third eye was very reassuring for Padma. At least, this is what he thought. He could vividly see what was literally happening at his back. He grew more confident and less unrestful. Sarasvati and others also noticed the change. His fame grew and he acquired a mystical and esoteric, almost a demi-god like status. People were heard saying in his praise” Not only can this astrologer see the future and past, but also look forward and behind”. He came to be known as the three-eyed man.
Days passed for Padma, somehow. It were the nights which troubled him. He was used to sleeping in a supine position, on his back and it hurt because his special eye was on the back of his head, as he’d ignorantly desired. He had not anticipated that the position of his new organ would be such a big annoyance. He even practiced sleeping on his side, but after a few minutes he’d invariably shift to this preferred sleeping position. Old habits die hard as they say. Moreover the third eye refused to obey the orders of his brains; it was a divine gift after all. The old days of sleeplessness and restlessness had relapsed. He lost his balance entirely; the third eye just won’t let him sleep fearing it’ll get bruised. Though he had the third eye that did not mean he turned into a seer; he did not perceive anything more beyond the ordinary sight. He just saw more of the same mundane things, which meant that there were more frames of visual information, at least twice the regular content for the brain to process. His brain was not equipped to handle the extra load and stayed in a conscious state, all round the clock. There was just too much consciousness for Padma to handle.
The new problem proved to be of bigger magnitude than the erstwhile one. Padma realized his mistake. He turned more humble and understood his limitations. Remaining contented throughout your life is a big task but an important one. This phase of life made him realize how important it is to realize the prominence of leading an ordinary life, even if it is ordinary. He could discern that the issue was with his deep within his perception, than outwards. He had learnt, albeit the harder way, that trusting oneself and loving the life one has is paramount.
Padma again set for a journey to his Guru, Sage Ananta. The sage knew all the while that his beloved pupil would return. This time, Padma did not have to utter anything. The wise Sage precisely knew why his pupil had come to him. He breathed deep and softly delivered the solution “You’ve to give away the extra organ. You’ll find the way”
In the neighbouring state of Maha Desha, lived Charulata. She was remarkably beautiful and had an equally beautiful soul, but there was an anomaly in her which kept her upset- she was one-eyed. Some great sage had prophesized that there will come a day when a man with three eyes will marry you and bequeath his extra eye to her with a hug”. Charulata would often question herself “Now who in this world will have three eyes?”
But we know, in the same passage of time, we’ve our own Padma, the three-eyed man. As universe often conspires, the word spread of these two unique individuals and a common contact emerged. He happily agreed to engage as a messenger for Charulata to Padma with the by-now famous proposal of ‘eye donation and transplant’. The to-be bride wanted an extra eye and the ordained groom didn’t exactly mind abandoning his extra eye. In a matter of days, the wedding was arranged between the couple with contrasting ocular plights. Hours before the function, the couple met in silence and undesigningly slipped into an embrace with closed eyes for few harmonious moments. When they opened their eyes, both of them had two eyes each, as it is normal. It all seemed so complete, so normal yet so incomparable!
Brilliant writing. The story takes you back to an age bygone. Vivid imagery that reminds one of Panchatantra tales