A Lesson in the Holy Life (Guru Mantra) by Premchand

Domestic squabbles and a dearth of invitations led Pandit Chintamani to consider renouncing the world and when he vowed to become a wandering ascetic his best friend, Pandit Moteram Shastri, gave him this advice.

‘Friend, I’ve been intimately acquainted with a good many first-class mahatmas. Now, when they arrive at some well-to-do citizen’s door they don’t fall in a heap and hold out their hands and call down hypocritical blessings such as “God keep you in body and soul, may you always be happy.” Such is the way of beggars. As soon as a holy man reaches the door he lets out his war-cry in a regular yell so that everybody inside the house is astonished and comes running to see what’s happened. I know two or three of these slogans–you can use any you like. Gudri Baba used to say, “If anybody dies five will die!” When they heard this battle-cry people would fall right at his feet. Siddh Bhagat had a fine slogan: “Eat, drink and be merry but watch out for the holy man’s stick.” Nanga Baba would say, “Give to me, feed me, let me drink, let me sleep. “Just remember, your prestige depends a good deal on your slogan. What else can I tell you! Don’t forget, you and I have been friends for a long time, we’ve enjoyed the same free dinners hundreds of times. Whenever we were at the same banquet we used to compete to eat up one dish more than the other. I’m going to miss you! May God give you a happy life. Chintamani wasn’t pleased with any of the slogans. He said, ‘Think up some special cry for me.

‘All right – how’s this one: “If you don’t give to me I’ll run you into the ground.”‘

‘Yes, I like that one, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll shorten it.’

‘Go right ahead.’

‘Then how about this: “Give or I’ll run you into the ground.”‘ Moteram leaped up. ‘By the Lord above, that’s absolutely unique! Devotion has illuminated you. Splendid! Now try it out just once and we’ll see how you do it.’ Chintamani stuck his fingers in his ears and yelled with all his might. ‘Give or I’ll run you into the ground! ‘The noise was so thunderous that even Moteram was startled. The bats flew out of the trees in dismay and dogs began to bark.

Moteram said, ‘Friend, your cry was like the roar of a lion. Now your slogan has been decided, I have a few other things to tell you, so pay attention. The language of holy men is quite different from our ordinary way of speaking. We say “Sir,” for example, to some people, and just “you” to others. But the holy man says “thou” to everybody, important or insignificant, rich or poor, old or young; however, go on treating old people with respect. Also remember never to talk plain Hindi. Otherwise the secret will be out that you’re an ordinary Brahman and not a real holy man. Make your language fancy. To say, for example, “My good woman, give me something to eat” is not the style of the holy man. A genuine mahatma will say it like this: “Woman, spread a feast before me, and you will be waking in the paths of righteousness.

‘Friend: Chintamani said, ‘how can I praise you enough? You’ve helped me beyond measure. Having given this advice, Moteram took his leave. Chintamani set out and what should he see right away but a crowd of holy men sitting in front of a bhang and hashish shop smoking hashish. When they saw Chintamani one of the holy men pronounced his slogan:

Move along, move along,
Otherwise, I’ll prove you wrong.

Another holy man proclaimed:

Fee fi fo fum
We holy men have finally come,
From now on only fun.

While these syllables were still echoing in the skies a third mahatma roared out:

‘Here and there
down and up
Hurry up and fill my cup.

Chintamani could not restrain himself. He burst out with ‘Give or I’ll run you into the ground!’

As soon as they heard this the holy men greeted him. The bowl of the hookah was refilled at once and the task of lighting it was assigned to Pandit Chintamani. He thought, if I don’t accept the pipe my secret will be out. Nervously he took it. Now anyone who has never smoked hashish can try and try without being able to make the pipe draw. Closing his eyes Chintamani inhaled with all his might. The pipe fell from his hands, his eyes popped, he foamed at the mouth but not the least bit of smoke came from his lips nor was there any sign that the pipe was kindled. This lack of know-how was quite enough to ruin his· standing in the society of holy men. A couple of them advanced angrily and roughly catching him by the hands, pulled him up.

‘A curse on you: one said, and another, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of pretending to be a mahatma!’

Humiliated, Panditji went and sat down near a sweets shop and the holy men, striking tambourines, began to sing this hymn:

‘Illusion is the world, beloved, the world is an illusion.
Both sin and holiness are lies-there’s the philosophical solution.
The world is all illusion.
A curse on those who forbid us bhang and hashish, Krishna, lover, all the world’s illusion.

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