That woman, Rakhi Sawant, was right. Valmiki was once a murderer. Further, Rakhi was destined to say it.
This may be a mere legend, but was among the stories I learnt in class 3.
His name was Ratnakar, profession banditry. He would stand by lonely forest trails, waiting for victims. When an unfortunate one came along, he would loot him, then more often than not kill him.
One day Sage Narada, the divine gossip, passed that way, strumming on his Veena – a stringed instrument – and singing the name of the Lord.
Ratnakar pointed his sword at the sage and roared, give me all your money!
He expected the sage to piddle in his girded dhoti. Narada only smiled. Nothing dripped below him.
Somewhat peeved at this unexpected reaction, Ratnakar brandished his sword again and repeated the challenge. His voice cracked with uncertainty.
“Young man, I have no money. What little money I earned by begging was demonetised by your Pradhan Mantri. Now all that I have is this dhoti. If I give it to you, you’d get nothing but an old smelly rag.”
As he spoke those words, Ratnakar noticed the radiance in his eyes and the halo behind his scalp. A feeling of fear and reverence washed over him.
“Pardon me, godman, I have sinned. But I do this because I have no other way to feed my greedy wife who wants a silk sari every month and my children who would eat nothing but
Italian pizza and Amul chocolates.”
“That happens to all fools who get married and raise children to burden the goddess of earth. But will they share the consequence of your sin?”
“Certainly. My wife gets the lion’s share of my earnings, you know, with Kancheepuram sari and gold chains and all.’
“There will be searing hell fire for you when you die,” admonished the sage.
“She will bear most of it” countered the idiotic Ratnakar “because she gets the bigger share”
“Better check with your wife.”
“Stay here. I’ll be back in a jiffy with the good news that my wife will be my partner in earnings as well as in hell fire or high water.”
“Go ahead and find out.I can wait. I have all the time in the world. There is no gossip today to share with the gods. “
Ratnakar ran home.. Half hour later, he returned, the knot of hair on his head crestfallen.
Narada looked askance.
“The bitch says taking care of his family is a man’s duty. She says How he does it is no concern of the wife. If he goes to hell, well, that’s one earning of his evil work that the wife has no need to share. Even the children agreed with the bloody ingrate.”
“Do you still want my one-and-only dhoti?”
“No, my dear sage, keep it. I no longer want to earn for that woman and her ungrateful brats. Self-realisation comes only when you abandon your wife and children. I had heard that those who never look at their wives after marriage will become Pradhan Mantris. I am not that ambitious. Just tell me how you could prevent my being dragged to hell.”
“That’s easy. Sit by this tree-shade and chant the name of Narayan, the Supreme Godhead..”
Ratnakar sat in the shade and tried to chant. “Nar..nar.. ” and gave up. “Too hard to pronounce.”
“Don’t expect me to dub for you. Take the name of Vishnu, then.”
“I have never spoken a compound consonant all my life. Can I simplify it to Vishu?”
“That’s a miserable blogger’s name. Try chanting Hare Krishna. ”
“Please godman , that’s another compound consonant too hard to pronounce.”
“Pretty obvious. You sound like a new school dropout Mantri yourself. Why not try the simplest name of God – Rama?”
The bandit tried, but gave up. Too strange a word to remember, he pleaded
Narada was a patient preceptor. “Tell me, what is the word you most often use while on your job?”
“Maroonga,” said Ratnakar in colloquial Sankrit, which later came to be known as Hindi. “A phrase I can repeat in my sleep.”
“Cool. And what do you say when the job is done?”
“”Mara,, khalash “ meaning dead, finished.
“Good enough. Keep chanting maRa, maRa till you feel enlightened and free of sins.“
As Ratnakar began to chant the familiar word, the wise sage smiled and walked on, grateful for getting away easy with his life, and hoping to find a new divine gossip to spread.
As the murderer kept chanting the deadly word non- stop, it reversed itself and became Rama, Rama, Rama..” The name of the great God who murdered 14000 aboriginals in one night for irritating the sages who usurped their forest land.
Years passed, ants built their largest abode around the chanting Ratnakar. History does not record whether it was the name of the Lord or the smell of the sweat that captivated the ants. In a decade, he was covered entirely and some by the ant-architecture. .
The omniscient sage Narada came by that trail again, and exactly as expected, there was this anthill, shaped like a man sitting on the sacred lotus-pose. From inside the hill, he heard the Rama-Rama chant while ants roamed about minding their business, quite unmindful of the jarring repetition.
Sage Narada beamed with satisfaction. He braved ant bites and opened the seven-foot hill. Slowly the shape of a heavily bearded and wholly transformed sage emerged. His belly was sucked in to his back bone like Ramdev in his best yogic pose, and he looked hungry and thirsty, and yet less corruptible.
“Welcome to the world of sages, Ratnakar. I will now name you Valmiki, man born of valmikam, which means Anthill in the divine Sanskrit.”
The new sage, Valmiki, sighed. “I already feel like writing sacred poetry. But the world will still call me a murderer.”
“Never you worry. Not for a long time. Towards the end of Kaliyuga, when intolerance comes by a premium, and human life value will fall and cow life value will rise to heavens, Indra’s concubine Menaka will take birth as a loud-mouthed B-grade celebtity named Rakhi Sawant, the desire of all men and envy of all moderately chested women. She alone will recall aloud that you were once a murderer. Having divulged that divine secret that will somehow hurt a jobless lawyer’s religious feelings, she will vanish.”
I tell you, the great ancient epics never tell a lie.