“For it is in giving that we receive.”
– Saint Francis of Assisi (One of the most revered Christian preachers, from 12th century Italy)
At a small temple in the interiors of Bengal, I sat on the mud floor and softly chanted on my prayer beads. It was my day of solitude and reflection. The village was quiet and the temple had no visitors this morning. A lone elderly priest carried on his duties humming a devotional song. A few hours passed and when I rose to use the washroom, he gently asked me if I would like to honor the food offered to the deities at the altar. I was hungry and instantly said yes. As he took me inside to serve the feast, I wondered why he would want to feed a stranger like me. Indian temples and its priests had challenged my sensibilities often in the past and the cynic within warned me: ‘He knows you are from Mumbai, and he surely wants a handsome reward.’ As he enthusiastically served me seconds and third helpings of exotic traditional Bengali cuisine, I decided to confront his demands later; for now, I was famished and this feast was a welcome break. I was alert and ready to negotiate his interests.
As he happily trudged to the kitchen and bought more delicacies, I could see he was in his element. I wondered: ‘Maybe a job in Mumbai for his son, or a thousand rupees, or my expensive shawl.’ As my mind raced, I indulged in the feast.
After the meal, I offered a small donation for his friendly services, and he dismissed it, “If you want to give me something, I need one favor. Please don’t say ‘No’”
In that instant I thought, ‘Ah, now this guy will extract his pound of flesh’ and braced myself for the onslaught.
His response shocked me.
“Please pray for me and bless me so that I can chant and pray like you.”
‘What?’ I said to myself, shocked at his disinterest in anything else. ‘Maybe he’s building it up; is this proverbial lull before the storm?’
I nodded and waited but he said nothing more. Slowly he folded my leaf plate and cups and silently cleaned the place. I then asked him, “Are you sure you want nothing else?”
“Oh, what more can you give me son?” the elderly man looked at me with compassion.To be continued..