The Forest - III

Chutki Stories May 1, 2022

Links to Part I and Part II.

After a few minutes of silence, Chutki said, "I want to go back into the forest again. I feel we are meant to go back to the Murti".

"It's not safe, Chutki. You know that we're not allowed to go so deep into the forest without any adults around", Ramesh said.

Ishika said, "I know it's not safe. But I feel that I just have to go. Something is calling me back. I feel as though I am protected by this locket. The lotus is a symbol of both Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, isn't it?" Ishika said.

"Of course, I want to go into the forest, too. But we should not!" said Ramesh.

"Why don't we tell someone where we are going? We can tie a ball of string to mark our way", said Ishika, who had a great imagination from reading adventure books.

"Who could we tell?" asked Chutki.

"Let's tell your grandmother, Ramesh", said Ishika. "Would she believe us?" asked Chutki.

"We don't need to tell her the entire story. We can just ask for her permission to explore the forest. We can tell her our idea of the string", said Ramesh. The others agreed.

The three children went to Ramesh's house to talk to Daadi. Daadi was actually Ramesh's great-grandmother. She was the oldest person in their village.

Daadi's eyes twinkled with curiosity when the children explained what they wanted to do. "Did you find anything magical in the forest, little one?" she asked Chutki and pulled her cheek. Chutki turned red. She wasn't very good at keeping secrets.

"We thought we heard an unusual bird last time, Daadi", she said at last. This was the truth, after all.

Daadi's eyes sparkled even more. She said, "I think I know what you children are up to. When I was your age, I was attracted to the forest too". Daadi held up her mala of prayer beads. A lotus-shaped locket was dangling from it. Then, placing her hand on each of the children's heads, she blessed them, saying, "May Vishnu protect you".

The children set off to try and find the murti again. Bruno seemed to know what they were looking for, and he led the children straight to the clearing. The place was as peaceful as it was the day before. The children set about cleaning the place and decorating it just as they had the day before.

The moment the children finished their work, they heard a voice. "Namaste, children", a woman said. The startled children looked around to see who was speaking. They saw a beautiful woman dressed in saffron robes and wearing a maala of rudraksha beads. Her hair was tied in a bun. On her forehead was the mark of Vishnu. The woman looked ageless and divine.

"Who are you?" asked Chutki curiously. She did not feel afraid of the woman at all.

"Why I'm the servant of the Lord", the woman replied. She sat down on the ground and indicated that the children should do the same.

"We didn't see you yesterday", Ishika said, sitting down.

"No, you wouldn't have. I only speak to those blessed by the Lord", the woman replied.

"Are you the Princess from long ago?", Chutki suddenly asked. Her friends laughed.

"I'm not sure", replied the woman thoughtfully. "I once was a princess a long, long time ago, but now I just serve the Lord", the woman added.

"I knew it", squealed Chutki excitedly and hugged the woman. Ramesh and Ishika looked at each other incredulously. It was impossible! How could this woman be the Princess who had lived centuries ago?

"I don't believe you. You probably just live in the forest", Ramesh said.

"How about you, do you believe me?" the woman asked Ishika.

Ishika shook her head slowly. "I don't know what to believe! My heart tells me that you're speaking the truth, but my head tells me that you cannot be right", she said at last.

"Well, you need to make up your mind. Why don't I tell you my story?" the woman said. Chutki happily sat in the woman's lap and discovered that she too wore a lotus-shaped locket.

"Everyone knows the story of my father and my brother", the Princess said. "I will not bore you with the details. After the incident at the temple, I gave up all claim to the throne and came to live here in the forest. I did not know what to do. As the Princess, I had sworn to protect my subjects from all danger. Yet, when the time came, I was forced to abandon them.

"Dejected, I walked around the forest until I came upon an Ashram. Three Rishikas (female Rishis) lived in it. Upon hearing my story, they took me in. They told me many stories to give me courage. After a few days, I asked them what I should do. They told me that I had to continue to lead my people".

"How could you do that after your brother had captured the throne?" asked Ishika.

"That was my question, too", replied the Princess.

"You don't need to be a Princess to lead the people. The people loved and respected you. You would always be their leader", said Ramesh.

The Princess beamed. "You are right!" she said. The girls felt very proud of Ramesh.

"Sitting on the throne doesn't give anyone the right to rule. Only the trust of people does. Although people obeyed my brother out of fear, they would keep coming to the forest to seek my help and guidance. When his injustice grew too much to bear, the people fought a battle against my brother and defeated him".

"Did they ask you to come back?" asked Chutki.

"I'm sure they did, but I don't think she went back", said Ishika.

"That's right", said the Princess taking Chutki off her lap. She walked up to the murti of Lord Vishnu and bowed. The children did the same.

"Children, you are special. Not everyone who wanders into the forest can see the Lord. Only those with a pure heart who want to help others without expecting anything in return can see Him. You are protected by Lord Vishnu, and the locket is a mark of His protection. It is visible to you alone. You have been given the power to help people and lead them. Use it wisely. Each of your lockets has a power unique to you and you alone. When the time comes, you will discover this power". With these words, the Princess disappeared.

Chutki rubbed her eyes in disbelief. "Was she really here? Or did we imagine it all?" she said. The others could not answer.

"Well, we had better go back and tell Daadi that we are safe", said Ramesh. The children walked back in silence to Ramesh's house. Daadi was sitting on her charpai (woven cot) outside the house. She was using her string of beads and silently chanting some prayers.

"We are back, Daadi", said Ramesh, giving her a hug.

"Welcome back, children. Did you find the bird?" she asked Chutki, who had turned red again.

"Daadi, something very unusual happened in the forest", said Ishika. She felt Daadi would understand her, but she still hesitated to share the story.

"A long, long time ago, when I was a little girl, I met the most beautiful Princess in the forest. She glowed like a flame. The Princess told me that the locket would bless me with special powers. And it did. Oh, the adventures I had", said Daadi with a grin which made her look just as young as the children.

"Adventures? What adventures?" exclaimed Ishika.

Daadi held up her maala. The lotus had vanished! She said, "Just adventures. I had my turn. And now it's yours!"

The three children looked at each other in excitement. Ishika jumped up and down in excitement and hugged Chutki. "I can't believe I ever thought I'd be bored in a village!" she exclaimed.

To be continued...


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