The man was totally out of work.
He had no occupation, just many different hobbies.
He would stuff mud inside small wooden cubes and decorate those with little shells. From a distance, those appeared as a haphazard painting with a bunch of birds within them; or a patchy field with cattle grazing on it; or undulating hills, out of which a waterfall or a trodden path peeked out.
There was no end to the chastisement he received from his family members. At times, he vowed to drop all this madness, but the madness never deserted him.
There are some boys who are lax with studies the whole year, but still pass the exam for no reason. The same happened with this man.
His entire life was spent without doing anything, yet after his death, he heard he had been approved to ascend to heaven.
But even on the way to heaven, destiny doesn’t forsake a man. The messengers put a wrong sign on him and took him to the working people’s heaven.
This heaven has everything except leisure time.
The men here say, “Where’s the time to breathe?” And women say, “I am going, dear, there’s a lot of work to do.” Everyone says, “Time is valuable.” Nobody says, “Time is priceless.” They all lament by saying, “We can’t take it anymore.” This makes them very happy. The music here plays to the refrain of the grievance “Oh, I am so tired!”
This man doesn’t find any space, he can’t fit in. On the road, as he walks absent-minded, he blocks the path of busy people. Whenever he he tries to rest by spreading his sheet at some spot, he learns seeds have been planted at that very place for cultivating crops. He has to always get up and move.
Every day, a busy girl comes to the source of the heaven to fetch water.
She darts through the path like the quick gat of a sitar.
She has tied her hair into a hurried rough knot. Even so, a few restless strands of hair bend down her forehead to get a peek at the black stars of her eyes.
The heavenly unoccupied man was standing on one side, still as Tamal tree standing beside a sprightly waterfall.
Just like a princess feels sorry for a beggar passing by her window, the girl felt sorry for this man.
“Aha, so you don’t have any work to do?”
Letting out a sigh, the workless man said, “There’s no time to work.”
The girl couldn’t understand any of his words. She said, “Do you want to share some of my work?”
The unemployed man said, “I am standing here only to share your work.”
“What work will you take?”
“If you can give me one of those earthen pots you bring to carry water…”
“What will you do with the pot? Will you fetch water?”
“Nah, I will paint on it.”
Irritated, the girl says, “I don’t have time, I am going.”
But how could a working person beat a workless one? Every day, they meet at the waterfront, and every day, the man makes the same request, “Just give me one of your pots, I will paint on it.”
Finally, the girl accepts defeat and hands him a pot.
The man began encircling the pot with layers of different hues and strokes.
When it was done, the girl lifted the pot and looked at it from all sides. With a raised eyebrow she asked, “What’s the meaning of this?”
The workless man said, “It has no meaning.”
The girl returned home with the pot. Hiding from others’ glances, she viewed it by moving it at different angles and shades of light. At night, she would get up from her bed to light the lamp and look at the painting. At her age, this was the first time she had seen something that had no meaning.
The next day, when she came to the waterfront, her brisk feet seemed to have hit a pause. As if while walking, the feet were carelessly thinking of something–something that had no meaning.
…To be continued
(Short Story by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh)