It had been three years since Kumar graduated. He had been educated in Kerala, and had acquired in his 26 years a Bachelor's degree in History and a Master's degree in Commerce. When he graduated, Kumar had, like countless others, applied for jobs and attended interviews. He had applied to banks, hospitals, hotels, trade unions, the government and other organizations. To date, he had not found a job. He was aware that his lack of professional or specialist qualifications did not make him particularly marketable. But he didn't want to 'stoop' and accept 'lower' job offers. He was a Brahmin. His father had never worked, having inherited land from his father, and was proud of that fact. But unexpected situations had forced him to sell most of the land. The rent from the remaining land was scarcely enough to make ends meet. The family now turned to Kumar, the eldest and only son, to deliver them from their financial woes. Kumar had refused to work in his family-owned farm, saying that it was beneath his dignity.

Kumar knew friends, graduates like him, who had become bus conductors. Straitened family circumstances and a dire need for money to conduct a sister's wedding ceremony or to pay for a much needed surgical operation for a mother had compelled them to accept anything that would bring home some dough. Anyway, the job has dignity, they thought. They could always keep an eye out for something better in the meantime. Who knows, one of the commuters they meet could just be their link to a better job and a brighter future. With such thoughts, Kumar's friends tried to accept their present circumstances and keep the flame of hope alive.

His father had advised him to do another degree, a Bachelor's of Education, as teachers were in demand. But Kumar had refused, disdaining it as a "woman's" job. From cheerful young man, Kumar turned into an irritable malcontent. He started smoking and drinking to forget his troubles. He began quarreling with his parents and sisters. The most insignificant thing would ignite his inflammable temper: a misplaced dhoti, lack of salt in one of the dishes, his sister's singing, or noises from the neighborhood. One day, in a fit of fury, he shouted at his mother and stormed out of the house.

He went to a grove near a temple he used to visit daily. Growing up, he had been devout, emulating his mother's pious ways. He felt he had a personal bond with Devi, the Goddess, who was enshrined in the temple. When he stood before the shrine, admiring the beauty of Devi's enchanting form, he would mentally communicate with Her. He would tell Her the problems he was facing in school. He would confess the acts of mischief he committed, which put him in his father's bad books. He would confide in Her his ambitions, hopes and aspirations. Whenever he looked at Devi, he used to feel that She was, not an idol but, a living, breathing form, looking at him with motherly love and understanding, listening attentively to him. Whenever he left, he always felt better, lighter.

The last few years, he had stopped visiting the temple. He felt let down by Devi. Why hadn't She helped him find a job? Hadn't he prayed to Her sincerely for so many years? Why then was She heaping all these problems on him and his family? Didn't She care? He began to doubt if She even existed. What if She was just a pretty statue that the unscrupulous installed in temples to exploit the faith of the unsuspecting for their own selfish ends? What if there was no such thing as God? Perhaps, there was no such thing as the law of karma. If there was such a thing as divine providence, surely it would reward the righteous and punish the unrighteous. But this was nowhere to be seen. One had to have one's wits about oneself, and look out for opportunities that would bring one sensual pleasures and material wealth.

As he sat under the banyan tree in the grove, Kumar began to reflect upon the course his life had taken. The wind that caressed him as he sat in the cool shade began to soothe his agitated mind. He became aware of the bhajans that were being played in the temple. It had been a long time since he heard them. They were playing one of his favorites now:

Only You can wipe away the tears caused by this wretched life.
Only You can confer peace on this tormented soul.
Only You can save this soul from the misery of perdition.

Quite against his will, Kumar started humming those lines. After some time, he yearned to go into the temple and experience the sense of being protected and cared for by Devi. He ran into the temple and prostrated before Her shrine. Through his heartbreaking sobs, he prayed to Devi with total abandon. "Please save me. Am I not Your child? I cannot take this misery and pain anymore." After some time, he accepted the prasad the priest offered him and left.

On his way home, he saw a group of school girls surrounding a man. Curious, he went closer. The man was repairing umbrellas manually. He was smiling at one of the school girls, telling her, "I've fixed the button that will allow you to open the umbrella with just one push of your thumb! It will cost you two rupees."

"In that case, please take it out." the school girl responded. "I don't want the push-button."

"Then you'll have to pay four rupees," said the man, his eyes twinkling merrily.

"Two rupees for putting it in, and two rupees for taking it out!" Hearing his witty answer, the other girls started giggling. Chuckling, the man reassured the girl that he had only been joking.

He continued repairing the umbrellas deftly, removing a damaged spoke on one and replacing it with another, stitching the canvas back onto the spoke on another, and lubricating the spine so that it would open and close smoothly on yet another. As he worked, he spoke to his customers genially, smiling all the time. Kumar noticed that all the customers, including the school girls, were smiling and enjoying his banter and pleasant company. He himself couldn't hold back a smile when he heard some of the umbrella man's quips.

As he walked home, Kumar began reflecting upon what he had seen. The umbrella man was not only happy, he spread happiness around. The look of contentment on his face was enough to calm the hearts and minds of those who saw him. Kumar, on the other hand, was deeply miserable and making life miserable for his family and those around him too. Why couldn't he be like the umbrella man, who, though engaged in a humble task, was doing it with pride and joy?

When he reached home, he saw his mother standing on the veranda. He prostrated to her, much to his mother's amazement. Kumar apologized to her for having shouted at her. That afternoon, Kumar went to the farm and started working there, along with the hired workers. His father was surprised as was the rest of his family. When they asked him what had happened, Kumar only smiled. He didn't say anything. But in his heart, he sent a prayer of thanks to Devi for having shown him the way through the example of the umbrella man. Om

Young Sudha is sent on a mission to bring some water back to her to drought-rought village. She brings back much more.

Once upon a time, in a remote corner of Kerala, there lived a woman named Valsala, and her seven-year-old daughter, Sudha. They were not rich, but they were contented with their lot. Valsala worked as a washer-woman at the houses of her richer neighbours. Whatever spare time she had was spent with Sudha, showering her with love and attention. Ever since Valsala's husband passed away, she had taken extra pains to see that her daughter did not lack love, even though she could not afford to give Sudha toys. Valsala made up for it by dipping into the rich treasure-trove of scriptural lore and feeding young Sudha with stories of kindness, heroism and honesty. Thus Sudha, though young, imbibed wonderful values and ideals.

A few years later, drought visited the land. Wells dried up, streams evaporated, grass shrivelled and rice fields withered. The lush and green landscape turned bare and brown.

Valsala, due to the strain of finding work during such hard times, fell ill. Seeing this, Sudha became worried. "I must help my mother. I shall try to find some drinking water for her." Entrusting her mother to the care of a kind neighbour, Sudha set off, with only a tiny vessel in her hand.

Sudha walked past dried-up river beds where buffaloes used to bathe, past what used to be a fruit orchard, and along a trail that led up a mountain. On and on she trudged, hoping to find a spring. At about noon, she saw fresh water trickling down a rock. Sudha carefully held the tiny vessel below the rock until it became filled with water.

Then, Sudha started walking back home, all the while making sure that not even a single drop of water fell out of the vessel. When she reached the foot of the hill, she saw a puppy. It was struggling to walk, and its tongue was hanging out. "You poor thing," uttered Sudha. "I must give you some water to drink.

I am sure that there will enough left for my mother." Saying so, Sudha poured some water into her palm. The puppy eagerly lapped up the water. When it finished, it wagged its tail in gratitude, and scampered away. Sudha did not notice that the vessel had changed into a silver vessel, and that the water level had remained unchanged.

Sudha quickly walked back home. It was late afternoon when she got back. The neighbour who had been taking care of her mother opened the door. This lady was so tired that she could hardly speak. Without a moment's hesitation, Sudha poured out some water for her. Gulping it down, the neighbour said, "Thank you so much. May God bless you." Unknown to Sudha, the vessel changed into a golden vessel, and the water level did not go down one bit.

Sudha then hurried to her mother and held the rim of the vessel to her lips. After drinking some water, Valsala felt much better, and asked Sudha to drink up the remaining water. Just as she was about to do so, she heard a knock on the door. When she opened it, Sudha saw an old sannyasi. "Please give me some water. I shall die of thirst if I do not get some water soon," he pleaded. Sudha promptly handed over the vessel to him. He smiled as he took it, and then turned it upside down. The water splashed out and fell onto the ground. From that spot, a fountain sprang forth. There was enough water, not only for Sudha and her mother, but for the entire village! As soon as Sudha had recovered from her surprise, she turned to look at the sannyasi. But he had disappeared, and on the spot where he had been standing, she noticed a diamond vessel!

Because she had been so compassionate to all those in need, Sudha received God's grace. She and her mother were never in need again.

Long, long ago there lived a king in India. One day a messenger came from another king. He arrived at the palace, entered the king's court and bowed low to the king. He said, "My king sends his regards and would like you to have this gift."

The king took the box and opened it. Inside he saw three beautiful statues that all looked the same. The messenger said, "Your majesty, my king has instructed me to tell you that even though the statues look alike, they are different. My king wishes you to choose one of the three and return the others."

Everyone around the king became curious. The Prime Minister looked at the statues and scratched his head in wonder. The king studied them all again but was unable to decide how the statues were different. "There must be some hidden meaning that I'm not able to see right away. I need some more time. Please leave the statues here and come back tomorrow."

The king had a young son who was very clever. The king went to find the prince in the garden. "There are three lovely statues in this box, my son. My friend sent them to me as a gift. I have to choose one and send the others back. See if you can find any difference between them."

All night long the prince did many tests comparing the statues. Finally as dawn was approaching, an idea came to him. He put each of the three statues in a bowl of water. His face lit up as he watched small bubbles rise in the water. He got dressed and ran to his father's court.

Everyone was eagerly watching him as he entered the room. He began to speak, "Some people listen to a thing with one ear and let it go straight out the other. That kind of friend doesn't really listen to another friend's problems." The prince picked up one of the statues and passed a long slender needle through one ear and it came through the other side. The prince explained, "My lord, your friend wishes to tell you that you should not keep company with such people."

Now the prince picked up the second statue and passed a needle through its ear. This time the needle came out of the mouth. He said, "My lord, this statue is like people who listen to a thing and soon tell it to others. Such people are very hard to trust, they don't make good friends."

Everyone looked closely as the prince picked up the third statue. He passed a needle through the ear but its end didn't come out at all. "My lord, this statue is like those people who listen to a thing and keep it to themselves. The message is that this kind of person is the best friend."

The king picked up the statue and gave it to his son saying, "My son, you solved this puzzle because of your hard work. Please accept it as a gift from me and keep it as a reminder to always be a good friend."

In a far off land where the days were hot and the sun set each evening into a blue velvet sea, there was a grove of silk cotton trees. High up in those trees lived thousands of parrots. Among them, there was a pious couple who had a baby bird. And that little bird was the most beautiful parrot of all. As he grew older, he proved to be as kind and gentle as he was handsome. The years went by and the parents became old and feeble. One day the young parrot said, "My dear parents, for so many years you looked after me and gave me food and shelter. Now it is my turn to look after you. Do not worry, I will bring you food every day."

Every morning as the sun was rising, the magnificent parrot flew up into the sky and away to a rice field to find food. The whole flock of parrots went with him. He would return a little later with his beak full of food, which he gave to his parents.

A worker who tended the rice field went to tell his master, a rich landowner, that a large flock of parrots came and ate his rice everyday. "Among them," said the worker, "is the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. Every day that lovely creature leaves the field with his beak full." The landowner told the worker to go back to the field and set a trap without delay. The next day as the birds were eating, the parrot's delicate little foot was caught in the trap. But he didn't call out to the rest of the flock, for he didn't want to disturb them before they had finished their meal. When they had all stopped eating, the parrot finally called for help. But his friends were so alarmed by the news that one of them had been trapped that instead of helping him they flew away. The poor parrot was left behind, caught in the trap and all alone. He felt sad and very frightened. Before long, the worker returned to the field and was happy to discover that he had caught the very bird that he wanted. Gently he freed the parrot's foot and carried the bird to his master. The landowner was thrilled when he saw the beautiful parrot. He said to the bird, "O beautiful one, why do you take so much rice with you every day?"

The parrot replied, "A duty I fulfill each day; a treasure do I store away."

"Explain what you mean," said the man.

"My duty is to feed my aged parents. The treasure is the treasure of love, whereby the weak are helped by the strong and the hungry are given food."

The owner of the field was delighted by those noble words. He told the parrot that from now on the rice field belonged to the parrots, and they were welcome to come and eat there every day. The young parrot flew away with his heart full of gratitude, eager to tell everyone the wonderful news.

A monkey, tired of his own restless nature, decides to turn over a new leaf." I must do some sadhana [spiritual practices]," he thinks. "That is the only way I can calm myself down and uplift myself spiritually." He decides to spend a day fasting and meditating. Isn't that what the great yogis do? The monkey figured that abstaining from food would deplete the body of energy, thus making it naturally calmer and fitter for contemplation. He fixed the date of his fasting on Saturday. Having formulated this plan, he started swinging excitedly from branch to branch, tree to tree, like one gone berserk.

On Saturday, the monkey climbed down from the tree where he had been sleeping and sat down at the foot of the tree for a day of fasting and meditation. He assumed the lotus posture, closed his eyes, and soon became lost in heroic fantasies of fasting and becoming enlightened.

When he woke up, he beceme acutely aware of the hunger pangs in his stomach. He realized that fasting until daybreak was going to be tougher then he thought. "How am I going to hold out without food until then?" he wondered. Instinct was pushing him to climb the tree and enjoy the succulent mangoes dangling from its branches. However, he held himself back. After some time, he thought, "What if I become so weak by the end of the day that I am unable to climb up the tree to pluck the mangoes? The simian world would suffer a tragic loss if I died prematurely! It's in the interest of all that I continue my sadhana on the branch containing that huge cluster of mangoes"

Having thus determined, the monkey swiftly climbed up the tree and sat in one nook, eyeing the mangoes with wanton desire. Saliva dribbled down his furry cheeks as he contemplated the juicy fruit. When he realized what he was doing, the monkey dramatically turned his face aside end shut his eyes to temptation. In his mind's eye, however, he was feasting on fleshy pulp.

When the other monkeys saw him on his perch, they were deeply impressed by the sight of their brother meditating. "What supermonkey strength he must have," they thought, "to withstand the temptation of eating and scampering about." They gawked for only a few moments, and then darted up the tree and started plucking the mangoes. The 'meditating' monkey peeped anxiously through his half-closed eyes, wondering if they would strip the tree of on its fruit. Mercifully, they didn't.

As soon as they left, the monkey opened his eyes. He thought, "What if they take away all the fruit? I can't take that risk. Who knows, I may not even have the strength to reach out and pluck those mangoes. I may as well take the best ones now, so that I will have something nutritious with which to break my fast. Anyway, there's no rule that says that you can't keep food by your side while you fast. One should just not eat." Impressed by his own suave logic, the monkey dashed to where the mangoes were hanging and plucked more than a handful.

Feeling somewhat relieved that he had a sumptuous dinner awaiting him, the monkey closed his eyes, deeply inhaling the tropical aroma of the mangoes. He could sense the fleshy pulp in the plump fruit he held. He opened his eyes and looked longingly at the mangoes, their green skin flecked with yellowish-red streaks. Who could have imagined that a lump of pulp would hold such tantalizing pleasures?

"What if I become so drained of energy that I am unable to peel the mango or even put it into my mouth?" the monkey asked himself. "I could put the fruit inside my mouth now. Fasting means one should not swallow any food. There's nothing wrong with keeping the food in the mouth." The monkey promptly peeled the fruit and popped it into his mouth.

When mongo-flovoured saliva started welling up in his mouth, he swallowed it. Within moments, he started chewing the mango. He didn't stop with just one mango, but followed it up with many more. As he ate, he was dimly aware that he hod broken his fast but justified the feast with the thought, "What's the difference if the mango is inside the mouth or inside the stomach?"

Amma says it is difficult to overcome our vasanas [latent tendencies] or control our senses. We should stay away from situations that will tempt us to indulge in those vasanas. Otherwise, we would be like an alcoholic trying to overcome his or her addiction while holding a bottle of beer.

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