There was an old woman who lived in a village in the foothills of the Himalayas. The village was in an isolated corner, far removed from the reaches of modern civilization. The woman, whose name was Gauri, lived alone. Her husband had died years before. Her only child, a son, was working in a city hundreds of kilometres away. He would remit some money every month and send her letters from time to time. She always looked forward to receiving these letters from her beloved son. Otherwise, Gauri was content with the simple and serene life she led. Life was peaceful.

Everyday, a beggar would pass her hut, and ask for alms. Gauri was soft-hearted by nature, and could not bear the idea of someone starving. So, whenever she prepared her mid-day meal of chappatis and dhal, she would prepare a few more chappatis for this beggar. She would leave these and a bowl of dhal on a plate on the window sill, from where the beggar would collect them in the afternoon. Gauri knew that the food she provided was possibly the beggar's only meal for the day. So she took pains to prepare enough.

The beggar felt deeply indebted to Gauri, and knew that he could never repay her kindness. He felt bad about his wretched state. A leper, shunned by his family and society, he had fled his hometown for the Himalayas, where he felt he would be looked upon more kindly. After all, it was the abode of the holy, and a place where many spiritual aspirants were striving to do sadhana [spiritual practice]. Surely, they would have the heart to treat him in a more humane way. He could not work any more, as the fell disease had gnawed away his fingers and toes. Also, he knew that people feared being contaminated and were repulsed by the sight of his hideous-looking wounds. He prayed long and hard. A person like Gauri proved to be a godsend. He felt that he hadn't taken the wrong decision to come to the Himalayan valley. His prayers had been answered. God provided even for the destitute like him.

Whenever the opportunity arose, he would speak to Gauri. At first he had been hesitant, thinking that she too would shoo him away, like others had. To his surprise, she spoke to him with motherly concern. This had come as such a shock to him that he had been unable to hold.back his tears.

He was reminded of the golden years in his life when his own mother had behaved lovingly towards him, running her fingers through his curly hair, caressing his back and enfolding him in her loving embraces. She would always prepare his favorite dishes. All that had abruptly come to an end when he contracted leprosy. He could not understand how his own mother could turn her back against him, joining the others who wanted him out of the house and their lives. Was this all there was to human love?

Gauri's humane ways of dealing with him had reassured him that kindness and compassion had not vanished from society. They still existed, albeit in nooks and corners, and that gave him hope. He hoped that those isolated flames of love would ignite other hearts and thus dispel the darkness that threatened to overwhelm humanity.

Gauri had felt sympathetic towards the beggar. When she talked to him, she realized there was a keen intelligence behind the disfigurement and a heart yearning for love. But, as time passed, she began to feel an unknown resentment towards the beggar. She felt that he was such an imposition, on her time and money. Why couldn't he beg somewhere else for a change? Why did he have to keep coming to her everyday? The idea that she was his sole source of sustenance not only annoyed her; she felt it to be increasingly burdensome.

The seed of discontent and disgust sprouted and grew. Gauri decided upon a plan. She would poison the chappatis and dhal, and she would be rid of his troubling presence. She rationalized that it would be a humane thing too, as she would be helping the beggar be done with his wretched existence once and for all. Gauri had all but decided to add poison to the food when she had second thoughts. Perhaps, the years of loving and caring had not robbed her entirely of her senses. Divine grace had made her re-think her plans, and she abandoned the idea. In that lucid moment, Gauri wondered what madness had possessed her, causing her to almost execute such a murderous scheme. She placed the chappatis and dhal on the plate. Next to the plate, she placed a glass of fresh water, as if to placate her guilty conscience. Nevertheless, she still felt burdened by the idea of having to spend the rest of her life, or so it seemed, providing for this beggar. Why had God imposed this responsibility upon her?

That evening, after her evening prayers, Gauri heard a knock on the door. She was surprised. Who could it be? She rarely had visitors, and she wasn't expecting any. Cautiously, she opened the door. There was a disheveled stranger leaning against the wall. His clothes were tattered and torn, his face grimy, and he looked utterly exhausted. She stared at him, then started: it was her son! Alarmed, she opened the door and brought him inside. She spread out a mat and made him lie down on it. He looked barely alive. Gauri anxiously poured some water into her son's mouth, and looked on, concerned. After some time, he opened his eyes, and smiled at her gently, as if to reassure him that everything was fine. A few minutes later, he sat up.

"What happened?" Gauri asked. "Did someone rob you? "

"As a matter of fact, yes, a group of bandits did," he said. "I was returning home by train, as usual, when one night, some thugs came into the compartment I was in and accosted me. I was alone and was no match for that band of robbers. Not content with robbing me of my belongings, they threw me out of the moving train. That's how I got injured. I lay there until dawn and then started trudging home. Fortunately for me, I had been thrown out not too far away from where I was supposed to alight. But in that miserable condition, even that distance seemed like a very long one to me. I had neither food nor money to buy any. After walking for hours and hours, I felt totally exhausted. I fell down, intending to rest for some time. My throat yearned far water. After some time, when I tried to get up, I found that I was too weak to do so. I tried calling out for help, but the only sounds that came out of my throat were feeble moans. After some time, I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes and saw an ugly man standing over me. His face was covered with terrible wounds and there was a nauseating stink coming from him. In spite of that, there was a look of concern in his eyes that touched my heart. He said, “Don't worry.” He poured water from a glass into my mouth. I felt much refreshed by it. He then said, “Please eat these chappatis. I have not touched them with my hand.” I turned to my side, and saw a plate of chappatis. There was even a bowl of dhal. I eagerly ate them. For some reason, I was thinking of you, ma, while eating the food. It reminded so much of your cooking. And that made me all the more eager to get home to you. After finishing up the food, I turned around to thank the kind Samaritan. But he was no where in sight. I thanked God that he had sent someone to save me from the clutches of death itself"

Gauri was stunned! What if she had poisoned the chappatis and dhal as planned? The thought was more than she could bear. She broke down crying. She felt so much relief and pained at the same time. She realized that God had responded to all the doubts she had had. If she had carried out the evil deed, she would have hurt herself more than anyone else. But her noble act had helped to avert a tragedy in her own life. As Gauri hugged her son, her face wet with tears of repentance, she mentally prostrated to the beggar whose kindness had saved her son and thus preserved her peace of mind, and who had taught her the importance and necessity of being kind and compassionate. Om

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