I read this story in one of my Punjabi classes in the school around twelve to fifteen years back, but it hasn’t left me since.
There was a prisoner at the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji. He was full of negativity, always hurling abuses at the gatekeepers and about Maharaja Sahib. He was burning in his own fire of vengeance and helplessness. In his thoughts, he wanted to destroy the world but for the prison, he was trapped and couldn’t do anything except shriek and shout and curse everyone and everything.
His life was an example of hell on earth; all his energies were now acting against him and making his life full of pain and suffering. He would punch at the walls and the prison gates, only to end up hurting himself. His body was in a concrete and metal prison while he himself was trapped in the prison of his thoughts. The latter prison was much more miserable than the former one.
He was gradually moving towards a life of despondence and depression, losing all hopes in ever coming out of the prisons he was bound in. It is said that helplessness is the lowest or the most miserable condition of a human being. And he lived in such a condition every moment everyday.
There was no one to share his sorrow, to give him a shoulder to cry on, to give him some hope. It was all darkness around him and within that all encompassing darkness, he spent his days and nights.
One day, just to tide over the time, he was scanning the cobweb-ridden corners of his prison. It was then he got his hands on a crumpled piece of paper. There was something written on the paper. As he strained his reddish gloomy eyes, he read the below line of Gurbani:
ਸਦ ਬਖਸਿੰਦੁ ਸਦਾ ਮਿਹਰਵਾਨਾ ਸਭਨਾ ਦੇਇ ਅਧਾਰੀ ॥
Always forgiving and merciful, God provides sustenance to everyone.
“Always forgiving and merciful”, the prisoner read to himself. Something happened in his heart. It was as if the intensity of the darkness was lessened by a glimmer of a hope of light. “Always forgiving and merciful”, he repeated again and again. “Does he forgive even a hardened criminal like me?” “Does he forgive even me who has committed sins throughout his life?” With these questions in his mind, he kept reading this line of Gurbani. And for the first time in a long time, he felt the movement of some life in his dying and almost lifeless heart and mind.
As he kept reading the Gurbani line, his hopes strengthened and his heart started beating again. He took up a Pothi (Gurbani book) and started reading Gurbani. He came across this Shabad (hymn):
ਜਾ ਕਉ ਮੁਸਕਲੁ ਅਤਿ ਬਣੈ ਢੋਈ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਦੇਇ ॥
ਲਾਗੂ ਹੋਏ ਦੁਸਮਨਾ ਸਾਕ ਭਿ ਭਜਿ ਖਲੇ ॥
ਸਭੋ ਭਜੈ ਆਸਰਾ ਚੁਕੈ ਸਭੁ ਅਸਰਾਉ ॥
ਚਿਤਿ ਆਵੈ ਓਸੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਲਗੈ ਨ ਤਤੀ ਵਾਉ ॥੧॥
When you are confronted with terrible hardships, and no one offers you any support,
When your friends turn into enemies, and even your relatives have deserted you,
And when all support has given way, and all hope has been lost
-if you then come to remember the Supreme Lord God, even the hot wind shall not touch you. ||1||
Tears of repentance and gratitude filled his eyes – the same eyes that always reflected cruelty, vengeance, and fury today reflected hope and humility. As the time went by, the behavior of the prisoner changed, and eventually the sense of repentance and the mercy of God that had made his heart their home made his personality pleasant.
One night, Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji was not able to sleep, and thus, he prayed to the Guru. His prayer was answered, and he slept peacefully after that. The next morning Maharaja Sahib woke up, he thought that he should express his gratitude to the Guru by releasing a prisoner from the jail. He told his minister about his wish, upon which the minister suggested the name of the prisoner given that he had gone through a transformation.
Maharaja Sahib agreed with the minister. When the prisoner appeared before Maharaja Sahib, Maharaja Sahib asked him, “So, have you changed or not?”
To this question, the prisoner narrated his story of encountering the Gurbani line and the transformation that it eventually led to. From his story, his manner of speaking, and his overall demeanour, Maharaja Sahib was impressed. He offered to give the prisoner the ownership of a region. The prisoner was nonchalant and declined the offer saying:
ਮਤੁ ਦੇਖਿ ਭੂਲਾ ਵੀਸਰੈ ਤੇਰਾ ਚਿਤਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ਨਾਉ ॥੧॥
Seeing this, I might go astray and forget my Lord, and His Name might not enter into my mind. ||1||