It was Guru Nanak’s birthday. Chintu was in the most ecstatic mood. He had planned a big party at his house with his friends. He was overseeing all the arrangements, planning everything lest something may not work at the last moment. The excitement in his heart was clearly visible as the glow on his face. He was planning everything as if it was his best friend’s birthday and they were meeting after a long time.
After preparing and running here and there all day long, it was evening time i.e. party time. All the friends assembled in the large hall of his house, which had a huge birthday cake at the centre. Chintu came in and the time was ripe for celebrations.
The first thing that everyone did was stand together in a circle and thank Guru Nanak for giving them so much in life. Well, none of them was rich. Most of them actually belonged to lower middle class families. But the thanks they said was filled with real feelings of gratitude. They were so much grateful for things they had in life, especially their fully functioning bodies. Sometimes, they would think of each part of their body individually – ears, eyes, legs, arms, limbs, brain, spine, fingers – and as they would think of each part, they would thank God for keeping it functioning. After all, what could they do if anything stopped functioning, they used to think.
So, they stood in a circle and thanked Guru Nanak for all the things they had and for coming into this world for helping them. And then, they all started shouting, rhythmically, “Happy Birthday Guru Nanak… Happy Birthday Guru Nanak… Happy Birthday to you”. The joy in their hearts would be difficult to capture in words. It could only be felt by looking at their faces and eyes and movements of their bodies.
It was time to cut the cake. There were 545 candles arranged meticulously in a beautiful pattern on the huge circular cake. The candles were lit up and now, all the children were ready to blow them off to celebrate, as if ,one more year of togetherness. Just as they were all prepared with their mouths shaped cone-like close to the candles, they heard the main door open and a man walk through it. The man was tall and broad and looked quite angry.
They all looked at him in surprise and a bit of fear, fear because of the threatening expressions on his face. He came near them and banged on the table violently and shouted, “Why are you shouting Guru Nanak birthday-Guru Nanak birthday? Do you think that Guru Nanak took birth? Do you think he is like us humans who take birth and die? You idiots are engaging in blasphemy unconsciously?”.
The room was completely silent. Everyone – Chintu and his friends – looked intently at the person, fearing but at the same time, trying to understand what he was saying. The joy had evaporated from their hearts and in its place was fear and blurred understanding of what the person was saying.
He didn’t stop. “Guru Nanak was God himself. He was always here, is always here, and will always be here. Do you all understand? Today is not his BIRTH-day. Today is his APPEARANCE day i.e. “Prakash Utsav”. Do you understand it?”
The children were stunned.
It was not his birthday, they thought and mumbled. It was not his birthday, the words echoed again in their heads and hearts. Such little heads and hearts they had that their heads and hearts could not assimilate the huge understanding that had dawned on them and some of it flew out of their eyes in the form of tears.
But the man didn’t pay attention to all this. He looked at the cake and got even more furious. The cake had written over it “Happy birthday our dearest friend Guru Nanak”. “What have you written on the cake”, he thundered. “Is Guru Nanak your friend? You mere mortals who may die tomorrow and no one would care. You call him your friend. He is a world-Guru. How can you disrespect him so much?”
No one listened to any other word than “DISRESPECT”. The word hit them like a bullet. We disrespected him, they thought. We disrespected him, they thought again. They were sobbing from within and were not fully conscious of the room and the surrounding, merely repeating the words “we disrespected him” inside. The words were like a sword in the hand of a maniac, knowing not where they hit. They hit, cut, dismembered every part of the brain they touched. If what was going inside their heads and hearts had reflected outside, the floor would have become a pool of blood. The innocent children who were grateful to Guru Nanak for everything he had and were super-joyous to celebrate his birthday, were numbed by the understanding that they had disrespected him. Tears were flowing down their cheeks but could not fully capture the pain in their hearts. The pain a mother would feel on mistakenly killing his own son was throbbing inside their little hearts.
Chintu, with his throat choking, summoned up the strength to utter a few words. He asked the stranger, “then… then.. what shou.. we do on this day?”
“First of all, understand that it is his appearance day, not birthday. And never call him ‘Friend Guru Nanak’, always say ‘Dhan Guru Nanak’. So, you may thank Dhan Guru Nanak on his appearance on this day. Understood?”.
The man felt, through the silence of the children, that they had understood him. And so, he left the place.
No one knew what to say or do. They all left Chintu’s house one by one. Chintu alone stood in his large hall with an uncut cake at the centre.
The cake had written over it, “Happy birthday our dearest friend Guru Nanak”. He inched closer to the cake and held his hand right above the cake, where the word “friend” was written. He thought of erasing the word for once and for ever. But as he took his hand closer to the word, his hand shook, his body trembled, his heart choked and he fell down on the floor, crying uncontrollably. “May I die”, he cried. “May I die”, he cried again. The relation of a lifetime was falling down before his eyes. He tried to say Dhan Guru Nanak but the love he felt while saying “Friend Guru Nanak” was missing. He tried saying “Happy appearance day” but the words didn’t connect to him. “Friend.. Dhan.. Friend.. Dhan.. Birthday… Appearance… Birthday…Appearance” were his last words before he fell unconscious.
Note from the author: I don’t know what people will get out of this story. But I just want to say one thing: we should respect feelings more than words. The crusade against use of certain words needs to be taken up, if at all, very cautiously lest it may break a heart of love.