A dishevelled, dark, old-aged beggar in worn-out clothes used to roam around the streets of a city, with asking in his eyes, and hands always stretched out to beg. His only belongings were the clothes on his body, a bowl in his hand, and a pair of broken slippers in his feet. It was a life of destitution – two meals a day weren’t ensured and nights on the pavements almost left him lifeless in the cold season. Somehow, he was surviving through the life.
Every day he would wake up and start begging from the people going on their morning walk or to work. He would feel gratitude towards the people who gave him more than a dime and wouldn’t complain about the people who ignored him since he knew he wasn’t the only beggar around. It was now a very long time since he had been begging that he didn’t remember if he did anything at all except begging. Begging was his life and his religion. His Gods were those people who gave him money so that he could eat something and survive. Even though people used to go to churches to pray to God, his real Gods met him on the gates of churches who threw money at him with, sometimes mercy in their eyes, and sometimes remorse.
His entire life could be summarised in three words: begging, eating, and sleeping. There was nothing else to his life: no higher purpose, no heavenly pursuits; just a struggle to scrape through the day with some food in the stomach and breaths in the lungs.
And so passed his days and years till he met this man.
The man was in his forties and dressed casually. As was usual, the beggar begged and presented his bowl before this man. As he did, the man looked straight into his eyes and stared at him. The beggar wasn’t used to such staring, so turned down his eyes. The man however kept looking at the beggar. The beggar grew uncomfortable and inched back a couple of steps. The man however stood there motionless. After a while, the beggar grew worrisome and curious about what this man was up to. As he raised his eyes to look at the man, the man was still staring at his face.
But as he saw the man, the man moved one of his hands inside his pocket to take out something. The beggar expected a more generous donation this time. But the man didn’t take out money, rather a piece of paper on which he wrote something in a hurry. He pressed the paper onto one of the hands of the beggar, and with sparkling wet eyes, left the place. The beggar was surprised, not so by the piece of paper, but by the expressions on the face of the man. It was as if the man knew something about him that he didn’t. After a few seconds, he opened the folded paper to read what the man had written. The fours words read:
You are not this.
He read and reread the four words again and again. Every time he read them, the expressions on the man’s face appeared before him. He didn’t beg the whole day but kept staring at the paper and reading the four words repeatedly. As he continued to read them, his eyes widened, face glowed, and an ever-too-little smile of hope appeared across his lips. A person came from somewhere and gave him a couple of sandwiches to ate, enough for his day’s survival.
It was night and the streets almost became deserted, lonely, and peaceful. But, he, sitting on a corner of a pavement, kept staring at the paper in the street light and murmuring those four words. Those four words written with ink on a piece of paper carried with them a ray of hope for him, a hope that he wasn’t this life of continuous struggle for survival. Those words brought to him the message that he could be beyond what he had understood him to be so far.
He kept looking at the paper and repeating the words until his eyelids dropped unable to contain the sleep. He fell on one side on the pavement and slept.
Next day, he woke up to a completely different world. For the first time ever, he felt happy and content within. The smile on his face was difficult to contain or hide. He was filled with some inexplicable joy and peace. He looked around and was filled with wonder.
He never thought that he could be happy even within such destitute condition, but here he was, looking at himself and the world, not with eyes of pain and asking, but with eyes of peace, joy, and grace. As he was absorbing the ecstasy bubbling inside him, he wondered “then, who am I?”.
As he asked, his head tilted upwards towards the infinite skies growing golden with the rays of the sun. He saw a bird flying, amongst a rare patch of clouds, effortlessly, without moving her wings an inch. A flight but effortless. He saw and smiled. A flight. But effortless! He saw and smiled. A flight. But effortless! He saw and smiled. And in those sights and smiles, he understood the essence of the life.