The pandit and the milkmaid
author: Matthijs Cornelissen — from an old story
last revision: August 3, 2015
One day, in a village on the boards of a wide and sacred river, a pandit arrived. He was a famous scholar who had studied in far-away Benares, and he was welcomed by one of the richest and most influential people in the village. Every evening he gave a talk under a big tree in the centre of the village, and everybody who was somebody came to listen to his words of wisdom. The pandit was in the habit of drinking a glass of milk just before his lectures, and so his host organised that a little girl from the village on the other side of the river would bring him his milk. The girl would cross the river in a small boat that carried a few more people from her village to attend the lectures. As she had to wait for them to return, she would sit somewhere in the back of the crowd and listen to the wonderful words of the pandit.
All went well and everybody was happy, but one day there was a terrible storm. The river was in spate and became quite wild, and the boatman refused to take his passengers across the river. The girl was in a fix. She was a very conscientious little girl and she desperately wanted to do her duty, but she could not! Suddenly she got an idea. A few days before, the pandit had given a talk on Faith, and he had said that if your faith was strong enough, and God was with you, you could even walk on water! That was it. Surely she had great faith in the pandit, and yes, God had to be with her when she did her duty. And so, she bravely stepped out on the river and, lo and behold, she did not sink in the water but crossed the wide river without any difficulty except that she got quite wet from the big waves in the middle! She quietly delivered the milk, listened to the talk and, as the boatman was still on the other side of the river, she took the same route on the way back. Once safely back, she had to admit that she actually quite liked what had happened! For if you think about it, walking over the water is far faster and easier than to wait for the old boatman to row you slowly across! And so she began to do it more and more often. She did it a little away from the two villages so that nobody would see her, because she did not want the boatman to lose his only source of income, but still, people did notice that she wasn't coming with the boat any more, and one day her lonely walks were actually seen. Whispers began, quite a few villagers, young and old, almost drowned trying to imitate her, and her fame spread.
In the end, the disciples of the pandit got quite worried that the little girl would become more famous than their master, and so they urged the pandit to show everybody he could do the same. First he refused, for if he was really honest with himself, he had no idea whether it was really possible, but after he had secretly gone to see the girl cross the river and had seen her doing it with his own eyes, he decided to go for it. He chose a beautiful wind-still day when the river was completely calm, and there he went, at a place in full view of the village. Deep inside himself, he was still quite anxious, and he prayed like he had never prayed before, but to his immense relief it actually worked. He took one step, a second one, a third, and then, when he turned around to smile at his admiring disciples on the shore behind him, his shawl slipped a little of his shoulder and dipped into the water. It was a very expensive, silk shawl to which he was quite attached, and so he anxiously pulled it up. Unfortunately while he was busy with his shawl, he forgot all about Shiva to whom he had till then been praying with all his might. Ah! What a sight! The poor pandit sank into the river, right up to his middle.