Grasshopper Soup: Clearing a path for love
Special to the Sun
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; A long time ago, in India, Saju, the youngest of six children, set out on his own to prove himself. His brothers and sisters were doctors, lawyers and civic leaders. Saju wanted to be the best. He decided he would become the holiest man in the land.
The Jains are a religious group who worship all creation. Everywhere they walk they use a broom to sweep the path in front of them, carefully sweeping the tiniest creatures aside to save them from being stepped on and killed. They sweep very slowly and carefully, no matter how long their journey takes. Saju became a Jain to perform this sacred ritual.
His task was grueling, but he fought off his nagging doubts the best he could. He practiced his religion with strict devotion and soon became known as a holy man. He preached love for Godand#8217;s microscopic miracles of creation. The people of Sajuand#8217;s village were in awe of his example of non-violence, and his desire to do no harm. They wrote songs about him, fed him and sheltered him when he traveled. They made clothes for him of the finest silk, and bathed him in expensive oils. He became known for his righteousness all over India.
Rajan was a poor man who lived in a straw and cardboard shack with his wife and nine children. He trapped and killed rats for a living. The people hated rats and would pay Rajan a meager wage for his vital services. Rajanand#8217;s wife had many delicious rat recipes. Eating rats was the only way he and his family could afford to survive.
Rajan liked to drink, and was always acting crazy. He made fun of everyone and was loud and boisterous. Rajan harassed Saju for his bug sweeping every chance he had, saying, and#8220;I think you missed one!and#8221; Sometimes he would scream and laugh and say, and#8220;Aiyeee! I hear the little amoeba screaming, Saju. Those little bugs see you coming and think you are a big fool. You kill and cripple more bugs with your broom than you would if you walked like a normal man. Your cause is wasted if you wonand#8217;t help me.and#8221;
Saju struggled to ignore Rajanand#8217;s constant ridicule.
The people became very angry at Rajan for treating them and their holy man like fools. They said Rajan was narrow-minded and angry because he hated life, and that all he cared about was himself. They became more and more determined to defend their famous holy man and his strict rite of love. They said Rajan was evil, and that his poverty was Godand#8217;s punishment for his hatred and drunkenness.
But Rajan the crazy man spoke the truth. No matter how careful he was, little bugs would be swept away so hard by Sajuand#8217;s broom they would lose legs and eyes and wings. Sometimes they would land in pools of water and drown, suffering terribly. Sometimes they would land next to a spider, or a lizard, or a bird and, that was that.
Late one moonless night, several men from the village gathered in secret with torches and burned Rajanand#8217;s shack to the ground. Rajan, his wife and children died in the terrible fire. All but one. Rajanand#8217;s oldest son, Shakti, returned home the next morning from a far away city where he had been sent to school by his rich uncle.
Shakti was grief stricken when he heard how, and why, his family died. Then he had an idea. He marched to the temple, threw all the brooms in a pile in the middle of the village square and burned them while the villagers watched. No one was able to stop him.
Shakti rose to become mayor of the village. He inspired the Jains to quit sweeping bugs and care for the people instead, including his familyand#8217;s murderers, who he sentenced to trap and kill rats for the rest of their lives. Saju finally found the fulfillment he sought by putting people before bugs. Love, and lifeand#8217;s natural balance, returned to the whole village.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 28 years.