"What have I done to deserve such a son!" Kalu asked in despair. "I have sent him to the best teachers in the village but he refuses to learn. I put him to work, but he does no work; all he does is day-dream. Who will take the load off my old shoulders? Cursed is my life to be burdened with a son such as Nanak!”
"You are much too hard on the boy," his wife replied, "There is a lot of good in him. His teachers are pleased with him and have been amazed at his Intelligence."
Kalu was too upset to listen. "That is not very surprising for, after all, we are Vedis and Vedis are so named because of their knowledge of the holy books, the Vedas. But, as you well know, we are passing through difficult times. Our kings change every other day. Robbers loot caravans in broad day-light. Trade has almost ceased. It is becoming more and more difficult to make enough money to live comfortably. I want Nanak to be independent and earn a living for himself," said Kalu.
"I understand all that," replied his wife to soothe him, "but do not be so harsh with the boy. He is still very young. I am sure he will turn out well. Perhaps he will even be a great man. You remember what our neighbor told us Nanak when he was a little boy; about seeing. Asleep on the grass with a large cobra watching him and shading him from the sun with its hood! That, as you know, is supposed to be a sign of greatness."
"I do not believe in that kind of nonsense," Kalu said angrily. "In any case how will that bring money to fill our bellies? Now look at our daughter Nanaki! She is only five years older than-Nanak and yet she has always been a great help in the house."
"The cobra was not all," continued his wife, ignoring her husband's interruption. "You know very well what the village chieftain said. He was riding by his fields at noon one day, when he saw Nanak sleeping in the shade of a tree. On passing the same spot many hours later, he found Nanak asleep in the same place with the shadow of the tree still over him, while the shadows of all the other trees had moved with the sun. At that time even you were quite amazed."
"You do not really expect me to believe such stories?" replied Kalu with irritation.
"Well, you must be the only one in the village who does not. There was also that affair of the buffaloes eating up a farmer's crops! Don't you remember when Nanak had gone to herd cattle the other day, he fell asleep and let the buffaloes stray on to a neighbor’s field. The man was furious; he threatened to beat Nanak if he ever laid eyes on him again. You were also very angry with him, 'Go and see,' Nanak said to the people who had gathered, 'nothing has been damaged.' When they arrived there, not one blade of grass had been touched. The neighbors have been talking about it for weeks. You see, because of our son, God had blessed the field."
"These are just old wives' tales," Kalu retorted, "and besides Nanak has no business to be sleeping while out herding buffaloes. This just proves what I have been saying all along. He is a lazy good-for-nothing who spends all his day dreaming instead of working."
The Questioning Years
Thus the years went by and (Guru) Nanak spent more and more time alone in his dream-world. He would for long walks in the nearby forest and watch brightly colored birds flying from branch to branch. He saw trees burst into blossom in spring, lose their leaves and flowers as the heat of the summer came on and again turn into a rich green as the monsoon broke. He would sit for hours listening to the murmur bees on hot, still days and the shrill screams of the peacocks during the rainy season. At night he lay awake gazing at the stars—the misty cluster of the Milky Way, the guiding light of the North Star and the breath-taking wonder of meteors that shot across the sky.
He would not play with boys of his own age but referred to listen to his servant Mardana sing songs in praise of God. He spent days in the company of holy men who came to his village. He would sit at their feet for hours, asking them about the things that puzzled him. Why did the sun rise and set? Who made the moon and the stars? Why was man born? Where did he go when he died?
He was troubled by the differences between him and some other boys of the village. His parents forbade him to play with the sweeper’s son because “he is low-born and unclean” they said. He was not allowed to go and eat with the neighbor’s son because “he was Muslim” his parents explained. (Guru) Nanak was hurt because he liked to play and eat with his friends without bothering who their parents were. Why couldn’t he treat all his playmates as his brothers. Did not the great God make Hindu and Muslim, sweeper and Brahmin, men of both high and low caste? Thus he spent many hours trying to find answers to these questions and some way out of the unhappiness that surrounded him.
The Sacred Thread
When (Guru) Nanak was nine years old, the family priest came to put the “Janeu”, or scared thread, on him. (Guru) Nanak was curious, and he asked “why are you putting this thread around me?
The priest, who was very learned and found of children, replied gently, “the custom of wearing a ‘Janeu’ has been passed down over thousands of years from ancient Hindu religion. Only the higher castes are allowed to wear it. It will make you a better person. And unless you wear it, you will not go to heaven.”
(Guru) Nanak thought for a moment and then said, “Anyone can wear this thread. There is nothing to prevent even robbers and murderers from doing so. Besides, this thread could get lost, it could break, get dirty or burned. I should have thought it was more important to speak the truth, be good and kind, and control all evil thoughts. Only these could make a person a better man and fit to go to heaven.”
Friends and neighbors who had gathered for the ceremony were amazed at his words. “This is surely no ordinary child,” they all said.
“He will be a great man and our village Talwandi will become famous in the world.”