Chhajju was a poor farmer. He owned a small plot of land on which he grew seasonal vegetables like brinjals, pumpkins and cauliflowers. It was not much but for Chhajju it was enough. He worked hard and slept well for he was a contented man at heart.
One particular winter Chhajju grew a super crop of cauliflower. People came from far and near to admire the fresh, creamy looking, snow-white heads of cauliflower. One day Chhajju's wife told him that their crop is the talk of the village and some might try to steal them so he can sleep in the fields at night to keep guard.
Chhajju thought this a jolly good idea. Right in the middle of his fields he raised a platform of bamboo and thatch. On this platform he spread a sheet and his bed was ready. That evening, after the family had eaten, Chhajju left his wife and children in his hut, walked to the platform and climbed up. Tired after the day's work, he soon fell asleep. He slept soundly till the crack of dawn. Then he walked back to his hut to start another day. The same thing happened the following night.
On the third night Chhajju went to sleep on the platform as usual, but in the middle of the night something disturbed him. He sat up. It was quiet all around. The entire village was asleep.
Even the jackals in the forest beyond had fallen silent. Chhajju looked around and suddenly caught his breath in surprise. A shining white cloud was slowly coming down from the sky. As Chhajju watched the cloud headed straight for his fields and made a perfect landing among the cauliflowers. And out stepped an elephant. But it was no ordinary elephant. It was grey in colour and glowed as though made of silver. The elephant stretched out its trunk, uprooted a cauliflower and daintily placed it in its mouth, then another and another. Chhajju watched helplessly as the elephant ate up some twenty heads of cauliflower. Having had its fill, the elephant stepped inside the cloud again. The cloud slowly floated up into the sky and was soon lost to view.
For a long time Chhajju sat in a daze. As soon as he had recovered, he raced home to tell his wife what he had seen. The poor woman was fast asleep. Chhajju shook her awake and told her everything. But she would not believe him. She negated his idea and said that he must be dreaming. The following night Chhajju lay awake on the platform. Sure enough the elephant came again. As before, he ate his fill of cauliflower and went back the way he had come. Chhajju raced back home to tell his wife.
This time his wife believed him. She said that the elephant came straight from heaven. He belongs to Lord Indra, king of the gods, and his name is Aeravat. Chhajju was listening dumbfounded. His wife was the daughter of a pundit and knew a lot about such things. Suddenly she clutched his arm and said that the next time the elephant appeared he must hang on to its tail and take a trip to heaven.
A little more persuasion from his wife and Chhajju agreed. He was scared stiff at the thought of flying up into the sky at the end of an elephant's tail. But somehow he picked up the courage to do so. The following night, when the elephant entered the cloud to go back to heaven, there was Chhajju hanging on to its tail.
Chhajju spent a full 24 hours in heaven and what a glorious time he had. Heaven was a beautiful place. The streets were paved with silver, the palaces were made of gold. When he got tired walking, he had only to wash at one of the many clear, cool streams to feel refreshed again. The air was full of birdsong and the scent of flowers. But what Chhajju enjoyed most of all was his visit to the kitchen. Right in the middle of the kitchen of heaven stood a giant dish of 'halwa' (a sweet dish). Piping hot and sweet and flavoured with cardamom and to top it all there was nobody to stop him.
When Chhajju came back to earth via the elephant's tail he walked as in a dream. It was not only the things that he had seen; it was the halwa that he had eaten. He could not think of anything else. That night he hardly slept. Day dawned. Instead of going to work in his fields, Chhajju went and sat in front of his hut. Some of the other men from the village passed by on their way to work and asked why he was sleeping. Chhajju replied that he had too much halwa yesterday. The men were amazed. Some more men had joined them. They all gathered around Chhajju and asked where he found all that halwa.
Now Chhajju's wife had warned him not to talk about the halwa to anyone. But with so many people asking him for details, he forgot all about the warning. He proudly said that he had halwa in heaven. The other farmers thought Chhajju had gone out of his mind. They suggested him to meet the Vaid ji (village doctor).
However, bit by bit the farmers were convinced that Chhajju was indeed telling the truth. One by one they dropped their shoes and sat down in a tight circle around Chhajju. They too wanted to go to heaven with him. Chhajju had never received so much attention in his life. He got all puffed up. Without a moment's thought he said that they can come to the heaven with him. He will hang on to the tail of the elephant and the next man catches his kurta and like this a number of people can make a trip to heaven.
There was a wild shout from the men gathered around him. Naturally, the news spread like fire. All the men of the village had a nice long bath at the river and got into their best clothes. The women were not going, neither were the children. But they all wanted a share in the halwa. The men offered to bring some in their pockets. And they could not carry bags for both their hands had to be free to hang on to the kurta of the man in front. Here was a problem indeed till someone thought of a sling bag. The women spent the entire day making sling bags out of sacking, old saris and old pajamas. When evening came, the men stood in a line near Chhajju's fields, hearts thumping and mouths dry with excitement.
The night wore on. It became very dark. At first jackals howled in the forest beyond the village. But in time they fell silent. Even the village dogs stopped barking. Everything was quiet when a gasp went up from all the men. The shining white cloud was coming down slowly, ever so slowly. It made a perfect landing among the cauliflowers and out stepped a silver elephant.
The men waited patiently and in total silence till the elephant had eaten its fill. Then Chhajju ran forward and caught the elephant's tail. There was a bit of a scramble as every man tried to catch hold of Chhajju's kurta. But soon they fell in line. Each had a firm grip on the kurta of the man before him. Slowly the cloud rose in the air. With it rose the elephant and Chhajju and one by one, all the men, down to the last one who was the fat man of the village.
The journey to heaven was long and the men had waited all day for the promised halwa. So halfway up to heaven their patience gave out. The fat man in particular was feeling very anxious. He asked the man directly in front and asked whether there will be enough halwa left for each man. Now each man started asking the same question to the man in front of him. And so the question went from man to man, right up the line till it reached the man directly behind Chhajju. He replied that there will be enough halwa left for all.
The news travelled back to the fat man. For a while he was quiet. Then he could not stand it any longer. He grumbled that Chhajju must tell them exactly how much would be left. Once again the question travelled up the line till it reached Chhajju. This time Chhajju, replied, slightly irritated that there is enough. The news travelled back and for a while the fat man was quiet. But not for long and the journey did not seem to end and he was tired and hungry. So he jerked at the kurta of the man in front and asked again that how much halwa he can eat in heaven.
The question travelled up the line once again. But by the time it reached Chhajju, he had lost his patience. He threw out his arms as far as they could go and yelled to say a lot. The elephant's tail shot out of his grasp and all the men came tumbling down to earth. The fat man came first and all the others landed on top of him. There was a series of loud thuds and then all was quiet. For a while they all lay there, stunned. Then slowly they picked themselves up, dusted their clothes and went back home, grumbling at the fat man for asking silly questions. That was the end of their dream of eating halwa, for sad to say, the elephant never came again.
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