This story dates back to a hundred and ten years ago. Shantinath Pasoba Kale was a joyful fellow in Shendurjana Ghat, a village in the northern hilly area of Amravati District in Berrar ( or Vidarbha) in eastern Maharashtra. He was a wealthy farmer and trader from the town and was a Panch (trustee) of the village’s Jain Mandir (temple). He carefully managed the estate, a spacious house or Wada, fifty acres of fertile land, and four shops in the town, which he inherited from his father. He drank occasionally and was a fun-loving man. As the family grew and his parents died, he got little time to roam around with his friends. His wife was a devoted lady who did not even touch an onion or garlic in her lifetime. It is a custom amongst devoted Jains not to eat the roots and vegetables that grow below the soil. She always tried to drive Shantinath on a righteous path.
On a pleasant sunny day just before Diwali, Shantinath started his journey to Karanja Lad, a town 100 miles away from his own. His sister was married in that town, and he had many trade connections related to oil, cotton, and oranges. He also needed to buy some equipment for his farms. Having freed from the work on farms, it was a good time for a trip. He also intended to bring his sister for a short stay. His wife handed him the pack of a pile of Dashmis (chapatis made in milk instead of water), along with pickles, jaggery, and whatnot. He laughed and said, “Kaun Bai? (Oh Lady), why are you worrying so much about my diet? I will reach Karanja well before lunch tomorrow, and still, you packed the food for four days? So have some faith in your sister-in-law.” She ignored his taunts and said, “One must carry the food, though not hungry. Also, you are traveling alone. Controlling these bulls will exhaust you on the way.”
He laughed and gently patted the bulls on the back. Then, he swiftly rode the bandi (bullock-cart), already filled with many goods, for trade and also for his sister.
It took him five hours to reach Bhatkuli, the pilgrim center near Amravati. He freed his bulls, fed and watered them properly, took a bath. As he came out after bowing to the deity, he spotted Premchandbhau, the temple manager. “Kay bhau? (Hey, brother?), after a long time, you remembered Babaji (the deity-Adinath as called with love) ?” he said joyfully. Shantinath smiled and handed him the offerings that he brought for the temple. He also saw a fellow pilgrim from Chandur. They sat and chatted for a while, and since it was getting darker, Shantinath sat to eat the meals. He was customary to eat before the sunset, and he was exhausted by the turbulent cart travel. He participated in the night Aarti (worshipping the deity with lamps) and slept like a tiny baby in the room allotted to him by the manager.
He woke up early in the morning, bathed, bowed before the deity, and started his travel.
After one and half hours, he parked his cart under a big mango tree on the roadside. He fed the bulls, watered them, and started eating the chivda (a dry snack) from his meal pack. Suddenly, a horse cart came running and stopped near him. An inspector and two constables from that cart came down and asked him about his name and whereabouts. Bewildered, as he answered their queries, he said, “What is the problem? Why are you interrogating me?” The inspector did not reply to this but kept on inquiring about his trade and farms. Shantinath lost his temper. “Why are you asking me this? I need to go.” At this, a middle-aged officer sitting in the cart stepped down, and coming near Shantinath, he said, “There was a murder at Bhatkuli temple at night, and we suspect you are the murderer. We need to search your belongings.”
Shantinath laughed at this. He said, “Look saheb (Sir), I left the place in the morning. So I don’t know about any murder. But who was murdered?” “See, you stayed in the temple Dharmashala yesterday night and started from there in the morning. The temple manager was found dead in the morning, with the cash in his safe missing. So we suspect you…” he suddenly stopped as a constable searching Shantinath’ s belongings suddenly found a blood-studded knife in his parcels.
“This is the evidence, and you are the murderer. Why did you kill the innocent man?” shouted the officer. Shantinath fainted and started crying. He vowed that he did not commit the murder, even did not meet the guy in the morning. He said, “Saheb, we Jains do not even kill an ant. How can I kill an innocent man? The money you found in my parcel is my own; I am carrying it for the purchase of some ornaments and equipment at Karanja.”
Listening to none of his pleadings, the officer ordered to tie his hands with rope and put him in the horse cart. His cart and other belongings were confiscated, and he was taken to the district commissioner office of Amravati. A criminal case was put in court against him for the robbery and murder of Premchand, the temple manager. In a span of three days, his life turned into a roller-coaster. His wife came to see him with her father. She looked destitute and started crying looking at him. “Why did you do such a nasty crime? You even did not care for your children?” She shouted at him. He kept looking at her with disbelief. Finally, the police took her away as he stood at the grills dumbfounded.” After this meeting, he denied meeting any of his relatives or friends. He did not care for a lawyer nor tried to prove his innocence. The court granted him a life sentence, and he was sent to the Nagpur central jail.
More than two decades passed as he served his sentence. He became old and frail. His hair turned white, and he grew a long beard. He did not talk much during these years, but the smiling, joyful Shantinath turned into a grave-faced old fellow. He learned to knit rugs and cloths in the jail and became an expert in the profession. Everybody in prison respected him. He requested the Jailor to buy some religious, philosophical books when he earned some money and read them. He never cared about knowing of his family, children, or relatives. Nobody came to see him as well.
One day, many inmates were admitted to the jail, and people gathered around them after lunch. A tall guy of the new lot said, “I came here for a crime that I did not commit. I went to the shop only to steal some gold. But someone has already murdered the shop owner, and they framed me for it. Not that I did not go to jail anytime. I was sentenced for a while or two. But never for a real crime that I committed decades ago.” He laughed. Shantinath was listening to this conversation calmly when someone asked, “You are from which place?” The new guy replied,” I am from Warud, but I worked at Shendrujana ghat for quite a time.” Shantinath raised his head and asked him, “You lived in Shendrujana, didn’t you? Did you know the trader Kale of that town?” “Yes, the Jain family, rich people they are! I heard their father killed someone and is sentenced to this jail only. How did you end up here, old man?” he asked. Shantinath never liked to talk about him in jail. He said, “My sins, brother, they drove me here.” But the older inmates narrated how Shantinath was framed in the murder two decades ago. “Oh bullshit, you must have killed the guy. Otherwise, how could the knife ended up in your parcel?” the new guy-his name was Maruti-said spontaneously. Nobody said anything, and eventually, all dispersed. Shantinath followed Maruti, and at a lonely place, he asked him straight, “You were the guy who killed Premchand, the manager, weren’t you? How would you know about the knife so clearly?” Maruti said, “See, old man, you had committed the crime. Don’t act like a saint. I am a wicked guy, don’t mess with me.”
Shantinath returned to his cell. He was trembling with rage and sorrow. He suddenly remembered his wife as she wished him a happy journey, his sons playfully moving around, his green farms, orange orchards, shops, cart, spacious house, everything started playing merry-go-round around him, and he started crying like a child. He decided to kill Maruti, because of whom his whole life became a nasty dream. He could not sleep for three successive days thinking of the revenge.
At last, he developed a fever and was sent to the jail hospital for nearly fifteen days. On the last day of his stay in the hospital, he found the book that he often read. “Mokshmarg Prakashak (The guide to the way of liberation),” the title said. Shantinath laughed to himself, but he opened the book.
He started reading, “Why should one practice the Dharma? The person who does not walk on the righteous path is seen as happy, the rise of sinful karmas is not seen, and someone who rides on a right path is seen unhappy as if he has done evil karmas. How, then is a right path can be auspiciousness?
The cruel (intense) and ingenious (mild) instincts of Jivas (soul) are of many types. Therefore, the karmas (result of deeds) bounded by them in the past in different times rise at one time. Thus, for example, one who had accumulated much wealth in the past is found possessing wealth without earning and is not seen in debt, and the one who had taken much debt in the past is found indebted even while accumulating wealth and wealth is not seen, but on thinking one finds that earning is always the cause of wealth only and not of debt. Similarly, the one who had done many good deeds in the past is seen as possessed of happiness even without performing such right things now. Thus, the realization that your atma (soul) is independent and you will get what you do is assuredly the cause of happiness and not for the increase of sufferings. Thus, the necessity of being on the right path is established.”
As he came back to his cell in the jail, Shantinath kept on thinking about these words. Finally, he thought, “This guy had committed a crime that put me in prison twenty years ago. But though he roamed around freely, he is punished now. He did kill the guy but had no enmity with me. He did not even know me before we met in prison. I have already served my sentence. If I kill him, I will become a real criminal. Why should I create debt when I have a chance to earn money- good karma-by forgiving him?” thinking thus, he slept peacefully that night after a fortnight of revengeful insomnia.
He suddenly woke up in the middle of the night. He came out of his cell. Being a respectable and saintly inmate, he was allowed to roam around in prison anywhere. So he went to the knitting section building in the open to get some air and suddenly found some stroking noise at the back alley of the building. Curious, he went further ahead and suddenly saw a human figure moving in a gutter maintenance hole. Startled, he returned, but the guy came out of the maintenance hole and caught his neck. It was Maruti. “Look here, old guy. If you dare report it, you are a dead man!” he whispered and slowly moved away.
The next day, after lunch, Shantinath was called in the Jailor’s office. There he saw five people standing naked in a row with their hands tied with rope. One of them was Maruti. The Jailor said, “See Shantinath, a hole-digging was found from the knitting section via the gutter maintenance hole. One of the sentry discovered it in the morning. These five people are the potential suspects. Since you are in charge of the section, please let us know if you have seen any of them doing any suspicious activity.” Shantinath looked at Maruti and then towards all the people. Then calmly, he said, “Saheb, I was in the hospital for a fortnight. I arrived in jail yesterday night. I am sorry, I can’t help you.” The Jailor looked at him for a moment and then nodded to let him leave. As he returned to his cell, Shantinath could hear the cries of the people as the wardens started thrashing them with wands. The sound sustained for a long time, and then it waned.
In the night, as Shantinath was in deep slumber, he felt someone touching his feet. He suddenly up and awake to find Maruti standing in front of him. “What do you need now?”, Shantinath asked wryly. “Please forgive me, Bhau (brother)!” Maruti said. “I am the one who robbed and killed Premchandji. I am the one who kept the knife in your luggage. Please forgive me.” “What is the use of this pleading, Maruti,” said Shantinath calmly. “I have lost two decades of my life, lost my family, my children, everything that I loved and cherished. I am a dead man now.”
“No, no. It is painful for me to see you in this situation and still be not revengeful. You could have easily told my name, but you did not.” Said Maruti. “Maruti, I have realized that everybody gets what he deserves. “
“Yes, and I deserve to be punished. I will go and report the crime to the officers. I will tell them that you are innocent.” Maruti replied.
“No, no. you are already here Maruti. Don’t attract more punishment. I have forgiven you.”
As he said these words, Shantinath suddenly felt relaxed and relieved. Since that day, he lessened his food and spent most of his time in the cell meditating alone. He forgot about his family, sufferings, and pain, and he sustained an enormous bliss within himself.
Maruti went to the Jailor and surrendered for his current and past crimes. After some months, when the Jailor came to inform him about the court’s decision of reliving him, he found that Shantinath was dead on his bed, with no pain nor happiness on his face.
He was on his path to liberation.