Tenali Raman was suffering from a bad cold. He kept blowing and wiping his nose. The nose turned red and his eyes swelled with tears. His wife brought him a vessel filled with hot water. She put some herbs into it. As Raman inhaled the steam, the cold subsided slowly. Raman was relieved.
There was a reason why Raman was happy to get rid of the cold. That evening, he wanted to visit the Kaali temple on the outskirts of the city and pray. “Ask Kaali Ma for gold. Don’t crack one of your jokes and come home empty-handed,” advised his wife, as he left for the temple.
It was quite dark by the time he reached the temple. There was no one in the temple. A lamp was burning before the idol of Kaali Ma. Raman prostrated before the goddess, got up and sat before the idol. With eyes closed, he started praying to Mother Kaali. Such was his devotion that Kaali Ma appeared before him with a thousand heads and a thousand pairs of arms.
Raman was dazzled to see Mother Kaali in all her glory. He looked at her from left to right and right to left with wonder. Then he burst out laughing.
Mother Kaali was not amused to see her devotee laughing at her. She knitted her brows and frowned. Raman controlled his laughter, folded his hands in salutation, and begged her to forgive him.
Mother Kaali was now curious to know what made Raman laugh.
“Mother,” said Raman, “This morning I had a cold. I blew my nose and wiped it throughout the day and became exhausted. When I see you now with your thousand faces …. “
“Yes, go on, complete your explanation,” said Mother Kaali impatiently.
“When I see you with your thousand faces I wonder what will happen should you ever catch a cold …… you will look funny blowing your thousand noses, won’t you?” said Raman as he broke into laughter again.
Though she was at first annoyed, Mother Kaali caught the joke and smiled.
“I want to punish you Raman for being naughty,” said Mother Kaali. “But since you made me smile, I forgive you. I bless you to make people laugh all the time with your wit.”
But Raman wanted something more. As if reading his mind, the Mother took out a piece of silken cloth and handed it over to Raman.
Raman was certain that Mother was offering him was a magical cloth that would yield him riches. But to be doubly sure, he decided to ask Kaali Ma.
“What’s this for, Mother?” asked Raman. He hoped the cloth would yield a couple of gold coins every morning.
“To blow your nose, you silly, when you catch a cold next time,” said Mother Kali with a laugh.
The next moment, Mother Kali vanished. With her laughter still ringing in his ears, Raman walked out of the temple. As he inhaled a whiff of air, he sneezed. He quickly took out the cloth given by Mother Kaali and blew his nose. As he walked home, he had a suspicion that Mother was watching him and laughing. This thought brought a smile to his face.
Story: Subba Rao | Illustration: Goutam P Sen