Tenali Raman and his wife were on their way to Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagara. On the way, they passed through a village at the foot of a hill. The villagers had gathered in front of the village temple. Raman’s wife became curious and dragged her husband to the spot. The husband and wife pushed through the crowd to appear in the front row.
A bodybuilder was exhibiting his strength. He was seen carrying a huge gunny bag on his left shoulder and twirling his mustache with his right hand.
“He is carrying a bag of 500 quintals of rice,” said the man standing next to Raman.
“This is nothing. I can carry a thousand times more weight,” said Raman in a loud voice.
Startled by this announcement, the bodybuilder dropped the bag he was carrying. Everybody looked at Raman wondering whether a new champion had arrived.
Enjoying the attention, Raman addressed the crowd. “Why I can carry that hill on my bare shoulder,” he said, pointing out the hill nearby.
The villagers gaped at him. Raman’s wife appeared tense. She had a suspicion that her husband had opened his mouth too wide.
Meanwhile, the bodybuilder had recovered his wit. He laughed out loud and said, “Is that so? Let’s see you do it.”
The villagers were now excited. They had seen only Hanumanji carrying the Sanjeevani mountain — and that too in pictures. Now here was a man who claimed he could repeat the feat.
“I said I can do it. Did I say I’ll do it now?” asked Raman. “Carrying a hill requires a lot of preparation,” Raman added.
Turning to the weight lifter, Raman asked, “How long did you take to prepare for this feat of carrying the sack of rice?”
“Three months,” confessed the weight lifter.
“How long will you take?” the Village Chief asked Raman.
“Six months,” said Raman without batting an eye.
Then Raman added. “I need to eat an enormous amount of food to build my muscles. And I need someone to massage my body, daily.”
“And we need a place to live. We are outsiders,” said Raman’s wife.
The village chief agreed to provide the couple with a house and arrange the food supply. He directed the weight lifter to give Raman body massage daily.
“And we will meet here, exactly six months from now,” said the village chief getting up from the chair.
Raman’s wife was relieved. They did not have to wonder where the food would come from. For the next six months, at least.
Raman led a royal life in the village. Villagers supplied pots of milk, honey, and curd. Cartloads of rice and ragi were delivered to their house. The bodybuilder was available to cook food, and also give body massage to Raman every day.
The bodybuilder who had become a Raman disciple by now asked Raman about the practice. “Would you like to begin with a small rock, then move on to bigger and bigger rocks?” he asked. Raman sent him away asking him to make ragi mudde (balls of steamed ragi flour).
Soon it was the D-day. The whole village assembled at the foot of the hill. Raman and his wife arrived in a decorated cart pulled by the bodybuilder. The villagers received the weight lifter, Raman with a shout of joy.
The village chief gave a sign that the show could begin.
Raman stood in a circle with people seated all around. He sat in the warrior’s pose, Veeramudra, and announced he was ready.
The villagers were puzzled. The village chief became impatient. “What are you waiting for?” he barked.
“I’m waiting for your men to place the hill on my shoulder,” said Raman calmly.
Everybody gaped at Raman. The village chief shouted in anger “You said … “
Raman cut him short, “I said I will carry that hill. Even now I’m willing to carry the hill. I’m waiting for your men to place it on my shoulder.”
“But who will lift the hill?” asked the Village Chief in bewilderment.
“That’s your problem,” Raman said.
“Only Hanumanji can lift it,” said Raman’s wife.
The village chief joined his hands in salutation to Raman. “A man of your strength and determination should carry not a lowly hill, but Mount Kailas.” The villagers started laughing.
When they got back home, Raman asked his wife to pack, “We are leaving this village,” he said.
Story: Subba Rao | Illustration: Goutam P Sen