On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, here is a story from the version of ‘The Mahabharata’ popular in Assam.
The Pandavas during their exile in the forest — They travelled from one forest to another, one hermitage to another. For the brothers, who were royalty after all, spending days in the forest wasn’t easy. It was especially difficult for the second brother, Bhim, as food was hard to come by in the forest. Hunting a deer or birds or fishes, was a task. Then you’ll have to clean the kill, and cook it before you got to eat. There were no servants to do your bidding; no cook to whip up delicacies for you. Most of all, the portion you got on your plate after all the trouble was really small. The deer or a couple of birds for five brothers and their mother and their wife wasn’t enough, especially for Bhim.
Kunti, looking at her morose second son, who was growing thinner and thinner by the day, was utterly unhappy. Finally, she told Bhim: “Son, as a mother it’s my duty to feed you to your heart’s content. Since, I don’t seem to be able to do this under the present circumstances, I advise you to find a job for yourself, a place where you can eat till your belly is full.” Bhim replied: “Dear mother, we are banished from our very kingdom. Who would give me employment?”
They thought long and hard. At the end, there was just one person who could help them, Lord Shiva of the Kailash Mountains. He was not just the richest being in the world, but also the most generous. He was a perfect employer if ever there was one.
So, Bhim took his mother’s blessing, hugs his brothers, bid good-bye to his/their wife, and embarked on a long and arduous journey to Kailash Mountains.
Finally, Bhim reached the treacherous plains of the Blue God’s abode, and found his future employer in the middle of a ganja session, with his wife Parvati and sons Ganesh and Kartik, all in a jolly mood, enjoying a dance by the retinue of ghosts and demons. The Lord of Kailash did not particularly care about the massive visitor; even a thinning Bhim made a bulky frame. Bhim went ahead anyway, did the perfunctory greeting to the Lord, his spouse and his progeny, and stated his reason for the visit — a wanted an employment. Any employment.
Shiva was quick to reply; he did not even ask about the skills sets of the candidate — “No. There’s no vacancy.” When you have the entire underworld of ghosts and demons to do your bidding, who needs a human servant. And, to prove his point, Shiva offered an eloquent excuse: “I don’t have the dough to pay you.” “But, you are the richest man in the whole wide world,” Bhim said, “My mum told me so.”
“He is indeed,” Parvati, who was watching the strange visitor, interjected. “But, all his wealth is in the custody of Kuber, and I don’t want to badmouth him, but, that one is one stingy banker.” At this, Shiva glared at Parvati; the Lord did not want to hear bad words about his friend. His wife ignored the look, and asked Bhim: “And, pray, who are you?”
At this, Bhim narrated his sob story, how, among other things, he just could not bear his hunger anymore. Parvati was close to tears listening to the story, and she decided then and there that they should hire Bhim, if nothing else, just to feed him. And, Parvati’s argument was solid. She too needed a helper of her own. All those ghosts and demons did Shiva’s bidding, not her’s. And it’s difficult to take care of the household alone with two very hyperactive kids.
The Lord tried to protest, this time little feebly, but Parvati was ready with her argument... “What kind of a husband are you if you cannot provide some basic comforts to your wife. And, Kailash is not exactly like Amravati, the capital of heaven, is it?... But, there’s no money, Shiva mumbled. He knew his wife. It was useless to try and win an argument with her, If he did, there were chances that he won’t get his lunch today.
At this, Bhim came to the rescue. “Well,” he said, “I really don’t need money. What would I do with the money in the forest?” And he did not see any shops of any kind in Kailash either. “The only thing I need is to eat till my belly is full. So, if you can feed me twice a day, I’m your man.”
And the Lord thought, he’s just a mere human, how much would he eat. So, it was settled and Bhim got a job.
TO BE CONTINUED... (How the divine kitchen of Lady Parvati falls short to Bhim's appetite, how Kuber refuses to give any more money to the addict Lord and how the Divine Destroyer gets into farming and how all efforts to feed the second Pandava brother comes to naught.)