The Magic Bucket

by Srinjay Chakravarti

Once upon a time there lived a young man named Nirdosh. He had no one in the world, his parents were long dead, and he had no home to speak of. He was a wanderer who moved from one town to another, trying his luck. One day he arrived in the strange town of Advutnagar.

One Sunday morning, while he was going around looking for work, he noticed a large crowd in front of a small cottage.

Nirdosh asked a bystander, "Whose house is this? Why are so many people waiting here?"

"Don't you know? You must be new here!" came the reply. "This is Acharya Nirmal's house."

"Why is there such a crowd in front of his house today?"

"Acharya Nirmal the Pure is our guru. Today is Sunday and he has brought out his magic bucket."

"A magic bucket? What does it do?"

"You put any piece of cloth in the water inside it and it is dyed in any color you want."

Intrigued, Nirdosh stepped forward and saw an old man with a flowing white beard, dressed in a white robe, with a large metal bucket — more like a tub — in front of him. It was indeed as the man had said. Whatever garment they gave him, Nirmal dyed it in the color sought. Someone gave him a white piece of cloth and wanted it dyed red. He dunked it in the water in the bucket and voila! when he pulled it out it was crimson in color. Another gave him a green robe and, hey presto, he turned it into orange in the twinkling of an eye. A third man said, "Please turn my yellow shirt into a blue one." He even turned a grayish white sari into a multicolored variegated garment for one of the women.

Nirdosh was amazed. He had never seen anything like this in all his travels. He waited till most of the people had dispersed, then approached the Acharya. Nirmal noticed him and asked, "Well, young man, what can I do for you?"

He hesitated, then asked the Acharya, "Sir, in which color do you dye your own clothes? Will you please dye mine in that color?"

Nirmal looked at Nirdosh closely. His was a kindly smile and his eyes twinkled. He beckoned him to follow. Nirdosh went inside the cottage with him.

The room inside was rather spartan and sparsely furnished. There was a bed, a chair and a table. Nirdosh sat down on the chair while Nirmal sat on the bed. Nirdosh was wearing a robe with patterned blue, green and yellow stripes. The Acharya said, "I'll give you what you want, but you will have to stay with me and learn how to use the magic tub yourself."

Nirdosh agreed to become the Acharya's disciple. After all, he didn't have anything to do. There was another room, a smaller one, in the cottage, which was empty except for some books. There he was given a mat to sleep on — and no other furniture.

Over the next eight months Nirdosh studied several arcane texts under his mentor's guidance and memorized many secret spells and incantations. He learnt how to meditate and go into a trance. They would go for long walks in the woods nearby, discussing abstruse philosophy. Both were celibate and had only a few simple needs; Nirdosh was happy and content after a long time.

Then at last, one evening, Acharya Nirmal told him, "Now you are ready to know the final secret." That night, while Nirdosh was meditating, his guru sprinkled magic water from the bucket on him. At once his head began to whirl. He felt himself leaving his body, as his spirit floated gently upwards. Nirmal also left his own body and joined him, accompanying him on a miraculous journey.

They floated out of the windows, up, up into the air, high above the town of Advutnagar, and finally came to rest on a frozen mountain peak nearby.

But Nirdosh did not feel the cold at all. He felt blissful, with a sense of great joy and peace, and his body felt extraordinarily light, subtle and carefree. There was a warm tingling sensation and when he looked down at his hands he was astounded to see his grayish white etheric body turning into sparkling silver. Gossamer strands of starlight, gleaming like quicksilver, were being spun into his arteries, veins and sinews. His blood and bones were also being alchemized into gleaming metallica.

Yet he did not feel any pain at all. In his entranced state he felt unbearably light and exhilarated. He saw streaks of lightning colors play around his hands and legs. His face was glowing with an ethereal violet glow.

Nirdosh had been so engrossed in himself that he had not noticed his guru till now. When he looked at him, Acharya Nirmal smiled at him gently. Nirmal's own energy body, too, had been transformed, and was now golden in color. In the moonlight it shone and sparkled, it was pure unblemished gold.

It was dawn when they returned to the cottage. Nirdosh noticed that his and the Acharya's physical bodies were sleeping soundly in the rooms. Nirmal had created a shield around the house with his wizardry, and it was safe.

Nirdosh returned from his astral travels into his body and woke up with a start. He looked around himself, at his own body and clothes. They were just the same. Had it just been a vivid dream?

But no. Nirmal the Pure came into the room carrying a dazzling white robe. "This will be your garment now. You are now Nirdosh the Flawless, a true yogi." He smiled, then said, "Well then, I'll be off."

Nirdosh the Flawless looked up at his guru in surprise and consternation. Gone was Nirmal's white robe — he had dyed it in saffron. Yet Nirdosh did not quite realize what was happening.

"What do you mean? I don't quite get you," he said. "Where are you going, sir?"

"I mean that my work here is over, and I can leave now. From now onwards you are in charge of the magic bucket."

"But— but—" stammered Nirdosh.

"Remember," went on Acharya Nirmal, "you can hand over the bucket only to someone who says he wants to be dyed in your own colors. Only then will you be free, not before. If you give it to anyone else they will either go mad or fall ill and die."

Nirdosh was stumped. At last he found his voice. "But — but — I did not ask for this when I first came to you. I hadn't bargained for anything like this when I agreed to become your student—"

Nirmal the Pure smiled grimly, a tight mirthless smile. "That is the way it is. You are on your own now." Saying this, he put the handle of the magicked bucket in Nirdosh's hand. Nirdosh stared down at the tub in confusion, his head awhirl. He looked up at his guru. "Hey, wait a minute—"

But Nirmal had already vanished.

Srinjay Chakravarti is a writer, journalist, researcher and translator based in Salt Lake City, Calcutta, India. His poetry, short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications in nearly 30 countries. His first book of poems, Occam's Razor, (Writers Workshop, Calcutta: 1994) received the Salt Literary Award from Salt, the Australian literary and publishing organization. He has won first prize in the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Poetry Competition 2007-08. His short story "Thief of the Moon" appeared in Issue #26 of The Cafe Irreal, and his translation of Sukumar Ray's "Drighangchu" appeared in Issue #28. "The Magic Bucket" is based in part on a traditional Hindu parable, narrated by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886), a great Indian saint, mystic and spiritual leader.