The Journey of Anhad
Jun 10, 2017
When the sun is especially hot in India, as it often is during the summer, taking a nap under a tree is a very inviting prospect. When the chair placed under that broad-leafed tree is soft and comfortable, it is a foregone conclusion that sleep is the only proper way to spend one’s afternoon. It seemed thus to Anhad that day, particularly because he had spent the entire morning helping his mother clean the house.
How much dust can one sweep up from nooks and corners? Anhad had wanted to grumble, but had decided against it, since his mother had promised him a very large slice of cake if he did an excellent job. When one is seven, cake is important. So he swept, and dusted, and straightened things, until he was quite exhausted. Of course, he still had enough energy to eat cake. One never gets too tired for that, especially when the cake is chocolate.
With his last bite, he stood, preparing to burrow into the beckoning chair under the tree. His mother stopped him for a moment and asked, “Did you forget something?”
“Thank you for the cake, Mummy,” he replied. His mother smiled, which made Anhad feel very pleased with himself. He liked it when she smiled, which of course she did quite a lot.
The chair was large, and as Anhad scrunched down into it and closed his eyes, the world around him felt far away. The sound of car horns faded, and even the cackle of the birds in the tree grew softer and more melodious. Sleep hugged him, and he sighed a huge sigh, a sigh of chocolate cake contentment and chores well done.
It might have been the cake, or perhaps the beauty of the tree that waved at him as he slept, but on that particular day, Anhad began to dream, a dream unlike any other. It started out with a jumble, much like his room when it was messy. Images of Pokémon, Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers floated through his mind like lily pads, each one waving at him, saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Those images soon faded, however, and Anhad discovered that he was walking, far from home, along a winding dirt road at the foot of an enormous mountain. The landscape was unfamiliar, and there were no houses in sight. Just a road, with a mountain on the right, and dusty fields on the left, spotted with trees. He walked for a while, and thought to himself that it was very strange, and not as comfortable as sleeping in the chair in his backyard, just a few feet from the kitchen where he could get a glass of water if he needed one.
Ah, water. With that thought, he realized that he was thirsty and looked around, wondering where he could get something to drink. To his astonishment, right there on the side of the road, where it had not been a moment before, a counter and a stool had appeared. Behind the counter stood a man—if it was indeed a man. He looked older than the mountain itself, and had a beard that covered half the counter and stretched out onto the road.
He grinned at Anhad and waved at him. “Come, sit down and let me give you some of my special mango milkshake. You will like it very much.”
Anhad felt rather cautious, but it was even hotter on the road than it was back at his house, so he decided to accept the man’s invitation. He gingerly sat on the stool and picked up the glass of mango juice. At his first sip, he felt a rush of power flow from his head all the way to the soles of his feet.
He drank the entire glass, as the man watched him with a smile. When he was done, he handed it back to the man and very loudly burped.
The man laughed and said, “You like it, Anhad?”
“You know my name?”
The man leaned on the counter and twirled an extremely impressive moustache. “I know almost everything about you. You are Anhad, which is an excellent name, as it means ‘limitless.’ Yes, it is a very special name.”
Anhad didn’t know what to say, and just stared at the man until the man laughed again and patted his shoulder. Motioning up the road, the man said, “Be careful as you go.”
Anhad nodded and clambered off the stool. He glanced up the road for a moment, and then turned to thank the old man, but the man and the counter were gone. There was not even a scuff mark in the dirt where the counter had been.
He felt confused, but the mango milkshake had been excellent, and its effects were still rippling through his body. He felt light, and did a little skip as he walked along the road. As he came to the top of a small rise, he reached a circle, with the road branching off to the left and right. There was a water fountain in the middle of the circle, splashing merrily into a granite pool.
A woman was slumped against the fountain, with her head bent forward. Anhad wasn’t sure if she was sleeping, so he stepped to her right and approached the fountain, thinking that he would splash water on his face. Just as he reached out his hands to scoop up the water, she looked up at him.
“Young man, can you help me?” she asked. She raised one arm and pointed to the fields on his left. “I’m very tired, and my companions are not able to help me.”
Anhad looked at the fields and saw that they were not empty, as he had thought. The fields were dotted with people, digging and weeding and walking back and forth with carts filled with grain. As they walked, they made a strange clanking sound that he didn’t recognize.
“Young man, can you help me?” The woman was tugging at his arm. He looked down at her again and saw that she was very old, with dirt and sweat streaking her face. He was about to speak, but suddenly he heard a horn blowing a mighty note, and then another and another.
Surprised, he wheeled around and saw a man striding down the road from the right. He held in his hand an ornate, golden trumpet. The man waved at him and blew his horn again as he reached the circle.
“Anhad! Anhad the Limitless! I’m so happy to see you!”
The man strode up to Anhad and lifted him up and twirled him around, exclaiming all the while. He put Anhad down and looked at him with a huge grin.
“You are such a lucky young man!”
“I am?” Anhad felt very confused. The man was exceedingly and fantastically bright, so bright that Anhad’s eyes hurt to look at him. He squinted and was able to see the man a bit better. The man was tall, and was dressed in a long sherwani coat and trousers made entirely of finely woven gold. Even his shoes were gold.
Anhad didn’t know what to say and simply gaped. The man laughed, and took Anhad’s hand. “I am the maharaja of this land, and you, my lucky, limitless boy, are in for the most amazing treat! Come, my palace is right over there.” He pointed up the road to the right, to an enormous castle at the foot of the mountain.
Anhad couldn’t think of a single thing to say, so he let the man lead him toward the palace. He didn’t notice the old woman watching them as they walked away from the fountain.
The palace was even bigger than he had thought, with steps so steep and long that the man finally had to lift Anhad up and put him on his back. They walked up and around and came to massive double doors of gold. As they walked through the doors, Anhad felt overwhelmed. Everything was gold: the floors and walls and ceilings and every bit of furniture. The Maharaja put him down, and then took his arm as they walked to the front of the palace, to a large room. The building overlooked the plain below, and Anhad could see the fountain and the fields beyond. The workers were still scurrying back and forth, and he could hear echoes of the strange clanking sound that he had heard before. The old woman was still sitting in front of the fountain.
The Maharaja looked annoyed at the scene, and proceeded to close all of the shutters, covering the windows until the room was quiet. Turning to Anhad, he clapped his hands and smiled.
“Dear boy, you are truly lucky. You have arrived at the one place where you can live up to your name. You are a limitless young man, and that means that you can have unlimited amounts of gold! As much as you can carry into this room. Think of what you can do with that gold! Come, tell me what you like to do? Sports? Games? Television? What do you like the most?”
Anhad spied a chair, and sat down in it with a plump.
“Do you have any mango milkshakes? I’m very confused.”
The Maharaja shook his head. “No, no mango milkshakes. But I have something better.” He waved his hand, and a tall glass of golden liquid appeared on the table next to Anhad.
Anhad sipped it tentatively. He couldn’t tell what it was, but it was cool, so he drank it.
Settling back into the chair, he looked around the room. Except for the chair and the table, the room was completely empty. The ceiling was high, and when Anhad snapped his fingers, there was a bit of an echo. He looked at the Maharaja and tried to think. The Maharaja stood quietly, with a smile playing across his face. Anhad suddenly realized that the man’s eyes were gold.
“What do you mean when you say ‘limitless?’” Anhad asked. “I don’t understand. I’m only seven.”
The Maharaja laughed. His laugh bounced against the walls, creating waves in the air. “You are limitless because you can get whatever you want. You can have all the gold and wealth that you want, and with that gold you can buy anything. It doesn’t matter that you are seven. You will grow, and become powerful and famous because of your gold.”
Anhad wrinkled his brow. “But why me?”
“Because of your name! And it is my purpose to show little boys like you that they can have anything they want. Riches beyond imagination!”
The Maharaja held out his hand. “Come, let me show you what you have to do.”
Anhad stood up and took the Maharaja’s hand. They walked from the room, down a long hallway, and arrived at a huge hall, filled from floor to ceiling with gold bricks. The Maharaja picked up a brick and gave it to Anhad.
“You must come to this room and carry as many bricks as you can, back to the room from whence we came. In that room you must build a playhouse from these bricks, and make it as high and broad as you like. With every brick, your power to be limitless will grow and grow, and you will fulfill your destiny.”
The Maharaja picked up a few bricks and said, “Here, let me help you with the first bricks.”
They went back to the front room, and the Maharaja showed Anhad how to put the bricks together to make a wall.
“How will I make the roof?” Anhad asked.
The Maharaja winked and said, “The roof is special. When your walls are complete, just say, ‘Roof!’ and it will be there.”
The Maharaja stood up and stared at Anhad. “Just remember, with every new brick, you will become happier and happier to see so many bricks. You will be a success! You will be limitless indeed.”
He walked to the door, and turned and said, “I will see you when your house is built.”
A moment later he was gone, and Anhad stood in the middle of the room and stared at the bricks stacked on the floor. He found their yellow glint and shimmer fascinating and exciting. His mummy had said that he could be limitless, and now it seemed that it would be true. He must make the wall as high as he possibly could.
As Anhad trudged back and forth between the brick room and his new playhouse, he daydreamed and thought about all the things he could buy with so much gold. He tried keeping count of the bricks, but got lost somewhere around four-hundred and thirty-seven. He decided to make a very large playhouse, with rooms inside it, and doorways and windows. He made piles of gold bricks to sit on and created makeshift tables. His focus grew intense, and he forgot everything except the golden bricks that he carried and laid out so carefully. He had no idea how much time was passing.
As his house grew, he noticed that his breathing was becoming labored, and he was feeling slightly dizzy. He walked by a mirror in the hallway and wondered at first who was in the mirror. The face staring back at him was drained of color, and his eyes had deep shadows around them. It frightened him, so he quickly moved away, carrying his bricks to the front room.
The air in the front room had grown stuffy and close, and the light had faded until all he could see was the shimmering house growing ever larger in the middle of the room. It was a beautiful and mesmerizing sight, and it brought Anhad immense pride to look upon it. He felt that he could sit and gaze at it forever.
As he stepped up to the house to place a golden brick on a new outcrop of wall, he lost his balance and, with a bang, dropped the brick on his big toe. The pain was excruciating, and he felt like he was going to faint. He dropped to his knees, with his forehead against the golden wall of his house, and closed his eyes for a moment. He felt exhausted, and was surprised that he felt so, because the house really was beautiful.
Slumped there against the wall, with his eyes shut tight, he felt like he was twirling around and around in a deep, black void. He began to feel frightened, and struggled against the blackness. He suddenly felt intensely lonely. It was then that he heard a very tiny whisper in his mind. He didn’t know if it was his thoughts, or a person’s voice, but the whisper said, “Go outside! Quick! Go outside!”
Anhad opened his eyes and, with great effort, stumbled to his feet, and weaved his way out of the front room, down the long hallways, to the entrance of the palace. As he stepped through the golden doors, the whisper came again: “Go down the steps to the road! Quick! Run! Run down the steps to the road!”
He didn’t know how he did it, but as he ran down the steps, his feet began to slide from step to step, only touching the edges, as if he was skiing. He was quite surprised, but relieved, because it was a very long set of steps, and he felt weakened to his bones. His feet seemed to take over, and as he glided down the long descent of steps, the whisper came again, and said, “Sliding over the steps like this is called glemmering. Do you like it?”
He nodded and shouted, “Yes!” And then he was at the bottom of the steps, standing on the road. The whisper said, “Run now, to the fountain!”
He ran, and arrived at the fountain, and threw himself into the pool of water and rolled back and forth. After splashing and hollering and dunking his head in the cool water, he climbed out and leaned against the edge. The sun was still shining, but when he looked to his left, the steps and the palace were gone. Only the mountain stood there, lifting high into the sky.
He shook his head, wiping the water from his face, completely confused. Something tugged at his leg, and he turned to see the old woman sitting there, slumped against the fountain, looking up at him piteously.
“Young man, can you help me?”
To Anhad at that moment, the old woman looked very forlorn, and he felt a pang that he had not helped her before. Crouching down in front of her, he gazed at her and said, “What can I do?”
The woman sat up straighter and pointed at the fields.
“Listen,” she said.
Anhad looked at the fields and saw that the workers were still there, digging and weeding and pushing their carts. He listened and once again heard a strange clanking sound.
Looking at the old woman, he asked, “What is it?”
“Help me get up,” the woman replied.
He took her arms and helped her stand. She was taller than he thought, but she was hunched over in a horrible “L” shape. She waved toward the field and said, “Help me go to the field, and I will show you.”
They walked slowly along the road to the edge of the field where some workers were on their knees, digging in the earth with trowels. The workers looked up as they approached, but then turned their faces away as if they were afraid.
The old woman walked to a girl bent over a rock in the ground. She was trying as hard as she could to dig the rock out of the earth, but it wouldn’t budge. Her face was covered with dirt, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. The old woman sat next to the girl and gently moved the hem of the girl’s sari away from her ankles. Attached to both ankles were large shackles, with an iron chain between them.
The girl was embarrassed, and quickly pulled her sari over her ankles, turning her head away.
The old woman looked up at Anhad. “Do you see, Anhad?”
Anhad nodded. “Yes.” He raised his hands questioningly. “What can I do? And how do you know my name?”
The old woman slowly stood up and stared at him. “Everyone here knows your name. Anhad, the Limitless Boy.” She motioned around the field at the other workers. “What do you think you should do?”
Anhad rubbed his brow. He felt very much better than he had in the palace, but he still felt a weakness in his bones. He looked around the field and spied a white rock, about the size of a mango. Thinking about that, he realized that he would dearly love to have a mango milkshake, but something in him impelled him to ignore his thirst for the moment.
He picked up the white rock and, without knowing exactly why, walked to the girl, bent down, and asked, “May I?”
The girl nodded and pulled her sari away from her ankles, revealing the shackles and chain. Anhad raised the white rock high in the air and brought the rock down against each shackle in turn. As the rock hit the shackles, sparks shot up from the blow and the shackles disappeared.
The girl stared at her ankles, unsure of what to do. She looked at the old woman, who nodded at her and smiled. Trembling and crying, the girl sat forward and hugged Anhad, squeezing him tightly, and said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Turning to the old woman, Anhad grinned. He felt very much better than he had in the palace. He was about to speak, but instead he noticed that the old woman had her hand out toward him, holding a beautiful crystal goblet filled to the very top with mango milkshake.
He took the goblet from her and was about to take a sip when he looked at the girl. The girl looked so thirsty. He ran his tongue across his lips, which suddenly felt like old, broken sandpaper, and with a rueful grin handed the goblet to the girl. Her eyes widened, and she seized the goblet and drank it down greedily.
Anhad gazed at her as she drank, and felt a very peculiar warmth in his chest and something happening around his eyes. Wiping his eyes with his hand, he felt a tap on his shoulder. The old woman had her arm out again, with an even larger goblet of mango milkshake. Anhad laughed, all of a sudden, and drank the milkshake down in one go.
When he finished the drink, he stood up and looked around the field and then down at the old woman. Holding up the white rock, he nodded toward the workers.
“I guess I should go to them, too?”
“Of course,” said the woman.
Anhad went from person to person, across field after field. There were old men and young, girls and mothers, and even a baby, with tiny little shackles between its feet. The workers were unkempt and afraid at first, as Anhad approached them. But as he broke their shackles with the white rock, the others began to notice what was happening and looked at Anhad with eagerness as he approached.
They all hugged him when their shackles disappeared—every single one, except the baby, who just smiled at Anhad and said something in the strange language that all babies know well. Anhad had never been hugged so much in his entire life of seven years—not even on holidays or birthdays with his aunties all around him. He had to admit that their hugs felt wonderful.
At the end of one of the fields, when the last worker had hugged him and run to her friends, he looked around for the old woman. She was standing right behind him, which caused him to jump back slightly in surprise. Even more astonishing to Anhad was that she was no longer old.
Her face was the same, sort of, with wise, old eyes, but her skin was smooth and she was standing straight, regally, and was dressed in a beautiful emerald-colored sari. She smiled at him, and took both of his hands in hers and squeezed them affectionately.
“Well done, Anhad,” she said.
He felt embarrassed and blushed.
She pointed at the mountain and said, “Let’s go to the top, shall we?”
Before he could say a word, she jumped into the air, holding his hands and pulling him with her. They flew—yes, flew—to the top of the mountain as fast as any bird could have done, and perhaps faster than that.
The mountaintop was far above the fields. Anhad had not realized how tall it was, but it seemed even taller than Mount Kangchenjunga, even though it was green, with beautiful flowers and trees at the top. There was no snow, and it was warm, with butterflies flitting around their heads.
They landed on a grassy knoll and stood for a moment, looking at the fields and road below. Anhad was astonished that he could see the people in the field as clearly as if he was looking through a telescope. He could even see the baby, kicking its legs in delight. Anhad’s heart was so full at that moment that he truly thought he might burst.
The old woman, who was no longer old, sat down in a chair that had suddenly appeared, and put her arm around him and squeezed him against her and smiled at him. She waved her hand and a chair appeared behind him, which he obligingly sat in. They sat together for a while, without speaking, watching the birds fly by, until the woman raised her hands and motioned toward the sky.
The sky directly above the mountain grew dark, and the stars appeared. The moon floated into view and sat at the edge of the circle of night sky, gazing down at them.
The woman looked at Anhad. “You’ve had quite a day, haven’t you?”
Anhad stared at her. “I guess so.”
She pinched his cheek, amused at his reaction. “You met the Maharaja. He’s a sly one, isn’t he? But he’s the voice of the cold and the dark—the voice of loneliness. I’m glad you escaped his clutches.”
Anhad was silent. He didn’t want to think about the Maharaja. The woman rubbed his shoulder sympathetically.
“He said that you are limitless, and you are. You absolutely are. And today you discovered what that means. To be limitless and infinite means that you are alive and growing and expanding, and today you discovered the great secret of life: that only loving thoughts and actions are truly infinite. Because love begets love.”
“Oh,” said Anhad.
She pointed up at the stars. “See? Look closely at the stars, and then remember the flowers and birds and butterflies and babies. Always remember babies. All of those things say one thing. The universe is made of love.”
“That baby was very cute, wasn’t he?” Anhad replied. “I still don’t know what he said.”
“Do you know why you felt sick in the Maharaja’s palace?”
Anhad wrinkled his brow. “No, I don’t. But it was awful.”
The woman turned to him and took his face in her hands and looked at him for a long time. Anhad thought that she was extraordinarily beautiful. Like a princess or a queen. He looked back at her and would have felt embarrassed, but her eyes were so soft and so warm that he simply felt safe.
“You felt sick there because thinking and acting in a selfish way goes against the grain of the universe. The universe is made of love, and you can only be truly happy—and limitless—when you follow the way of love.”
She laughed. “But enough lessons for today. I have a much better idea.”
She waved her hand, and there on his lap was a plate, with a very large, very scrumptious-looking piece of chocolate cake.
Anhad looked at the cake and looked at the princess and saw that she was waving at him.
“Goodbye, dear Anhad. Just remember that you are loved.”
As she spoke, her face looked far away, growing smaller and smaller, as if she was at the wrong end of a telescope. Her face finally became a dot and then disappeared altogether. Anhad felt confused and shifted in his chair. He couldn’t see the stars or the mountain or the field, and suddenly realized that his eyes were closed. He opened them, a little tentatively, not sure what he would see.
There above him was the broad-leafed tree in his backyard, and in front of him was his very own mummy, holding a lovely white plate with a particularly delicious-looking piece of chocolate cake.
“Anhad, you’ve been asleep for the longest time, so I thought you might like to eat the last piece of chocolate cake.”
She handed him the cake, and of course—of course—he took it, since he was an obedient boy, and besides, who could turn down chocolate cake?
His mother watched him as he took a large forkful of cake and rolled his eyes in delight. She laughed and tousled his hair.
“You really are an extraordinary boy, aren’t you, dear?”
Anhad didn’t have any idea at that moment what he should say, so he said the only thing that a boy in his position could. He smiled very widely, with bits of chocolate cake stuck between his teeth, and said the nicest words he could think of.
“Thank you, Mummy!”
Cover Painting: “Lane near Dedham” by John Constable, painted in 1802
Oil on canvas, 333 mm x 425 mm (13.11 in. x 16.73 in.)
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”