Excerpt from the novel Buddha’s Wife.
Historically, Rahula was Yasodhara and Siddhartha’s son. Siddhartha was later known as “The Buddha” or “The Tathagata”.
“Run! Run!” shouted Rahula, as he picked Bodhi up under his arms and headed towards an impression in the hill. Savarna was close behind. He turned and yelled at Savarna again. “Hurry; they’re getting closer!”
She hitched up her sari and ran alongside her husband and son. The sound was like thunder. Their feet slid and bounced on the ground as it heaved. They plastered themselves against the shallow crevice just as the stampeding elephants ran by, their eyes wild with fright.
They had avoided bandits by following Rampal and Moksa’s advice. They had traveled in numbers and kept to the center of the plains. Now, just as they were about to traverse their last major obstacle, the Aravalli Mountains, some idiot had tried to catch a baby elephant. His attempt had angered the herd. People scattered to safety, but Rahula and his family had found themselves caught in the gigantic mammals’ path with nowhere to turn.
As the last tusked male lumbered by, blowing his trunk, Bodhi coughed violently from the wave of dust. It was so thick they could barely see one another.
“Bodhi.” Savarna covered his mouth and eyes with her sleeve, hoping that would alleviate the irritation. His coughing continued and they tried to comfort him, to no avail. His cough had worsened over the last several days and this was not helping. It was deepening and dangerously persistent.
“What happened?” Rahula exclaimed, after the last elephant had passed.
“We’re lucky,” Savarna reasoned, as her breath returned. “I didn’t think we would make it, did you?”
“I wasn’t sure,” Rahula panted, gasping for air.
They all rubbed their eyes, blinking to wash away the dust and dirt.
“We’ve got to find him a doctor,” Savarna insisted. “It’s getting worse.”
“Yes, I know,” Rahula agreed. “Let’s go back to Kanpur.”
“That’s a two-day journey,” Savarna exclaimed. “We can’t wait that long.”
“I doubt if there’s an herbalist int he village we passed this morning,” Rahula reasoned, “but we can try.”
Carrying his coughing son on his back, Rahula and Savarna backtracked and asked everyone they met if they knew of a healer in the vicinity. Late in the afternoon they came upon a woman washing clothes at the river. Her children were close by. They expected her to reply like all the others, that there was no help in the area.
“Yes,” she said, as she rung out a shirt on the rocks and yelled at one of her kids to stay away from the river’s edge. “Let me finish and I’ll take you to her.”
Rahula and Savarna shared a hopeful glance.
“Here,” Savarna said, “let me help.” She got down on her hands and knees, took a wet sari out of the basket and pushed, twisted and shook it in the wind, then folded it neatly and placed it on top of the other clean clothes in the adjoining basket. The women smiled and quickly completed their task.
“I am Henna,” the woman said, as she picked up her basket and called to her children. “Come. I will take you to my mother.” She looked at Bodhi, who was clinging to his father’s back and coughing. “She can cure anything.” They followed Henna towards the small village.
“Your mother?” Rahula asked.
“Yes,” Henna replied, “my mother.”
“I am Rahula and this is Savarna,” Rahula said. “This bag of rice on my back is our son Bodhi.”
Heena stopped short, as one of her youngest bumped into the back of her legs. “Did you say ‘Bodhi,’ like the tree?”
“Yes,” replied Rahula, “like the tree, strong and wise.”
“The Bodhi tree is the same one under which our Lord Buddha of Gotama awoke to his true nature,” Henna said.
“Yes,” Rahula said sharply, then saw the admonishing look from Savarna. “Yes, so we discovered.”
“Are you followers of the Tathagata?” Henna inquired, as she lifted the basket onto her head.
“No,” Savarna answered, before Rahula said something to offend their guide. “But we have hard of his great deeds and compassionate heart.” Rahula looked away as Savarna came alongside Henna. “Are you a follower of the Tathagata?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “We became disciples after hearing him speak. I was just a little girl, but my mother remembers him well.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Rahula wanted to find a remedy for Bodhi’s cough but hated the fact that it might come from a disciple of his father.