Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Vrindavan Virus

I arrive just as the pujari blows the conch to end Sayana Arati (late evening). Tulasi turns to smile with me as we take darshan of our beautiful Radhe-Shyam. After some moments of quiet, she says, "My Guru Maharaj [Bhakti Bhringa Govinda Swami] is coming in on Monday, Bhakti. "

A pang of regret twinges through me. "I'm leaving on Monday, Tulasi," I reply.

"Ah yes, I remember... you couldn't stay even one more day?"

I laugh softly. "My flight leaves at 7am sharp... I will miss him, Tulasi. I truly will. I had the opportunity to play some bhajans with him in Panihati, and I was struck by his sweet, serene mood."

Tulasi sighs, smiling.

In the pause, my mind turns to Radhanath Swami. I say slowly, "You know, I'll be missing my own guru maharaj by a matter of days, too. The next time I see him it will have been... " I take a deep breath. "... two years."

"Well, this summer was the first time I saw my guru maharaj in five years," she says.

"Yeah, but you were saying you were neighbors for a while," I counter saucily.

Tulasi grins. "Yes, for twelve years, in Vrindavan. If he wanted something, sometimes he would call over from his house. 'Hey, Tulasi, do you have any butter?'"

We both chuckle. "I want to go back," Tulasi says softly. We fall quiet again, gazing at Radhe Shyam. "You know what my guru maharaj says is the most dangerous virus?" Tulasi asks as the pujari rings the bell to draw the curtains closed.

"What is that?"

"The Vrindavan Virus. Once you get it, you have it for the rest of your life; it consumes your entire life to return to Vrindavan."

I laugh at B.B. Govinda Maharaj's wit and offer my obeisance to Radhe-Shyam. I say to Tulasi, "Oh, one day I hope to get the Vrindavan Virus," I say wistfully.

She looks at me. "You already have it."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Money and a Deadline

[The following is an essay that I wrote for an Honors scholarship application. I addressed the prompt: "Describe your most exciting and rewarding educational experience." My Honors professor chuckled and remarked, "Well, there's nothing like money and a deadline for inspiration." Wish me luck. I'll find out if I've been awarded mid-July.]

Essay - Bhakti Roberto (0700-6689)

I have never taken a music lesson in my life. And yet, here I am facing nine expressionless teenage girls… and they’re my students. For an entire semester, I’m going to teach them the basics of singing and rhythm. But as of right now I realize I’m getting something I hadn’t bargained for - these girls are going to teach me what it takes to reach them.

What have I gotten myself into?

We commence class, and as I outline my curriculum, my stomach sinks slowly, gazing out to listless faces. “Any questions?” I ask rather nervously. Silence. I try a new angle. “Um, does anyone have any experience in leading kirtan before?” [Kirtan is a form of worship singing call-and-response.]

One girl tentatively raises her hand.

I smile. “Nice, Nanda.” I pause and mischief flickers across my mind. I challenge on the spot, “By the end of this semester, each of you will have lead at least one kirtan,” Gasps go round the circle.

“But, we can’t – can’t do that!” one girl stammers.

I grin. “Oh yes you can.”

So begins the most exciting and rewarding educational experience of my life. Teaching isn’t like being a radio, broadcasting information. Rather, I have found, teaching is a bit like playing basketball, and the ball gets passed from one player to another… and I’m the coach. The players create their game, and I help them play their best.

But coaches aren’t born – they’re made. One day I show up late, and the entire class is scattered. I’ve learned a lesson. From then on, I show up ten minutes early, every class. I learn that no relationship grows without respect.

One day I coax and cajole a girl to sing but she refuses like a mule. I stay after class with her to chat and laugh with her, barely discussing music. Lo and behold, our very next class… she sings. I learn that no joy of knowledge from a student grows without friendship with the teacher.

The last day of class, I glance around at these girls who I have grown to love, and that they will soon scatter to all corners of the world. Who knows when I’ll see or sing with them again? I learn acceptance.

The day several of my students will be graduating, I’m rushing about finishing their end-of-semester project. I arrive late. Too late. I’ve missed the graduation ceremony. When I arrive, one girl rushes up to me and gives me a huge hug. “Hey, Bhakti, you missed the graduation!” she exclaims.

“I know,” I say glumly. “I’m so sorry.”

“You know, Nanda mentioned you in her graduating speech,” she says.

What?” I ask, astonished.

“She said that through your music class, she learned to sing through having you as a friend,” she smiles. “You made an impact, Bhakti.”

I pause and feel tingles spiral down my spine. I close my eyes for a moment. An impact.

“Yeah, and you missed it!” she adds, grinning. I laugh and punch her on the shoulder, and then we run over to where all the girls are. I hug every one, especially Nanda.

Now, it’s tradition at this school that they throw the graduating girls into the pool, sari and finery and all. When every one of those freshly graduated girls, shrieking and on the verge of tears, are dragged into the pool, they turn renegade and cry out, “The teachers! The teachers!”

Eyes turn to me. Oh god. Help me.

I’m attacked! Chased down, five girls finally capture me, kicking and screaming. They haul me to the edge of the pool, and with one final scream they dump me into the water in my beautiful, new, red sari.

When I reach the surface I glare scathingly at my students laughing from the edges of the pool and those next to me… and break out laughing and smiling, exhilarated. Well, I did kind of deserve it for missing the graduation.

I learn that love comes in unexpected ways.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Sometimes my mind turns to Mexico and the beauty and adventure of such a vivid country. The photos transport me right back there, so here is a little photo essay to glimpse into the eye of the winter 2005 - 06 Bus Tour.
Group shot at Mexico city temple. I believe one of my coolest experiences in Krishna Consciousness happened here. After the Sunday Feast kirtan, most of the Bus Tour troupe left during Bhagavad-Gita class for the simple fact that, well, it was in Spanish. And yet I stayed... and understood every word. I sat there, utterly enthralled. I experienced - didn't just read about - that Krishna philosophy reaches into every corner of the world, no matter the culture or language. Srila Prabhupada ki, jai!On top of the Pyramid of the Sun, you can see the Pyramid of the Moon over our shoulders. Yeah, this WOULD be those ghastly pyramids where they sacrificed millions of people to the Sun God, believing the sun would not rise if they didn't do so.
 We rocked it out in La Plaza de Los Toros in Mexico City. In about twenty minutes, hundreds of people in the Plaza were dancing with us. We were already 45 minutes into 2006 before I glanced at the giant clock and realized it was a New Year.
A clearer idea of the insanity. And no, that's not really Bus Tour or Mexico devotees. Those are the Mexicans.

These little Mexican village boys were hilarious! (Spiderman? Batman?) They joined us for campfire bhajans and LOVED us.Turns out they loved Lord Jagannath, too. Check out the boy in the striped shirt's expression.

I was singing in the shade when a boy that I had been playing chess with earlier made his way over (and eventually his papa and uncle). I then smiled and shared in my halfway-Spanish the beauty of chanting. Christmas Day in Mexico, and we got some snow... well, from a distance. We shared our realizations of Christmas and feeling humble while in the presence of this breathtaking mountain, El Popo.
This sunset in Acupulco stole my breath away. I went on a long walk away from the crowds and the soccer games that lined the entire beach. I sang Mama Mana Mandire.

"Oh, please, Krishna Murari, may you always reside in the temple of my heart."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Storm of Inspiration

I just got back from some rocking Wednesday bhajans. Every single person in Shanti’s packed living room sang at the top of their lungs, clapping and crying out “Radhe! Radhe!”

I can feel the energy in the air, building and building like a storm for the event to come… AlachuaMela. I have no idea how it’s going to happen, but I only know this: when you throw together a couple hundred inspired gurukulis, something happens.

That something is inspiration, and it's taking the world by storm… I can feel it.

This Is My Request! [Day 2.4]

When we dash out of the apartment and jump into our cars, our whirlwind game of keeping-up-with-the-former-NYC-taxi-driver continues, nevermind we just scolded such-named taxi driver. And when we finally pull into the street where the evening program will be, we’re all breathless from laughing and screaming (mainly at Rupa). I hop out of the car, ready for either a 3-mile jog or a 3-hour-long kirtan. Who knows when the latter is going to start, so even if this means hiking up my sari, I have GOT to get my energy out! (All due respects Maharaj, but I’ll get your class on mp3 or something.)

I get neither dancing nor a jog… but I get something better.

I set my mind to one intention: setting my purse down inside the house, offering my respects to Maharaj, and sprinting right back out. About three dozen people are all getting settled around Maharaj. I put my purse down… linger… just a little longer… okay, I’m leaving, now… Maharaj is getting ready to sing Jaya Radha Madhava. He instructs Chintamoni to play the mridanga. He looks to the kartal player and frowns.

“Who was playing kartals this morning?” He asks the crowd. Some people murmur and turn to me. My face flushes bright red. “Aha, give the kartals to Bhakti, please.” He commands. Someone hands me the kartals as I’m standing up in the back of the room, flabbergasted. But… my jog! “Come sit up here,” he beckons to a spot right up front. The crowd on the floor parts and makes room for me, The Kartal Player That Maharaj Has Requested. Someone even hands me their special pair of kartals that were encased in a silken bag. What is going ON?? This is crazy. My kartal-playing kinda blows, anyway.

But there’s no time to think, because Maharaj begins to sing.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Comic Strip [Day 2.3]

So it’s just the three of us for over an hour, connecting with Maharaj. We laugh, we confer, we question, relaxed and peaceful in our spiritual discussions. The whole time I suspend my disbelief that we’re chilling out with Indradyumna Swami. Then, Chaturatma gently reminds Maharaj that it’s time for the evening program. Maharaj turns to us. “You’re coming?” he asks hopefully.

“Of course!” Rupa replies.

“Well then I’ll see you there,” he smiles.

"Ah yes, the Musketeerinis," Chaturatma chuckles.

Grinning, we offer obeisance. I had felt completely detached that I would never speak with Indradyumna Swami, nor associate with him closely. I was fully willing to just bask in his presence. And yet Krishna has His own agenda.

Just a moment to reflect, because now it’s time to jump in the car… again. Go, go, go! Now get this: Rupa – who’s been driving for all of four months – has to follow former-NYC-taxi-driver

Chaturatma in Atlanta rush-hour traffic. Yeah, the combination is ridiculous to me, too. We run several lights, cut off no less than three people, and practically bribe one to cut in front to make a left turn. We collapse in laughter! How insane! We’ve been joking since the start of the trip how our escapades should become a comic strip: The Musketeerinis. We even discuss our personas: Nama the calm princess, Rupa the wired hilarious one, and me, the anxious and sensible director.

The reason for our rush happens when we reach a gated community (in which we slip in after Chaturatma quite clandestinely). We had been told this was to be a hush-hush operatin of zipping in and zipping out of a certain apartment.

We're all cool with parking and waiting for Maharaj to go in and come out, (Besides, if I don't move my tingling legs I swear they're going to run away) but we’re ushered over to dash upstairs with Maharaj, and as we climb to the apartment, we dog on Chaturatma for driving us nuts on the road (no pun intended).

Maharaj just chuckles.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

From Metal to Spirit...

I step into the templeroom, immediately enveloped by fragrant smoke from the fire sacrifice. And there They are: Chota Gaura Nitai. Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda are dressed all in white, cloths covering Their eyes… but not Their smiles. The priest chants Vedic mantras while Kalindi sings an entrancing kirtan. I gaze at Gaura Nitai through the flames of the fire, captivated by Their forms.

Then Kalindi turns around to grin at me, her gorgeous eyes glinting. “You’re next,” she mouths. I laugh and scoot forward to join her. When I start another kirtan, I meditate on what’s going on, right now. Here I am, witnessing the instillation of these fascinating Deities. Thank you, Gaura Nitai, for allowing me to serve You.

Summer adventures have officially begun.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.