Friday, August 27, 2010

Fated Words

On the evening of May 30th, 2010, I was in anxiety.

Sure, the grounds of New Raman Reti were alive with celebration - after all these years of anticipation, Sri Krishna and Balaram had just been placed upon the altar only an hour before. Tumultuous kirtans of welcome rocked the templeroom.  

But I was outside, pacing. I still didn't know if I would be joining the other devotees the next morning to receive initiation. After all of these years of contemplation and prayer, the initiation ceremony was only hours away, and I still didn't know if I would be in it. 

Then, I saw Radhanath Swami talking with devotees amidst some picnic tables. This was my last chance. With a deep, deep breath, I approached him.

The whole issue of initiation awkwardly tumbled out into our conversation, and with mild surprise Maharaj asked me, "Are you chanting 16 rounds?"

"Yes, Maharaj," I replied. At last I had said it. Although I'm sure some had had their suspicions, I had not told a soul about how many rounds I had been chanting since last August.

Without a moment's hesitation, Maharaj agreed to give me initiation the following morning.

I was in shock. Instead of grinning and laughing in amazement and gratitude - at last, at last!, I wrung my hands a little. For years now, Maharaj has been a witness to my japa journey, and he intimately knows my issues of faith in the holy name.

"You look a little hesitant," Maharaj said. "Do you want to receive initiation?"

"Oh yes, Maharaj, more than anything in the world." I paused and sighed a heavy sigh. "But... I've only been chanting 16 rounds... for ten months," I thought of all the people who have been chanting 16 rounds for years and years with such faith, waiting and waiting to receive initiation from Radhanath Swami. And yet here he had only inquired if I was chanting at all.

Then, Maharaj said the words that will remain with me my entire life. He looked into my eyes and said,

"I trust you."  

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Just One Glance

Several nights ago, I came for a quiet Sayana Arati, and the only other person was Bibhatsu Prabhu, an elderly man a world away from mine. But over the years we have formed a kind of quiet companionship because we both come so often for the last arati.

The other night, though, Bibhatsu looked especially frail with his arm crutches and a new addition, a tube that wrapped across his face to assist with his breathing. After the arati we settled outside on the verandah to honor our mahaprasad together. We haven't talked much over the years, but right then I felt this urgency to know more about Bibhatsu Prabhu.

"So," I asked, "did you ever meet Srila Prabhupad?"

"I was in his presence," he replied brightly.

"Oh really?"

"Yes." He paused a moment to recollect. "Prabhupad came through New York in 1976 for the Rathayatra, and I lived about a block away from the 55th Street temple. So I came to the temple, and we were all waiting to greet Prabhupad. I was in the very back of the packed crowd, at the back of the room. So when Prabhupad came, the kirtan got louder and everyone was crowding around him so much that I couldn't see him.

"But he was there," Bibhatsu emphasized. "Then he went up to his room. So I was in Prabhupad's presence, but I never got to see him." He said it with absolutely no regret, and continued to eat his maha with gusto.

"You... you were in his presence... but you never got to see him?" I wrapped my arms around my legs and looked off into the distance. Tears stung my eyes.

Oh, what fate! What would I have given to have even been in that room like Bibhatsu, to have even been in Prabhupad's presence. Maybe I would have elbowed my way to the front of the crowd, and maybe caught a glimpse of Prabhupad before he disappeared up the stairs. And maybe he would have looked back one last time, and we could have exchanged a glance, just one glance.

With that, I glanced over my shoulder into the templeroom. And for a moment I understood why there had been no regret in Bibhatsu's voice, for there sat Srila Prabhupad upon his vyasasan in a pool of soft light.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Three and a half years ago, I bought a laptop and named it Hanuman. It revolutionized my experience of life - Seed of Devotion took off, I edited books, edited all my photography, stored all my dance music and experimented with video-editing. My laptop literally circled the world with me. Next to my pen-and-paper journals, Hanuman held the most treasured content of my life.

Then, several days ago, I came home to find my laptop gone from the kitchen table.

"Jivi," I asked my roommate, a little unnerved. "Where's my laptop?"

She came out from her room, a perplexed look on her face.

"And," I said, "where's your grandmother's quilt?" I gestured to the sofa - the pillows had been thrown to the floor; the handmade quilt was gone.

"The door was ajar when I came home," Jivi said quietly. She picked up her cell phone and called the police.

I began to pace. As my loss hit me full force, I dissolved into tears. "Why? The machine was old and beat-up, worth nothing. But... but... all my writings... my photography... unfinished videos... all my editing for Jadurani's memoirs... it's all gone! Take my camera, take my cash, take my jewellry, take it all! Why this?" Jivi held me while I cried. "It's all gone."

It was an act of a desperate drug addict - Jivi later found that her prescription medicine had also been stolen. The police came and took fingerprints and asked questions, but I knew: I would never see Hanuman again.

The thief did not steal my laptop from my bag or from a bookstore table. The thief broke into my own locked home. All week long, I have tried to feel angry, but all I feel is a deep, deep sadness, like grieving the loss of a loved one.

And I realize that this whole experience is like death. Death does not ask to come and does not annouce when he will steal what I hold most dear.

Death just comes.

I understand that this post is grave. But I feel it is my duty to share my sense of urgency to not take one moment in this life for granted, as many of us have realized with the sudden, tragic loss of Aindra Prabhu.

One day, death will come for each and every one of us, and we must ask ourselves every morning: "Am I ready?"

"When death, like a gypsy,
Comes to steal what I love
I will still look to the heavens
I will still seek Your face."
- The Valley Song
by Jars of Clay

To write is to dare the soul. So write.