Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gift of Fearlessness

I was trembling. My heart was pounding.

I squeezed my way through the train compartment, people shouting and moving in every square inch. The devotee from the temple who was helping me carry all of my luggage finally settled my stuff on my bunk, Number 15. Then with a smile he said, "Okay, Mataji, I go now,"

Don't go, please don't go, I pleaded in my mind, but I spoke the words, "Oh, okay, Haribol,"

The devotee waved, and then he disappeared into the mass of bodies. He was my last link with the world I knew. I just sat there on my bunk in shock. I looked around and I saw men - all men - looking at me. I was going to be on this 2nd class train for 36 hours from Mumbai to Kolkatta. Alone. I had no phone. No access to anyone. I was cut off from the world. Anything could happen.

My mind whirred - I could still get off the train. I had 16 minutes to change my mind - grab all my luggage and somehow find a phone and get back to the temple. This was madness.

Suddenly, the train flooded with loudly chattering village women. They filled the aisles until there was barely room to move. I sat there utterly stunned. These women were joking. No way could they be riding with us.

But they were. When the train began to move, the women settled to the floor where they would be sleeping the night. I looked on in shocked disbelief.

I slept with my passport tucked into my shirt that night, murmuring the Nrisimhadeva Prayers for protection.


By the next afternoon, I hadn't smiled or moved from my bunk in over 14 hours. I had adjusted to the intensity of the train ride by putting up energetic shields and retreating deep inside of myself.

Towards midday, I was reading a book about Srila Prabhupad. There was this little girl trying to squish into my bunk (along with two other women). I decided to soften up a bit and give the little girl some space to lean her back against my bunk wall.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw this old guy across the aisle gesturing to the popcorn he had just bought, this big creepy smile on his face, trying to get the little girl to take some. She was refusing silently. He would reach towards her, and she shrank away.

I looked up from my book, sized up the situation, and stared daggers at the man. He still smiled, trying to get the girl to eat his popcorn. I said with knives in my voice, "Leave."

He smiled at me as if I was being silly - this little girl knew him.

So I turned to the little girl, gesturing, "Do you know him?"

She shook her head.

I turned back to the man and said in a deadly tone, "Leave her alone." It was incredible. I experienced profound and lethal anger surge inside of me. I suddenly found myself willing to fight for this little girl, and I didn't even know her name.

The other young girl on my bunk giggled at my intensity. I wondered for a moment if maybe I was mistaken - maybe the little girl did know the man and I was overreacting.

But I didn't care. I was doing my duty, since obviously no one else was protecting the little girl.

The man lost his smile and never bothered the girl again. I kept looking over at him, checking in to make sure, almost as if to say, "Just you DARE, you lowlife," But he never dared again.

Some time later, the little girl asked where I was from and where I was going, and I understood enough to respond simply.

But then I ended up connecting with the little girl, her name was Seetal, and the other young girl on my bunk, Kajal. I decided to teach these girls the most valuable thing I knew, so I taught them the Hare Krishna maha mantra. They soaked it up like sponges.

They chanted the mahamantra a few times. I could see delight shining on their faces, like they had just been given a special and mystical gift.

I explained in my limited Hindi that this mantra is bliss for the soul. And in a very grave tone, I also mimed that this mantra would give protection. When in fear, something frightful, chant this mantra. I thought of the lowlife man across the aisle who still sat there, and that there might be many more men like him in these girls' futures. I wouldn't always be there to protect them, maybe no one would be there. But if they remembered this mantra, maybe Krishna would be there.

The two girls took my explanation gravely and said the mantra again. Little Seetal said to me in English, "Thank you,"

I replied with a warm smile, "You are welcome."

I almost feel like those two girls were the reason I didn't get off the train last night. I was experiencing such fear at the beginning of this journey, fear of being alone, fear of being exploited. Everything had been stripped away from me on this train.

In the process of teaching these girls the mahamantra, I got in touch with the fearlessness in my own heart.

P.S. The next time I travel by train in India alone, First Class only!

To write is to dare the soul. So write.