In the winter of 2012 when I was rowing my way through law school, I got an internship in Bengaluru as a legal writer for a famous online legal portal. The internship was a total waste of time as most internships are when you’re a law student in India unless you have a legal background or a powerful acquaintance to boast of so that they let you get involved with core work. Except for the internship, my stay with a lovely family and a chance meeting with Lord Shri Krishna’s words on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, made this experience an unforgettable one.
One particularly sunny weekend, I visited a bookshop in Indira Nagar, the neighborhood where I was staying. The bookshop was one of Bengaluru’s oldest and they had miniature versions of Hindu texts and stacks of religious mythological books. The Times of India had recently come out with a miniature version of the BhagvadGita in Sanskrit with English translations. Little did I know that this beautiful book would change my life forever. I never was a very religious person nor had I deep faith in the magic of God’s creation. I was a rebel in law school and looked at everything with too much sarcasm and pessimism. The Godfather and gangster quotes made more sense than the vibrancy of life. In that bookshop I picked up my own copy of the Gita and casually started flipping the pages out of habit on seeing a new book. The miniature version did not contain a description of each of the couplets and was a mere translation of the 18 Chapters.
Through 2011 to the beginning of 2016, life brought weird challenges, both personally and professionally. Like an individual in the age group of 20-26 years, I went through a series of crests and troughs more personally than professionally. A host of bad decisions impacted my outlook towards life and people in general. Along the rough terrain, I somehow made it a point to read the BhagvadGita everyday as a part of my morning routine. Bathing in the text of the Gita removed the fogginess of stereotypes, typecasts and an autopilot mode of existence. It is rightly said that when you are poor, religion offers you a sense of comfort and gives hope through bleak times. Well I was indeed poor, I was experiencing the emptiness that one feels for not being able to fully exploit their potential. My Krishna was helping me get out of the straight jacket that materialistic forces and the society had strapped me into. Gradually, the red miniature BhagvadGita piqued my interest and I began to start my day with one couplet of the Gita and one couplet before going to bed. I would often wonder how Lord Krishna gave Arjuna so much strength when he was confronted with the towering army of the Kurus. It gave me peace of mind that Shri Krishna was nearby. His words resonated –“Let your thoughts flow past you calmly, keep me near at every moment, trust me with your life, because I am you, more than you yourself are.” I guess these were the early stages of bhakti towards my dear Lord. I was swimming in the shallow waters of the mystery of the Universe and was yet to connect with the Supreme Being within myself. Years passed and life’s experiences turned more sour. Nevertheless, despite the disillusion, I still clutched to my BhagvadGita and navigated my way through life with a little bit of faith and flickering self belief.
Jump to the fall or autumn (for readers comfortable with either American English/British English) of 2016, I came back to Penn Law to complete mandatory courses required to take the New York Bar. By then the negatives of life hardly affected me, it was like just another case you lost in Court. I left a cushy job and a fine life in the Indian metropolis for a bigger plan in life all because an inner voice told me that this can’t be it. It wasn’t the motivation to seek material pleasure but to do something worthy of my life, to use my skill and legal profession as a means to put a smile on one’s face if not a hundred or thousand (I can hear the cynic’s guffaw, I was there once myself). Not that I didn’t enjoy my life in the concrete jungle; a great workplace, lovely money, new friends and more than a comfortable place to stay. But my subconscious was pushing me for something that I was yet to figure out. Little did I know that going back to Penn would give me my answers.
It was on a windy evening in the October of 2016, when I was strolling through Centre City in Philadelphia, that I stumbled across a young girl selling used books on the corner of Walnut and Chestnut Street (I love Philly and you’ll soon know why). My good friend P was there with me, and we just had a sumptuous European lunch at a nearby bistro. P is from Fiji and is firm believer of God herself. At that book stall, I came across BhagvadGita As it Is by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. That was it! my bhakti would take a deep dive and bring me completely out of life’s autopilot mode. The fortunate people who believe in Lord Krishna know that Prabhupada ji is the founder of ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness), and started to what is commonly referred to as the Hare Krishna Hare Rama Movement. I am too small a person to describe the magnificent work Prabhupada ji has done for the welfare of mankind by spreading the word of God or Krsna (as spelt in Prabhupada ji’s writings). In his magnificent life of 81 years, he wrote more than 35 books on nurturing love for God and spreading the message that devotion and bhakti is the only way to reach ‘Godhead’. Just listen to George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and you’ll know what I mean.
This write up will never justify the kind of evolution I went through as an individual. In Vaishnavism, it is often believed that the Supreme Being Himself choses and controls the time and moment we lesser beings come closer to Him. God certainly works in mysterious ways. As I began reading Prabhupada Ji’s Gita every morning, my habits and lifestyle gradually altered. Early mornings have always been my most favorite part of the day, but while reading Prabhupada Ji’s Gita, I made a conscious effort to wake up before sunrise. This wasn’t to torture myself but to pay respect to my Krishna before I could start my day’s duties. I developed an interest in yoga and have now made a habit of practicing everyday. I even started singing and humming songs in praise of my Krishna. (I wrote an article about my singing chords and I had no clue loving God could make you sound mellifluous) Can you believe it? Me, who would relish in the intellectualism of literature and who thought religion and faith coincided with orthodoxism; Me! I fell head over heels in love with Shri Krishna. God’s only message is to love and have respect for all living beings, how I thought God meant being orthodox was a habit developed by jumping onto assumptions without reading the complete facts. It is not difficult to fall in love with the Blue Boy who plays the flute and is the Master of this Universe. My Krishna unlike humans accepted me without conditions, without once paying heed to the thought if I was good enough for His standard, or had any shortcomings.
I started seeing Krishna in every living being and in the wonders of life from an animal to plants and trees to the people to everything that was on Earth. I stopped eating meat because whenever I consumed it, it would make me sick (this does not mean I despise those who eat meat; tolerance is the biggest tenet of faith and spirituality). I turned vegetarian and learnt to cook several recipes that Lord Krishna would like as described in the holy text of Srimad Bhagvatam and in the recipe books by the members of the Hare Krishna Hare Rama Movement. In Vaishnavism and even in the BhagvadGita, Prabhupada ji explains how we humans take everything for granted. We are entwined with the concept of yours and mine. We treat the food we purchase or receive for granted as if it is our right. Prabhupada Ji spells out that everything belongs to Krishna and we are mere puppets in His masterplan, so before we relish anything, a thank you note won’t make us small. Our possessions are only with us till we are alive, it eventually goes back into Earth like our bodies, so how is anything mine or yours or his or hers? I started wondering about the sun, moon, stars, weather, seasons, nature, animals; all fulfilling the role set out for them without questioning the result of their action. The sun still wishes to rise in the morning for our planet despite we humans quarreling and fighting among ourselves and creating environmental destruction in the race towards power. All animals and living beings have been given vital organs to find for themselves but only humans have been given or rather have been blessed with the power to think and make this world a better place. So what is it that stops us from finding our true selves and ignoring the beautiful way of life as set out by the Almighty Himself? Ego perhaps?
I believe the grueling experiences of life were a blessing to break the ego and sculpt a more compassionate self who is no longer afraid of fulfilling her duty without caring for consequence and is no longer hesitant in discovering the fullness of life. This is the first piece on my blog after a gap of almost five years. This time, I am more determined to pursue my love for writing and bring out more stories from my world, the legal profession and of course Lord Krishna. What better way than to start with my Krishna’s name and a brief description of how I discovered Him. How blind of me to not see that all this while He was in my heart waiting to be loved…