A Hunger Strike
Amidst turmoils, a student activist receives the message of the Gita.
The Gita explains that four kinds of people come to Krishna consciousness: one who is in great distress, one in need of money, an inquisitive person and a person in knowledge. Of the four, I fall in the first category.
I could somewhat be called destiny’s chosen child for I had the very best in life. I even got admission in the best college in Mumbai, the Nair Hospital Dental College. Finally I could fulfill my childhood dream of having the title “Dr.” before my name. That was my only motivation. Yet I was distressed with life. I felt I carried a heavy burden on my head. I was deluded with the so-called friendships in the material world, which were temporary and superficial just to fulfill selfish means. I was depressed with my situation as nothing gave me happiness or satisfaction. I was looking desperately for some solace. I was looking for that happy place in my heart where I could go and just rest. But there was no respite and thus I suffered miserably with a depression that took over me completely.
I was desperately searching for answers, so I started looking for it through religion. Christianity attracted me more than Hinduism as I had long lost faith in the ritualistic outlook of my religion, which never gave me any practical or scientific answers. I started attending some Christian sermons recommended by a school friend. In the first such meeting, I had my first spiritual experience. Suddenly my heart filled with intense deep emotions that I had never felt before. Tears flowed freely and I cried for the first time begging the only God I knew to show me some direction, to lead me to Him. Being born in an orthodox brahmana family, my parents were shocked to see me going towards Christianity. They explained that even the Hindu religion had a lot to offer. It could answer all my questions. Just to pacify them, with a sincere heart I came to worship Lord Siva at the Babulnatha temple. A week later I met Hare Krishna devotees in the most unusual way. It was the most mystical time of my life. Looking back I can see the hand of Krishna, which guided me to the right place at the right time. Time stood still and I could feel the divine taking over my worthless life. As the events unfolded, I will take you through the journey of my life, which took a sudden turn in the summer of 1993.
A Terrorist in College
The final year of my Bachelor of Dentistry began as usual. Students were busy with submissions and projects and were foaming at their mouth trying to complete their huge quota of work. We were working for hours in the lab with dust and cement all over our bodies and hair, looking more like daily laborers than medical students. This was the culture of N.H.D.C. God, it was a terror house, and the leader was the biggest terrorist of all: Dr S. He was like a tyrant—worse than Saddam Hussein and Hitler put together. We called him the “Dictator,” and only the uniform and the moustache were missing. Believe me, I derive great sadistic pleasure writing this paragraph. I hope he does not come across this issue ever in his life.
Unfortunately for the boys and those girls who didn’t have a pretty face, he would make them stand outside his office like beggars, for hours together before the most important exam of their career, groveling at his feet for that one signature on the No Objection Certificate (NOC) that decided their future. Students were fed up with his victimization and terrorization in the name of completion of quota.
Personally, I had faced no problems, but my heart burned with anger seeing the students crying miserably. Therefore, when a few M.D.S students who also held a grudge against the Dean due to his politics and favoritism towards the fair sex, got together and started a student’s agitation to overthrow him as the Dean, I jumped in the fray. As I was popular with the juniors, my first job was to convince them to sign a petition against the Dean. Thus began our campaign, which was until then unheard of. No one had ever before dared to carry out an agitation against the Dean. We not only boycotted our exams, but also convinced the whole college to do the same. We carried out agitations, protest marches, burnt his effigy, shouted slogans and made a human chain before his car.
An Unusual Visitor
We had secret meetings in the hostel in the evenings. At one such meeting, we were planning to go on a hunger strike the next day, when we had a most unusual visitor—a bright looking personality with a smiling demeanor, saffron clothes and a cloth bag. He entered the room and making space for himself sat down humbly. We were in the middle of a heated discussion. Suddenly he started speaking about the Battle of Kuruksetra in which the Panòavas were victorious because of having Krishna on their side. The boys started smirking and the girls were giggling, but somehow I was hearing with full concentration. Strangely in my heart I felt great awe and respect for this person. He said, “The Panòavas fought against injustice just like you all.” A thought arose in my heart, “Yes, this is my cause to fight against
injustice, and if I have the Lord on my side then I will surely be victorious.” After his talk, a few of us surrounded him and bought some books. I bought one too, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness. It was my turn to sit on hunger strike the next day, so I thought I would pass my time reading that book.
The very next day I sat outside the college building, observing the hunger strike. I found a corner and began reading the book. I was completely absorbed as the words penetrated my heart and eased the fear, frustration, and confusion that I always felt in my heart. I did not understand much but I decided to follow the process of chanting that was recommended again and again in the book. I wore red beads around my neck, which I began to use as a mala to chant Hare Krishna. I felt a strange kind of peace in my heart and my soul yearned for more. When I returned to my hostel that day, I saw that same person again near the visitors room talking to some boys from our class. He told us about a week-long course called “The Journey of Self Discovery” to be organized nearby and invited us. I agreed but soon forgot all about it.
A PARADIGM SHIFT
A week later, I left the hostel room with a friend to take my clothes for laundry. Unknowingly I went to the same building where the course was being conducted. The laundry shop happened to be just behind that building. That day I felt that something significant was about to happen in my life. I could sense the paradigm shift that was happening in my life. As I was handing over my clothes, I suddenly had the second most spiritual experience of my life. I heard the sound of drums and cymbals and the words of the song seemed so familiar and so close to the heart. Then I recognized that it was the Hare Krishna mantra, which I was chanting occasionally. Something exploded in my brains. I felt a strong attraction, an urgency filled my whole body and I was stunned and mesmerized. Just like iron filings attracted by a magnet, I felt a strong pull as if someone or something was taking me forcibly. I started running towards that sound. My friend ran behind me trying to catch up. “What…? Where are you going?” “I have to go there,” I said, “…wherever this sound is coming from.” I excitedly ran out from behind the building and ran towards the entrance but there was a crowd of people walking slowly and blocking my way.
I could see someone of medium height wearing bright saffron clothes. I dodged and ran ahead of the crowd and entered the hall and sat right ahead. I looked around and saw some boys from our hostel and felt embarrassed. But then I saw him… the most effulgent personality I had ever seen in my life. He had a face that one would not forget so easily. It was gentle and kind with compassionate eyes which swept around the hall as if looking at each and every one of the hundred people in the room. He began to play the harmonium and sing the Hare Krishna mantra, and again I was mesmerized. I had never seen anyone sing with such intensity in my life. His lecture touched our hearts so deeply. I had to leave early as our hostel doors closed earlier for girls and not for boys… not fair but rules were rules. My friend kept poking me from the back to get up. But strangely I felt as if the speaker was speaking directly to me, so how could I get up? Wasn’t it disrespectful? Anyway I got up reluctantly and left, all the while feeling as if he was directly addressing me.
As I walked outside, in the cool air of the night, I felt elated as if I was floating above the ground. I spoke to everyone whom I met about the lecture. I don’t remember much of it now other than that we are not this body but spirit soul, part and parcel of Krishna. My friend was also impressed with the lecture and the speaker, but within a week, she forgot all about it. I could not.
Since the agitation had started, I had become more and more depressed. My career was at stake and I was scared as hell! I dreaded going to college every day and was afraid of the taunts of the teachers. They made life hell for us. I needed some help, a hope, something that would lift me above these things. I wanted a place where I could feel sheltered and protected. I had reached the end of the line. I could feel a paradigm shift in my life about to unfold. I felt that this was the most important time of my life and something very significant was about to happen. Now there was a burning need for me to know more and learn more about it. I saw the book and saw a small sticker with an address of a temple near Chowpatty. I decided to go that very Sunday.
A TEMPLE NEAR A TEMPLE
I left my house, reading the book and chanting on my red beads in the train. I walked along the sea face at Chowpatty towards Babulnatha temple where I had prayed for direction just two weeks back. As I neared it, suddenly again I heard the same sound of Hare Krishna chanting and again I got the same reaction in my body. My body tensed and it was filled with a feeling of urgency. I started running at full speed on the road. I just didn’t know what was happening. I just could not stop running. As I ran towards the sound, it became louder and louder until my whole being reverberated with the sound. I ran through a gate, ran up a flight of old wooden stairs, stomping as I ran with full speed, perspiring in the summer heat. At the end of the stairs, I turned right and saw a temple door with Lord Ganesa on the top. I jumped over the threshold of the temple just like an
athlete jumps over the hurdle, and suddenly landed in a hall. People started looking at me. As I looked up I was pleasantly surprised to see the same speaker whom I had heard earlier near my hostel. My heart felt light, as if relieved of some heavy burden.
Later I went near him and bowed down. When I looked up at his face, he was looking right at me with the sweetest smile on his face. To my surprise, he asked me, “So are you happy now?” Suddenly I felt him reach out to my very soul, as if he could see all the pain, suffering, misery, and unhappiness that I was carrying hidden within my heart for ages. Suddenly the volcano erupted and the pressure was released. Tears started to flow from my eyes. All the tears, which I had held back for years, flowed freely and I was overwhelmed by his love and compassion and at the same time embarrassed with the unexpected tears. I said “yes” and then got up and left. I saw the saffron-dressed person who sold me the book and I met a few girls. All were of my age but dressed in sarees with their heads covered as if they belonged to some different era. But they had smiling bright faces. They lovingly asked so many questions about me. For someone from a dry hostile place like NHDC filled with selfish scheming people, such love and warmth was so very welcoming. Yes, I was happy, truly happy for the first time in my life.
On that day, I was taken to Swamiji’s room who I was told was H.H. Radhanatha Swami Maharaja, a disciple of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. He gave me my first copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is written by Srila Prabhupada and inside he wrote these words, which are forever etched in my heart.
May the divine teachings of Bhagavad-gita forever fill your precious heart with Krishna’s divine love.
He then taught me how to chant on the tulasi beads. From that day on I started chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. I had truly found my home, my real home, the abode of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha. This was in May 1993, a few days before Nrsimha Caturdasi, when my life changed drastically. I had taken a huge jump from the material world into the spiritual world that day.
This great compassionate soul who welcomed this most miserable soul from the material world into the blissful world of Krishna consciousness later became my spiritual master in 1995. He made me realize that my Dean was not my enemy in my life; the real enemy was my mind. He told me to make a choice of leaving the petty material causes of this world and join hands with devotees for the higher cause of spreading Krishna consciousness all over the world. That became the mission of my life.
I understand that if I wouldn’t have gone to give my laundry clothes on that fateful day I would not have been here where I am now: at the lotus feet of guru, Krishna and Vaisnavas. Thank you Krishna, for that.
Sita Devi Dasi is a dentist and a trained psychotherapist dealing with adolescents’ issues. She is also a spiritual counselor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org