Saved by a Song
Lyrics of a film song help the author endure hardship and later lead him to Krishna.
I was always attracted to Mumbai. When I finally reached my dream destination in August, 1970, I thought life would never be the same. Although a cousin was eager to help me, very soon I was on my own.
Staying away from home wasn’t new. Yet Mumbai was different. Life was fast-paced. No one had time to even talk to one another. I would often eat in restaurants alone. People fighting over trivial matters was common. Somehow it was difficult for me to gel in. I yearned for my home. Nothing in the big city seemed to work for me. One day, I was even blamed for some mishaps in my workplace which was no fault of mine. The pressure was rising.
As I was returning from work one evening, my elderly neighbor confronted me, “Why are you spoiling our children here? This is a colony of respectable people. Why don’t you go somewhere else?” I was completely puzzled. Only later, I came to know that one of my room-mates had shown some objectionable material to a young boy.
The next day was my birthday I concluded, “Enough is enough. I can’t take it any more. I will end my life tomorrow.” A train would pass by my home everyday at 4 pm and I decided to jump before it to bring an end to my misery.
The next day, as I waited for my final moment all alone, I started taking stock of the last 23 years of my life. There had been nothing worthwhile. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced about the decision I had taken. I had nothing to live for.
Suddenly I heard a Hindi film song playing nearby:
aa chal ke tujhe, main le ke chalun eka aise gagan ke tale
jahan gam bhi na ho,aansoo bhi na ho,
bus pyaar hi pyaar pale
“Come with me. I will take you to another sky where there are no miseries and pains. There, only love prevails.”
I had heard this famous film song earlier and had appreciated it. But today was different. In my critical state it was like a thunderbolt. I immediately sat up. The song spoke of a place where there were no miseries and no tears; where there would only be love. Did such a place really exist? Could someone offer me this place? Should I end my life before checking out such a place?
CHANGE OF HEART
The sound of door bell ringing interrupted my thought process. A ten-year-old girl was inviting me to her home. She said it was a surprise. After the recent accusations, how could I go to her home? But she was persistent. Just then, I heard the 4 pm train passing by. My plan was already foiled. Her two elder sisters also joined in. Now what? I was ready for anything. I agreed reluctantly. When I stepped in their home, I was overwhelmed with a mix of surprise and joy. I was facing a board that said, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU.” I was dumbstruck. The whole family had arranged for a surprise celebration for me. They even distributed some sweets. I asked the girl her name. She replied smilingly, “Kirtana”.
It was strange. How did these people know? I was convinced that someone unknown wanted me to live on. I decided to really find out the place mentioned in the song where there are no miseries, no tears, but only love.
One of my friends, Mahesh’s father worked in the film industry. I disclosed to Mahesh my desire to meet the lyricist of that particular song, but it was difficult. I then requested him to find out from the poet where this place jahan gam bhi na ho,aansoo bhi na ho,bus pyaar hi pyaar pale existed. Mahesh somehow met the lyricist and came back with an answer. The song writer had replied that I was a crazy person. Films were make-believe and there was no place where there were no miseries and tears. I was shattered. But deep in my heart, I believed that there must be such a place somewhere.
Years passed and I turned to spirituality. I wandered through many missions. I read the teachings of many famous saints of the country. Though I appreciated their philosophy and learnt a few things from them, I did not quite feel that I belonged there. My important question remained unanswered.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION
In April 1991, I attended an eight-lecture course titled, The Journey Of Self Discovery based on teachings of Srimad Bhagavad-gita. It was conducted by Govinda Dasa from the Mumbai branch of ISKCON. This course was a culture shock for me. It shattered all my earlier perceptions about religion and spirituality. At the end, when the speaker gave me a commitment form to sign, I couldn’t take it. He wanted me to commit to 16 rounds of chanting Hare Krishna maha-mantra daily, and to lead an exceptionally pure life by following four regulative principles. He also mentioned giving up onion and garlic in my food. There were several other exclusions. It was disheartening. I couldn’t follow this philosophy even though it made sense.
Two more years passed by. I met Devamåta Dasa and I confided to him about my inability to meet the prescribed standards. Devamåta replied, “Forget all philosophy and whatever you have heard about regulative principles.” I was immediately interested, “Alright. What next?” “Can you give me 10 minutes of your day?,” he asked. Ten minutes of the day was not a big thing for me. He quickly added, “For your life time.”
I was shocked. Ten minutes of the day was no big deal, but for the whole life-time this was too much. His charismatic personality eventually won me over. I gave in, “Alright, what should I do?” He was simple. “Chant Hare Krishna maha-mantra in those 10 minutes. No rules, no regulations. You don’t have to change your present life style,” he advised.
CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE
I started chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. It started with 10 minutes but soon it took over. Within a couple of months I didn’t feel like eating non-vegetarian dishes. Alcohol and smoking went away without any conscious effort on my part. One Sunday in May 1993, I found myself at Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha temple.
A few people were chanting Hare Krishna in the temple hall. Noticing a library, I asked to the person attending, “What are the membership fees here?” He gazed at me, saying “I have seen you couple of times in the temple.” “Yes, I have come before. This is my second visit.” He beamed a smile at me, “Then you are already a member.” I was humbled. I had asked him a question posing as an outsider, but this devotee already considered me an insider. He continued, “Today we have a Sunday Feast program in the afternoon. Please attend and do not leave without taking lunch prasada after the program.” I changed my plan for the day instantly.
The program started and a speaker arrived after some kirtana. His Holiness Radhanatha Swami spoke on a verse from Bhagavad-gita (15.6) that day. He began by describing how miserable this material world is. I fully agreed with him. Then he said that there is another world where there are no miseries, no dualities; there is only transcendental love.
na tad bhasayate süryo
na sasankona pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
“That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world.”
My heart leapt with joy. I began crying, “He knows! He knows that place where there are no miseries, no tears; only love.” At last, I had found an answer to my question.
CHANGE IN CONSCIOUSNESS
The next line brought me back. He said, “Unlike Mayavadis who want to merge in Brahman, Vaisnavas aspire to go back to Godhead and serve the Lord with love and devotion.”
The mention of the word Vaisnavas brought back some hateful memories. Since my childhood days, I had hated Vaisnavas. When I was young, my aunt used to take me to a Bhagavatam discourses in a nearby Vaisnava temple. The speaker there, while narrating the pastime of churning of the milk ocean, had mentioned that Lord Siva could not consume the halahala poison. With difficulty one drop went into his throat and got stuck there. Seeing Siva’s plight, Lord Visnu drank all the poison. That is why Visnu is blue all over while Siva is only nilakantha. I was furious at this explanation. I got up and told him that he was lying. They had thrown me out of the temple. Later, we also had Vaisnava neighbours. The lady would always trouble my mother over flimsy reasons. These incidents had made me hate Vaisnavas.
To my surprise, Maharaja went on to narrate the pastime of the churning of the milk ocean and even narrated how Lord Siva drank the poison. He glorified Lord Siva very eloquently. My spirits lit again. I realized these Vaisnavas are different. They respect and glorify Lord Siva.
After the class, there was kirtana again. It was weird to see devotees dancing. But it didn’t stop there. Now, they tried to pull me in. Dancing was not new to me. College festivals, office parties etc. had given me ample opportunity. But I was done with that. I was sick of it. I headed for the door.
In between the singing, Maharaja began narrating the incident of Duhsasana attempting to disrobe Draupadi. He started, “…Duhsasana was pulling Draupadi’s sari and Draupadi was frantically trying to hold on to it…” I was slowly approaching the exit door. “…What was Draupadi’s strength compared to that of Duhsasana who had strength of thousand elephants?… ” I was almost near the door. “…But Draupadi realized the futility of her attempts to save herself and in the mood of helplessness and surrender raised her both hands and called out…” As I was about to take my last step out of the temple, I heard Maharaja call out loudly, “… Hey Krishna! Hey Govinda!!” I froze. Before I realized I was participating in the kirtana, swaying back and forth holding devotees’ hands. I was not fully aware of what was happening, I looked around and my eyes fell on Radha Gopinatha. There was a mischievous smile on His face. I was hooked.
But, it wasn’t going to be easy. I had one more hurdle to cross. I went home very much excited by the experiences I had in the temple. I could not find words to express my feelings to my wife. I told her that I had gone to a temple and I liked it very much and I want to go there every Sunday.
When I had left home, I had not told her that I was going to the temple that day. She had been waiting for me for hours to return for lunch. I had returned only in the evening after having sumptuous lunch prasad at the temple myself. And, I was telling her that I would go there every Sunday. She was furious, “Every day you go to office at 7 am when your daughter is still sleeping and come back from office after 10 pm when your daughter has already gone to bed. It is only on Sunday that she gets to see you and we all have lunch together.” She paused. “What about our family?” I was insistent that I would go. Ultimately, she spoke up, “If you do that, I am afraid, that may be the end of our marriage.”
We both fell silent for the next two days. I could only pray, “O Lord! Please help me. I want to come to you but I don’t know how.” One day when I returned from my office my wife asked me, “Are you still planning to visit the temple on Sunday?” “Yes,” I replied softly. “I too,” was her reply. Curiosity had gotten the better of her. The following Sunday we both went to Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha temple together.
On our way back, we were both silent. After what seemed to be a thousand millenniums, I heard something. “You know what? ” she asked with a broad smile, “even if you don’t, I will go to this temple every Sunday.” I was speechless. But my eyes said it all. I just sank in my seat with a thankful heart.
Very soon, by the mercy of Lord Krishna, I took shelter of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami Maharaja and today aspire to serve the devotees of Lord Sri Krishna for the rest of my life.
Upendra Dasa is currently a senior spiritual counselor guiding many devotees on the path of Krishna consciousness at ISKCON Mumbai.