Smuts Hall, UCT Cape Town, South Africa, 1992

I lived at Smuts Hall Mens Residence, on UCT Campus, from 1990 to 1992. In 1992, my youngest sister, Paula, had returned from an exchange in Reunion and had presented me with a bottle of coffee liqueur as a gift.

I wanted to be a new Romantic poet or alternative rock star. My heroes said it all: Ian Curtis, Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, Jim Morrison, Yukio Mishima. They had one thing in common – they died young.

One morning, in the mood of Jim Morrison, I swigged back half the bottle of that sickly sweet brew, grabbed my notebooks and made may way for the Robert Leslie Social Sciences Building for my Jurisprudence lecture. I took my place near the front of the Ampitheatre next to my good friend Charles Havemann. Charles said, ‘Hey, Mike, have you been drinking? Your breath stinksl! It’s only ten-o-clock in the morning! Are you crazy?’ I suppose I was being rebellious. This was the first time I had ever gotten drunk during lectures.

I had been questioning the order-of-things, especially law and it’s application in society. I remember reading the following in Yukio Mishima’s novel, Runaway Horses: ‘He suddenly remembered that in his youth…the European philosophy of natural law had lost its appeal for him, and he had been much attracted by the ancient Indian Laws of Manu, whose provisions extended to reincarnation. Something had already taken root in his heart then. A law whose nature was not to impose order upon chaos but to point to the principles that lay within chaos and so give form to a legal code, just as the surface of water caught the reflected image of the moon – such a law could well have sprung from a source more profound than the European worship of reason that undergirded natural law‘.

My life would never be the same again. I was not only prompted to question my ethics; the book had made me question my entire existence. I looked for a copy of theLaws of Manu in the UCT Law Library. No luck. Maybe Alfred Cockerel, my Jurisprudence lecturer, would know something about them.

He had been lecturing to us on the origins of law. In one of his classes he had made a statement to the effect that all thought, the basis of Law, extended as far as Aristotle. There was no mention of India or the Far East. And I, being the questioner of the status quo that I was, found this hard to swallow. Yukio Mishima’s book had also made me think a little about the chauvinism of the West. What we called ‘The World’ was, in effect, Europe and America. What about India? What about Japan? And what about China?

I remember sitting near the front of the lecture theatre with Charles and, in my drunken state, asking the lecturer, ‘What about the Laws of Manu?’ He replied, ‘What are the Laws of Manu?’ I replied, ‘The Laws of Manu are the Ancient Laws of India.’ He said that he didn’t know anything about them, ‘Maybe the Religious Studies Department can help you.’ I was bitterly disappointed. It was then that I learnt that having an Oxford Law degree did not necessarily mean a broad vision of things. I even entertained the idea of learning Sanskrit, so I could translate the Laws of Manu into English.

At that time, I never thought I would become a Hare Krishna monk. I find the whole episode quite bizarre. That I would be asking my law lecturer about the Laws of Manu in an intoxicated state at 10am in the morning. I am happy to say that my life has changed a lot since then.