‘Look – here’s a table covered with a red cloth.  On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium.  In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes.  In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching.  On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.

Do we see the same thing?  We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do.  There will be necessary variations, of course:  some receivers will see a cloth which is turkey red, some will see one that’s scarlet, while others may see still other shades.  (To color-blind receivers, the red tablecloth is the dark gray of cigar ashes.)  Some may see scalloped edges, some may see straight ones.  Decorative souls may add a little lace, and welcome – my tablecloth is your tablecloth, knock yourself out.

Likewise, the matter of the cage leaves quite a lot of room for individual interpretation.  For one thing, it is described in terms of rough comparison, which is useful only if you and I see the world and measure the things in it with similar eyes.  It’s easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing.  What am I going to say, “on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high”?  That’s not prose, that’s an instruction manual.  The paragraph also doesn’t tell us what sort of material the cage is made of – wire mesh?  steel rods?  glass? – but does it really matter?  We all understand the cage is a see-through medium; beyond that, we don’t care.  The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back.  Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five.  It’s an eight.  This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it.  I didn’t tell you.  You didn’t ask me.  I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours.  We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room…except we are together.  We’re close.

We’re having a meeting of the minds.

I sent you a table with a red cloth on it, a cage, a rabbit, and the number eight in blue ink.  You got them all, especially that blue ink.  We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy.  No mythy-mountain shit;  real telepathy.  I’m not going to belabour the point, but before we go any further you have to understand that I’m not trying to be cute; there is a point to be made‘ – Stephen King, On Writing, p.97-98

radha-krishna-pranaya-vikritir hladhini saktir asmad/ekatmanav api bhuvi pura deha-bhedam gatau tau/caitanyakhyam prakatam adhuna tad-dvayam caikyam aptam/ radha-bhava-dyuti-suvalitam naumi krishna-svarupam

‘The loving affairs of Sri Radha and Krishna are transcendental manifestations of the Lord’s internal pleasure-giving potency.  Although Radha and Krishna are one in Their identity, They separated Themselves eternally.  Now these two transcendental identities have again united in the form of Sri Krishna Caitanya.  I bow down to Him, who has manifested Himself with the sentiment and complexion of Srimati Radharani although He is Krishna Himself’ [Caitanya Caritamrita Adi-lila 1.5]

radha – of Srimati Radharani; bhava – mood; dyuti – the lustre; su-valitam – who is adorned with; krishna-svarupam – who is identical with Sri Krishna

‘Radha-Krishna is one.  Radha-Krishna is Krishna and Krishna’s pleasure-giving potency combined.  When Krishna exhibits His pleasure potency, He appears to be two – Radha and Krishna.  Otherwise, Radha and Krishna are one.  This oneness may be perceived by advanced devotees through the grace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  This was the case with Ramananda Raya.  One may aspire to attain such a position but one should not try to imitate the maha-bhagavata‘ [CC Madhya-lila 8.282 Purport]

I had a good rest in Braja Mohan’s father’s room.  I bathed, then put my dhoti and t-shirt on.  I had to leave.  Ivor and Nicholas were waiting  for me.

I took breakfast with Braja Mohan.  ‘I have to go now’, I said.  Braja Mohan, his mother and his beautiful two-year old daughter, Gunjin, were waiting at the door.  It was an emotional parting.  When Braja Mohan humbly bowed down from his side of the door, I did the same; without taking my shoes off.  An elderly sadhu by the name of Ghaneshyama saw this and frowned disapprovingly.   Thinking his hospitality was profit-driven, I offered Braja Mohan a hundred rupee note.  What I thought was a reasonable gesture made him almost feverish with embarrassment.  So much so, he couldn’t even verbally reject my offer.  Rather, he seemed to blow the note off with his hands as if it were something he didn’t want to touch.  Ghaneshyama’s second rebuke hit harder.  ‘You cannot purchase bhakti‘, he said.  I was dumfounded. But the dread-locked Ghaneshyama, his belongings tied to the end of the branch of a tree, walked on.   And was gone.  Three small figures waved from the foot of Radharani’s hill until I, too, disappeared from their sight.

We ascended the flight of stairs behind Braja Mohan prabhu’s house for the Sriji Mandir.  We stood on the top of the hill and admired the view of Varsana.  I followed Braja Mohan to the entrance of the Temple.  ‘You can leave your capalas here’, he said.  We took off our shoes and entered the crowded Temple.  I was the only westerner – something you would not find in a cosmopolitan ISKCON Temple.  Had I stepped back in time?  A group of local devotees, some in dhotis and some in western dress, huddled around a harmonium singing songs of praise to the Divine Couple.  Braja Mohan took me by the hand and led me through the crowd.  We wormed our way near to the front of the altar.

The brahmana priests were engaged in concentrated worship of Radha and Krishna.  The bell above the Temple Room door clanged incessantly.  The Deities were brightly dressed and, when the pujari blew the  conch, the restless-looking crowd burst into  rapturous song.  I closed my eyes and lost myself in song.   The assembly had become one mouth in their spirited praise of the ultimate worshipper, Sri Radha.  No hype.  No spiritual celebrity.   Just a heartfelt offering of love from a congregation to their Deities.  When the singing stopped there was a press of devotees towards the altar, where old women and men-with-moustaches-and-pants stretched to reach the sacred ghee-lamps.  By Braja Mohan’s grace, I was able to get a nice view of the Deities and offer prayers to the Divine Couple.  We left the Temple and retraced our way down the ancient stairway.  I bade good night to my friend, and took rest.

Braja Mohan, who had appeared very relaxed, suddenly said, ‘Come, let’s go!’ Yes, I decided, I would.  Braja Mohan stopped at a chaiwalla and bought some chai.  We sat together as he drank his tea.  ‘I want you to come to my house’, he said.

We turned around the corner and arrived at a small house at the foot of Vrsabhanu’s Hill.  An old woman greeted us at the door.   Braja Mohan said, ‘This is my mother’.  The old woman humbly offered pranams.  I returned the gesture.  She couldn’t speak a word of English.  Like many Indian village houses, Braja Mohan prabhu’s family residence opened into a courtyard.  Inside the courtyard were two cows, flanked by huge piles of grain.  Braja Mohan looked at the cows and looked at me and proudly announced, ‘This is my mother!  And this!  This is my father!’  I felt most embarrassed.  Just under a year ago I would have thought nothing of eating a  hamburger.  And here were two healthy cows being offered respect in the way that you’d offer respect to your parents!   I may have changed my ways but did that make me pious?  Did that make me a Vaisnava?

I was warming to my host: The loving reception of his mother;  his beautiful infant daughter, Gunjin (named after the flower in Sri Radha’s hair); and his natural respect for the cow.   Braja Mohan took me to a room at the side of the courtyard and said, ‘This is your room.  My house is your house’.  I had heard Indian businessmen in South Africa make similar pronouncements to sadhus.  Braja Mohan, however, said this with so much sincerity I felt like I had become a member of his family!  The room was spotlessly clean and white.  There was a picture of a white-haired Indian gentleman above the single wooden bed.  ‘That is my father’, Braja Mohan said.   He left the room and returned with a handful of writings in Devanagari, impressed with my recognition of certain Bhagavad-gita verses.  He started speaking to me in Hindi but stopped when I said, ‘Hindi samasta nahi‘ – ‘I do not understand Hindi’.

We talked and talked and talked.  Night fell, and Braja Mohan continued talking – about his family, his job in the fan factory in Mathura, about the sadhus who had visited his house and so on.  It was pitch dark.  We couldn’t see each other.  There was only the sound of the crickets and Braja Mohan speaking to his new friend.   I would have to stay the night in Varsana.  This was Radharani’s wish.  I was reminded, in some way, of the episode in Krsna Book where Uddhava and Nandamaharaj talk throughout the night.

After some time Braja Mohan’s elderly mother came upstairs with a candle, like a figure out of a fairy-tale.  She spoke animatedly to her son, visibly pleased to have a guest.   She disappeared into the darkness, returning with some braja rotis and sabji.   We relished this simple meal.  I was thankful for all the love and hospitality my hosts had shown me.  This must be the mercy of Sri Radha.   ‘Come’, Braja Mohan said, ‘it is almost time for arati‘.

November 1997, Varsana, India Kartik was drawing to a close.  I had only a few more days left in Vrindavan.  Even though I had gotten over my dysentry, I was eager to leave the Holy Dhama.  I had started off with ideas of performing austerities like Rupa Goswami.  Rupa was a contemporary of Lord Chaitanya who had resided on the banks of Radha Kunda, which are as hot as a desert – chanting for hours and hours, sleeping under a different tree every night, eating very little, writing devotional poetry and scripture and offering respects to devotees of Krishna. My neophyte level was exposed to me within days of arriving in Vrindavan – I just couldn’t stop thinking about eating pizza and custard.  Now, one month later, I felt as if I had been marooned on a desert island.  If my ship didn’t come soon, I might die.  There was one place I had to see before I left.  Varsana. Varsana is the ‘place of rains’, named after the gopis (the young cow-herd girls who sported with Krishna) tears of separation from Krishna.  It is the place of Sri Radha, one of the most sacred places in all of Vraja.  My travelling companions – Nicholas and Ivor – had other plans, so I ventured out on my own.  The autoricksa only arrived in Varsana in the afternoon, leaving only one or two hours of daylight within which to safely pay homage to this holy place.   A beautiful Temple loomed in the distance on the sacred hill which was once the site of Maharaja Vrishabanu’s palace.  I was excited.  I gulped back my Limka and focussed all my efforts on making my way for the sacred Hill and the Sriji Temple on its peak.  The first thing that struck me about Varsana was the beauty of the residents.  Had this something to do with their lineal relation to Krishna’s consort Sri Radha?  A winding cobblestone path drew me into the town.  After some time, the narrow path opened into a square where I walked into a gentleman sitting on a raised platform.  He wore black trousers and a white collared shirt.  He sat, like a yogi, beckoning to me with his right hand. He had a moustache and his hair was bryl-creamed.   Being a crime-conscious South African, and heeding the cautions of experienced devotees, I approached the man with due care.  He patted the sandstone dais and said to me, ‘You, sit here!  Sit here!’   I thought that it would be good manners if I sat with him for a while (Indians are very particular about hospitality).  The gentleman introduced himself in broken English, ‘I am Braja Mohan.  I live here.  We are all Radharani’s family here’.  He explained to me how the people of the village were mostly Goswamis and were all relatives of Sri Radha.  He explained to me that the place where he was sitting was a Temple of Sudhama, Lord Krishna’s Brahmana friend.  He then commenced with a fragmentary narration of the pastime of Krishna and Sudhama Brahmana.  Somewhat wary, I avoided discussing my purpose or plans in the village of Varsana with Braja Mohan.

Sudama Brahmana and Lord Krishna had been close friends at Sandipani Muni’s gurukula, in the town of Ujjain. After their education, they went their separate ways. Krishna was the son of Nanda Maharaja, a wealthy vaisya or business man; and Sudama was a poor and simple brahmana (priest or intellectual). One day, Sudama’s wife said to him, ‘My dear husband, we are very poor. There is hardly any food on our table. See how thin you are! Remember your old friend Krishna. Go to him and ask Him to assist us.’  Sudama Brahmana had only a handful of flat rice to offer the Lord when he met him in Mathura. Krishna was so pleased with Sudama’s simple devotion that when he returned to his wife, he found her in a beautiful gem-laden palace, resembling the opulences of Vaikuntha (‘place of no anxiety’) or the Kingdom of God.  

January 1997 was a time of serious introspection.  In hindsight I would say it was a fast-forwarding of Krishna’s mercy, a breakthrough. 

On the 13 January I watched a television documentary on John Paul Getty.  His life both extraordinary and sad.  He was wealthy but poor in spirit.  On one occasion he had a servant present his son with a $1.50 invoice for eating a hamburger at Getty’s home!  I watched the grainy black-and-white figure in the documentary work through about 20 locks to get into his house!  A house that looked more like Fort Knox than a home.  All aspirations in me to become Alexander the great were crushed.

I carried on with my strict regimen of swimming and exercise in January and February.  My notebooks contained aphoristic entries such as – selfhood involves a sloughing off of illusion.  Around this time, I saw another documentary about a cold-hearted hitman named Klukinsky.  Klukinsky left his family at the dinner table on Christmas day to go out on “business”.   He froze the bodies of his victims in freezer-containers so the forensic detectives would be unable to ascertain when they had died.  When the judge asked him why he had killed so many people he gruffly replied, ‘It was business’.  The interviewer asked him if he had ever regretted his actions.  Klukinsky replied, ‘I can’t change yesterday’.  Then he paused.  There was an occasion where he felt a little bad.  He was about to kill a man with a chainsaw when he called out, ‘Jesus!   Jesus!  Save me Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus, save me!’  Klukinsky said, ‘After that, I found it difficult to finish my work’. 

On the 9th of February I read from the Book Of Daniel.  The Angel Gabriel told Daniel, ‘I am here to tell you what is written in The Book Of The Future‘.  I took it that The Book Of The Future dealt with the ‘extended present’ of the Eternity and not really past, present and future as we know it.  That night I dreamt of  two large volumes, with gilded Roman lettering –  The Book Of Jewels and The Ancient Book.  I found out later that later that The Bhagavad-gita is sometimes called the ‘Jewel of the Vedas’; and the Srimad Bhagavatam is called Bhagavata Purana or the ‘Ancient History of God’.

On 11 February 1997, I decided to give up eating meat for Lent.   On the 12th of February, I meta Hare Krishna monk, Nicholas.  Nicholas had a book table outside the Standard Bank in Rondebosch.  When I told him I had become a vegetarian the day before, he gave me a copy of the Hare Krishna cookbook,  The Higher Taste.  He also gave me a book called The Science Of Self Realization.  He answered my questions about the devotees’ lifestyle.  I was impressed by their simplicity.  They shared rooms and slept on camping-mats.  They chanted the Hare Krishna mantra ‘all the time’ and served God in all their actions.  I wanted to know more.