Not a real one. A big, high, mental one with a beautiful shiny saddle and a braided tail. Yes, yesterday I did the first book distribution I have done since I was four years old (yes, I have the pictures to prove it).
The ambition to contribute in some way to the Christmas book marathon had been building in my mind for the past few months. The closer it got to December, the more determined I felt that I was actually going to do it this year. No more sitting at the marathon closing festival,listening to the scores, feeling guilty (and eating extra curd subji to compensate). This was my year to make some kind of difference. Only yesterday, I realised the odds had been somewhat stacked against me in terms of having a realistic view of the difficulty of book distribution. In my dreamy reveries, I stood on sunlit corners, enthralling passersby with my captivating descriptions of the wonderful books I held in my hands. They listened in rapt attention with tears in their eyes, thanking me for bringing their lives meaning. I should’ve realised I was setting myself up for a disappointment.
The first sign came in big, freezing gusts of wind. Yesterday was icy cold, as many days have been recently. I emerged from the tube station at Leicester Square, already shivering, holding one copy of Higher Taste in my slightly sweaty hand. Me and my mum had taken ten copies each, and had two hours to distribute what we could. We took a few minutes picking a spot, then she jumped right in, using the line we’d been told worked for a hook ‘Excuse me, are you from London? Yes? Well, we’re handing out these books to all Londoners today…’
I wandered up and down my little patch trying not to glance over at my mum who always seemed to be talking to someone animatedly. I tentatively stopped a few people, smiling enthusiastically. No one was interested. Hm, this was actually kind of hard. I shrugged it off and asked a couple more people. Really. No one wanted to know. So many people walked off as soon as they saw what we were holding, many even calling back at us ‘I love my meat!’ Me and my mum had a quick regroup and decided to go to Covent Garden where they might be more of a mix of people. A short walk. My fingers felt like they would fall off and I felt a lump beginning to rise in my throat. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen!
Covent Garden was busy, throngs of people walking from shop to shop, carrying armfuls of bags. On the corner near the Royal Opera House we saw a devotee stopping people to give out big, hardback cookbooks. My heart sunk at her determination. She actually looked really happy! Again, we picked a spot and carried on stopping people. I found it harder and harder to get used to people’s rejection. I felt like I was getting a desperate look in my eyes as I tried to keep a smile on my face every time someone walked away. I felt like the rejections were personal. This Krishna consciousness, the only thing I have ever known and the only true meaning in my life, did not interest these people in the slightest. By this time my mum had sold five books. I didn’t think my heart could sink so low. My only consolation was that she used to be one of the biggest book distributors in the world.
Finally! An elderly couple stopped. I babbled my lines I had come up with, riffling the book’s pages, praying to Krsna – please let them want it! Yes! They wanted it! I could’ve hugged them. So, forty minutes in, one book sold. This was it, I could feel it. After a rough start, they were going to flow out of my hands.
Ok, so it was my mind still. People stopped and asked me questions I wasn’t prepared for. Who is the money going to? Where is your ID badge? I got tongue tied and hurt – couldn’t they see I was sincere? Didn’t they know I was a gurukuli? We hardly ever distribute books! Ten minutes later I had fallen off the horse again. This time it was too much. I burst into tears (I might as well be honest here) , frustrated and disheartened. My mum was encouraging and tried to make me feel better but I didnt want to hear it. I felt like a total failure – one, for distributing only one book, and two, for giving up. My bag of nine books weighed down on my shoulder. My mum offered to carry them and I snapped at her that if I couldn’t give them out at least I could carry them myself.
It was hard. I thought that this was going to be my moment to share Lord Krishna with the world. I had, but not as I had expected. Still, feeling teary, I got on the tube back to Soho Street temple. In the temple room upstairs, Radha Londonisvara stood, beautifully dressed, the backdrop behind them embroidered with a mango grove and a star filled sky. I looked at them, wondering what this all meant. Was this to be my last foray into the world of preaching? They smiled happily back.
In some ways it’s so hard to realise that spiritual life is not complete without sharing this knowledge with others. I am so comfortable just living the life of a (sort of) devotee. Superficially at least, I have prasadam, my friends, festivals, clothes, travelling to India and other places, music, inspiration, art, opportunities – spiritual fulfilment. Realising that the final piece of the puzzle, to preach, is not a walk in the park is a bit of a rude awakening. My mind screams – you’re shy! You’re not a good speaker! You don’t perform well under pressure! You don’t know enough! You’re young! No one even expects it of you! But I know this is what I have to do. Without it, I cannot ever claim to be part of Lord Caitanya’s movement.
So – I have nine copies of Higher Taste left. If nothing else, I will at least distribute these for now. I have been suitably humbled. Maybe this was Krishna’s way of getting me ready for the real test. Oh well, shakily and very ungracefully I am getting back on the horse.
I sincerely pray to Lord Balarama to give me strength to complete this challenge and continue to challenge myself forever. I pray that with his golden plough he breaks the through the hard, stony soil of my ego, exposing the healthy fertile ground in which I can plant my devotional seeds. On my own, my heart is a barren landscape, but with the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and all of the devotees, perhaps these seedlings can be coaxed into becoming beautiful creepers. Please pray for me.