Monthly Archives: October 2008

Confessions of a Word Lover: Flouting my way to inner joy!

I felt so happy walking out of my morning lecture today. Believe me, that’s something to write about. Normally it’s two Powerpoint filled hours on a cold Friday morning I could do without (were it not a requirement to pass my degree of course). But today, something was special. For one thing, the overhead projector was broken, so the yawn inducing Powerpoint was mercifully absent, but the real reason I felt so good, boiled down to what the day’s lesson was about. We were learning about Grice’s ‘Maxims of Conversation’ (don’t worry, I won’t explain it all), part of which included a discussion on the difference between ‘flouting’ and ‘violating’ these maxims. Sounds exciting eh? It’s not really. I just made sure I put up my hand to answer every question, just so I could say flout over and over again.

Flout is one of the most fun words I’ve heard in a long time. Its really meaning has a defiant quality, but you could really use it in any way you want. ‘Yeah, it was hard until we got to the second hill, and from then on we just flouted’, ‘Don’t eat and flout at the same time’, ‘I wish I could come rock climbing, but I’ve got the flouts, sorry’, ‘I flout in your general direction!’

Another interesting fact about the word flout, is that its etymology is from the Middle English ‘to flout’, meaning to play the flute.

That’s all for now. More fascinating words later, including crenellation, vapid and impeach.

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Snow-vardhana

Today was covered in snow, frozen hard overnight into stiff clumps on lawns and windscreens, but at the temple, the warmth of Vrindavan permeated the air as we gathered to celebrate Govardhan Puja. I often wonder whether I should explain what these festivals are on this blog. Most of the time, I conclude not, since I assume it tends to mainly be read by Hare Krishnas, or those somewhat in the know. So forgive me for not detailing why I spent the day today blissfully worshipping a hill made of sweet, toasted semolina and cookies, or why I took half an hour out to dance around some cows and cover them in coloured powder, or even why I traipsed through the slush outside from morning to afternoon, dressed in a sari (note to self – not designed for the climes of the Northern Hemisphere). I probably don’t even have to explain why, after a badly made decision to start the arati to Govardhan Hill ahead of time, (meaning many missed it completely) I spent the next fifteen minutes picking my way through the waterlogged grass that surrounded the perimeter of the festival marquee in a last attempt to circumambulate Giriraj (who was simultaneously being dismantled, sweet by delicious sweet).

It’s a far cry from my Govardhan Puja last year, which I spent within a stone’s throw of Sri Govardhan himself. I didn’t get to walk all the way around him on that day, but I did when I went back this year, in March. As I walked barefoot in the still cool morning air, my heart leapt with joy. These feelings are so hard to express. How can I explain why walking around a hill made me so happy? How can I explain why the sight of those beautiful variegated rocks, visible between the thick layer of flowering trees made my heart sing? Or why the jagged calls of the local parrots and peacocks spoke of so much more than just plain birdsong? The walk around the hill took an entire morning; just walking, chanting and walking, feeling the sand slowly heat up underfoot. The beauty of the path was unexpected – bougainvillea burst from all sides, and the stretches of forest were punctuated by tiny temples, their sole inhabitants always ready with a greeting or a gift.

Last night I remembered this walk as I painted cakes to be offered on the altar, painting one with a vague memory of this scene.

I feel so grateful to be given opportunities like this, to remember Krishna and his pastimes. It’s fuel in the truest sense – as healing as medicine, and as relishable as honey. I am so lucky to be a Hare Krishna – does that need an explanation?

Krishna knows how to dress for the season…

See more pictures! Bhaktivedanta Manor Deity Darshan

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Swagatam Dear Rama…

Tonight we welcome home Lord Rama from his years of exile in the forest. As the inhabitants of Ayodhya did thousands of years ago, small lamps are placed on the ledges and rooves of every house to light his way home.

Last year on Diwali, I was lucky to be in Vrindavan. The night was truly magical. Garlands of leaves and marigolds appeared in the most unlikely places; adorning shop signs and fences, and even stationary motorbikes! Close to eight o’ clock, all electric lights went off, in the most perfect cinematically timed powercut I’ve ever experienced. All the familiar pathways and buildings of the daytime took on a new life, carved out of the darkness in flickering lines of lamps. The air was still and warm, and there was a peaceful lull in the usual evening sounds from the busy main road. This was only broken when the fireworks began to be lit. Then the sky awakened. Watching from a breezy rooftop, everyone in a five mile radius seemed to be setting off huge blue and red firecrackers – or rockets that exploded with an ear blasting bang and a pop of  soaring light.

Diwali night in Vrindavan – photo by Bimala

It’s a special experience to be in a place where everyone around is celebrating the same thing. In that regard, I’m grateful to live in England, where this year Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square, in the centre of London, were attended by thousands, and this morning at university, my tutor greeted me with ‘Happy Diwali.’

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Taka Dhimi Ta

Totally exhausted – Tulasi and me at midnight on Saturday.

At last, after weeks of rehearsals, culminating in a week of three hours every evening, until 10.30 at night – we performed our annual school dance show. It was long – a three hour show that finished with a dance drama of the Dasavatara.  It went pretty well, but I’m never satisfied afterwards. Performing is such a funny thing. There’s so much pressure to get it right on that one time, that often the most enjoyable part about it is rehearsing for it, when you know no one is watching. Mind you, most of the time these rehearsals were just plain exhausting.

Doing a one off show always seems like a waste of energy. So much time and effort, just to perform a big show one time for your friends and parents. I moaned about this show from the moment we started preparing for it. Something has gotten into me. Things I once took pleasure in have lost their charm a little, and I’m still trying to figure out why, and if it’s something I should pass off as naive boredom, or a significant signpost as to the direction of my life. Who knows. I’m praying for some answers as I try to tame and engage the unruly collection of baby birds I call my interests. At any moment, each wants to be fed and nurtured. Each calls with an urgency that if I don’t practise my violin right now, or turn on the light and write that poem down at 2am, I feel something bad might happen. Perhaps, as in every nest, some of the chicks must eventually die, outgrown by their stronger siblings. For now, I’m making a feeble attempt to keep them all alive, hoping that the weaklings will identify themselves soon.

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Global Kartik Kirtan: Live from London!

Attending the 24 hour kirtan this year in New Vrindavan was an amazing experience, and I was really excited therefore, when I heard that another 24 hour kirtan event on an even grander scale was being planned to take place during this holy time of Kartik.

The ‘Global Kartik Kirtan’ has been masterminded by Krishna Devata, a second generation devotee from California, who has empowered a team of volunteers to stage simultaneous kirtans across the world – from Maui to Kyrgyzstan. She hopes that this action will have the effect of ‘activating our international kirtan community, in a simultaneous resounding prayer around the globe, with its source from the heart of Vrindavan.’ The ‘source kirtan’ will be performed at Pandavali Kund, near Keshi Ghat in Vrindavan, India, on Ekadasi (Sunday, November 9th). Other locations confirmed so far are:

New York
San Francisco Bay Area
Alachua, Florida
Maui, Hawaii
Vancouver, Canada
Los Angeles, California
Rome, Italy
Moscow, Russia
Tomsk
Novosibirsk
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan

For the pleasure of Sri Sri Radha Londoniswara, graciously hosted by the devotees of Soho Street temple and organised primarily by Kapila and Bimala of the Kulimela Association, we will be holding our own 24 hour kirtan here in London from 12.30 – 12.30 on Saturday 8th until Sunday 9th of November. The first half of the event will also feature a maha harinam through the buzzing Saturday night centre of London, commencing at 7.45 pm. I’m really excited about it, and I hope that if you’re reading this, and you live within travelling distance of London, you’ll try and make it. Though this is largely being organised by Vaishnava youth, the kirtan is open to everyone, and only with everyone’s participation will it truly be a success. If you don’t live in London, why not hold a kirtan closer to where you live? It doesn’t need to be for the full 24 hours – even if everyone only chants together for a few hours, it’s the act of surrounding the globe with the Hare Krishna maha mantra that matters.

If you would like to see the flyer – here it is: Global Kartik Kirtan Flyer

Please come and chant with us – bring instruments if you like!

Sri Sri Radha London-iswara – photo by Janak

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Simplicity – The Ultimate Sophistication

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago for the Bhaktivedanta Manor Newsletter and thought I’d post it here for posterity’s sake. It’s always hard to write articles that are intended to instruct without coming across as preachy. I feel it’s even harder for me, as I’m definitely in no position to instruct – in some ways I suppose that’s why writing things like this are good for me. In reflecting on the issue and working out the philosophical answer, I learn a great deal.

I came home from a long trip this summer, to find that my old car was no more. Without mentioning names, a certain family member accidentally wrapped it around a telegraph pole, and it was promptly written off.

I wasn’t too disturbed however, as by the time I arrived back on English soil, a replacement had been bought. Same make, similar model – it seemed that not much had changed. That was, until I got inside. I immediately began to notice all the things that were wrong with it, from the broken seatbelt to the shaky clutch. I sighed inwardly every time I had to move the seats forward – this being my first three door car – and my biceps ached from turning the stiff steering wheel. As if it couldn’t get any worse, a few days later, our main family car broke down. Now, with only one small Corsa between a family of five, we were officially stuck.

A month slowly passed, and whilst at first we would complain to each other daily, about the incredible inconvenience of having to share and schedule car time, after a little while, we began to adapt. We soon found there were other ways of getting where we needed to go, sharing rides whenever we could; or walking, or cycling!
It’s easy to blow inconveniences out of proportion. In our everyday lives, we often become so reliant on our gadgets and home comforts, that it feels as though they are additional limbs. Any disturbance created in our use of them can give us almost physical discomfort. For many people the thought of even a day without their mobile phone or computer is preposterous.

And of course, what we have is never enough. I bought a shiny new laptop last year and excitedly unwrapped it, only to find that two weeks later, the manufacturers had brought out a thinner, even more stylish model, that made mine pale in comparison. Advertisers know how vulnerable we are, and are no fools when it comes to making us feel we always need to change and upgrade what we already have.

A popular Indian folk tale warns of what can happen when we become ruled by our insistent desires, telling of a simple man, living by a river, who only desires an extra cloth to wear, so that he doesn’t have to wash the same one every day and wait for it to dry. His desire is granted, but as a mouse starts to nibble on the new cloth, he quickly finds out that he again needs something – a cat! With the cat comes the need for more food, which requires more money, which requires a change of location, which creates more entanglements – and so on.

So how can we combat this? As devotees of Krishna, we learn that it is beneficial to lessen ones attachments to the material world, as its nature is temporary.
However, anyone that’s ever tried to ignore a desire, including me, knows that it’s no walk in the park. Like an itch, it just won’t leave you alone unless you scratch it.
Thankfully, there are several ways in which we can focus our minds, that offer an alternative to the desire driven culture that we live in.

The first, is to cultivate gratitude for everything that we already have. This doesn’t have to be a forced ‘starving children in Africa would be happy to have this’, but rather, simple recognition that we are in fact blessed every day. All that we eat and drink, the homes in which we take shelter, the vehicles we drive, all come from Lord Krishna, who kindly allows us to utilise them. Understanding this both helps us to see and appreciate Lord Krishna’s hand in our lives, as well as to not take his gifts for granted. In the case of my car, having to walk more and take public transport made me realise how fortunate I was to even have a car at all.

Our desire for things can never be satisfied, and recognising this can motivate us to try and live more simply. Rather than being subservient to the world that demands everything at lightning speed, from fast-food to friendship, we can greatly benefit from aligning our lives more with nature.
At the core of successful simple living, is the need for strong spiritual inspiration and practise, without which, we will never feel satisfied or truly complete. It is essential to make a space for this activity, such as chanting the Hare Krishna maha mantra, in our daily lives. This ‘higher taste’ is not a dry substitute for real pleasure. Rather, it is the real pleasure, that we can never find in any department store or restaurant, and is supreme in its ability to relieve us from the demands of the mind.

I found that indirectly, my car troubles aided this part of my life too. Being able to tolerate and maintain equilibrium is usually challenging at the best of times, but by being forced to live at a slightly slower pace, I found that the time I had in each day increased, and giving some time to Krishna each day has become less and less of a struggle. In the words of the great philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness, weakness.” Oh, and not to mention the fact that cycling up and down hills does help the old waistline too…

Cycling to heaven – the simplicity of life at Burning Man! Black Rock City, Nevada, August 2008

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Capturing the Vision

Crisp and bright
Each new evening presents itself
Earlier than the last
Tonight, a rare, ripe moon
Looming full above the trees, as if through binoculars.
This month, life is syncopated in a different way-
Days no longer filtered through the frenetic mesh of Facebook and mindless TV,
but loud with leaves of lemon yellow and windblown light.
In the chilled darkness of morning, we gather to sing and dance, tracing circles in the air.
Lining up in suits and saris, some in school uniforms,
Carving out those precious twenty minutes to gaze upon your form,
Our eyes, like sensitive photo paper, absorbing this light, capturing the vision of your lotus face,
before the clock strikes eight,
and we scatter like blown straws,
praying to return.

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