Thursday, February 04, 2010

The walk to Keshi Ghat

Sometimes time really does seem to fly, and one barely knows where it went. Certainly on the trip to Vrindavan, two entire days were lost in traveling. May I never take the Utkal Express again.

Got into Vrindavan well after midnight. Was up late in the morning, but started off immediately for Keshi Ghat. As usual, it was a dreadful shock to see the garbage piled up in the old ghats, the running nalas overflowing onto the road, and general mess and neglect. You can see here and here that even in India, it does not have to be so. You can see pictures of the kind of situation that prevails on the Yamuna Vrindavan Heritage Alliance website. Just scroll down through this slideshow to get an idea.

On the way, I noticed that there was activity at one of the sewage treatment plants along the Parikrama Marga, so I stopped in to see what the story was. The engineer there told me first of all that the plant was functioning. I asked him whether the pipes that had been laid throughout the western part of the town came through to his plant and he said they would eventually, but that at present they did not get that far. Furthermore, since the pipes were inadequate to the task, being too small, the whole job would have to be done over again. Now this sounds to me like the most egregious bit of incompetence that I have ever heard of. A huge sum of money was given to do this bit of essential infrastructure work and due to corruption (I have no doubt whatsoever that this is the case) the money has been frittered away and the Vrindavan streets are left in complete disarray, resulting in regular accidents, broken axles and bent wheels on rickshaws, etc., etc.

The other day I took a rickshaw ride from Vrinda Kunj to Bhakti Dham, and on the way, the rickshaw's front wheel took a whack on a rugged piece of road, and the driver had to take a detour to the repairman. It cost him 40 Rs, exactly what I was paying him. That is the situation.

I regularly berate the rickshaw wallas, many of whom are Bengalis, for not demonstrating to the Municipal authorities to protest. Why don't they block the streets to call attention to the corruption and the mismanagement of these public works projects? They tell me this is not Marxist West Bengal, where the little man at least gets a voice. Here, no one listens to the lowest of the low, especially not if they come from out of state. Bengalis are not held in great esteem. Too bad that one who was, Nimai Mitra, the prominent local RSS leader, just died recently. He might have intervened.

Someone told me the laughing-in-my-beard story the other day about a rickshaw ride she had taken. They came to one of these dug up streets and she decided to get down to at least make it easier for the wallah to get over the hump. As they were going through the rocky patch, they passed a poor rickshaw driver who was struggling with a vehicle overflowing with no less than five well-endowed pilgrims from Delhi or somewhere. My friend started to berate the group asking them whether they had no consideration and could they not see what their driver was having to go through. Before the dumbstruck group could answer, the rickshaw's axle broke, the carriage overturned and the five chubby Indians fell into the muddy street.

It would have been a jolly good Schadenfreude laugh, except that the thoughtless privilegiés immediately started to blame the hapless rickshaw wallah for the disaster. Of course, he did not get paid and was stuck with the bill for repairs. Not a good day for him.

On my way to Vrindavan, I had the pleasure to accompany a group I encountered accidentally in the waiting room in Hardwar (our train was delayed 8 hours). Sankirtan Das, a Swiss devotee who has been living in China for the last 20 years and speaks fluent Chinese, was with a group of 10 people from a city outside Beijing, maybe Tongzhon. Sankirtan Dasji has written a book, which has also been translated into Chinese, called Bhakti Yoga Pilgrimage. He has been running tours like this for some time.

The leader of the group, a striking woman with the given name Kunti, is the owner of 15 (!) yoga centers in her town and most of the others in the group were teachers in those centers. They had spent a few days in Rishikesh, at Madhuvan, doing yoga and looking around.

The Chinese pilgrims were very sweet. Sankirtan told me they had spent part of the previous day in Hardwar doing kirtan at Harki Pauri, which had attracted a great deal of attention, as you can imagine. We also spent a few hours on the train doing kirtan. The man is true to his name.

Anyway, since many of the Chinese wear glasses, I was warning them about the Vrindavan monkeys. I told them about how the last time I had been with Paramadvaiti Maharaj in Vrindavan, out behind the Rangaji temple, a monkey had stolen his glasses and had simply mashed them to bits in full view of everyone.

It used to be that in Vrindavan there were only a few places where monkeys stole people's glasses. I have good experience of this. The main places were at Chir Ghat and in front of the Shahji Mandir near Loi Bazar and Radha Raman. There may have been other places, but those two I know about. At Shahji Mandir one time I was even in a rickshaw and a monkey flew past me, picking off my specs. The thing was that the monkeys and the local residents had a kind of symbiotic relationship. The monkey would steal the glasses, the Brajvasis would have chola and other goodies at the ready, they would offer the monkey a bribe, which the clever creature happily accepted, dropping the glasses. A local youth (as it was usually young men and kids who would be competing for the prize) would then offer them back to the owner and get a reward--50 to 100 rupees.

But in Paramadvaiti Maharaj's case, the monkey had somehow learned the first part of the lesson, "I monkey. Steal glasses." But had not learned the second part, "Get food. Drop glasses." The learned behavior is spreading through Vrindavan's monkey community, but the parampara has been broken in the course of time, kaleneha mahata yogo bhrashtaH parantapa.

Now I was to encounter the same situation. As I approached Chir Ghat, I began to think that it would be wise to take my specs off. But when your eyesight is as bad as mine, you tend to want to wait to the last moment. Perhaps all the construction that is there has driven the predatory beasts further afield, who knows, but I waited too long. A large monkey leaped past me, and with barely the sense of being touched, only the whiff of a breeze, my nose was naked.

And there was no one around to come to my rescue. No Brijbasis with biscuits for the beast. I ran to get biscuits and came back, blind as a bat and unable to even see where the evil creature had gone. Someone pointed him out, sitting atop a wall, meditatively crunching away at my ocular prosthesis. I threw him as many biscuits as I could, but the wicked beast looked at me with indifference. A crowd of his progeny danced around picking up the crumbs, and when I let down my hand in despair, another snatched the remaining biscuits from my hand. Such is the new treachery of these maleficent anthropoids. Don't call them mischievous, they are a menace.

And so, taking it that I had been delivered by Radharani herself from seeing the hulking skeleton of a half-moon bridge and the rest of the disasters that it had brought to the area, I walked on towards Keshi Ghat for the kirtan. I stopped just to talk to a few of the inactive construction workers who were hanging about. They said, "The work has only stopped temporarily. There is an nefarious rich lady in Keshi Ghat who is manipulating the powers-that-be to deprive us of our jobs, but our bosses have assured us it is only for one month."

So that's the situation. Katie Jo Walter and others are working very hard to get the court case on the 23rd prepared, thinking of all arguments that could come up and how to counter them. Let us keep on praying. Some people are thinking of doing another kirtan on that day, so I ask you to do so. It may not be as public and well-publicized as the Global Kirtan on the 30th, but do not forget this work. It is not something that can be done in one or two days. We need to keep on praying, chanting, asking Srimati Radharani to intervene so that we can build up our strength, chase away the destructive materialistic forces and recreate Vrindavan in a way that does an honor to our beloved Yugal Kishore.

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