Monday, June 9, 2014

Past and Present

It was a visit to a distant past,
my guru's ashram. Strangely unchanged,
though changes are coming, like everywhere,
like a cancer
they spread through every artery
in the shape of fallen trees
and piles of bricks in various shapes and forms,
usually square and shapeless, devoid of love or art.

The local trains are even more crowded
and there are clubs of fellow office workers
who gather and argue the topics of the day
for the two hours to Shealdah or Dumdum
or wherever they will descend, suddenly serious
as the next step in their crusade to find the office
begins. Their crisp shirts already showing the signs
of sweltering.

At other times, it is the endless parade
of hawkers and beggars, and now,
blind singers with portable loudspeakers and electronic keyboards.
Even Bengali begging comes limping into the 21st century.

But Dwadash Mandir sits in obliviousness to the norms
of the modern world. It is dangling with cobwebs
the spaces are just nooks, the women are just cooks.

And the bell rings and the gong chimes
and one or two voices sing the mangal arati
waking up the rest, who slowly drag themselves
into their daily routine of cooking and cleaning

the men are dragging long tubes or piles of wood,
or bringing in mangoes from the orchard
or bringing feed to the cows,
or just standing around in a gamcha
with a neem twig dangling from the mouth.

But now they have taken Prabhu's room
with its 19th century aura of poverty-stricken opulence
and sterilized it with marble floors and tiled walls.
And marble is sneaking in in the Shiva temples
and who knows where else it will end up,
bringing the new concept of mandir here.

Yet the damage is only just beginning
as the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust
slowly begins to impose its modern vision
of what should be Bhaktivinoda Thakur's glory--
no doubt some kind of skyscraper spectacularness,
which who knows may require a 60-storey glass structure
rivaling the gaudy marvels of Abu Dhabi and Shanghai,
and will bring much needed economic development
and foreign tourist dollars to the region!

Yes, that was the other distant past,
I viewed from the optics of Gadai Gauranga Kunj,
Gadadhar's folly, a one-man diamond Neverneverland,
which stands like one last precarious sentinel
to another way of looking at things,
a crazy, fantastic, maybe even weird kind of
Gauranga prem, but which has been as persistent and
internally evolving as the Ganges itself,
as imagination itself.

And from there you can look out
like Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself
and see the skyline of a glorious spiritual city
the very living manifestation of Bhaktivinoda's prophetic vision,
where Sahebs and the sons of rishis dance together
in ecstatic glorification of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
It can be done, it must be done!
Krishna West was Krishna West before it came west,
the karma yoga vision of bhakti,
a religion for doers and go-getters.
creating a new spiritual Kolkata where once there had only been rice fields,
Oh happy day!

Perhaps it is a bridge, but I don't think you get to the other side
until you scrape away at the palimpsest of history
to see what was below, what was Vrindavan,
what was Radha Kund, what was Nabadwip,
what was the Jaiva Dharma world of Lalita Prasad Thakur.
To find out exactly what it is that they had.
How can you have Lalita Prasad Thakur
-- or Sri Rupa or Sri Jiva or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself --
without having their world?

Two distant pasts, and both held out their hands
and said, we need you here.

And now the here and now makes a call
and says we need you here and now.
Vrindavan Today was yesterday,
and yet it is still needed today,
or will no one even try to stop the floods of Kali?

But I am one who does nothing, who barely sees at all
what is, much less what needs to be done.

And now, it seems that all these trips to the past
were just baby step preparations
for another even bigger step into the alternate realities
of older matrices, with their abandoned dreams and desires,
betrayals of affection, even bigger ones
than in all these other pasts that litter my present.

May I ever see the past in the present,
may I ever see their newness with new eyes
of experience and revelation.

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