The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lessons in Krishna’s land
- Writer learnt that sufferings of life are better than death

The author speaks about her depression and its cure in Vrindavan

The deep and painful depression became so acute that I became restless. I took Lalita Dasi, my maid, a widow from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and walked to the Bihariji temple. I wanted to buy some sedatives — they had become a necessity.

Lalita stood outside the chemist’s shop while I entered it. I collected my tablets and left the shop. Lalita scolded me, asking why I loitered around like a “widow”'

I went straight to Sriharan ghat. It was evening and the waves of the Ganga, reflecting the golden colours of the sinking sun, looked very beautiful. Baba Deodhar was clearly visible from the ghat. It was the same ghat from where Krishna stole the clothes of the bathing gopis. Krishna, the flute-playing romantic god, still prevails like a spirit in Vrindavan.

Early next morning, I was stunned to see the doctor from the chemist’s shop, standing beside Lalita. She was creating a huge hue and cry, and drew the whole neighbourhood to the spot.

Noticing the commotion below, my teacher came running down the steps to the ground floor. The doctor told my teacher excitedly that I had bought quite a lot of sedatives the previous day, but then he did not know that I had attempted suicide earlier by popping loads of the same pills.

My teacher was most embarrassed. Everyone stood still, listening to the tale of the new girl in town.

Lalita knew about the incident and it was she who went to the doctor and told him about my attempted suicide when I was in college. The doctor, clad in a white dhoti and kurta and sporting long hair, appeared quite concerned that morning.

My teacher asked the doctor not to worry and assured him that he would take care of the entire situation. The doctor left.

My teacher and Lalita came to my room and took out my two iron trunks. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that my saintly teacher would open my trunk. But he did, and accompanied by Lalita, began to search for the tablets under my clothes and books. A thorough search yielded the small bag containing the tablets.

They held it in front of me. I stood there, speechless. I thought my teacher would scold me, the way Lalita did in front of everyone. But he didn’t. He didn’t say anything and returned to his room upstairs. Later that night, he asked me to have my dinner upstairs with him. And throughout the time, he continued to ask me what ailed me and what was the reason for my sorrow. He advised, “Write about them and you will be a great writer”.

He tried to make me understand that there were many people worse off. Even the widows in Vrindavan, he said, were living in pitiable conditions. I should take courage from their condition and learn and wish to live. Living with all the sufferings of life is still better than death, he said. I confessed to him that I did collect the sedatives to kill myself one day. But I promised him that I would never think of consuming them again in my life.

To be continued

With passing time, I became used to the life and ways of Vrindaban. In the vicinity of my quarter near the temple, there lived a number of Radheshyamis — destitute widows who earned their living by singing bhajans. They passed their days in small, dark rooms that should better be called cages. Most of these widows came from Dinajpur, Rajshahi and other adjoining places of erstwhile East Bengal. Some of them were drawn to the place by their religious impulse, but most others sought a shelter to find an escape from the woes of their private and domestic lives.

Their tales were indeed very painful and heart-rending. One old widow from Rajshahi, later, developed a kind of rapport with me. I saw the woman dying slowly of misery and want, in her dark hovel, without anybody to offer her a little succour. As long as she could, she fumbled her way to a well near Dasrath Akhara with a pitcher to draw water. Now and then, I wrested it from her and carried it to her hovel, much against her will. Sometimes, I wanted to help her with provisions, but even in a situation of dire distress, she did not forget her self-respect and hesitated to accept my offers.

She often muttered some words like “Dear Mina Bazar, dear Mina Bazar,” but they were neither distinct nor intelligible. Two days before her death, she called me to her side and expressed her desire that I feed her a little potato mash prepared by the confectioner who lived near Govindaji’s temple.

The same evening, I went to her hovel with a packet of potato mash. She was in her deathbed. A kerosene lamp was dimly burning by her side. It was nearly impossible to stay near her because of the putrid smell of vomit, excrement and urine. Sensing my presence, she raised her head and took from me the packet made of tomal leaves.

The Radheshyamis living nearby came and crowded at the door. They said, “She won’t be able to raise herself again. She has soiled her clothes. She has no chance.” Two days later, she died.

A group of lepers could be seen sitting on the portals of the marble temple of Shah Behari, built by Kundan Lal in 1876, all day and night. Surrounding them like their shadows, stood the Radheshyamis, hoping to grab, by chance, some of the coins thrown at the lepers by devout pilgrims.

One day, while visiting Shahji’s temple, situated at a corner of the market, I decided to have a look at the marble gopis in dancing posture. I came across another destitute in rags who was clinging to some odd items picked up from the garbage dumps. She looked more like a vulture with broken wings than a human being. I asked her why she was lying there like that. In reply, she mumbled something that made little sense to me.

There gathered a few more Radheshyamis — on their way to their hovels from the Yamuna — where they had gone to bathe. One of them explained to me the dying woman’s situation in Bengali. “She had put up with a certain person. For quite some time now, he was asking her to leave. Today, he dragged her out with all her belongings and left her here on the roadside.”

“But why'” I asked her.

“That’s because she has no money to spend for her ourdhadehik (last rites). She has a swollen leg. She has diabetes and a host of other ailments. Her death is very near. Who would take the burden then' That is why she has been thrown out today.”

I could not believe my ears. I became motionless. I was struck dumb with horror at such inhumanity.

Later, I heard from many others that nobody wanted to provide shelter to the Radhyeshyamis unless they had money for their last rites. Who will pay for their funerals' Many a times, I saw wretched widows squatting on the roadside with their odds and ends, under the scorching sun as well as in the heavy rains, soaked to the skin. (to be continued)

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