Das is a dream that Montano had while in India.
I. PREM I have always lived a life of 100% dependence having been born premature at the Kerala Christian Hospital, surviving tubes, incubators, respirators, eye drop feedings and months of medical interventions; coming home to a life of seizures, medications, total bed care and of course, caretakers. In India they are called servants and my current, main servant is Das whose name actually means servant. We never feel uncomfortable with people around helping us and are always surrounded by family, friends and yes, servants who are easily incorporated into our lives. Privacy is never an issue, we talk freely unless the subject is intimate. Servants do our cleaning, our laundry, raise our children, wash our dishes and do thousands of other tasks and because my father is a wealthy industrialist, we have two and sometimes three servants doing absolutely everything. In fact, whole families live with us; the father drives and maintains our 6 cars, sons serve us meals, do laundry, wash dishes and shop, mothers and daughters give massages, help with cooking and do chores for my brothers and sisters. Of course, I have many servants throughout the day because of my sickness but I must admit that Das is my favorite; we play checkers for hours and listen to movie music tapes, singing along. I guess you could say that even though he is from the servant caste, we are really fast friends. And I need friends because my life is difficult. I'm the second born, the first was a girl. They wanted me and hoped I was a boy and then I was born sickly. What a disappointment. Although Mummy and Bapuji didn't show their pain I know they feel sad when they see me. The first-born son has many duties. For example, what am I to do at Bapuji's cremation? I can't even hold a stick in case I have to break his skull if it hasn't burst in the fire. That way his soul can leave from the top of his head. That is our belief. But I'm not well enough or strong enough to do even that. Kamalakant will have to do it as the second son and possibly Krishna will assist him. Maybe I can sit in my wheelchair and help but then again, the way karma works, I might go before Bapuji. Sorry, I have to meet with my tutor who is coming into the courtyard. He is very old, very strict and makes me chant Sanskrit, telling me it will heal me either in body, mind or spirit. That's wonderful and I hope my body gets better, so I listen to Vish, who is a Brahmin too. We Brahmins have a special bond. It's about things past, and ancient rituals and a secret language of caste recognizable by the sacred thread tied to our chest. A glance and last name tells us who's who. India runs on the system of categories and separation of duties and hierarchies. We are happy with it. We tolerate each other and we need each other to survive. Here comes Vish now, see you later.
II. MUMMIE I love Prem probably the best, because he is so emotional. All of my other children are self sufficient and strong and confident and outspoken. Prem is different. His soulful eyes and sweetness endear him to me. I go into deep meditative states when I'm with him and experience the same ecstasy I feel in early morning pujas before the statues of Ram and Sita. I don't have to scold him or correct him or steer him in the right direction because he's already there. My dear, sweet Prem. How I love our afternoons together, watching the peacocks on the lawn, both of us silent, holding hands, happy to be. Ghandhiji says, "Silence is a great help to a seeker after Truth," and I experience that with Prem. Deep, inner silence. What a rest that is. My other children have dreams and ambitions that keep them busy and connected to the world of me, mine, and I. The girls always need a new, expensive sari for this or that event or money for a weekend in Bombay and the boys want the latest computer or scooter. It's endless. With Prem there are no worldly demands. He is my saint, my darling, and my best friend. Thank God I have enough servants who can do all of my work and that leaves me time with Prem. Of course running this compound isn't easy and I coordinate everything including the cars (we have 6), the gardens (two front side, two backside), the servants (we have 15), the food (I plan all meals and cook for special guests and all Saints that visit), the money (I pay all of the bills), and the buildings (there are 14 including the family temple). Oh Prem, how lucky you are, not worrying about anything, enjoying your time and playing checkers with Das. Your busy brothers and sisters are karmically linked to the world of money and changes/impermanence. You on the other hand sit on your bed like a monk, free of it all-fed, bathed, dressed and beatific. Prem you are my monk, my sunyasin, my muni, and you don't even wear orange clothes! Our family Guru, Shantiananda, who lives at our temple, feels the same way about you. In fact, she comes here, dear Prem, to have darshan with YOU! Usually we go to our Guru for blessings but it's the opposite in your case, Prem. She said the other day, "Bhakti, your other children will always be questioning if they are happy or unhappy. Dear Prem IS happiness. Ram has blessed your family with a saint." Prem, my saint, I'm so sorry, I have to go now to give the menu to the servants for our supper. Bapuji is back from Japan so tonight we celebrate with ras gula.
III. BAPUJI As head of this large family which includes my gorgeous wife, Bhakti, my children, servants, a huge and demanding compound including buildings, gardens, cars and even peacocks which need feeding, I'm often overwhelmed. Trips to Japan are my escape, my meditation, my nurturing. Although I was raised a strict Brahmin with a Guru as tutor at the ashram which my father financially supported, I have not been able to find solace in meditation, japa, fasting, devotions or the rituals which are the foundation of our belief. I leave all of that to my dear and darling wife, Bhakti and also to Prem who is quite peaceful and touches my soul. It's not that I've become western, although I do study professional magazines from Germany, but I guess you can say that I'm more Asian because my trips to Japan have opened my eyes to another methodology and way of being in the world. Emotionally I am cool, scientific and resonate with the evenness of Buddhism. Cool-headedness is essential to my career because negotiating multi-million dollar contracts, faxing, emailing, meeting with Japanese and American industrialists and video conferencing day after day, can be strenuous unless I practice strict mental focus. After working all day at the office, business continues at bathhouses, teahouses, at geisha parties and at 2 am I retire to my small tatami-floor hotel room and sleep to begin again next day. Being sociable is part of the game here. I've learned how to play quite well. Believe it or not, I even sing karaoke. My specialty is country western cowboy songs! Speaking of cheating; there are numerous opportunities to do so. Culturally it is encouraged and acceptable for men to do this expected behavior that is very foreign to Hindu culture and me. Here it is not seen as aberrant or sinful or unfair or unwise but this is changing in the last 10 years since feminist theory has reached this island. Now the wives do not tolerate infidelity as in the past. I'm glad because it is impossible to be integrated or effective when one is divided or guilty. Although the delicacy of Asian women and their passionate politeness is attractive to me, I am absolutely loyal to my wife who delights me even after 33 years of marriage. You see when one partner in a union meditates and prays, there is something so deeply spiritual and transcendent that happens when they are intimate. No dalliance could match the ecstasy of my life with Bhakti. Tantra and all of the Kama Sutra teachings are genetically natural to all Hindus, I think, although I'm not sure if other men experience this same level of transcendence with their wives because I never discuss my personal life with them. All I know is that I will never disturb my marital commitment in any way. Having a clear conscience and high morals gives me the energy to be a multi-tasking family man and enjoyer of good health and strong life force. Now that I think about it, I guess you could say that I'm lucky and maybe even heroic! The plane's boarding in a few minutes. Soon I'll be home again to my wife, family and a feast. Three weeks of deep breathing and jasmine nights will help me feel again.
IV. SHANTIANANDA At an early age I knew that I wanted to live a sacred life, probably because of an auspicious birth on Ram's jayanti which pleased my devoted parents very much. Tragedy struck our family and this distress formed me, the same way local jewelers hit silver over and over, shaping it into bangles. As you know, India is devastatingly beautiful and spiritually extraordinary but it is also a powerfully dangerous land. Monsoons, landslides, earthquakes, disease, typhoid, snakebites and all problems associated with the third world keep us company. We are used to it. But when my mummie died before my eyes, this was too much for a 12 year old and I changed forever. I went from a playful child-woman to a recluse. Mummie had just finished cooking kicheree, I was washing our talees, when she fell over, barely missing the open fire. After the cremation, Bapuji tried keeping all four of us together but couldn't so we were sent to different relatives all over India. I went to our Massie in Calcutta and that's where my spiritual life began. Massie was a social worker and on her compound she had donated a large parcel of land to her Guru who used one of the buildings for an ashram. I lived there, learning asanas, chanting, sutras, and advanced meditation. Samadhi was a daily joy. All of that came easily to me because my heart, having been broken by those early happenings, was eager to be filled with divine knowledge, a sense of community and inner peace. The call to the inner life was so deep that by the time I was 16, it was obvious that I was my teacher's favorite. I sat to her left, was given food from her hand, did all of her secretarial work, greeted her students and spent all of my time in her presence. That was where she groomed me, so to speak, for the transmission of her shakti into my soul. Powers of clairvoyance allowed her to work on all of the unfinished business and rough edges of my subconscious. That work was painless for me and I hope my karma did not pain her! She would enter my soul, root out obscurations and I would feel a palpable relief and not know why. All of this was done in Silence which is her path and her way and her sadhdana. It was the simplicity of nothingness. We sat for hours in an atmosphere of almost visible love, perfumed with the sweetness of non-anxiety, vibrating with the neurobiological qualities associated with divine rapture. One hot evening, we were sitting in her small meditation room. Incense and tropical temperatures intermingled intoxicatingly, allowing us to release into the joy of non-doing. Divinity was palpable. I know that it is hard to define the experience but you must trust me and try to feel this fainting into love for yourself. After midnight, she motioned to me, whispering with a graveled and hoarse voice, the voice of not having spoken for days, the voice of deep samadhi. But this was different. This was the voice of fragility and when I heard it, the second most earth shattering attack to my heart happened as my guru lay down in a fetal position and barely mumbled, "Go home to your father now. Go." And even though my Guruji was still young I knew that she was preparing to leave her body-temple and that when I left that room, I would not see her again. She brought her hand to my forehead. It was shaking. In a simple gesture, she imparted her lineage to me. Basically I was to become HER, become IT, carry on and I could literally feel spiritual energy enter my being and with it I had the transmission of her teachings, her teacher's teachings and her teacher's teacher's teachings....all the way back to Padmavati, Kali and LIGHT ITSELF. That happened 20 years ago and I cannot tell you how I then went to my village, took care of my own Bapuji for years until he died and from that care taking seva, I was given the grace and merit to use this inner light and my teacher's blessings in a profoundly powerful and new way. Even though I am now a Guru and teacher for many and carry on my Guru's Truth, these memories of physical loss cause tears to silence my pen, washing away words from the page. Gurus cry also.
V. BHARATI I guess that you could call me the family rebel. I'm the first daughter, born into this rich and powerful family that extends geographically and socially back in time. On Divali, (Festival of Lights), engagement parties and all major celebrations, 3-400 of us attend parties that take months to plan, go on for days, and keep us connected to one another. We Hindus exchange gifts lavishly, we network with each other, help solve life and family problems and sometimes, after a large event, we continue our visit by traveling in a rented bus to one of our religious shrines or to a summer resort....50 of us might go all together. Family is wealth in India and everything is shared freely and lovingly among us. No distinctions, no favoritism. Sure, I am part of all of this, but somebody has to think about and take care of other issues. Somebody has to worry about politics, the government, and India's future as a functioning contributor to this planet's well being. Somebody has to worry about ecological sustainability and social justice. Somebody has to think about non-exclusion. Somebody has to take on the role of activist, for things must change. Philosophic and political causes have always been my interest. As a child I was immersed in everything Ghandian. When 13, Bapuji took three of us to Ghandhi's ashram. I felt at home there, more so than in the luxury of my family's palace. There I observed Satygara----a peaceful, non-violent, non-cooperation with unjust laws. That's one translation. Ghandhiji’s ashram vibrated with this teaching. Non-violence, ahimsa became satygara when Gandhi worked with ahimsa practically and on a political and national scale. Isn't that brilliant? It is the ability to say no without fighting back, to say no and be willing to die for TRUTH, to say no and to mobilize a country to non-violent protest and freedom. At the ashram his spirit is palpable and I saw his small quarters, his spinning wheel. I met elders who not only knew him, but also served as his "stick," walking with him and holding him up as he recovered from fasting and protests. At 20, I met my second Guru, when I attended a lecture by philosopher, feminist and physicist, Shri Vandana Shiva of Delhi. This powerful woman changed my world although I was not formally her student but a reader of all of her books and a frequenter of her lectures. Eventually I learned to think like her, incorporating her beautiful and concerned mind into mine. I began worrying about the same things she addressed as problems and began in earnest my life as a non-violent protestor with a small group of activists in Delhi. Daily we not only lived together but struggled with issues that were hers but became ours. Some are: 1. Drinking water/shared tank systems/availability.2. Value of human life in 3rd world countries.3. Protection of natural resources vs. big business monopolies.4. Shared rights vs. privatization.5. U.S. pirating our inventions/stealing intellectual property, hijacking it for their corporate gains.6. Deforestation, clear cutting, reckless logging.7. How the commons can be maintained. All of these are Vandana Shiva's causes and now I am passionately angered by the injustice that greed births. Admittedly I could pray, meditate, do Hatha Yoga and wipe my mind clean and clear of all of my upsets but I feel a calling to ecological and social justice. My prayers are not mantras but righteous cries of outrage. Justice is my life partner. Justice is my child. Justice is my food. Wealth is shared peace and I will die to uphold this treasured jewel. Thank you Vandana Shiva and Gandhi for telling me the truth. I promise I will not stop this work until our colonized, eroded and polluted India is gorgeous and shining again. WATCH! My fist is raised and it does not strike, but holds tight in my palm the hope of SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTI.
VI. SITA If there is a black sheep in this proud family it is I, Sita, the gorgeous third daughter spoiled by all. I'm the maverick, the problem child, and the difficult one. Of course, Prem gets a lot of attention but that's because he's so sick. Maybe I'm jealous because he has extra servants, Das' 24-hour service, the best food, saffron milk daily, and instant coffee for breakfast instead of the chai that we all are expected to drink. He's physically sick. I'm internally troubled and outrageous...at least that's what my seventh standard report stated. “Sita’s soul is in the jungle She is too like the jungle!" Just look into my frightened eyes, you will see for yourself. But no, you can't know because I will distract you with my colorful silk saris, perfect skin, pearl white teeth, and an elaborately complicated vocabulary that masks a quivering self-image. Or maybe the expensive tikas covering my third eye will keep you away? Ornaments and perfect grooming camouflage pain. Don't think that I was always this way. I had a choice. As a child our family Guru, Shantiananda, tried taming me with breathing techniques and pujas to Ram, Ghanesh and all of our deities. These rituals held me captive and absorbed my intensity until the age of 15 when I left the path for reasons unmentionable, to walk life's razor edge. I won't bore you and tell you why I'm so tortured. · Is it because I have a psychological imbalance and a bipolar medical condition?· Is it because my planets are malefic?· Is it because I had a taboo affair with a married Muslim?· Is it because of my eating disorder?· Is it because I alone know all of my family's sins and hypocrisies?· Is it because of childhood trauma and severe punishment by care taking servants?· Is it because of past life karma?· Too many sweets? As I mentioned before, I am teasing you with possibilities. Maybe all the things I listed are causes of my inner battle with life. Maybe not. Sorry to play games but I have hidden my story well. In fact, nobody will know the following: · Why I live a life of opposition to Hindu family traditions and Brahmin values.· Why I am haunted.· Why I mistrust.· Why I harbor a sadness that is untouched by beauty or newborns. Nobody will know how to fit the pieces of my life-puzzle together so they can: · Heal me.· Hold me still.· Console me.· Massage essential oils into my shame.· Invite my talents to shine. Remember, I am Sita and in exile. The 14 years in the forest waiting for the love of Rama has extended into a lifetime. Don't talk to my parents. That will not help. Don't ask too many questions. My heart is on fire and has already burst.
VII. KRISHNA As the third eldest son, I've been groomed to share prominence and leadership with Kamalakant, second born son. Prem would have had this honor but he can't perform in this way, so KK and I do all of the right things but I think that I do more than he does. · I go to engineering school in America full time.· I date only Hindu girls.· I go home every December for family reunions.· I live a life that is conversant with the best of both east and west culture.· I put away savings so that I can bring my family to America someday. All of this takes courage. It takes courage to leave a safe and home life in India to go to America to study. It takes courage to live without servants and do my own cooking, laundry, cleaning and shopping. It takes courage to eat bland western food devoid of our delicious spices. It takes courage to travel thousands of miles in airplanes that might harbor terrorists or exploding shoes so that I can get a good education in America. But, no problem, I have tons of courage. I'm a pro soccer player, karate black belt and my IQ is 185. And even though I'm the most western in my family, KK and I still have the prime duty of providing for my sisters, brothers and elderly parents later on. That is called seva and it is richly rewarded with merit and spiritual goodies. America did not change that pattern in me although I do drink coffee now instead of tea. That's western. But otherwise, I'm strictly Brahmin. Strictly devoted to Mother India and willing to help my family, sacrificing for them in any way that I can. This is a gift that we Hindus have and we hope that westerners learn it from us. It is so precious, so important. For example, right now, Bapuji's father is dying in the other room. Our hospitals send elders home to die and we don't have nursing homes. We feed, bathe, visit and make sure our sick are spiritually nourished as well. The sunyasin visits every other day and gives lectures and comfort to grandpa. We are so close, so close, grandpa and I. I sit with him for hours, hold his hand, sing to him, feel his life force come and go, listen to his babbling in Sanskrit, observe his hallucinations of dead relatives in the room and help him prepare for his next incarnation by keeping him focused on the divine. Four months ago after his stroke, he was walking, talking, trying to be as independent as he was before. But he knew deep down that he couldn't cook for himself, balance his checkbook, or even enjoy the nightly news. Watching him detach from the world has been a teaching for us all and we help him when he gets too frustrated by the process...singing bhajans to him, massaging him with almond oil, bringing neighborhood children to visit, filling the room with flowers, feeding him mango juice fresh from the trees outside his window and resting silently in the room with him. Sometimes I lay on a mat next to his so I can be peaceful and give him that gift. But it is not all cozy. Yama the god of death visits some days and the thick dark hair on my arms raises with fright. I ask him to leave, give me more time with grandpa who now eats only a little rice gruel. As he goes slowly, my heart feels ripped from my chest, my throat tightens and squeezes my already infected tonsils, my body shakes. I have lost 15 pounds. My hair is thinning. I am taking this very hard even though Vedanta teaches we are not the body or mind. Grandpa is the core and strength of this family and he is leaving us orphaned. Hold me tight or I will lay my face in grandpa's shawl and if Yama isn't careful he might take me by mistake. Be careful Yama, here I am. Come on Yama, come on. Yama, come.
VIII. DAS The life of a servant in India can be quite wonderful or a tragedy. It depends on the family and it also depends on the servant. Good family equals good life. Bad family, bad life. I'm good and this family is great, which translates as tolerant and generous and inclusive. These are the best Hindu traits. Germans are good at details, we are good nurturers. To feed all, love all, and include all is our manifesto. Yes, you Christians say, “love one another as Christ has loved you." That's why you love. We love because next life I might be the king and you might be the servant and if you treated me well then I would karmically have to treat you very well too. So our actions, yours and mine are the same, motives differ. I love working for Bharat and Bhakti. They are extremely wealthy, their home is a palace compared to my village one room house that I share with my wife, her parents and our 3 children. I have privacy here, delicious food, luxurious living and my own 3-inch TV. My main work is making sure that Prem is comfortable, changed, fed and has my company. After evening meal I have two hours for myself, take a round, talk with friends and then go back to sleep in Prem's room on a mat near his bed. I guess you would say that we are brothers, roommates, and best friends. Six years together day and night with only a few weeks off each year, has made me feel like a member of Prem's family. My wife understands; we need the little money that I make. Today we will eat masala dosa for lunch. I can't wait. I feel hungry although I will feed him first. Then I will eat in the kitchen with the other servants. We laugh a lot. I hope they saved me a few ras gula. Basically, life is good, delicious, and I have rupees to send home. Prem is calling. I have to go.
Footnotes: An Update Seven Years Later.
PREM: Prem attended a Kumbha Mela on a stretcher and experienced a miraculous healing from a naked sadhu. He now attends college and is studying computer programming.
MATAJI: Mataji ran for the office of assistant to the district administrator and won. She attends weekly meetings in Delhi, flying home weekends.
BAPUJI: Bapuji retired at 60 and is living 4 months of every year in Japan where he is practicing horticulture.
SHANTIANANDA: Shantiananda took a vow of silence for 14 years, lives with her chela in Rishikesh and gives silent darshans once a month, writing on a slate board. BHARATI: Bharati is an ecology professor at Benares Hindu University, married and has 6 children. SITA: Sita was found dead at home of natural causes.
KRISHNA: Krishna changed his major to become a licensed practical nurse and opened a hospice in Sri Lanka, based on the western model of nurturing terminal care.
DAS: Das was caught stealing a sizable sum of rupees from Bapuji's office and is currently incarcerated for life in Masore.
LINDA MARY MONTANO