Krishna’s mercy that sent me to a children’s prison
“I am glad to see that my Thursday lectures have brought some changes in the mind of the young offenders. If the lectures are continued I am sure to turn these offenders into saintly characters.”
1962, Letter to Sri Puri, Superintendent, Tihar Prison
We all know that Krsna’s birthplace was a prison cell. Not many of us, however, know that before Srila Prabhupada left for the West, Srila Prabhupadaa brought Krishna’s message to the Tihar prison, Asia’s largest prison based out of Delhi, in the 1960s. Little did I realize that my own journey of transformation would start from a prison, albeit one for children.
By the year 2012, I had had a journey that many materialists would envy to have. Rising from a very humble beginning, I rose fast in the material world with my resume marked with global education and a 7-year corporate stint that concluded at a senior management position with an Indian multinational. This journey continued further when I left the corporate world and co-founded a leadership training organization wherein I had the opportunity to train over 3000+ young minds.
All was going fine (materially) and then came Krsna in my life starting with Srila Prabhupada’s Gita. I was not even half way done collecting the nectar of Gita that Krsna revealed his mercy further. Unsurprisingly, as he reveals “Yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih” (SB 10.88.8), I was showered with a series of material hardships – both personal and professional – in proportion I was never prepared to cope up with. Thankfully, He was there in the literary form to guide me along with Srila Prabhupada’s commentary. How I reached to accepting this conclusion is another story, but I soon concluded that I now want to only please Krsna in this life and lives ahead. Though this realization came too soon, I was neither sufficiently connected with devotees at ISKCON, nor I knew much about Srila Prabhupada whose work had already transformed my life. With no guidance from a bona fide guru, I started asking myself “Who do I serve to serve Krsna”. I prayed heavily to Krsna and he started revealing (or so I hope!) signals that I should serve children, especially those from distressed backgrounds such as those living in orphanages. I went ahead and started volunteering in two orphanages in Delhi.
Two months went by and my volunteering with children was marked with nothing but failures. In my past, it has never happened that children would drop out of my program but this time kids dropped out in dozens. Most importantly, I failed in my biggest mission – to instil a spark for the love of God amongst these children who have been kept away for several years from the love of God. I was in pain because I was failing in my service and started asking myself for the reasons of this failure. My mind gave many – children are not interested in spirituality, the time was too less, there should have been less gaps between the sessions and so on. Deep down inside, I knew those were not the real reasons.
The failures kept on humbling me with every passing day and finally, Krsna mercy continued. He led me to have a book in my hand that I consider as transformative as Gita itself: Srila Prabhupada-lilamrt. While continuing to embrace failures in my orphanage work, I started spending a lot of time visiting Vrindavana and learning about Srila Prabhupada’s journey. Page by page, the book changed my life, got me leaps closer to Krsna and connected me to a Guru whose life became a beacon of guidance and inspiration for my life ahead. Once I got connected with Gurudev, my journey of purification begin and it all started becoming clear to me as to why I so miserably failed in my recent seva. I realized that I had relied too heavily on my intellect and planning to transform these kids but I forgot to keep Krsna at the center of my work, as Srila Prabhupada would often tell. The impure me relied too heavily on my prudence than on Krsna’s will and mercy. Furthermore, I looked back at my work with the children and realized that I was too political and indirect while connecting them with Krsna, so much so that Krsna never become the nerve centre of my activities.
With these realizations, I started praying heavily to Krsna for his mercy leaving all my plans and intellect behind. Krsna’s mercy came way sooner than I expected and He blessed me with a service that a fallen, impure servant like me with no guidance from a senior devotee could ever deserve. This service came when one of my acquaintances who witnessed my work at an orphanage took me to a juvenile home for children under 18. This jail for children carried inmates who had apparently committed various degrees of crimes including those that may warrant life imprisonment or death if committed by an adult. I was just overwhelmed to see Krsna’s mercy and was clueless as to why I was sent here. Soon, I would know Krsna’s plan.
On my first day, I decided that whatever I may do, i will keep Krsna at the centre of my work here no matter what happens. My first day ended with a question to those kids “Do you know how to find real happiness, one that never ends?” They waited curiously for the answer. I said “When we give happiness!”. With a few more inputs, they were convinced and then I asked “Who should we give happiness first”. The discussion ended with the conclusion that we should give happiness first and foremost to God who created us all. I left them with a promise that tomorrow, we will do Kirtan and please God. They were all very excited.
Even though I had already received tentative confirmations from a few ISKCON devotees to conduct Kirtan, none of them were able to join me in the next few days. I somehow felt that waiting would not the best step and I finally brought a Kartaal I had at my home to the Juvenile home. I had absolutely no experience in conducting a kirtan or playing music. More so, I carry a visibly dull voice and we had no microphone system to conduct the kirtan in the allotted open space. The only thing that helped was the little experience of occasionally playing with Kartaal at home, while my father would sing Hare Krsna. As Kirtan began, Krsna’s mercy on me and those children started raining down on us. Our first kirtan lasted for one and a half hours and children were so lost as if they were longing for lives to hear hari-nam. That day, I wondered what can be more satisfying than this unaware of what Krsna is planning ahead.
For the next few days, I would visit the juvenile home every day and conduct Kirtan daily until one day when I could not visit for some reason. When I visited the next day, I was complemented by many staff members on the wonderful Kirtan “I” did yesterday. It turned out that the kids got together on their own when I failed to visit and they carried out a passionate, blissful Kirtan whose sound went farther ahead than that of my own Kirtan sessions. I was so touched to see Krsna’s mercy on these pure souls. A day later, it turns out that many Muslim kids had been attending Kirtan for the last several days. One of the Muslim kids requested if we should do Namaz too and we had our first Namaz together. What a satisfaction it was see harmony between Muslim and Hindu kids with many Muslim kids attending Kirtan and vice versa.
With Hare Krsna sounds all over the juvenile home, unexpected things started happening that may even qualify as magical. A kid who never believed in God and who had helplessly stayed in the jail for 6 months without any possibility of exit sat down in Kirtan for just an hour and sang with his whole heart. An hour later, he got his exit pass! This trend still continues and there have been several such cases of kids attending kirtan and praying heavily and exiting from the jail for good immediately after.
It has been five months since the first kirtan. If you visit here, you can attend Hare Krsna kirtan both in the morning and evening, often led independently by the inmates. The evening kirtan ends with Deep-Dan on the tune of Damodar-ashtakam that started with Kartik month but we continued it given its positive effect it had on the bhakti-bhaav in children. Many children now call each other “Prabhu Ji” and their anger level have gone down dramatically with many kids becoming exceptionally compassionate to every living soul. Many have left drugs. Many Muslim kids still attend and organize Kirtan and Hindu kids accompany Muslim brothers during Namaz. In the little temple we have here lies the picture of Prabhupad ji, whom many kids revere and take inspiration from. The most satisfying element of Krsna’ mercy has been that slowly and gradually, Krishna has now blessed me with a handful of devotees from the ISKCON family, each of whom is way pure than I am. Together, with this little team, we all are hoping to do justice to Srila Prabhupad’s expectations.
I feel that my story is the testimony to the fact that there is something bigger than purity and knowledge that qualifies one for the most ambitious service to Krsna, and that is, an ardent desire to serve. I am still so impure, and I don’t say this to sound or stay humble. I say that because I am still weighed down by my senses and my mind can’t resist finding faults but look at Krsna, he is so merciful that he ignores all my impurities and my continued failures to correct them. He just looks at my desire to serve him, which I know is the only positive thing right now I have in plenty.
Please pray that we do justice to the service that Krsna has blessed us under Srila Prabhupada’s guidance.