I was nine years old. I saw my dad sitting at our ancestral desk writing a letter. Curiously I peeped over his shoulder to ask ‘who are writing this to?’ My dad replied ‘To your Paddu athai’. I was curious. She lived just a few streets away and we were going to meet her and the entire family that evening for a fun dinner. Why write a letter when he could say it to her in person? He explained ‘She has been honoured by the President of India with a Padma Shri title. So I want to write to her about how proud I am of her!’ He pointed to that morning’s newspaper that was carrying her photo along with a few others. Curiously I asked pointing out to the others, ‘Who are they?’ He must have told me their names, I don’t recall any of them. ‘Why is their photo also published?’ I asked. Yes ! I was (still am) a very curious child. He smiled and said ‘They have all received the Padma Shri award’. I didn’t like that – not one bit! Paddu athai’s name is Padma so they can give her a Padma award. How can they give other random people a ‘Padma’ award?
The evening was memorable with the entire family celebrating and laughing and sharing and hugging and kissing – oh yeah we still do all of that. The next generation may call it too much PDA (that’s Public Display of Affection, if you didn’t already know). But we were brought up to run and greet each other like we hadn’t met just half hour ago but a century ago; to sit on laps and pinch cheeks; pulling everyone’s legs and literally bringing the roof down with laughter.
The next day at school (I was in the fifth standard), an older student approached me to ask ‘Are you Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam’s niece?’ I got upset. First giving everyone ‘Padma’ awards and now everyone wanting to know MY aunt! Hey she was ‘My Athai’. How can anyone else claim to ‘know’ her! With a rude ‘She is MY athai’ I walked away. Recently, celebrating my aunt’s birthday I was sharing the memory of this incident and vehemently reiterated that I was still so possessive of her and was willing to compete, even with the grand children if I must, to lay first claim on ‘My’ athai. What a blessing to have you in my life Padduthai…
My first conscious memory of Krishna is watching her perform Krishnaya Tubyam Namaha. Soon I was learning from my dance gurus Shri Narasimhachari & Smt.Vasantalakshmi, to call little Krishna in the beautiful padam ‘Aadathu Asangathu vaa, Kanna’ for my arrangetram, still aged nine. Many a song and several stories later, Krishna grew to be my friend, my confidant, my beloved, my role-model, my co-conspirator of thoughts.
I was eighteen. My dad has a beautiful vast library with several hundred books – all of which he has read. In a passing conversation, he mentioned he had named me ‘Gita’ with this particular spelling because he had been reading Swami Chinmayananda’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita at the time I was born. Curiously I searched and found the book. I started reading. I know I didn’t understand anything. But I did make a show to my perima ‘this book is fascinating’. She gently smiled ‘It was just waiting for your approval!’ I sheepishly tried to recover, but anything I said just made it worse. So I defended – ‘I am not commenting on the book. I am saying it is fascinating to me’.
I wanted to drink as much of Krishna as possible. I read stories, commentaries. I listened to songs on Krishna – in many a language. I learnt and choreographed dances on Krishna. To me Krishna was every where. To my intellect, the most fascinating interpretation of Krishna was that of Osho’s. I simply devoured every nuance I could find on Krishna. And then it happened…
The auditorium was packed – as it has always been. The audience were mesmerised – as they have always been. The voice was potent. ‘Who are you Krishna?’ reverberated striking a chord so deep within that something responded. Every time he uttered ‘Krishna’, a little more of the delusion was removed. The question mark turned to an exclamation. ‘Who are you Krishna!’ Just reach out and you can touch Him… The energy was so palpable. With tears rolling down, in a daze I reached home in awe! My Krishna was with me finally, by the efforts and blessings of my Guru Mahatria!
The intellect understood the science of the prefix ‘My’ that changed all perceptions. Yet the possessiveness of the ‘My’ has always been perceived in narrow dimensions. Getting in touch with My Krishna was miraculous. Understanding expanded. Having cherished personal access to Rajan, it was hard to stand in a long queue to meet Mahatria. The launch of infinitheism gave me the insight into knowing that the Guru is not a physical person but a lingering presence. ‘My Mahatria’ was firmly enshrined within to guide me every waking moment and carry me through every unconscious step. His teachings were becoming a living reality in my life. I was finally very comfortable in the place I was in – connected to my source, centred in my life, with no apparent bondage.
And then something happened…
Its not easy being celebrities’ daughter. The world has an expectation or an image of them. Immature insecure minds can find a lot of disparity between the projected image and the actual reality. Every such disparity splits the mind to try validate the ‘real’ person behind the facade of the public image. With a family of celebrities, I have seen in very close quarters how their entire body language changes from ‘open’ to ‘guarded’ when they interact with the outside world. But what a loss it would have been to me if they chose to be ‘guarded’ even to me, merely living the image enshrined in the public eye?
I was watching a play on Manickavachagar. The story goes that the Minister Manickavachagar, spends the money allotted to buy horses in renovating and building a temple. The king imprisons the minister for misappropriation of funds. The Lord intervenes, makes foxes into horses and delivers them to the King. However, in the middle of the night they become foxes again. The minister is once again imprisoned and tortured. Alone in his cell, he feels the presence of the Lord. Crying from a sense of betrayal, yet still hanging on to his faith, Manickavachagar is hopeful that the Lord will redeem the situation. With a gentle laugh the Lord asks ‘What makes you think I have to live up to your expectations?’
The churning had begun. I had watched the play several months ago. My mind refused to accept that God can betray man’s trust. I refused to acknowledge that He had no obligation to fulfil man’s dreams. Like a child I argued in my head – if it wasn’t meant to be, why give that dream? To me, the opposite of that trust was losing hope – it meant I had to change my complete trust that God would stand by my side always.
The heart knows what the mind refuses to believe. My God didn’t need intellectual validation to be trusted. ‘I trust you because you will not betray my trust’ is still a condition. ‘I trust you because your plans for me never fail’ is surrender. God had been personalised to become ‘My’ Krishna. But He still fell within the scope of my definitions – He can’t betray my trust ! While the journey from a universal God to a personal one was indeed a much needed awakening in my spiritual progress, I now arrived at that point where ‘My’ God was no longer ‘My definition’ of God but rather ‘My acceptance’ of the Universal God.
If with God that is true, isn’t it the same for man as well? ‘My’ dad, ‘my’ mom, ‘my’ husband, ‘my’ daughter, ‘my’ aunt – these were no longer to be ‘my definitions’ of how I believed they ought to behave; ‘my’ perceptions of why they acted in certain ways; and ‘my’ judgement of how they had satisfied my expectations.
‘My’ padduthai is certainly an international star with universal recognition. But the richness of her being ‘my’ aunt comes from my relating to the personal side of her. ‘I want to watch you perform Bhagavad Gita again. Do you have any shows coming up Padduthai?’ I asked. She promptly replied ‘No shows scheduled right now. But come home and I will perform for you!’. She kissed my cheek as my eyes brimmed with tears. Now that moment is what makes her ‘My Padduthai’.
‘My’ Krishna may have been just a figment of my imagination. I danced on the dais to Subramanya Bharati’s song ‘Kakkai chiragunile Nandalala’ depicting how when I touch the fire and it burns my skin, I could appeal to him to make it go away. Yet deep into the night as I sat listening to the song, flowing with the emotions, I simply looked into His eyes and knew ‘Theekul viralai vaithal Nandalala, ninnai theendum inbam thondruthaiya nandalala’. It was never a question of getting burnt in the first place to seek His presence to heal the wound. You feel His presence and touch the fire without holding back. You don’t intellectually decide after you have a problem that ‘My Krishna’ will help me resolve. As you step forward to experience the event, you know without an iota of doubt WHATEVER it may be, it simply enhances experiencing HIM.
Written by Gita Krishna Raj | Published (with modifications) under the title “A Sacred Exploration’ in October 2015 issue of infinithoughts