A blissful morning meditation at Anandamayi Ma’s ashram in Vrindavan, sitting at the doorway to her bedroom, had us almost floating out to the car. The chilly air blowing in through open windows of an early December morning rippling through the waves of peace, love and joy in our hearts …
Five minutes later we were in hell!
Question: How long have you been here, Mataji?
Answer: Four Kumbhs have passed by, son.
The question was put up to an old widowed lady, Pushpa Mata, living in a room, 8 feet in depth and about 6 feet wide. Here she slept, cooked, ate and did her pooja at the altar (yes every home has an altar here) – four Kumbhs, each Kumbha Mela 12 years apart! – anywhere between 48-60 years she has been here … all alone!
Married off at 12 or 13, widowed a couple of years later, she was thrown out of her in-laws place sometime after that and landed up at Vrindavan as a teenager. Now at about 70, this sweet old lady waits nonchalantly for this life to end. Her daily income is from singing at the “Bhajanashram” – chanting center – where about 5 to 6 hours of chanting a day earns her Rs. 12/- With this she has to eat, pay rent, buy clothes and sandals, get medicines and save up for the days she is not well enough to walk to the bhajanashram. She even offered us tea at her place!
On the spiritual path you hear of life’s lessons. We learn, we move on. Right! How hard can one lesson be? What has this soul done to live this life? Is the lesson learnt? If not, then what? Back to this … or worse? Whoa!
She is not the only one, thousands upon thousands of these ladies have spent such hard lives here in this holy town of Vrindavan, the land hallowed by little Krishna’s feet as He played with His friends, killed demons, saved the people from floods, and grazed cows. One can almost hear His enchanting flute still wafting through the town. Such high, uplifting vibrations on one hand and these widows on the other? Talk about duality – ha! This one does take one by surprise.
It took a while to just look at the filth and abject condition of the living quarters without flinching. The nose stopped curling up at the stench; the mind stopped its fruitless analysis. The heart, petrified at the possibility of absorbing the misery around, closed tight – as if a shutter was drawn right across it. I had nothing to give …
How many ladies can I write here about? The one who has alternating head and stomach aches? When the headache is gone, the stomach ache starts and vice versa! The lady who has no money to get a hip replacement done and so has, for over 12 years now, lived with a broken pelvis. The lady who lost her mind (she is recovering now) many years ago when, as a proud mother of a lawyer son, she had her only child killed by the cops in front of her. They all live alone with no one to share their mental burden with; dragging their frail, ailing bodies painfully around town.
Yet, just sitting and talking to these ladies one cannot help but feel their devotion for the Lord and an acceptance of their situation that is not altogether passive. Their chanting is deeply devotional, filled with love. Their gratitude is unfathomable. The question to one lady, “Mata ji, do you have any complaints?” received the bright, spontaneous answer, “what complaint can one have when Hari (Krishna) lives with you?” The shine in the eyes, the straight spine and the glowing face suggesting that “Hari” is not just an affirmation for her but a tangible presence – He lives amongst them! His Lila here is a little different in the town He lived in during His boyhood years. What seems like hell at first sight is but a ground for rapid spiritual progress for these ladies. May they all learn their lessons well and move on to higher realms.