Thursday, November 6, 2008

India Journal, Part 4

In the West there is little or no contact between human beings except if they are colleagues, friends, family. The society is basically impersonal and increasingly so. In the US, you cannot even talk to a person when you call a business until you navigate thru a series of computer-prompted questions. In India, at least in Vrindavan, there remains a very personal level of exchange in every dealing. Buying fruit from a fruit seller who knows your face and you know his. His friendliness is part of your shopping experience. You get something extra when you go to purchase tangerines.

Vrindavan, being a small town or large village, allows for varieties of personal relationships. Even with the ricksaw wallas, who are immigrants from West Bengal and other parts of India, you can have a satisfying exchange. This trip being short, i decided to be generous with the ricksaw wallas, and rather than the usual practice of haggling and pre-negotiating a price before getting on a ricksaw, i paid them 50% more or even double what i thought the fair price was. That allowed me to be more friendly with them and to see their good qualities. When i paid them, many of them were touched that i gave them something extra. Some were just happy that they were not being treated like trash, that i was showing them a kind of respect by being generous. You know, it's only an extra 10, 20 or 30 rupees. Fifty cents. To them, it meant recognition, a small moment of appreciation.

Since i could not have a regular conversation with the ricksaw wallas in Hindi or Bengali, i could only look at their faces to read their reactions. Those faces showed character, dignity, humility or humor. For me, they were the faces of the struggle for existence, more real and honest and open than the faces i see in the West.

"Bhai Saheb," i called them, "brother sir." Although i was sitting behind them on a seat attached to their bicycle while they were pedaling thru Vrindavan, and although it was a commercial exchange-- their energy for my rupees-- still i felt some kind of personal connection with many of them. Although they were in a subordinate position and i was directing them and paying them, we were both sharing a moment of time together, each in our own way. It is an experience of human dimension and quality that i can't find anywhere else than in Vrindavan. Even the ricksaw wallas can be sages and yogis in Vrindavan.


Caitanya dasa said...

Your "kindness" to these rickshaw wallas, who are in their present position because of their very sinful past life activities, will be unkindness to devotees and other westerners who travel in India. Now, the rickshaw wallas will ask triple or even more price to any westerner they meet. There are different levels of charity, for different modes of material nature, if I remember properly...

jauvana said...

You would be lucky to drive a rickshaw in Vrindavan in your next life. Didn't Sri Uddhava pray to be born as a blade of grass in Vrindavan dham?

Is being grass less "sinful" than being a human being who lives in Vrindavan and who works to support himself and his family?

Who are you to judge the sinful past life activities of others?

And why do you even need a rickshaw if you are such a saint? Your holier-than-thou attitude shows just how much of a neophyte you actually are. Just because you read Bhagavad gita doesn't mean you have real knowledge.

Carlo Ananda said...

We need be be VERY careful how we deal with any Brijbasi, including rickshawallas, beggars, monkeys, dogs and pigs. For them it is their last birth just prior to returning to Lord Krsna's lotus feet and any offense is not tolerated, unlike in Mayapur.

The externally materially poor rickshawallas see us westerners as rich wallas who can easily afford to be a little generous. Once in Calcutta, when overcharged by a rickshawalla, I asked him in Bengali why he was charging me more that the usual rate. In a delightful moment of candor he replied, "See, saheb, you are a rich man and it is my duty to charge you more because if I did not my fellow rickshawallas would laugh at me." Paying a little more is part of our cost for the benediction of visiting India. Take it as a built-in blessing.

Regarding Caitanya dasa's abysmally ignorant view that Vrindavana's rickshawallas are so because of "their very sinful past activities" and negative comparison of them to devotees, the fact is that the lowest of Vrindavana's rickshawallas is greater than any visiting devotee I know. I should be so lucky next life to be born a rickshawalla in the Holy Dhama of Vrindavana!

In fact, I find Caitanya dasa's comments offensive in the extreme and I wonder from whom who he took instructions in Krsna Consciousness. Better he approaches his guru and humbly beg for rectification.

jauvana said...

A comment by Srila Prabhupada in a class in Vrindavan:
November 6, 1972, Vrndavana
Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.26
"So our land of Bharatavarsa, it is not ordinary thing to take birth in Bharatavarsa. Just see, practically, how many men, they are automatically circumambulating this temple. Even a common man."

So before offending the ricksaw wallas for their "very sinful past life activities," hear the words of a pure devotee. In addition to being born in Bharatvarsa, these humble men live in Vrindavan which makes them Brijbasis. They are poor, but your analysis of them is much more poor and miserly.

Babhru das said...

I'm right behind you and Ananda Svarupa on this one. I found that Caitanya das' comment really disturbed my heart. This is a sort of arrogance that Western (talk about your sinful birth!) ISKCON folks are infamous for. I'm sorry to see it persists after so many years.