Its 10.30pm. I’m leaving Vrindavana in an hour, going by taxi to Delhi airport. Gathering my thoughts and making my last prayers. There’s a frantic knock on the door. As I open it, a humble but emphatic request shoots through: “please let me feed you!” It’s the middle-aged South Indian devotee who stays across the courtyard. I don’t know much about him, except that he always seems to be cooking; morning till evening he’s covered in kitchen stains. All week I’ve overlooked him. Another face in the holy place by my material estimation. In fact, if I’m honest, my critical mind wasn’t really impressed. Why spend so much time preparing culinary delights in the transcendental land where saints curtailed their eating and instead focused on spiritual practices? Vrindavana is the place to minimise bodily needs, I thought, and invest time in reading, chanting and praying. Take advantage of this sacred atmosphere and go deeper – cooking you can do any time. I was in for an eye-opener; one final lesson before leaving.
Unable to refuse his fervent request, I followed him behind the courtyard, only to find a makeshift kitchen with a stack of huge pots and a feast fit for 200 people! “It’s nearly 11.00pm and everyone is sleeping!” I said. Then he explained. Five years ago he left his ‘normal’ life behind and relocated to Vrindavana with the sole desire to serve the residents of this holy place. Since then, every single day, without fail, he cooks three huge meals, goes out onto the streets, and personally feeds the mendicants. “This is the happiness of my life” he said, “there is nothing else of value.” He sat me down, prepared a plate, lovingly served me, and then asked a favour. “You please pray that I can carry on this service” he pleaded. “I want to cook more and more and feed more and more!” During that meal, he expressed no other desire, aspiration, plan or hope for the future, other than the opportunity to feed the residents of Vrindavana for the rest of his life. Such eagerness, simplicity, purity of intent, and genuine desire! This is true wealth, I thought.
It reminded me of an ancient tale. Once, whilst bathing, a learned sage saw a scorpion drowning. He reached forward, earnestly offered assistance, only to be violently bitten. The scorpion fell back and continued to drown. Unfazed, the sage ventured forward and did the same, only to be bitten again. An onlooker was baffled by his persistence. “It is the scorpion’s nature to bite, so I don’t hold it against him” the sage said. “And it’s my nature to serve, so I keep putting myself forward!”
My friend, Mahesh Krishna, I’ll remember that final, crucial lesson. The desire to serve others has permeated your entire being. You’ve internalised that spirit. It’s become your nature. If that’s not perfection, I don’t know what is. I can’t remember the last time I made a sincere prayer, but I’ll try my best as a service to you. I’ll pray you continue doing what you’re doing. I’ll also pray to remember your example from time to time, and thus remember the essence of life.