Children of the Ashrama, by Raghunatha Anudasa
Breaking the Silence in ISKCON
Raghunatha's shocking essay, Children of the Ashrama, broke the wall of silence on gurukula abuse, bringing out information that had been kept well-hidden for years. Raghunatha wrote it in response to a letter he received from a friend. He explains, "What started out to be a couple paragraphs ended up growing into almost a hundred handwritten pages. However, in doing this write-up, I have put together the greatest firsthand insight to some—only some—of the poor treatment many of the students have had to undergo in many of the gurukulas. There are a couple places where I get a little dramatic, but for the most part, I simply state everything in the third person and in passing. Yet, this has proven to be a horrifying narration."
A Note About the GBC's Response
After publishing this story in his ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter (Vol IV, Aug. 1990, supplement, pp. 28-49), Raghunatha commented in his newsletter: "Virabahu prabhu [a GBC representative] has circulated this [essay] around to the GBC, which produced a muted response from most and grumblings about the essay and me from the rest. Hardly but a couple showed any personal concern which personified to me why all this happened in the first place. Hopefully, this will produce a sense of urgency in some of our readers for more such concern."
The full essay is presented here, lightly edited for continuity.
Vrindavana teachers and administrators:
Danudhara / Dhanurdhara
Raghu's oddysey through gurukula:
how Raghu came to gurukula
first hair cutting
punched with a "Nrsimadev" ring
sickness in India
Children of the Ashrama
Raghunatha (ex Swami (!)) was speaking to me last week and somehow you came up in the conversation and he said "You remind me so much of him (Raghunatha Anudasa)—you have the same sense of humor!" He's said it before actually. He's got a lovely baby boy now called Krsna Shakti and he seems to have calmed down a lot. For one thing, I don't feel like running and hiding every time I see him like I used to!
Raghu's reply: Children of the Ashrama
It is good to hear about Raghunatha's re-transformation as a nice guy. When he first went to Vrindavan gurukula, he was on e of the more favored teachers among the kids. He was fun. He was an excellent story teller—reading from Time mags. With his little purport lectures and great stories from movies, or personal experiences, etc. His powerful, muscular, six foot one inch frame and strong personality, naturally made him a very commanding kind of guy—especially to a kid of only thirteen, fourteen, or even fifteen years old—which I was in our first encounter. He seemed in many ways more attentive to and demanding about the kids needs then others like Dhanudhara (now Swami), the principle at that time.
He could also be a real charmer, something that surprised me. He was seemingly one of the most serious, first class, and meanest (as tough) brahmacaris I had met. But my, when he got around the kids mothers, he was the nicest guy in the world. He would have them in smiles or just laughing and all. What amazed me even more was how he could soothe resentments and dismiss all allegations about the gurukula. He could usually even handle the terribly incriminating accusations made against him. Between him and the rest of the teachers, they always managed to convince the parents or devotees that the few excessive isolated incidents of abusive treatment were over and done with.
On occasions though, if charm did not settle the matter, Raghunatha was sometimes known to resolve his differences by showing off what those eight years of Marine training had done for his build and arms. He was massive by devotee standards—what to speak of India's. Though allowed to witness his dazzling displays of charm and see the great guy that he is, I did not originally get to know him as such.
We first met upon my third return to Vrindavan, India, while there for some last schooling. The trip was part of my desperate and fading hopes to overcome an adolescence of illiteracy. Raghunatha had already been there for about 4 months. Kids sometimes wishingly recalled what a nice guy he first was, but by the time we met; he had already been fully mutated. According to Raghunatha Prabhu's most recent accounts, it was Dhanudara and the rest of the pack of teachers who skillfully crafted him into one of the most brutal, teacher-terrorist ever to bless the harsh history of ISKCON's Gurukulas.
While he was in gurukula, he blamed the misbehaved students for having brought about his monstrous transformation. I personally believe it was both teachers and students, plus a great number of other elements of the situation: the common attitudes of the movement and Vrindavan in those days which certainly seemed to attract, welcome and encourage abusive marine-reject like people; to many students per teacher; lack of privacy for students and teachers alike; the hardships of India for most Westerners; too many demands on many levels —fourteen hour days with the kids, etc. —for the teachers and students; and of course; Raghunatha's own unforgivable, outrageous, beastly outburst, etc. That "son-of-a-" marine sergeant is also most certainly responsible too.
I clearly remember that second day of my arrival while comfortably (by a great contrast to the gurukula) staying in the Krsna —Balarama Guest house. (I later found out, that some teachers considered my four day, guest house stay to be a rather contemptuous show of independence to the guru kula.) A daring friend sneaked out of the gurukula building (punishable by detention) just to worn me of sorts about this other Raghunatha Prabhu, or Big Raghunatha. Of course, I was concerned by this friends report, but I was desperate for an education. Vrindavan was my only option. Public Karmi school still as yet had not even cross my mind as an option —not until I was eighteen.
Before making this journey, I had also convinced myself, not to worry about my sever spells of terror/excitement from the culture shock and disorientation. These spells were always multiplied by my oppressively despairing sense of loneliness and helplessness. This was further exaggerated because mother was at best, hardly less than a months communication away. Then there was the common physical stress of India's harsh settings topped with sickness for most any visiting Westerner. It would all so splendidly gang up together and clobber me like a whole bunch of jumbo sized, tidal waves. I made a valiant try not to worry about these things —ha ha ha, ho ho, hi hi, yeah right.
And now that I look back upon it, Vrindavan gurukula teachers always seemed to have immensely enriched these purifying tribulations of my India stay. As my friend talked, I tried to pacify my fears and justify the wisdom of this bold decision. It was only made in my grandest illusions of being some stalwart devotee. I retreated into my fast, diminishing image as this tough, daring, experienced brahmacari kid. I was gurukuli, ready for any hardships, austerities and adventure. This was a seasoned response. This is how I dealt with such occasions when desperately stumbling around for some sense of personal resourcefulness in confronting life's endless adversities.
Besides, what is there that I could not handle. I have seen the worst of it or so I thought. I had been through five years of Dallas gurukula, plus two trips and three years of Vrindavan, India already. I was a seasoned devotee and survivor of gurukula, ISKCON and ready to confront any last tribulations that my karma could ceremoniously surprise me with. (The wisdom of youth at its best —rush right on in no matter what you have heard and know about the person, place or thing.) Hopefully and mistakenly, I thought I was therefore now tough enough for anything. I was not simply a spoiled American boy, but a hardened Vrindavan gurukula veteran seasoned by my experience from Dallas and the two previous trips to Vrindavan. I have learned since then not to bother daring Fate to test my manhood.
[Editor's note: To continue the discussion of the teacher Raghunatha, click here.]
Dallas was traumatic from the very first minute and remained dramatic until the very last minute when finally leaving for Vrindavana [India]. My welcoming party was twenty-five or so brats from ages five to twelve. Ironically enough, I would soon come to hold them as my very dearest friends in life. They gathered around as a teacher went through my belongings and ridiculed this seven year old's stained, karmi underwear, long hippie hair (which it was —about two feet actually), and my karmi photos of family and pets. Within days, lewd, exaggerated features started appearing on the photos. I am today sure that it was Vrindavan's [a friend's] creative work.
It was even worse when the photos started missing simply to show up circulated among the girls. The teachers saved me from any further harassment for my peculiar belongings and fashion. In a public assembly, they first confiscated most everything. For the most part they then re-distributed it or threw it away. It concluded with a generous offer to shave me up.
I made it quite clear I was not going to stand for any such "crew cut" with some freakish, wild-bush of hair exploding off the top of my head. The sikas in those days were really wild. Well, Hiranyagarbha didn't seem convinced and so I went and hid. They found me, thirsty, starved and terrified, a day and a half later in the corner of the book room, which had also served as my restroom.
I was freaked. It took four men to wrestle me out and down the stairs to the ashram. Once there, each grabbed a limb. A fifth man (Hiranyagarba) proceeded to shave me after firmly vicing me into a headlock. My loud screams only served as an emergency welcoming call for the entire temple of two hundred kids and adults to come running on down for the fun. It was the most pitiful and comically embarrassing, spectacle ever made out of a hair cutting ceremony.
The brahmacaris finally let go when the job was about half done. In classic dramatic crescendo, I turned over on my tummy, clenched my hair in a crying fit of rage and wailed out: "Oh, my beautiful hair." The concerned and bewildered crowd of devotees and kids finally broke out into uncontrollable laughter. It took years before friends finally stopped teasing me about it. I tried to use the incident to show off how tough I was, "Yeah, well it still took five guys to hold me down."
To my complete horror, I had become one of them. With that buzz-up went my own sense of identity and superior to the rest of those skin heads, as I called them. After that, like a student in any school and society, it was simply accepting and getting oriented to the lifestyle and rules of discipline. The discipline went through very short spells of easy going standards, to sudden radical measures of punishments. It was usually dependent upon the teachers of the time. One of the most notable undertakings was the smarana (which means "to remember" in Sanskrit) board. The smarana board treatment was a fanny walloping (as Devz put it) from a one inch thick, two feet long, one foot wide board. It came complete with three holes to allow for easy passage of air and handsomely architected with a handle for a teacher's firm grip.
The smarana board was introduced with a very impressive demerit system. It could also be counteracted by the later introduced (by some thoughtful teacher) "merits." It was something that went like: one whack per ten demerits. My God, could I scramble up those demerit "browny points" in a hurry. The teachers all had their own ideas of what made up "nonsense" or "offensive" behavior and how many demerits it was worth. In Bhagavad-gita class, one could get demerits for talking with another friend, forgetting to chant along in recital, which eventually ended up taking about an hour as we recited three or four chapters on the average; or failing to bring one's Bhagavad-gita.
I especially hated when they started experimenting with a monitor system. They did this by rotating some of the older kids to stare over the rest of us. These young teens were to decide when we were not chanting or something. They always picked a kid who really enjoyed awarding me with all sorts of those little checkmarks.
In another class, one would get demerits for fighting in class, something I was always doing; having to use the bathroom before break; not finishing some homework assignment or "spacing out." Spacing out was a broad term. It could include anything from drawing pictures in one's notebooks to playing with some frantic, friendly, momma-size, cockroach who decided to crawl on up in their day's field trip or scurrying for shelter under our saris or dhotis [religious pants]. They had thousands of those "flying dates" exploring our place.
Of course, the ashram teacher was not going to be left out. They established their own terms as well: getting out of line, being late for mangal-arotik [4:30 a.m. worship service], playing with the girls (usually in some trivial way), sleeping —nodding out during japa [chanting] or Srimad Bhagavatam class, leaving one's shelf a mess (which really had to be quite messy. There was an extremely simple if not sloppy standard of neatness), not finishing all of one's prasadam [food], spending too much time in or at the shower (should one have the rare chance for a hot shower —anything not freezing cold. The hot water boiler was usually empty), not showering after taking an "unloading" in the "stool room," or wetting the bed.
Actually it was sheets not beds. We slept in sheets on the tiled, cement floor in the basement. Some brilliant and caring mataji [woman] decided on sewing the three sides of the sheets to keep us from rolling out. And boy did we have some real steam rolling, rollers. Several kids were known to regularly journey over two or three friends in a single night of their restful sleeping. Every morning, most ended up at least one or two squares away from the three by four foot painted and numbered boxes that designated our twenty or so sleeping spaces on the floor.
To keep a uniform standard, sheets replaced the sleeping bags. Sleeping bags seemed too expensive to buy for all the students. Also, we had so many pee-ers. They kept water-logging their sleeping bags. These guys literally flooded their areas so much that it also pee-logged those of their fortunate friends sleeping nearby. Sheets were just much more practical for regularly washing. As unbelievable as it may seem today, I can't remember ever being cold or uncomfortable while sleeping under these rather simple sleeping arrangements.
Every day offered new revelations to several more of the hoards of deviations that could translate into demerits for our stockings of punishment. It must have worked because I went from forty to fifty a week, to about ten. Rarely, did any of the teachers really give everyone a point each time they stepped out of line. Rather, a system had finally been worked out. It allowed a broad range of activities for a teacher to choose from when they felt a kids' attitude needed to be rectified. Of course, there were those nerd-balls that would mark all the little mistakes. The stress was not so much how many swats we got. It was the paranoia that it created in many of us so much of the time.
This merit and demerit system introduced by Hiranyagarba and Dayananda (I think?) was one of the best discipline systems that I can remember Dallas ever having. It took the immediate punishing out of the teachers' hands, which in retrospect seemed to have been quite valuable in many ways. It checked many cases of those (sometimes understandable) outbursts of frustration by requiring a lapse of time before the punishment was given. It then had to meet with the principal's approval, since he was the one doing the whacking. The punishments were much less personal because it was the principal and not the disgruntled teacher swinging the rugby bat.
The principal could also better understand just how stringent was a teacher's discipline. This was a great extra precaution for monitoring the teachers —a substantial safeguard if the principal happened to be even half sane. It also allowed the students discipline to be dealt with as a one unit factor. This was better than having some hyper kid (not to mention myself) getting pounded on by every teacher they happened to upset. Such discipline cases could then get special attention. Once in a while, this merit/demerit system really proved a very meaningful system of checks and balances in great contrast to the other faces of discipline that have shown up in gurukula's history.
Before and after this system, punishments assumed a variety of creative measures. For example, Hiranyagarbha's constant and really hard, free for all batting with the stick, which were really mini-boards. There was another teacher who locked kids upstairs with "monsters" in the pitch black and "haunted" attic. This I know was being done on occasion with Bhavatsastra. I will save the ghost stories for later. Sometimes it was under the stairs—lid-locked in one of those big, plastic, trash barrels for those who were "really bad." Not to worry, they put a few nail holes in it for air.
I remember seeing Krsna-kumari put this little boy over her lap. It was in front of the coed class of at least ten if not fifteen or more kids. She pulled up the dhoti of this five or six year old and repeatedly slapped his naked behind. He had a naked behind except of course for the brahmin underwear strap that ran his fanny checks. What made it so outstanding in my mind was this great little kid's sense of pride. He was too proud to cry in front of the girls even though he was such a young boy. Of course, she kept on slapping away until he just finally broke down into tears.
In the very early days, there are such reports as [this student's]: made to go through the day's activities with a dead cockroach pasted to his nose, crowned with a paper hat and signs posted on his chest and back that read something like: "I am a dog, a fool, and a liar." It was supposedly a Dinatarine d.d. [one of the teachers] special.
One teacher was to have made a kid lick up his own urine for failing to hold it until the end of class, though warned to do so. Raghunatha (the teacher from Dallas who was last staying in New Vrindaban and married to Sulochan's wife), would beat the kids until they had bruises that would last for many days, if not weeks. It seems I remember that Visvareta was known to do the same.
One very resented requirement was the mandatory diet. For lunch, that meant everyone had to "honor" at least two cups of dahl, a ladleful each of rice and subji, plus two chapatis. How seemingly yummy it may not have been was hardly an excuse for failing to honor it. Also, one had to be really careful not to take too much. Not finishing every grain meant saving it for the next meal. We had three meals a day. There was breakfast in the morning which was usually the favored: oatmeal or some kind of hot cereal. Lunch at one p.m., grossed out some number of us everyday, for some it was the sweet potatoes for example. For the evening we had hot milk and oranges, a real tummy settler. I remember one time when, Dwarkanath made me fast for almost three days until I finally gave into finishing this horrible, gross, disgusting dahl.
My most hated punishment from Mandaleswara were his long running favorite: snapping the knuckles with a cut broom handle, or cupping the hand for slapping the ear. These two were generously given on a daily basis to at least a couple students. It took a few times before getting less worried he was not really breaking the knuckles or hand. It does seem there was one case of a child ending up with some broken bones. The ear slapping terrified me. One time he cup-slapped me so hard with his wet hand that my ear actually went numb. It was deaf for several days. I think that really shook him up, at least enough to fade his cup-slapping out of his usual repertoire for disciplining. He moved his slaps to the cheeks. It seemed he did have a genuine appreciation of me as a devotee. That meant a lot to me and was a great contrast to one of the more heavy handed teachers from my Dallas experience —Jitaparan.
Srila Prabhupada [ISKCON's founder and guru] had come through Dallas for a second or third time and once again put a stop to their barbaric punishments. With it, went the smarana board. Well, the older boys (Jagaman, Jagadananda, Katyayana, Markamangala, Stavya, etc.) managed to hide, destroy or throw away some ten of them smaran boards. Prabhupada's instructions had finally put a stop to it. Prabhupada recommended that all a teacher should really have to do is simply show the stick, a small bamboo rod. If it required much more, it was probably a sign a child was not engaged properly.
As Prabhupada saw it, it probably meant it was the wrong environment of studies instead of working with animals or working at some business or something more suited to the child's own propensities. Out went the smarana board, in came the bamboo rod. Expectedly, it was used for more than simply showing off. And so once again, the older boys went to work hiding, destroying etc., the rod(s) of chastisement. Bamboo was not conveniently replaced in the U.S. Not to be left empty handed, cut broom handles substituted.
Jitaparana was in no way sparing with his broom handle. Nor did he bother wasting time as other teachers did, trying to home in on the fanny or back. It could be a tricky feat since the kids would gyrate through these impressive and sometimes amusing modern dancing displays. These little dances of terror came complete with their own songs of pain and fancy foot work.
Jitaparana was not even shy about flying this witch handle around in public. One thing of great importance to him was that we sat completely straight at all times. He would insist on this policy even during Bhagavatam class by pounding away on our spines when we hunched over. Finally, Jagadish (now Maharaja and then minister of education) found the constant dull thud and resentful sighs of pain too distracting for class. He took the bold step of telling Jitaparan to stop it.
In Dallas gurukula, Jitaparan was a hot drummer on the mrdanga and soon realized that a few slaps of his hands alone could effectively do a stick's job. It would also get him in less trouble than a stick. Deplorably, each and every time he went to slap my cheeks, my damn shoulders would get in the way. I couldn't help it. It was like trying not to blink or something. Having my dear, stupid friends think that it was pretty funny, didn't help the situation any. Instead, it turned into a spectacle as he wrestled me to the floor, sat on my chest, finally pinning my shoulders down and out of the way. And about getting that slap, well he decided to throw in a few extra.
In spite of most anything else that can be said of Dallas, it is still pretty light hearted compared to Vrindavan, India. In my own experience alone, torture (?) discipline took on a new range of experiments. Jitaparan started my Vrindavan experience with his pin down slapping sessions. By then I was eleven and could much better resist. One day, he once again lined everyone up for a slap. We all had made noise while putting out our wooden desk for class while he was trying to nap. When my turn came up, I had a problem with my shoulder again. This was his cue to start wrestling me. After unsuccessfully trying to get me off my feet for two to three minutes, my dear friends once again started laughing about it. This really got him angry. He started swinging and so I ran out to our pent house porch and almost thoughtlessly crawled over the side of the railing.
The temple president, Hihi, happened to be walking by with a distinguished family of Indian life members. They all looked up, and low and behold; there was some eleven year old white kid jumping back and forth between two porches on the fifth floor of the guesthouse. In full brahmacari regalia, I was desperately hanging onto the railings, while squealing at the top of my lungs, while resisting two teachers from pulling me in. He calmly shouted up, "Raghunatha, what are you doing?" I started blabbering on: "The teachers are beating us and I don't want to get beaten and they're going to beat me if I go back in." He told me not to worry, that he would be right up. Jitaparan was gone two days latter. This was mainly do to the kindness and notable influence of the wonderful Bhagaji, my grandfather away from home, or at least my grandfather for Vrindavan.
Manihara was the next really great guy to have the biggest and long lasting impact on the forms of discipline Vrindavan gurukula would revert to. He started reasonably enough with the usual no sweets or the other favored prasadam; standing in the corner for what seemed to be hours; and sitting on the bank of the Yamuna while everyone else went swimming. These kinds of measures he found too soft. He quickly worked on some new ideas. He tried sending the kids out into the winter mornings on the porch for not chanting. We responded by hiding blankets out there and going to sleep.
He turned to engaging the kids by having us wash the bathrooms. If we didn't finish before the next meal, and none was left over we missed the meal. The gurukula only had two, so he volunteered us to clean all the stool rooms on the whole fifth floor. Well, if we had a test or something, just misbehave and we could play around in the bathrooms.
It took a while, but he finally understood what was going on. Manihara instead decided to lock us up in the four by five by six food bathrooms. For myself, I would usually end up going to sleep. I could sleep even after he made sure there was no sheets or dhotis to use against the cold, usually damp if not wet, cement shower floors. He came to realize we were resourceful enough to keep ourselves comfortable (if not entertained) for twenty minutes or forty-five minutes, etc. He responded by extending it to one and a half or two or sometimes even three hours (possibly more). Now that definitely really bothered us. To add another touch, he started hiding us in different bathrooms around the building. By this, no friends could talk to us or sneak in a pen and paper or something else to busy ourselves with or cushion our fannies, etc.
This still did not prove strong enough and so he threatened us with his long walks. It was to some farmer's fields where no one would hear us screaming as he beat us to a bloody pulp. It was a bluff. It was exposed after taking a couple of us on one. He resorted to another means which proved to be the most ingenuous, long lasting trade mark for physically punishing us with out laying a finger on us. He also instituted the same in New Vrindaban.
One day, he gathered all the kids into a room. He then had the group beat up the misbehaved for him. He tried a couple of more times. He threatened to again punish us should we have dared to fight back. Nor could we later take revenge against anyone who really hurt us while punching, kicking and slapping us on his behalf. One time he had a group of boys waiting for me on the back porch. He threw me out there for a beating by them.
I scared the hell out of all of them and myself. In a mad rage, I made this diving leap over the railing of this fifth floor porch. I just barely managed to grasp the sewer pipe that was about three to four feet away. The pipe ran the height of the building. I used the pipe to climb to the first floor where Aksoiyananda Maharaja was staying. I was badly scraped up from the sharp edges of the little stones that filled the cement which plastered the wall. I hid with Maharaja for about two or three days before being discovered. Boy, where the teachers scared until finding me. Then they were angry. The porch was from then on, off limits as a place to try and corner me for any punishments.
My pears saw such daring incidents of total fear and/or anger to be one more act of brave defiance on my part. It really was not meant to be defiant. It was just the way I would thoughtlessly react. However, it was an image that rewarded me with a hero's stature to my friends, a sense of pride for my desperate acts and unfortunately, one that also held me captive to that image. It victimized me not to more carefully shy away from such predicaments. At the same time, in left me with another image. From a teacher's perspective, it was viewed as yet more examples to the outrageous displays of a rascal's defiance.
Many times in these gang rallies, some kids like Deva Deva would not hit the accused or very gently do so. Manihara took care of that. He started lining the boys up to have each of us slap the condemned. If the slap was not hard enough, the kid would have to slap again, sometimes several times. Eventually, Manihara turned to blind folding us so the rest would feel more bold in going about these mob sessions. Not being able to throw your hands up to defend, not being able to at least see the blows coming, adds a whole other dimension of tortuous disorientation to this misery.
Manihara expanded upon the idea by using a stronger kid to beat up the weaker, if the weaker was a problem. So was introduced the first of Vrindavan's monitors, Bhakta Vatsala, by Manihara. I confidently say it was specifically motivated for the purpose of bullying the other kids by a student. This and Manihara's other politics intensified the fighting between us and allowed a scary free reign to a couple of mean bullies. Just for one example, there was this six foot, seventeen year old, Katyayana, who one day took his sannyasi wooden sandal and heaved it at me with all his might. It hit me right in the back of the shoulder. Katyayana did it in plain view of all the teachers who looked on passively. It left my shoulder useless for at least a week. I was about 12 at the time.
It was around this time that I was identified as a discipline problem. I traced it to Yasoda-nandana's (then Maharaja) arrival to the gurukula scene. He officially marks the beginning of my very long list of people I absolutely adored but under no circumstances could ever win favor from. Usually, I only ended up with their disdain. Yasodanandana just fell in love with my great friend, Lila Smaran. Lila was quite a spunky young boy himself. Yasoda-nandan could only blame Lila's mischief on our bad association —Deva Deva, Jagaman, and myself. So started the first systematic campaign of removing these bad influence(s) that I alone were to come to best personify in many gurukula's over the next decade.
For Vrindavan's first few years, Manihara was one of the main captains to chart the course of gurukulas discipline style. By the time we moved from the Krsna-Balaram Guest House into the gurukula building, Manihara was on a role. The gurukula building had five huge bathrooms to be cleaned, three stories of floors, and dozens of rooms. In short, he had a vast increase of things to engage us in. With the building came more students, older and bigger students and some more teachers.
One of my lifes greatest nemesis arrived at this time. He was the seventeen year old, six foot two inch, Govinda-nanda. He was later initiated by Satsvarupa Maharaja as Gaura-purnima. Yasoda-nandana doted upon Govinda and Lila with the special favor and affection as the first of his aspiring disciples. (Yasodanandana was obsessively crazed with this ambition to be a guru. It seemed he was just as furiously beaten down by the GBC not to be one. Most of the kids were aware of how edgy it had made him.) With lots of ideas and encouragement from Manihara, Govindanandana was unofficially designated to protect Lila Smarana from bad association which especially included me.
For Govinda Nandana, this translated into a license to endlessly harass Raghu. He had been trained to despise me. It began with things like ruining the only best and new dhoti of mine with mud. He was also allowed to interrupt any of my discussions or other interactions with other kids. I was officially banned from talking with any of my friends with out specific permission and supervision of a teacher.
I did not attentively submit to many of the rules in spite of the punishments and this made me impossible. The gurukula was getting $10 to $20 grand a month from my Mata's valiant and dedicated sankirtan collections. The teachers could not deal with me, but I guess I was almost worth keeping for the money. They gave up on me, moving me to a private room to the other side of the building from the rest of the kids. A private room was only privileged by the Minister of Education, Jagadish; and the Principle, Dr. Sharma.
Raghunatha's 14th Birthday
After meeting with only hostility from me in such confrontations, Govinda decided to step up his harassment. One of the most disheartening was his wake up call of Happy birthday before throwing this big bucket of cold water on me in the early hours of that freezing winter morning. It was my only birthday present of the day. Still, it turned out to be the most memorable one. I turned fourteen. That gangster then locked me in that unheated, cement room which also had a broken window. I was only left with my dripping wet sleeping bag and all my clothes that served as my patting/mattress. Everyone else was in the morning program. Finally, I smashed through the mosquito screen to open the door. There was a bet I would destroy something in the room by a certain date. It was an allegation I wanted to prove wrong. Well, I had just proved them right.
I promised Govinda Nandana this meant war. To me that meant hiding a great pair of shoes or something really terrible like that. He must have taken this thing a bit more seriously. Just a couple days later, the teachers went to Delhi for the day. Govinda and a couple of his friends took advantage of this to get me. They started their operation while the rest of the schools kids were taking their afternoon nap. Asesa bribed me into a room where a gang of about five; jumped me, gagged me, blind folded me, tied my hands and feet and then tied the feet and hands together. I could not stand and only uncomfortably sit.
The promised not to hurt me if I would not scream —and what an amazingly loud scream I had. It was a well practiced one. When I screamed, I was heard, but I agreed not to. By then, I didn't really have much of a choice actually. They then ran a long wooden pole through my tied hands and feet. From there I was quietly paraded through the hallway and to the unused bathroom on the next floor above. Dangling from the pole like an animal was bad enough. But, then they started dragging me along the cement floor and stairs —mainly because they couldn't carry me. They pretended like they were only trying to mistreatment me further. Once in the upstairs bathroom; I was further tied to a running faucet and had bottles of die poured over me.
The bathroom as always, was really cold just like the water. What made it especially intolerable was the sting of electricity that always ran through the water. Indians have this unusual tendency to ground the electric wires by the water pipes. The guys first locked the shower stall, then again locked up the bathroom with a master lock. The lock was an extra precaution should someone chance that way and hear me in that uninhabited and unused part of the building. They wanted to keep me there for at least several hours thinking that would humble me.
I was convinced that I was dislocating my wrist as I pulled it from the straps of brahmin under[wear] that tied them, but I was angry. Actually, I liked the idea of that. I would finally have something to show. I would have a serious injury to hold up as the result of all the cruel treatment I was getting. I pulled with all my might, I gnawed with my teeth, I tried to rip and break the underwear straps which bound me. In 10 minutes I was free. I climbed the foot foot shower stall wall and crossed the room to the bathroom's airshaft that led outside. I pulled the glass out, crawled through the ceiling opening and jumped the one story height to the four food cement ledge below.
The unexpected escape simply endeared me all the more to my friends. They saw the episode as another failed attempt by the teachers and their guns to tame me. It also further agitated Govinda Nandana. I responded by becoming all the more irreverent with him. Later, I found out this little escapade was actually once again instigated by the teachers and so leaving me to now guess it was Manihara.
Govinda decided: "no more nice guy." A few days later, he had several boys surround me, two boys on each arm. As he approached, he pistoned his fist way back for a stomach blow. If he wanted to scare me, believe me I was. Almost without thinking, this one leg and foot came shooting up from no where. It came really fast and really hard. To everyone's amazement, Govinda's legs just folded from underneath him as he grabbed for his balls and quietly screamed. He laid there curled up on the floor crooning. Wow! We all discovered just how effective that kick really is. I pulled my right arm free and punched Ekendra with it. Ekendra was by now half heartedly trying to hold the arm.
I was dumfounded by what I did to this giant opponent. That did not stop me from running and getting the hell out of there. I reappeared only after Yasodanandana had returned from (?). Some how, I thought of Yasodanandana as a protector. I wanted to believe it. Here is a great example to the liability and absurd side of childish innocence. Yasoda was so much of everything I wanted to be: lean and mean, strong, well versed in the philosophy, well spoken, exceptional memory —especially for sanskrit verses, great kirtan leader, well respected by the devotees and Srila Prabhupada, very wealthy, renowned preacher, quiet popular with the matajis and a well shaped sannyasi with a thin waist and broad shouldered. I constantly tried to imagine I was the same way, just the younger version. He was a devotees version of super-sannyasi-man or at least my childhood, devotee version. However, this superman was not going to come to my rescue. He did offer for me come directly to him should there be any problems from the other boys. Yet, under Maniharas prodding, Yasoda was the one strongly encouraging these older boys on. How blind I was.
I could see Yasoda on the other side of the building. He was sitting there surrounded by his gang. Foolishly, I thought I could get those other boys in trouble. After the bathroom incident, Yasodanandana told all of them just to leave me along. As I saw it, they had just disobeyed him. As I approached, they all ignored me as he did. I started rambling on about what happened. "Where did you go?" He sternly interrupted. "You were told not to leave the building with out permission?"
Yasodanandana uses a "Nrsimha" Ring as Brass Knuckles
I was bewildered with disbelief. ". . . but, but Maharaja, they were trying to beat me up." "You kicked him in the grown" he hollered back as he got up. He dragged me by the arm to the bath room as he continued to berate me. He spiced up his points with sharp, stinging slaps. In the bathroom, the lecture continued as he waited for Manihara to bring his rings. He asked for his two biggest ones. One was of solid silver, crafted with a large lions head and fitted with good sized diamonds in the eyes and mouth. He called it Lord Nrsingadev. The other was this nearly inch long and half inch thick, emerald that was set to a solid and very thick gold ring. After putting them on, he pounded me all over the body with them as I useless tried to protect myself. His point was not to hurt another devotee —especially by kicking them in the genital area.
Before this incident, I could never have imagined fighting Yasoda. By the time he finished, I had reached my breaking point. I was so angry I didn't scream. I did not want to give him that victory. He hollered a couple more minutes worth of tidings and finally left my there locking the bathroom door behind him. No way was I going to take that. I didn't care who he was.
For the next twenty minutes, I kick the door as hard as I could. The screaming tantrum I tried didn't seem to have any effect. The pounding door echoed so loudly throughout the entire building that finally they responded. They threatened to beat me more should I not stop immediately. I demanded them to let me out now. I locked the door from the inside to keep them out during these negotiations. Manihara then pacified me and bribed me into opening the door. As I did, they rushed in with a rubber hose and rubber shoes. I was licked with those rubbers for the next four or five minutes until they finally beat me into silence. They left, again locking me in there.
The endless dimensions of anger are amazing. Just when you think to have reached the breaking point and feel you can't be pushed further, angered more; you find you can be. No other experience better exemplified the point. I was seething in utter rage with every ounce of strength and all of any emotion I was capable of. I went to the bars of the bathroom window and held them. (The bars were pout on all windows through the building. It was to keep out wild monkeys and thieves. It was mockingly said to be for keeping in the guru-kulis. The bars made it look like a prison school.) I found myself spitting foam as I screamed to myself —my loudest, quiet scream ever. I pulled and pushed at those bars with all my might. I yanked and shook and I cried. After about 10 minutes of this, one of those half inch thick bars suddenly broke loose from its frame.
Instantly, I forgot my anger and stared blankly at what I had done. My God, I was bending bars now. This is certainly going to look great to my friends. A thousand ideas instantly flooded my mind. Break the hinges off the door with it, or better; get Manihara in here again and flog him as hard as I can. I graphically saw how I would beat him blow by blow. I played it out a hundred different ways. "I will start with the legs, then the head, but maybe start with the head or maybe just break his arms and legs. No, don't do any thing lethal."
The idea of that was so completely possessing. I started thinking: "Krsna gave me this weapon for a reason." I flashed through the dozens of stories where Lord Rama and many others are equipped with weapons for the mission at hand. In all of these stories, weapons always come in unusual ways. Was this now my sign to punish these miscreants of injustice? I did not seek this weapon. It literally fell into my hands. I made my way to the door to start kicking it again. That would certainly get them to give me another visit.
But doubts set in. I could not really think of doing any real harm to Yasodanandana but then, what if he comes instead of Manihara? What if both come? Maybe this was Krsna only daring me. Maybe Krsna was taunting to see if I really wanted to kill these guys. I had so completely and so intensely wished for this and nothing but this for a solid ten minutes. I did so with all my heart and all my soul —with every fiber of my entire being. "If that is what you really want, here you are," Krsna seemed to be saying. Not that he was giving His approval, but rather, Krsna seemed to only be facilitating my desire. I can remember how struck I was at that moment by the power of desire.
The realities of actually killing some one or crippling them even temporarily also began to set in. The thought weighed on me so heavily, I remember having to sit down against the door. Then I reviewed the potential of this act: I would have to run away, it could turn into a national search, Indian prisons, Oh my God. Anything I had been through was only kids play in comparison. No way. What about my karmi relatives. They would have such a bad impression of Prabhupada's movement. Both my dear grandmother and my mata would be so anguished. Actually, these two played a most important influence on many of my decisions in life.
Countless times, I shied away from situations of potential liabilities only because of these two. On those occasions, were it not for them, I would have rushed in. I backed down because I could sitrringly imagine them endlessly crying should I be afflicted by some ill fortune that could not be hidden from them —such as landing in jail or being crippled. Even to this day, most of these exploits I have kept to myself. Actually, this is true for the majority of the gurukulis. We have told very little. Much of what is being presented here will come as quite a surprise to Mother. Even this is simply a very small summery. The stories can all be verified by the names mentioned, which is why I have listed them. Never would my Grandmother have ever guessed. Even with this influence of concern for them, still, I was pretty dangerous.
Flashback to How Raghu Came to Dallas Gurukula
Once, I saw my most kind hearted grandmother utterly devastated and crying uncontrollably by my side. The experience has haunted me through out my life. I never wanted to cause her such pain of sorrow again. It happened when Mother kidnapped me from Grandma's house. My mother was bringing me to Dallas gurukula. We were at the airport waiting for the plane with just minutes to go before the boarding call. Then Grandma shows up with (her son) my dad and an aunt. Mother had sent Grandma Angie to do some shopping. While she was away, mother packed a few of my belongings and rushed me to the airport. Grandma was literally horrified to find us gone when she returned home.
Four anxious, three furious, two crying adults, the most important ones of my life, were all tragically broken hearted over me and furious with one another because of me. Finally they decided that this seven year old should settle their differences: "What do you want?" they asked. I could see in the faces of all of them, the hope I choose one of them over the other. It was a decision I had to make immediately. Worse, I was not really sure of what was going on. Yet, it turned out to be the most momentous decision of my life. "Well, I can go with mother for a few weeks and come back." I offered. Ha Ha Ha, Ho Ho Ho, Yeah right —"a few weeks."
About a year before, Dad and Mom had left me tot he care of friends. It was a community of hippies in the Pennsylvania countryside called Delaware Watergap. By winter, most all of the hippies had left behind those houses of no heating, electric or running water. The Valley had been condemned by the government as part of their callous efforts to build a dam against the mannerly protest of the conservative families that used to live there. The most prominent family of the area were my own Mothers parents.
To one extent or another, my Grandfather had built most all the houses in that area. The government condemned The Valley as one more device to rid the middle class families from their homes for minor reinvesment. My Grandfathers small estate was immediately reduced to well over half its value. It was one huge stone house filled with the best wood available. About 30 yards behind it was a similar structure half the size: the Guest House. It was beautifully set up against a steep hillside forest on the one side with a landscaped, front yard the size of a football field on the other. It was done almost entirely by hand and mainly by the hands of my Grandfather. The government further reduced its value by about a third, when accidentally damaging its foundation while mining near by. The government was not content simply to destroy this life long dream of my Grandfathers and destroy his life along with it. They then made my grandparents fight for the little bit of money promised them. My grandparents waited for ten years as it was dragged through the courts. It worked. The families moved out for practically no re inversment. The hippies however, moved in. First as a cause, and then more and more, because it was turning into the states best place and facility for their life style.
By winter time though, I was left pretty much to myself. Different hippies, a couple at a time, would come and go ever few days. It was a hillbilly,, hunter fellow that took care of me. He would usually check up on me several times a week and drop off a few supplies of potatoes, etc. Fried potatoes —usually half cooked and soggy —was about all I could make at five years old. Therefore, it was all I really ate for many weeks. My Grandmother had rescued me from there and ever since then, pampered my every wish. I was treated like a prince. One day after about nine months, mother reappears at Grandma's door —as a Hare Krsna. Two days later, we were at the airport. Grandma was there crying so hard I asked her: "Are you going to have a heart attack." Never again would I do that to her—make her cry for me like that.
Well, back to the window I went. Beating Manihara up with the bar would cause Grandma as much heart burn as it may Manihara. He was saved by Grandma. I instead used the one iron bar to pry another from that frame. I think that to this day, the bars still have not been replaced. There was now enough space for me to climb through it. The window was 3 stories from the ground. I may have jumped but there was this big pile below. It was huge slabs of bricks set in concrete. I would have definitely broken a few things —if not the rubble, then definitely some bones. I could accept the idea of breaking arms and legs. No way, was into breaking or chancing something that would handicap me for life, like my knee caps. Nor was I so willing to permanently scar my face or damage my head.
Back to the Window
Still, I had to give it a try. I took my dhoti off and tied it to the only other piece of cloth in there —another dhoti. I tied them to one of the bars. I then almost climbed the length of the dhotis. Even hanging from there, it still left me a good one and half stories more to jump. I would not really be able to reach the only cleared spot of ground I saw.
For the first time, I became extremely self conscious. These India worker ladies seemed very entertained with this fourteen year old just dangling from a window by a dhoti, stark naked accept of course for his brahmin underwear. I could see myself getting seriously hurt and left completely helpless. To be so helpless and only covered by copans, with all these women around me was just too much. I started climbing back up.
Now, I was really terrified. I could hardly hang on, what to speak of climb back up. My hands and feet were slipping like crazy and maybe too so was the dhoti knot. If I fell now,I would have fallen on my back —extremely painful and probably fatal. Lord, how I desperately prayed to be allowed to the window again. By the time I reached it, my heart was pounding like a bouncing basket ball and I was sweating like a wet sponge. I was so over joyed to be back in there. I was almost audibly thanking Krsna.
After, I remember sitting in the corner thinking long and hard about death. In short: If I died, would I go back to Godhead. According to the philosophy, to commit suicide or die intoxicated, asleep, angry or terrified, etc., will generally leave one to roam in the after life as a ghost. Maybe, I would come back as the powerful brahmaraksasa ghost and torment all these guys. The idea of having those crow legs really grossed me out. No, it was not worth it. I finally decided to get even, the Druva Maharaja way.
By the prowess of my austerities, I was going to entice Krsna to get me the hell out of there. I sat in the lotus position, closed my eyes, and held my breath. That didn't seem to be going any where, even after about four tries. After turning nearly purple in the face, I decided on chanting brahmasamhita verses. In the Krsna Book, the demigods could get Visnu's attention by chanting the Purusasukta prayers. I didn't know them and so opted for the Brahmasamhita verses. The problems was still something of same, I only knew nine or ten of them. Well, have to work with what you have. I said them about thirty times. I then changed to Druva's verse: "om namo bhagavate vasudeviya." It calmed me completely. Maybe it was just the exhaustion of the past 3 hours starting to set in.
My prayer and chanting was broken by the sound of the door opening outside. My prayers had worked. I was free and out. Well, no not quite. It was Vrindavan and Deva Deva. They risked sneaking in to see me though they could get into big trouble. I think I had redefined what big trouble could mean.
Deva Deva was crying. He was really upset thinking I was badly hurt by Yasodanandana and Manihara. This rare affection moved me in a very powerful way. On occasions, I still think back to his empathy for me during all of this. Many kids cooperated with the teachers not to have anything to do with me. Vrins and Devz never showed any such betrayal to me as friend. At the time, I down played my own suffering hoping to pacify Devz crying. In one way, I could not stand it. Actually, I may have started crying a bit too, being so overcome by his sentiments. They were only too rare in any of my friends. Hardly but a couple people have ever cried for me in life. Deva Deva was one of the few who have. He is one of the most kind hearted of all my friends. I will one day relate the stories of his kindness, then every one will understand why I say this.
Vrins and Devz had come to let me out. No, I was not going to get them in trouble too. I made them leave and locked the door behind them. I don't know exactly why I passed up this chance to escape. In a few hours more, I was going to regret missing this opportunity.
The next thing I remember was waking up after sundown. I was shivering, some what numb, stiff as a radio set, bruised and really sore —as much from sleeping on the wet floor as from the days beatings and adventure. I must have been so exhausted that I conked out for three or four hours. I had missed 5 p.m., evening prasadam: puris and potato subji; and then also missed the 8 p.m. Hot milk and fried puffies. Manihara and Yasoda nandana did come to get me out that night but only after the school had been put to bed and gone to sleep.
It must have been around 9:30 or so. First they had shut off the electricity so the bathroom and the whole building would be pitch black. The beatings so far were not enough. Nor was the 6 or 7 hours in the bath room enough, nor missing the meals. They had to throw in one more surprise as a bedtime bonus. The lights went out in the bathroom. It scared me. Why did it happen? Right from the window, I could see the rest of the town still lit. It definitely was not one of those Vrindavan typical power shortages. Then I could also hear several kids and Manihara gathering outside the door.
I heard them opening the door. I jumped behind a doorframe wall-less then a foot wide. Manihara and Yasoda came in and in all sarcasm, cynically called for me as they looked through each stall. "Oh, Raghunatha, where are you?" I sneaked out as soon as Manihara moved to the next stall. He failed to see me. I ran for the door. Oh no! There were older kids there. "He is getting away." one of them screamed as I darted for the stairs. Lightning fast, my breath was gone as I felt Yasodanandana grab me by the sika and drag me up the stairs and to my room just a few feet away.
I struggled as he threw me inside and whack! Whack! Whack! I was being stung by rubber flip-flops again. In spite of the dark, I could make out the forms of about 5 or 6 kids plus, Manihara and Yasodanandana. All of them had slippers. I shrieked and roared and grabbed what looked to be the smallest guy there. It was probably Dwarkadish. I threw him in front of me for my shield and dashed into one of the corners. Katyana and Govinda wrestled me out and so I then threw myself into my bedding for protection. Again I was dragged out.
I was left with no other option but to start swinging and screaming like a madman and so I did —as best as I could. From behind, someone grabbed both of my arms into an arm lock. It seemed like another stomach-shot set-up. There was somebody moving towards me, head on. With this hostile advance, both my legs came up and struck-out against their stomach and chess. Who ever it was went flying across the room. I went flying backwards the other way as did the guy holding me from behind.
Yasodanandana hollered for me to calm down and told the rest to stop. Immediately after that announcement, some ass-circle-with-nothing-in between grabbed my sika from behind. They yanked it so hard, I fell to the floor on my back. I was picked up off the floor and taken to Dr Sharma's room, the principle, for more lecturing.
Poor Dr Sharma. He was surrounded by madmen and roughens. He was in charge but he was under constant siege. Loosing him was the single greatest misfortune to have ever befallen the entire gurukula system in ISKCON's history. I will better explain some day.
Anyway, Yasoda lectured: In India, I could have gone to jail for kicking Govinda. Out of their kindness, this token punishment was given instead. Some how, I could not bring myself to feel thankful for the favor. Maybe it was worth it though. Never again did Govinda Nandana or any of the other older kids confront me. Nor did Manihara or the other teachers try an get them to beat me up. It was 7 hours of hell. Yet, it also shook them up so much, they would never do this to me again for the reminder of that stay.
Maybe I was not humbled as they had hoped, but I did become more concerned not to push them too far. They learned and felt the same way about me. None of the teachers much bothered to even try an discipline me after that. Coincidentally, being ignored simply made me hanker for their attention. I found myself doing little things to try an please them and again win their attention.
This is certainly far from all the worse things to have struck at me in life. Yet, it gives some idea how much I had already been through when I was sitting in the Guest House hearing about Raghunatha Prabhu. After all I had heard all I had seen and all I had lived through; the stories about this other Raghunatha still scared me. This monster then seemed directed towards me. His reaction to my arrival: "Raghunatha Prabhu, the other Raghunatha (me) is here." one of the kids told him. "Well, he better know that I am here," he responded. "He is going to hit a brick wall." Obviously, my fame had proceeded my arrival. It had been a year and half since I was last in Vrindavan. Still, I could stir the teachers up even before leaving the U.S.
This time though, I wanted to make a serious effort to cooperate. Actually, I wanted to be a success. To be a success in Vrindavan gurukula of those days was impossible. Certainly they had some great fundamentals of learning, austerity, sadhana etc. Sadly enough, abusive neglect and treatment were rampant. Worst, most any signs of self initiative, self confidence, a spirit of independence, or sense of identity were generally qualities that induced teachers like Niragadev, Manihara and Raghunatha to target and taunt one. Even faint reactions of protest could be viewed as arrogance. With many teachers, it was a matter of cuteness. I was the farthest thing from cute when matched to other friends. Trying to be cute always got me into trouble. I was not cute, I was rambunctious. My spirited reflexes were seen as aversive to their authority.
I will explain this in more detail at a later date. Detailing what was right and wrong or what motivated and exaggerated problems etc. Is an essay much longer than this. There were certainly many things I did which deserved a strong punishment. In all fairness though, I was spurred on because of their oppression, the haughty or retarded ideas, and the conceited patronizing. I confess that outside of any teacher, I could be a terribly rowdy, hipper active, unmannerly and unruly kid—especially for that time. I think the diet aggravated a lot of my hyper activity. Every time some sickness forced me to a simple diet, I became saintly.
The Teacher, Big Raghunatha
I am quite sure that even with my worst behavior, I would have fared a great deal better if allowed the privilege of growing up with the second generation. Equated to the second group of teenagers five to eight years younger than I, I would have been (and was) considered quite a nice devotee. I do not care to detail these things right now. I will say that upon my return to Vrindavan, I truly wanted to do my very best. It showed. I had become a monitor with in a few months —one of the acclaimed best at the time. My prime example was Big Raghunatha. In short, it was quite simple: smash—in the literal sense—kids into submission.
Within the first week of my arrival, B. Raghunatha had taken Sri Dham, then 8 years old, out side to the hallway for not chanting japa. Thirty seconds later or so, the solid concrete and brick wall noticeably shook with the sound of a deep, dull thud. Towards the end of the japa period, Raghunatha came in smiling and really proud of himself. He showed off his fist that had 2 bleeding knuckles. "I went to punch him," he laughingly told his other teacher comrades, "but he ducked out of the way." I think it was Niragadev and Dhanudara. They seemed quite amused by it.
B. Raghunatha was probably one of the most appalling and petrifying of any teacher or adult in my upbringing. He really was the worst nightmare of gurukula, mainly for one reason. B. Raghunatha made it quite clear he was more than capable and willing to truly kill or handicap any one of us. He went out of his way to convince me of that and am very sure he did so with other children and even some adults. Actually, he had not been far from really doing so on several occasions.
Any of Manihara's politics; or any of Niragadev's head games; Dhanurdhara's show bottle and usually painless, beatings; Yasoda Nandana's disdain, the sexual abuse or the punishments of Dallas were never really meant to make us fear for our lives. Maybe fear the teachers, but never to fear for our lives. They were not even really meant to seriously injure us. Raghunatha is one of the few (if not the only one) who went out of his way to do so. That to me is more demoniac than most anything to have been seen in Gurukula. He wanted to be this dreadful, he prided himself on being dreaded and constantly bragged about it.
I had feared for my life on other occasions, but it was very short lived and they were isolated incidents. Jumping the railings, or dangling from the window were a couple of occasions. Another time, was while being held over the railings of the Guest house roof, six stories high, by Katyayana. He had been sucking me off since I was eight years old. At eleven, I brought myself to confront him. I demanded him to stop.
The first time he molested me, I was dumfounded with panic and disbelief. I woke up in the middle of the night with this guy (well he must have been thirteen at the time), on me and it actually hurt. I pretended to hardly wake up and would nonchalantly roll over to my side as if not knowing what was going on. He would not be able to get to me in that position. I responded the same way to the next five or six of his advances. I had no idea of what to do. I could not imagine anyone believing it. I was right.
Within the year, he left for West Virginia, New Vrindaban. Unfortunately, we met up again in Vrindavan, India. Again, he started. In my own little ways, I showed I hated what he was doing and each time I did, he would ignore it or if I was too pointed, thrash out at me. Then I tried to make it very clear I hated him and to leave me alone. He got really angry with that. He took off the wooden shoe and boom! That is when he practically took my shoulder off. That finally brought it to a head.
That afternoon, and with him present, I told a gathering of friends what he was doing: Deva Deva, Vrins, Lila Smarana, Dirodhata, Dwarkadish, and a couple others were all there. I will not explain now why I felt a psychological need of their approval before taking this to the teachers. My friends' reactions though were just as I had worried. They made fun of me and were only disgusted by it. They never before heard of such a thing and it made no sense to them. Why would anyone —especially a guy —do that? I couldn't explain it either. They figured I made it up to get even with Katyayana. They saw it as a tactic for revenge, but one done in bad taste. In those days, such things could not even be imagined by my peers. It was the first most of them heard of such acts. Most of the adults were also entirely unsuspecting.
After that confrontation, Kaytayana hauled me off to the roof. Holding me by the neck, he held me over the railing and offered to send me Back to Godhead (guaranteed by scripture should one die in Vrindavan). "I will tell the teachers you fell while trying to climb the railings," he said of the alibi. For the first time, he grated my urinal for several consecutive nights. Before then, he would only do so every six or seven weeks. By the end of that week, my hose was almost blistered. By Krishna's grace, he for some reason laid off for about a year. I guess I had, after all, scared him off. By then, he was finally caught with another boy. Vrins and the rest of those guys have apologized for not believing me.
Another time I had worried for my life was in Dallas. Kapila and I were fiercely competing for top rank as the toughest and strongest kid in the school—except for the older kids who were well removed from the scene. Two younger boys, Dirodhata and Bhagavat-sastra had threatened each other to a fight. These two fought more than I did. They were seven or eight years old. Kapila and I were ten. Kapila took Bhagavat-sastra's side. I took Dirodhata's. Bhagavat's younger brother had a few friends from his asrama also pledged to help Bhagavat in a fight. Kapila rounded up a few more boys to side with Bhagavat. I had to do the same for Dirodhata. Within twenty minutes, we had about thirty to forty kids pitted against one another, should these two boys fight. It was understood that the afternoon recess was to be the place and time.
Just my luck, I had to sit in for detention for twenty minutes. Without me there, all my backup supporters were beaten up. When I did arrive, about 30 kids converged on me. I broke loose and ran to the building, through the courtyard and upstairs to the prasadam room. Where the hell were the teachers when you needed one. These kids came rushing in towards me, blaring with excitement. I was cornered by the far wall and so jumped out of the 2 story window. I landed on my neck with this loud, heart piercing crunch. I was sure it was broken and so was everyone else. They all took off running. No one wanted to get blamed for it. Solely by the Lord's mercy, the mud had saved me. Ten minutes later, I stood up and walked to the asrama. Everyone was totally amazed. It was the funniest thing. Everyone went on, not mentioning a word as if nothing had ever happened.
Another close call was when dying from jaundice—a liver malfunction. They didn't recognize it because I was Vrindavan gurukula's first jaundice case. The teachers first thought I was faking it. They saw it as part of a devious conspiracy to avoid classes and sleep in during the morning program—quite a common tactic of ours. After about two weeks, they suspected it to be a cold. But the third week, I could not even hold down water. Now they were convinced it may be something much more serious. They came up with a brilliant concept: take me to the doctors. They hesitated not simply due to the expense of it, or because it was Western Medicine; but mainly because it was Indian Hospitals and Indian Doctors. Any of the horrors to ever take place in the U.S. Are simply everyday occurrences for a village hospital like Vrindavan. They knew it and so were understandably wary of them. Still, I have to give credit to the doctor. Remarkably, he saved my life. He said upon my arrival and check up; another twenty-four hours and he would have died. I may tell of the experience and the hospitals later. The damage to my liver was so severe that I came down with jaundice four or five more times.
I almost died from fevers on several occasions of typhoid and malaria attacks. The one time was during the school's vacation trip to the Himalayas, in Rsikesh. There were no Doctors to treat me and about three others who had also come down with 105 and 106 degree fevers. We applied the usual and simple remedy: ice water repeatedly poured over the forehead. It happened in Vrindavan too, but I did not get the worst of it. Twice, there were instances when the thermometer read 107 degrees. It was during one of Vrindavan's worst malaria and typhoid epidemics. We had about 8 to 10 people coming down with it at a time. That is a lot when considering there were less than 50 or 60 members of the school. They hired some really cheap doctor who dispensed medication for each ailment: one for a headache, one for fever, or stomach ache or lack of appetite. He came once a day in the morning. Trying to get a doctor for an emergency like a 107 degree fever was useless. It would take too long. All we could do was pour ice water over their heads.
My worst experience with that doctor came while taking a half dozen of his medicines as he had told me. Well actually , I was supposed to take it before meals. I did take it before the meal, but then didn't eat for some reason. My empty stomach ingested it over forty-five minutes or so. Then suddenly, my heart began to freak out as I turned purple and started going into mini confusion. By then, I was in Rupa Vilasas' class. I frantically tried to explain it to him, but he could hardly understand what I was saying. Finally, I ran out of class. Fortunately, I saw a server from dinner time, finishing up his meal. I savagely pounced into his plate and violently gobbled away at the remainder of his meal. It stopped the drug attack.
These instances, like so many others all had me worrying for my life. But they were far and few between. They were also generally just as much my fault as anyone's None of them haunted me on a 24 hour basis for weeks and months like B. Raghunatha did. What makes it so unforgivable was that the others headed by the principal of the time, Dhanurdara, did very little to discourage that attitude in Raghunatha. Nor was it discouraged in any of the other teachers who were being influenced by Raghunatha. Dhanurdhara did not even bother to try and pacify that terror in us.
Dhanurdhara, now Maharaja, almost seemed entertained by it and worked much harder to defend it, than to change it. Most of his time went to plotting out ways to cover for these guys like Raghunatha and Nirakadev. Dhanurdhara was a genius at it. If only he had done this for the right people. It would then have been glorious. In Dhanurdhara's mind, these were the only people he had to work with. Understandably, he tried to do the best with what he had. He did do a superb job under the circumstances. No one else could have maintained such an impoverished and under-manned school and defended so many abusive people and policies for so many years.
It was true that his teachers were the only devotees willing to do this service. However, because they were there, other good men were scared, or bullied out. Dr sharma is the best example of this. Rather than allowing the GBC to step in with their comparatively greater manpower, money and ego trips as the teachers called it, they preferred to remain independent. This meant being left to themselves. The GBC would have been my pick any day. I will get into all this later.
About 4 years ago, Raghunatha had been thrown out of Vrindavan Gurukula. Over two years ago, Raghunatha admitted to Mother of being used by them (the other teachers) for their dirty work. He continued on to say he had been too stupid to realize it. This was his apology. My, what dirty work he did. He regularly made death threats to any number of students and on a weekly basis, astonished us with more demonstrations to those possibilities.
There are at least two boys who had their front teeth knocked out by him, maybe even three. The two boys I know were Sri Dham and Ganga. Raghunatha did it, not by punching; but by slapping. His hand would start at about his shoulder. It would sweep backwards, down to his waist and then come up to shatter on the child's cheek. It was so forceful, it would elevate the kid right off the ground. It would rocket the boys face nosediving into the floor with a crash. That is how the teeth fell out.
Raghunatha kicked and punched just as mercilessly. He abused over two thirds of the school's children in this way. Those two particular boys were eight or nine at the time. Consider just how hard he must have 'laid' into me since I was fifteen.
With the worst of his beatings, he decided to leave me locked up in a room for two weeks. He was very concerned someone might see the six and twelve inch wide blackish purple and bright red bruises all over my back, arms, legs and face. He found my stash of Indian comic books. They were about different legendary personalities of India, including stories about Krsna or from the Mahabharat. They were banned because they were not Prabhupada's books. I could not read then. I read my first book at seventeen. The comic books were all I could and did read. I loved them so much I chanced keeping them in spite of the ban and payed with the beating of my life.
I showed the remaining bruises after those two weeks of confinement to Sacidevi. She was visiting for a couple weeks. She was appalled. It was a month before most all the bruises were healed. At that time, I was designated to single handedly clean all the bathrooms on all five floors of the entire guest house. The bungis, the untouchables: bathroom cleaners and street sweepers; were on strike. I was asked to fill in until it could be resolved—about four months later. I showed Sacidevi, Bhakta Rupas mom, when I went to clean her bathroom. Where it not for this, I would not have been able to show anyone. Dhanurdhara and Niragadev came in on the following day of the beatings. They were laughing about it.
Everything I have presented here was done fairly objectively. Now coming to describe Raghunatha, I think I detect some sense of hostility in me for him. I will therefore not write about the build up of our relationship right now. I may not be completely fair in presenting our story. It is more intense than anything else discussed so far. I also don't care to take the many paragraphs of time and space to detail it now. I will save it for another news letter.
In conclusion, I do think it is fair to clarify Raghunatha's position. He was not only the most vicious brute of the Vrindavan gurukula, but he personified the conclusion of its mentality: smash the children into submission. He took that policy to its fullest expression when applied towards children grown into young adults. He is only as guilty as those who founded, allowed or encouraged those themes and policy to so fully thrive.
Raghunatha as a Monitor
I too was led to beat and torture the children who were left to my care when working as a monitor. I was seduced, encouraged and demanded into it. The strain and hardships of the situation influenced me as much as any of the gurukula teachers or staff. Only a superhuman individual would come out of such an environment, unscathed and completely descent. There are many special individuals that proved as such; who could show kindness when we needed it most. It was a trying situation that ruthlessly pushed most everyone to the limit.
It reminds me somewhat of this Twilight Zone episode. Sirens and the radio warned of an imminent nuclear attack by the Soviets. Only one household had built a bomb shelter. The rest of the neighbors wanted in but are locked out. They finally decide to beat the cellar door down and kill the owner. The owner is just about to start shooting them in self defense. Timely, the radio announces it was a false alarm. Everyone is simply left to apologize to each other and with no hard feelings. Some situations can make everyone go crazy. That is when the exemplary come to shine.
Usually, we don't hold people liable or hold grudges for those who over reacted to a stressful situation. Therefore, today, the boys I had under my care, do not hold any grudges towards me for my brutalities. I also sincerely try not to hold a grudge towards Raghunatha. This is true for most all guru-kulis and teachers alike. If there is anything most all of us intensely despise, it is the arrogance that breeds this sense of self righteous contempt. First, it is contempt for others, then contempt for decency and then the total madness follows.
gurukula though, was not a crisis like a bomb raid. It was an adventure. Like the rest of ISKCON, we were all part of a phenomenal and unique mission. The mission of course brought us into tough circumstances and harrowing crises that strained and tested our character, tolerance, convictions as devotees, sense of resourcefulness, relationships etc. But, with that, it also built an intense camaraderie between many of us, some of which turned into unforgettable friendships. Even to this day, there is some sense of affection for one another, even between the worst of old foes. As you have mentioned, Raghunatha had talked about me with a sense of affection.
For all the hardships, we were also allowed to see many amazing wonders. We realized new things about the world and about ourselves. We saw and experienced things that were so grand and so wonderful, many of us would have a hard time choosing to trade away for a better life. We were part of an extraordinary time that had as many incidents of hardships as it did marvels and rewards. We are the souvenirs of those times to each other. We are relics of an unforgettable past and one that we are left to remember with increasing affection and value as time passes.
I have almost fully put to rest all my resentments towards Raghunatha and all the teachers along with most all the rough experiences of my life. I have been working very hard to give up all forms of resentemnet. I remember the first time I made a conscious effort to give up my hatred. It was when hearing about the Pope forgiving the fellow who tried to shoot him. I realized then, I would have to show the same sense of forgiveness if I was going to be the preacher I wished to be.
I hold practically no grudges for anyone who acted like a madman or a brute 10 years ago. What has made me feel extremely outraged with Raghunatha was that he is today still possibly doing the same. I have heard several reports that he ruthlessly beats his wife to a pulp. He is still carrying on like a brute. He should have done away with such cruelties 10 years ago if not 5 or at least 2 or 3. If these reports of wife beating are true, I know for sure no one will lift a finger to do anything about it.
These reports make me think Raghunatha as his old mean self again. When you told me he was friendly, jolly and up with his good sense of humor, it left me to think maybe he had changed.
I sincerely hope he has changed—at least for his wife's sake. If he is not a changed man, she will be left to brutal eatings and no one will ever go to her aid. I can bet on it. A million G.B.C's and temple presidents and ksatriya devotees can know about it and no one will even raise a word of protest. If he is no longer vicious like this, then she has a good practicing, well studied devotee husband, who is very capable and can be real charming and quite popular.
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