Children of the Ashram
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.
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