Vehicles honked and spewed out black clouds of exhaust. Pedestrians peacefully crossed the busy street, zigzagging through the sluggish traffic. Malls, swarming with customers, lined the sidewalk. We were at Connaught Place, one of the largest financial, commercial and business centres in New Delhi.
As our car headed towards Hotel Lalit, Radhanath Swami from the rear seat reminisced, “During my spiritual quest, whenever I passed through New Delhi, I stayed at the Hanuman Temple here, at Connaught Place. I stayed in the company of sadhus.” I was all ears. It was one of those special moments when the Swami candidly shared from his travels through India. Radhanath Swami continued, “It is my desire to walk through these streets again.” After a thoughtful pause, he added, “Somehow I never get to do what I want to do.” Hearing that, I felt pained.
Being his secretary, I took it as my duty to find a free slot for him during our 2-day stay in the nation’s capital, a slot sufficient for a walk through Connaught Place. The first day, today, was dimming into twilight, and Radhanath Swami’s weary body needed an early rest. The next day, March 2, at 9:00 a.m., Radhanath Swami was scheduled to deliver the Key note and Inaugural address at the All India Management Association’s (AIMA) second World Marketing Congress. I supposed that Radhanath Swami would be out of the conference hall by 11:00 a.m. Since our flight was at 2:00 p.m., there was a free slot, sufficiently big.
The next day things didn’t work out as I had planned. By the time the Swami got out of the conference hall, it was late; we had to rush to the airport. Our next destination was Rishikesh, where he was invited for several talks at the International Yoga Conference.
In Rishikesh, inquisitive, I further explored Radhanath Swami’s connection with Connaught Place in his autobiography The Journey Home. Apart from what he had disclosed in the car, I discovered one more connection—an intimate one. That was the place he first saw a painting of Lord Krishna. The passage in The Journey Home read,
Designed by the British, Connaught Circus was laid out in an immense circle surrounding a spacious park. Exploring the enclosed walkway, my attention was drawn to a hand-painted sign that read, “S.S. Brijabasi and Sons Religious Artwork.” Stacked on the sidewalk were hundreds of 8 x 10 prints. ……For about an hour I sat on the sidewalk searching the selection. Among the pictures was a beautiful woman with eight arms holding swords, choppers, and spears and riding on a lion, then a fantastical, somewhat pudgy man with the head of an elephant who was sitting on a mouse……..I came across a magnificent monkey, wearing a crown, whose eyes shone with devotion……….As I rummaged deeper through the stack of prints, I discovered a person with a dozen heads, each of a different species and multiple arms………
Suddenly, from out of the stack of prints appeared a personality that attracted me like no other. He had a bluish complexion, wore a peacock feather in his crown, and played a flute while posing gracefully beside a river. Behind him a white cow stared lovingly and a full moon bathed an enchanted forest in pearly light. Spontaneous tears filled my eyes. The person in the picture seemed to fill my very soul. Why was this happening to me? I felt him calling me. But how? It was only a painting, and of a fantastical person I didn’t even know. His name was written on the bottom in an ancient alphabet I couldn’t read.
I gave whatever money I had to the shopkeeper, but it was not enough. He smiled and gave me the picture anyway, a picture that I would not part with during the rest of my travels. Who was this person in the image? For a long time, that was to remain a mystery.
As I read, tears filled my eyes, and my determination to help him take a walk through Connaught Place heightened.
After a 4 day stay at Rishikesh, on March 7th as I packed bags for our return trip to Mumbai, Radhanath Swami raised the topic of Connaught Place again. While returning, we had to change flights at Delhi, and there was a gap of 3 hours between landing and the next take-off. “Will it be possible for me to visit Connaught Circus during that gap?” Radhanath Swami asked. “I will work out the logistics and let you know,” I replied. I hurriedly called a contact at New Delhi. He said it was possible. It was planned that while I waited with the luggage at the Delhi airport, Radhanath Swami would collect the Metro Rail ticket from my contact waiting outside, take the half hour train ride to Connaught Place, walk through the streets there, and then return.
We landed in New Delhi at 1:45 p.m. The connecting flight to Mumbai was at 5:00 p.m. Everything seemed perfectly as per plan. But as I dialled the number of my contact who waited outside the terminus, Radhanath Swami interrupted, “Should I really go? Tomorrow is the Gaur Poornima Festival, and I have to discourse. I might well use this time for preparing.” What could I say? For him it was duty calling again. Thousands in Mumbai would be visiting the temple the next day to attend the Birthday Festival of Lord Chaitanya. And his lecture was the sought after inspirational event for the pilgrims.
We searched for a quite place, and Radhanath Swami pored over the Chaitanya Charitamrita, the biography of Lord Chaitanya, whom the Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe to be Lord Krishna himself. At 5: 00 p.m. we boarded the flight that brought us back to Mumbai.
The next day Radhanath Swami discoursed 4 hours non-stop from the Chaitanya Charitamrita, as thousands listened in rapt attention. Later, many proclaimed this to be one of the most inspiring festivals of their life. As I listened to them, I was distracted by burning questions. When is the next time we will pass through New Delhi?!! And even then, will Radhanath Swami be able to do what he really wants to do?