by Abhirama das
Today (January 18) began like any other day yet little did I know that I was in for the experience of a lifetime. In my childhood I was raised with
material facility yet in my recent experience of getting to know the personalities and hearts of the children of Nabadwip Gurukula, Golden
Avatar Trust (GATEI), I became astonished to see first hand the background from which they come and how they are persevering in their
I arrived at the school in the morning and sat down to tell some stories to the children about my own personal experiences as well as some pastimes of Krishna and lessons in Bhakti Yoga. There was hot rice and beans being prepared nearby on an open fire since today the teachers of the school had organized a food distribution community service event for the children, which the school performs regularly if funds are available.
Once the stories and cooking were completed, about 30 children proceeded through the streets of Nabadwipa town in single file lines, displaying before them a garlanded picture of our beloved spiritual master, Nitya Lila pravista Om Vishnupad Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja, and led in kirtana of the Maha Mantra by myself. As they marched along joyously, singing the Holy names in unison with sweet, melodious, youthful voices, the thoughts of the pastimes of Nimai Pandit and his group of students moving throughout Nabadwipa town danced through my mind.
We reached the appointed spot with a rickshaw cart carrying the massive container of hot rice and dhal and already a crowd of local
villagers had gathered there with eagerness and great respect for the preaching movement of Srila Gurudeva’s children. Prasadam proceeded to be served by the gurukula teachers amidst shouts of “Haribol” and “Jaya Gurudeva!”
At that time, several of the young students eagerly grasped my arms directing me that they wanted me to visit their homes. Thus accompanied by one of the school’s primary teachers, Banti Bhattacharya, we walked through the narrow lanes and gullies of Navadwipa village settlement to discover the treasure of these children’s lives.
From within clusters of various small huts with only one or two rooms each, the parents of the beaming students emerged amidst friendly greetings and warm salutations of “Haribol.” Some insisted that we come inside and sit down and all happily stood for pictures with their small children in front of their huts, usually consisting of sheet metal or bamboo walls without insulation and a thatched roof. What struck me most with wonder was that although we were within one of the most impoverished areas of town, the small children were so joyous and proud to bring us to their own homes, insisting adamantly that we come, and eagerly presenting their families to us.
Although quite different from any home life I had encountered before, to the external vision appearing to be poverty, there radiated a hidden beauty and unparalleled sweetness indicative of the great wealth of spirituality of the residents of Nabadwipa.
After visiting many of the student’s homes to the full satisfaction of the kids we returned to the school to honor the kitcheree prasadam which had been distributed along with fifty pieces of Bengali literature written by our Srila Gurudeva and flyers advertising the school. Along the way back I spoke with one of the teachers about the economic situation of the student’s families and learned to my amazement that most families make between 30 and 100 rupees a day, less than one US dollar to a little over 2 dollars, and within those tiny shacks there are a minimum of four people per household and sometimes as many as eight. We met some children along the way who were students at the school but who are currently unable to attend due to weakness of health, in many cases because of poor nutrition.
Seeing the bright beauty and radiant smiles shining from the faces of the school’s children as we sat for a meal together, I simply was in amazement of the role that the school is playing in their lives. As I sat with them back at the school, eating the healthy kitcheree full with vegetables and protein, I took great joy in relishing that moment with those children who were completely immersed in the bliss of their youthful study, learning, living, and loving one and other under the shelter of the school of their beloved spiritual master, apparently oblivious to the poverty-stricken condition of their home life. Inspired to do whatever I can to ensure that those students are provided healthy nourishment daily and thus provided the means, materially and spiritually to continue to grow and blossom into the future jewels of mankind, I offer prostrated obeisance’s to the teachers of the school who are sacrificing themselves completely to fulfill this cherished desire of our spiritual preceptors.
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