By Pervin Jumala, as told to Kalyani Ajrekar

How a moment and a few sincere words changed a life.

“Wow! That’s so beautiful.”

Firoz and I were frozen for a moment, awestruck by our first glimpses of Radha and Krishna, named Radha-Gopinatha at this temple in the Chowpatty section of Mumbai. We sat down, immersing ourselves in the irresistible melodious spiritual music. We followed everyone else and sang, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna . . .,” raising our hands in the air. I didn’t know what set me so much at ease that I could absorb myself in the singing. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the doors of the altar closed.

My journey to Krishna consciousness started three years ago when I was visiting a restaurant with my husband, Firoz, and a few of our friends. It was a Saturday night. I had come home late that evening. Tired from work, I decided not to cook and instead planned to have dinner out. Not much later, we were waiting outside the restaurant for our turn to enter. Forty-five minutes passed with no sign our wait would be over soon. Our group was discussing politics and life, which soon led to a heated argument. To avoid the tension, Firoz and I went for a stroll.

That’s when we saw a beautiful building with carved stones. We didn’t expect it to be a temple, because unlike conventional temples there were no vendors selling flowers, incense, and sweets outside. Somehow we had arrived at this beautiful temple during shayana-darshana, the time just before the deities go to sleep, a meditative time during which devotees often chant softly for the Lord. My husband and I were overwhelmed by the amazing sight of Sri Krishna and Srimati Radharani, something we had never seen before.

Moments later, I walked out of the temple hall with mixed emotions: happiness at having experienced something amazing, and pain upon realizing I had been missing it all my life.

I am Zoroastrian by birth and have been very religious since childhood. According to the teachings of Zoroastrianism, believers address God as Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. I followed the instructions of the Prophet Zarathushtra and the holy scriptures called Khordeh Avesta. I also observed the three main tenets of Zoroastrianism: Humata Hukhata Huvarashta, which means “good thoughts, good words, good deeds.”

In our faith there is an initiation ceremony called navjote. It is the confirmation of a Zoroastrian child into the religion of his birth.Nav means “new” and jote means “zaothra” or “a designated participant,” i.e., one who offers prayers. So navjote means “the new one now offers prayers.” At the age of seven I prepared myself for navjote by learning all the prayers by heart. They were complicated and in a language unknown to me. At the age of thirteen I attended a class that taught me the principles of the Zoroastrian religion. I learned that God was all-good, the eternal light, the giver of happiness, while Ahirman was the dark evil force that causes miseries in this world. Good and evil co-exist, as light does not come from darkness and darkness does not come from light. This concept completely confused me. Although God, Ahura Mazda, is more powerful than Ahirman, God would never defeat the dark force completely. I wondered how this could be possible.

God created the seven creations, and man was made the soldier of God, meant to follow the path of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Later, with the help of men following this path, God would defeat the evil forces. On that day of victory, happiness would reign forever in this world.

These teachings raised a lot of doubts in my mind, which led to an avalanche of questions. I tried to read translations of the complicated prayers and scriptures, but I didn’t find answers to my questions. Those unanswered questions kept bothering me until finally I stopped praying. My parents were shocked to hear that the religion no longer made any sense to me. But how could it? There was no philosophy or logic. It sounded more like a fairy tale, in which we were to wait for good to eventually triumph over evil. My parents were aghast. They blamed the influence of the college environment for my loss of faith.

Seeking answers to my questions, I started studying the holy scriptures of Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism. But the questions remained unanswered and continued to bother me. With the responsibilities that came with my marriage, private moments became more rare, and my questions were relegated to the subconscious. In time I was blessed with a daughter, and to uphold family tradition I began to teach the same prayers to her. But it was a half-hearted affair. All the while I wondered if the same questions that bothered me would someday bother my little one too. I really dreaded that day because I had not found the answers yet. I prayed to my impersonal God, hoping He would reveal the answers to me soon.

A Return Visit

When I visited the Radha-Gopinatha temple again the next day, a ray of hope entered my life. After our first incidental visit to the temple, the forms of Radha and Krishna had kept flashing in my dreams all that night. Now, like a piece of iron pulled by a magnet, I was drawn to return to the temple. It had not yet opened, but a gentle couple welcomed me, informed me about the Sunday program, and urged me to visit some weekend in the future. I was surprised by the sincere words, loving attention, and warmth the couple extended to me, a complete stranger. I felt at home, and again I participated in the holy music, which I learned was called sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name.

Not long after that I enrolled in a six-session course on the principles of the Bhagavad-gita. The course brought about a mammoth change in my life. I found answers to many questions, and I was fortunate to meet two excellent speakers who were dedicated, knowledgeable devotees of Krishna. They are my spiritual instructors now.

Now I knew that God is a person, Krishna. I am not this body; I am a pure soul, now merged within this material body. Krishna consciousness helps to liberate the soul from material bondage. If we practice sincerely, at the end of life we shall be free from all material contamination, our spiritual life will be completely revived, and we shall go back home, back to Godhead, where we can enjoy eternal life in the company of the Lord Himself.

I started chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on beads, as I had learned during the discourses that chanting the holy name is the easiest way to connect to the Lord. I was soon chanting sixteen rounds every day during brahma-muhurta, the auspicious early-morning hours.

Reaction from Family and Friends

Accepting Krishna consciousness has left my friends and family wonderstruck. Some of them are surprised, even confused, to see the change in my life. My father-in-law calls the bead bag hanging around my neck “the big bell.” Old neighborhood friends now call me the “grass-and-root girl,” referring to my new vegetarian diet. My husband still frowns when I munch biscuits at family dinners at nonvegetarian restaurants. But all of this I believe has added spice to my life. I enjoy these interactions as signs of love from dear ones. I am sure their surprise and shock will someday change to acceptance—of me and of Krishna consciousness as well.

I strongly feel Krishna’s presence in my life, and I see how He keeps rewarding me for every extra endeavor I take up to get closer to Him. Recently, my husband and daughter moved to Dubai, and I traveled with them to help them settle in the new city. A few days later, I returned to Mumbai, but immediately on reaching home I learned about the Dubai Rathayatra, which was to be held a week later. I regretted coming back; if I had stayed a week more I could have attended the event. Making another trip to Dubai would be too expensive. Naturally, I was reluctant to spend so much money, but I went ahead and booked the tickets anyway.

Unfortunately, while I was waiting at the airport someone from the airline approached me and informed me that my flight had been canceled. I was angry and upset.

“How can you do that?” I yelled at the staff.

Rathayatra was scheduled for the next day, and I didn’t want to arrive at the last moment. An airline employee offered to put me up in a five-star hotel for free until the night flight, but I pulled my bag up to the registration desk and asked for a new boarding pass, prepared to spend a few hours waiting for the next flight.

A few minutes later, to my pleasant surprise, the same airline employee approached me and said, “We apologize for the inconvenience, madam. Please accept a free return ticket as a gift from us.”

“Krishna is so kind,” I told myself. “He rewarded me even for my halfhearted endeavor. And he overlooked my short temper too.”

Krishna’s surprises on my journey so far have been countless, and I am sure there are many more to come. Today, by the grace of my spiritual instructors, I am making a contribution by serving in Gopal’s Fun School, a temple initiative to impart spiritual knowledge to children. I help children chant verses from the Bhagavad-gita. I even conduct preliminary courses on the Gita for adults. It’s a joyful experience to connect wandering souls like me with Krishna.

A motivational speaker once rightly said, “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.” My spiritual journey is an extra mile on the expressway of bhakti, under the loving care of devotees, and destined to end at Krishna’s lotus feet. I am determined to go on and on and on.