Bhakti-lata Devi Dasi: The streets seemed almost eerie in their muted commotion.
I had emerged from my apartment mid-afternoon, bracing myself for the insanity of Vrindavan streets.
But something was different today.
I furrowed my brow, slightly smiling. I walked on to the mukutwalla’s – the deity clothing and jewelry expert – to confirm my order and choose jewelry for my parent’s deities, Sri Radha Raman. I braced myself for this too – the shop was usually busy, the owner of Nanda Kishor usually too preoccupied with other customers to pay me much heed.
But today was different.
I opened the glass door to the shop. The owner sat placidly in his usual spot by the door, the soft afternoon light slanting in and illuminating him and his shop as he read from a clipboard. I was the only customer.
In India, there are no superfluous greetings or niceties. The owner simply glanced up, then gestured me to sit. With few words, he had arrayed before me boxes and bags of jewelry.
In the quiet, as I selected jewelry, he began to ask me where I was from, about my family. I felt surprised and charmed by his newfound curiosity. In turn, I asked him, “How long have you been doing this business?”
“All of my life. And my father before, and father before.”
I whistled. I continued sifting through colors and styles of necklaces.
“You see, up there? My ishta-deva, [my personal connection with the deity form of Krishna,] is Sri Radha Raman,” he gestured to a jeweled frame placed high up on a shelf; the picture of the Krishna deity was black and white. Common history told that the deity had resided in Vrindavan for over 450 years. “It’s a very old picture,” he added.
I became curious. “How long have you lived in Vrindavan?”
“Whole life. Three generations… my great-grandfather moved here many, many years ago.”
I whistled a second time. “Wow. Vrindavan must have been so… so… hidden then. Mystical.”
“I confess, I find Vrindavan very hectic. It’s hard for me to taste the sweetness here.”
The mukutwalla was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Ah, there is a hidden mysticism to Vrindavan. It is not on the surface. The hidden mysticism of Vrindavan…” he trailed off.
I glanced up from the jewelry array and my hands stilled. It was just a moment, and unceremonious, but it will remain with me all of my life as the moment I began to see the real Vrindavan.
I will never forget the expression on the mukutwalla’s face. His eyes were gazing out the window, as if focused on something far off. He seemed to be envisioning Vrindavan in the time of his great-grandfather, a land of ancient forests, hidden mysticism, and the beautiful Radha Raman deity.
Humility washed over me in a great wave. I knew nothing. Nothing. I was simply a young girl from the West who had come to Vrindavan for barely a month. I had taken this land – and everyone in it – at face value.
I glanced up to the antique picture of the mukutwalla’s ishta-deva. “You know, I just realized… my parent’s deities names are also Radha Raman,” I said softly.
The mukutwalla turned to me and smiled.