I’ve just done a podcast series about my time as a Hare Krishna devotee, so I might just as well tell this story. It’s a good one. Sorry if you’ve heard it before.
My relationship with the Hare Krishnas hadn’t ended when I came to London, not by far. I still spent time with my then-guru when he came to town. One day, I introduced him to another friend of mine, Samarendra, who is from Orissa, and whose family background is interesting – he is from a Vaishnava brahmana family and his grandfather actually ran an ashram. Hence his last name is Das, just like a Hare Krishna devotee.
(Not that we believe this stuff, but if you do, which as a Hare Krishna you kinda do, he is two castes above the founder of the Hare Krishnas, my guru’s guru, who was a merchant.)
Samarendra had just come back from researching the activities of Vedanta resources, a mining and metals company, in Orissa, and writing a book – of which I had a copy and brought it with me to give to the guru (I’m getting tired of calling him that, his Sanskrit name is Krishna-Kshetra das, now Swami, so I’ll call him KK.)
There are always industrialists who do anything to get what they want. This particular one had built an entire bauxite refinery on a mountain, without having acquired the rights to mine the bauxite on that mountain. He then used every dirty technique known to mankind to get the Kondh, the tribal people who live in that mountain range, to clear out.
The company had done a lot of other things – mining is a dirty business, after all – but this one grabbed the headlines, thanks, in part, to Samarendra’s efforts to bring the story out into the wider world. Even Survival International picked up on it.
So, when KK came to London again in 2013, I introduced them to each other. We chatted in the British library, in the cafe upstairs, by the loud drinks machine. We talked, we bonded, I was wearing a woollen dress I’d made, I remember that. KK was amazed, took the book, and promptly told the story the next morning during this lecture in the Hare Krishna temple in Soho Street – the one above that restaurant. I missed it, stuff happening at home, and showed up when it was over, and he proudly told me all about what he’d said. The other ladies stared a bit. I was pleased.
The only problem is that everyone in that temple knows Anil Agarwal, the owner (well, whatever the ownership looks like now) of Vedanta Resources, because he is one of their big industrialist patrons who get worshipped as soon as they walk through the door. Just like his business dealings, where there is far more debt than profit, he never actually gives that much money, but is always in the headlines, because he talks a big game. When they started the Hindu state schools, he was right there to meet the Queen. He’s always promised them a bigger and better temple, but that never materialised.
They didn’t much want to hear the story from the other side. They don’t care about human rights abuses, or any kind of abuses, because it’s just the material world, and that’s bad and full of pain anyways. The money they were waiting for would be purified and free of sin because he would give it to Krishna. All good then.
KK got in trouble for jeopardising that relationship, that eternal hope for big money. I don’t know how much trouble. The next thing I knew was that someone had sent him a sarcastic blog post of mine, possibly this one. There were many people out to discredit me, because clearly I needed to be shut down if I have enough power to influence what KK says in an official morning lecture. (The post is really hurtful to read if your whole life is dedicated to preaching that though, I have to admit, now that I’ve searched and found it again.) Hey, I was trying to get my head out of that stuff and needed to feel some kind of strength. And nothing is as hurtful as what they did to me.
Some relationships just don’t survive that kind of thing.
He sent me a message, saying that this wasn’t ok, and he now didn’t care about ‘my’ ’cause’ any more.
And that was that.