See, I came late to this genre of Hindu scriptures. Educated in a convent school, I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid that western writers were the axis around which the Universe rotated. We studied Browning, Byron, Keats and O’Henry, and passed on Dnyaneshwar, Eknath, Kanaka Dās and Tukaram. I knew more about priests and nuns, and zilch about Alvars and Nayanmars. Romeo & Juliet was a Classic, Ramayana a myth. We doted on Shelley, Hemingway and Shakespeare, but skipped Tulsidās, Mirābai, Tyāgarājā and Kālidās. I knew more about St Peter than Bhagwān Ādi Shankarāchāryā or Swami Madhvāchāryā.
Thankfully I graduated and real education could begin. A tiny booklet of Swami Vivekananda’s lectures bought at a railway station was the spark. And what a roaring fire it kindled. Was engrossed in it for days. Followed hungrily by the Bhagavad Gitā, Upanishads, Purānās, commentaries of various masters and Bhakti poetry. I had just scratched the surface.
Years ago, I came across a dusty copy of Gosvāmi Tulsidās’s RāmCharitaMānas. More than a retelling of the Ramāyanā, Gosvāmi Tulsidās had brilliantly condensed most of our scriptures into this one classic. You study this one classic and you understand them all. Each word of each couplet is exquisitely sculpted; placed there with purpose. Will take a lifetime to study. And the beauty of his verse leaves Byron in the dust. Now I await every opportunity to attend discourses on RāmCharitaManās.
Some of the best translations of the RāmCharitaMānas are published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur, UP. Imagine my delight that the fabled book publisher had an outlet near our home in Colaba, and as a bonus, it was across the street from Parsi Dairy Farm, the best place for mithai.
I was expecting a drab, dark store, with shelves buckling under dusty tomes. What a surprise to find this posh marble floored, air-conditioned shop. They sell just about every Hindu scripture: Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, works of Saints to compilations of bhajans. And these beautifully bound books were jaw droppingly inexpensive. A hard bound copy of the Devi Mahātmyan (Greatness of Devi) was Rs 80 (~ US$ 1.60). Bhajan booklets were Rs 2 – 5 (4-10 cents). On my first trip I bought so many volumes, I had to take a cab home.
On a later visit I was chatting with the guy at the counter and he explained how the store was indeed a run-down, dusty hole. Then a trustee donated the money to make it a showcase store. Very well done. As we praised his service, 4 laborers were sitting on the floor at the far end of the store, unpacking boxes of books stacked to the ceiling. They had been listening to our conversation and one of them chimed in:
Hum yahan kaam nahin karte, yeh hamari seva hai.
We don’t work here; this is our service.
I was speechless. This was the pure essence of the Bhagavad Gitā and mouthed so simply by these uneducated, laborers. I nodded incredulous.
Renouncing attachment, steadfast in your duty, engage yourself in inspired activity, O Dhananjayā!
Bhagavad Gitā 02: 48
Labor performed solely for wages is far inferior than inspired activity performed with steadfastness of purpose.
Seek solace in inspired work; for wretched is the lot of those who labor solely for wages.
Bhagavad Gitā 02: 49
What Sri Krishnā explains, these unschooled laborers live out. They understood the essence of Karma Yoga, practiced it flawlessly and succinctly expressed it in words.
When you do visit Gita Press Ki Dukan, certainly pick up the tomes, but pause to chat with those working there. From them you will learn the essence of all those volumes you labor to bring home.
My two other posts about Gosvāmi Tulsidās: