Maa led me to illuminating encounters in Mumbai today on the way to and from the MahaLakshmi temple. I took a second class express train from the nearby Malad station to the Mumbai Central Station stop, about 45 minutes. On the way, I was pleased with several young men I met among the many students riding the trains.

First, there was Ankit, who is devoted to Shri Adgadanandji who happens to have his ashram in Mirjapur where Maa has farmland and a small temple outside Varanasi (gifted to Maa by Maharaji). Ankit was fascinated with me (as others who stare at me and many who come up to me to ask about my origins and why I am devoted to the Hindu religion). He walked with me showing me the way to the train and rode most of the way with me to his stop. He is a teenage student now, and expects to be a Brahmachari later in his life. We compared notes on our Gurus.

After Ankit left, another young man who had been staring at me on the train sat down next to me. He asked me about my background, and told me he is an atheist! He said there is no God, and mentioned someone he is studying who has the same beliefs. I told him our teachings that we are all God, Love, Light, that God is inside of us and not outside. He asked about when we die if God is gone, and I spoke of reincarnation, that the eternal Light or God within us never dies, that we leave the body but our inner God is never gone. He contemplated that and then left at his stop.

Then three young men came up to me, asking the same kinds of questions, and one of the teenagers was wearing a shirt that said, “Nothing is perfect, and I am nothing.” I told him he is not nothing, that he is something, everything. He laughed. A few more questions and answers, and then we all descended at the same stop.

I walked maybe about twenty minutes to the temple that was built in the late 1700’s and is in the middle of the city by the Arabian Sea. After walking through the gates (not really sure if I was in the right place, as usual), I continued my walk amongst thousands of people – I was surprised by the amount since it’s Tuesday and not a holiday. This reinforced for me, along with the many stands where people were buying garlands, coconuts, items to offer to Lakshmi, of the magnitude of devotion instilled in the Indian people. Lining up for hours to pranam to deities with all their heart, entire families with small children and babies, the light in their eyes when they glance upon the murtis (statues) of the deity they are so devoted to throughout their lives. What a contrast to the lives of Westerners.

As is still the case with the treatment of women in India, the men were in another line that was shorter and therefore they entered the shrine with less waiting time than the ladies. I left my sandals with one of the men sitting on the ground and handing out tokens, proceeded to the line of men circling around towards the shrine between metal barriers, pranamed to the three silver statues of MahaLakshmi, made my offering of rupees, and received a piece of coconut, small garland, bananas, and sweet Prasad (candies) from a pundit (priest).

On the way home on the slow train, I was fascinated by an old man sitting in the corner of the compartment meticulously and with great concentration creating a garland by winding string around very small white buds, about the size of two lentils. He focused and did his job for the whole ride to his stop, put what he created into a very large blue plastic bag, and carried that huge bag along with another out of the train. This again reinforced for me focus and discipline, devoting ourselves to a task or to deities with 100% concentration and attention.

Postscript: I add as a final note my cinematic encounter tonight: comments about a movie I just saw, “The Impossible”, which reinforces the message of perseverance, devotion, and love – this time related to family. Since I’ve made movie-going a lifetime practice, I feel I can offer this as an example.

First, let me mention the cross-cultural differences in attending movies in India, at least at the Fame theater in the Inorbit Mall in Malad East, Mumbai. Reserved seats for either $2.75 or $3.25 (they recommend seats all the way in the back which are the more expensive seats). I asked if they had a senior rate, and then realized the price I was actually paying! I chose one of those seats in the back, but moved closer to the front about fifteen minutes into the movie, because mostly everyone ended up in the back, people come in very late to the movie, and all the refreshment vendors were roaming through the aisles even after the movie started (they waited until the national anthem had played, with everyone standing up in the theater).

Some Bollywood stars appeared on the screen before the movie started, speaking about their love of the Fame movie experience, and they really do make it an experience. Halfway into the movie, the movie stopped, ads came on the screen (I physically had to hold my ears closed because they turn up the volume so much for the ads), and the vendors came back even though most of the theater exited for the restrooms. They don’t make a lot of income with the ticket prices, however they do with the refreshment sales.

Now to the movie: A harrowing depiction of a family torn apart, in more ways than one, when the Tsunami hit Thailand at a resort where they were staying – a true story. The movie takes the mother and the older son through life-threatening and emotionally draining experiences, as they look for medical care, shelter, and the rest of their family. The movie also shows what happens to the husband and two younger sons, and “the impossible” that takes place through the family’s fierce determination to find one another and to survive. I highly recommend the movie as an example of the inner force we have within ourselves to live and to love – a truly rewarding, touching story that brings home the power of love.