It was February 2011. My husband David and I were flying from Winnipeg to Delhi via Toronto and the national airline couldn’t seat us together to Toronto. That’s how I met Shirish Karveer, who sat beside me on what for him was the first leg of his journey home to Mumbai after a business trip.
By the time we were taxiing into Toronto, Shirish had invited us (he had yet to meet David, three rows ahead) to his family home to celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colour and spring. Holi and Mumbai would come six weeks later, at the conclusion of our trip, so Shirish instructed us to keep in touch.
We did. To wild music and gyrating dance in suburban Mumbai, we showered Shirish, his parents, brother and their neighbours with water and vibrant, powdered dyes. Experienced as they were at this, they gave more than they got (little children showed the least mercy). We were blasted and pasted with all the colours of a garden.
We’ve kept in touch. A couple of weekends back, we visited Shirish in Thunder Bay, where he’s earning a master’s degree at Lakehead University. This time, we explored Canadian Shield hills, forests and waterfalls.
That Sunday, Shirish asked if we might be his guests at birthday celebrations for the Hindu deity, Krishna. There would be dance and food and — an added incentive — musicians from Winnipeg.
That’s how I found myself sitting cross-legged in a crowded room in Thunder Bay’s Vedic Cultural Centre, on overlapping carpets with intricate geometric patterns. The event, called Janmashtami, included chanting (kirtan), congregants reverentially bathing altar statues associated with Krishna with milk, honey, ghee and yogurt (abhishek) and a debate on whether stories from the MahaBharata (an ancient epic, one chapter of which is the Bhagavad Gita) are mythic or verifiable.
Sitting beside me was Daruka dasa, from Winnipeg. He told me the temple’s main principles are compassion for all living beings (devotees are vegetarian), transmigration of the soul (somewhat like reincarnation) and karma. Also, he said, Manitoba’s one ISKCON temple (International Society of Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishnas) is located in a Wolseley house, at 108 Chestnut St.
So it is — in that strange, wonderful way of human connection — that a chance encounter and act of kindness rippled across the continents and led back home.
Information on ISKCON Manitoba is available at 204-633-1487 and http://KrishnaKrishna.ca
Gail Perry is a community correspondent for Wolseley.