by Rohan Narine, Co-Founder & Board Member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
Two life-changing events recently happened to my body and consciousness, and both were unforgettable. First was marrying my past life’s soul mate, and second was shaving my head. I have never been given a smile and frown at the same time, so many times and by so many people ever in my life. “Congratulations! What happened to your hair?” See, many Indo-Caribbeans tie a person’s hair to their health, and to have little or none of it at my age means you must have a terminal illness. What was worse was the blame that my wife received for a choice I made on my own. It was shocking, but forced me to confront a power that when I understood it, created a clandestine persuasion of those who remained questioners. The more I began owning the new Rohan, the karmic propagandist, the more Rohan’s emerged from within it.
Many of my new selves have begun the process of seeing my wife Aminta in action. I am lucky to be in the front row to her precedence, and blessed to walk on this profound path with such a great teacher. Seeing her put into practice her life philosophy has brought liberation to me and to the world. There will never be another North American Hindu movement as strong the Progressive one, and I shed inner tears without fear that Aminta is one of its leaders.
“So, how’s married life?” is a question I’ve received not just from friends, family, and members of various Mandirs, but also from colleagues on very serious conference calls. With greater clarity to build out a proper answer this time, I have to start by saying that ‘married life’ is wonderful. It feels right. Aminta and I enjoy every moment we spend together, even the downs. One of those downs was the story of our Ben. It shattered my heart in the way a sudden accident takes a life.
I first heard about Benny Parag about seven or eight years ago when he was twelve or eleven turning twelve. An emperor of gypsies, strangely flexible, and eyes that spoke truth to power, word quickly travelled around Queens, especially in Richmond Hill that when he sang it was as if he turned into a God. Born into a family of singers, Benny started using his vocal chords at three and later began studying Indian Classical music professionally at nine. I remember hearing him for the first time and thinking how the analogy fit him like a tailored suit. On one occasion I witnessed Hindus at my local Mandir lining up to prostrate to him just after hearing his alap (an ancient opening to a song usually lasting a few minutes).
Late last year, right after my wife and I got that fresh ‘married life’ started, we heard that Benny would be travelling to India to compete in an Indian reality singing show called Dil Hai Hindustani. Without hundreds of thousands of YouTube followers like some of the other finalists, he summoned the determination and willpower to be judged by the world. In early 2017, Ben rose to be among the top six (top eight counting two wild card contestants) before advancement relied solely on a phone-based voting system. Karan Johar, the director of what is arguably the most popular Hindi film ever made, a member of the Bollywood fraternity, and a Simon Cowell-like judge on Dil Hai Hindustani, admittedly stated to Ben after one of his performances that Ben was unequivocally his favorite contestant. Mr. Johar, as well as the world finally saw what Richmond Hill witnessed years ago – a man turn into God through song and return to man again afterward.
To the sorrow of us all, our Ben could not come close to the support that is given to the other contestants by being a foreigner in his own motherland. On an episode in March 2017 that sees Ben arguably deliver his best performance of the competition, and with his Guru from New York City in the audience, he was eliminated with the second lowest vote count of the eight remaining performers. Without even giving Ben an apt send-off, the show abruptly ended, and the reality part set in. My wife and I cried. My sister-in-law was speechless for an entire day. We cried and could not speak because Ben wasn’t just deserving of first, but also because our Ben was such a driving force in our ‘married life’. We became obsessed with watching and critiquing and re-watching all of his performances, both in India and in New York. We still do. Ben brought serenity to us that few humans did.
My wife and I take the courage and the strength we learned from our Ben into the social justice work that we selflessly perform as practitioners of liberal Hinduism via our nonprofit organization – Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus (Sadhana). In that space, we continually push ourselves to bring forth into the world a Hinduism that is inclusive, non-discriminatory, rooted in universal loving kindness, and open to dialogue with those who are willing to engage with us. It’s uncommon to see a husband and wife serve in this capacity together as torchbearers for a new enlightenment, especially in the age of alternative facts.
Yet, Sadhana is the zeitgeist, contrary to opposing forces that believe in me versus you. In the now, there is no competition, just loving self-awareness. This is this world. Once you remove the blinding glare of fearful propaganda, we all see the truth. There is Shiva and Shakti, there is Yin and Yang, there is the Holy Spirit, and they all flow through each and every one of us, connected to God’s heart. This is our world.
Years before Sadhana gained the traction it has now, a town hall was held at my Guru’s Mandir, The Shri Trimurti Bhavan, located in Ozone Park, New York. A Hindu Temple administrator was present, who when asked if an Indo-Caribbean Mandir could ever be considered as a space for social services, answered with a resounding no. All good things come to those who wait. After those years of precise advocacy, and taking firm positions on counter-conservative interpretations of Hindu Scriptures, the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir became the first in the nation to declare itself a Sanctuary. A Hindu Temple, truly preaching Hindu teachings of oneness, loving kindness, self-awareness, and fearlessness, rears its beautiful liberal face in a sea of conservative fearful old-world ugliness.
Through all of these monumental happenings, always by my side, seeing the seesaw of it all, is my most precious stone, a diamond that outshines all others, and increases in pricelessness with time. A force of nature in her own right, my wife Aminta, sometimes called Amina, or Aminata, or Aminita, or Ameenta, known by her parents or not, is actually a Greek word that means vindicator. As a torchbearer of the new Hinduism, which is actually the old Hinduism, I feel that if Aminta is involved in its vindication, it’s in safe hands. Hinduism’s true teachings and still-revolutionary ways of life will be given the justice it deserves. I believe that this world, guided by souls like our Ben and my wife, can restore itself to its natural peace after this great flood is over.