Personal

Into the Arms of an Old Friend

by Krishna Kanta Dasi

Every once in a while a person may enter our lives with whom we feel an almost instantaneous, special connection. Although meeting for the first time, it feels as if we are being reunited with a long lost friend.

This happened to me nearly three years ago, when Janavi entered my life. At the time, I was slowly piecing together an anthology of poems by contemporary women in the Bhakti tradition, titled Bhakti Blossoms.The poems, however, were not forthcoming: flowing into the project only in occasional trickles.

Then Janavi’s e-mails arrived, generously delivering poem after poem—many moving me to the core. In some of them I even recognized parts of my own heart. Where did this kavirani—this poet—come from? I’d often asked myself while reading through Janavi’s voluminous work.

As a result of our mutual love for writing, poetry and art, Janavi and I grew a deep and meaningful friendship through e-mails. Over the course of our exchanges I familiarized myself with some of Janavi’s multiple facets: as a talented artist, a sensitive poet, a filmmaker, a dancer, an author, a heartfelt vaishnavi. Sadly, I also discovered that my beautiful, new friend was bedridden and struggling just to stay alive, in a body that gave her unbearable pain.

This sobering news took my dialogue with Janavi to a whole other level—perhaps even an otherworldly one—where we teetered on the edge of eternity, and did our best to share from our cores: from those parts of us we knew were inextinguishable and undying. It was a kind of rare, soulful sharing.

“The soul does not take birth, nor does it ever die. Such a being has never come into being, nor shall it ever come to be. It is unborn, eternal everlasting and primeval. It is not slain when the body is slain.”

(Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, verse 20, Graham M. Schweig translation)

Like Maharaja Pariksit—a great king of ancient India who was told he only had seven days to live—Janavi and I dedicated our exchanges to examining the meaning of life according to the ancient Bhakti teachers before us, and asking ourselves poignant questions like:

Have we loved much in our lives, have we loved well, and have we let ourselves be loved?

When prose failed us, we wrote each other poems. When the poems were not enough, Janavi and I spoke through photographs and art. At times, we left periods of silence between us. For me, the silences were often louder than anything else, as I coped with anticipatory grief: inevitably moving closer to her, while simultaneously letting her go. This kind of relationship exercised my heart in new ways.

Today—nearly three years and 225 e-mails later—Janavi’s e-mails (which she now dictates) have nearly stopped arriving. She can no longer move her hands without them hurting, and her speech is barely audible. Janavi’s delicate body has withered down to only 80 pounds, and her focus has shifted to whom she calls her “oldest friend”.

Janavi’s “oldest friend” is Lord Krishna. And she now appears to be patiently waiting to meet him, on the other side of what separates us from eternity.

A little over a year ago, Janavi put together her letters to Krishna in a beautiful book, (found here), illustrated by her own black and white photographs. As occurred with Arjuna at the start of the Bhagavad Gita, Janavi’s helplessness at the situation before her is filling her with the courage to ride her chariot forward, surrender her heart, and return the embrace of an “old friend” who appears to be already holding his arms out to her.

To me, my dear friend Janavi is brave. She is beautiful. And her story echoes our own stories, if we listen carefully enough.

So, I leave you today with one of Janavi’s award wining poems, which was originally published in the 2017 Hammond House anthology, titled Eternal (Republished with permission) May it inspire us to ask ourselves the deeper questions, to introspect, to cultivate a rich inner dialogue of our own with our “oldest friend”, and do so within the conversations we share with our loving friends here, in this world.

For love, the great sage Narada tells us, “is of the nature of immortality”.

 (For more of Janavi’s story, please click here)

AFTER

by Janavi Held

 

After faint hopes

and long vigils.

After eternal loss

and protected ashes.

After wood

and dead ships

in the night.

After testimony

to affirm worship.

After oblivion

and quantity.

After enduring days

and impossible nights.

After times funeral

and fugitive shadows,

science and weapons

and weeping.

After glorious twilights

and perfume.

After wavering children.

After the edge of resistance.

After loud destruction.

After the silver of ceremony.

After bedrooms

and the uniforms of trees,

tranquility, and thirsty lips,

and complicated substance

and human beings

and nowadays

and clothes

and arms and legs.

After smoke and sand.

After lamentations

and degraded doubts.

After death

what?

 

After constant victory

and perpetual failure.

After the increase and decrease

of populations

and the circulation of darkness.

After propaganda

and human armies.

After accumulating

and rotating and solitude.

After witness and execution

and night returning.

After fusion

a portrait

a sunken face

a cold wind.

After expansions

and extensions.

After the depths

of desertion.

After faithful widows

and mud

and overturned intentions.

After death

what?

 

After the rotation of the multitudes

and bodies and chaos.

After cruelty and punishment.

After pomegranate mornings

and harvest nights

and the buildings like mountains.

After today what?

 

After residence

and passage

and deciphered nothings.

After geography and empty isolation.

After ancestors and religions.

After violent mourning.

After the dust.

After the unspoken sings.

After the fire.

After awakening love

what?

 

After the drunken bones of intoxication.

After repetition, repetition, after repetition

what?

 

After desecrating the dead

and celebrations

and enlightenment

and clear water

and the slaves of time.

After farewells

and tears

and engraved guns

and the bloody altars of time.

After invasions

and humbled nations.

After slaves and murders

and the eyelids of blindness.

After mirrors

and mortality.

After pity.

After martyrdom

and serpents,

and the demolished ashes of the rose.

After the immortality of stars

and the fire of avarice, the corpse,

the spared day, the sterile seconds,

dampness and tools.

After the city,

and the fearful weight of naked time.

After vanity and wine.

After laughter

and dying

What?

 

After the immunity of innocence.

After the determination of greed.

After lust.

After the dance is done.

After healing.

After shaking loose.

After karma.

After eternity

what?

~

 (For more of Janavi’s story, please click here. To write to Janavi, you may visit her website, here.)

(Artistic digital photographic artwork by Janavi Held)