T5 days with Bhaktisvarupa (Dr) Damodara Swami

M Asnikumar Singh *

 Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami
Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami :: Pix - Sriman Prasada Das / Roshni Thokchom

Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami, (popularly known as Dr Damodara) was one of my idols and inspirations growing up, not only because he was a spiritual leader but because he was a great man who touched the lives of many.

Early years

He lost his father at a very young age, grew up in hardships but those hardships were not going to deter him in his path. Persisting through the obstacles in his life, he received multiple degrees from renowned institutes in Guahati, Calcutta, New York and most impressively, a PhD in scientific Organic Chemistry from University of California.

His lifelong association with ISKCON started in 1971 in Los Angeles USA where he met Swami Prabhupada. There he was given the name Svarupa Damodara Das.

An unsurpassable moment for a fortunate common man

One of the happiest and luckiest moments of my life came in 2006, when my wife was approached to be the lead dancer of the ‘Ras Lila’ on Janmashtami of that same year in the ISKCON temple in Imphal. I was happy for my wife but was 10 times happier of the fact that I would get to meet the man I had admired since decades.

When I met him, I was shocked (a good shock). Contrary to what I anticipated, he came across as genuinely humble, well informed on any topic and most noticeably, a great listener.

I was even more happy to find out that I was seated on the same row with him for the ‘Ras Lila’ on Janmashtami day. My world upside down in a literal flash.

Unfortunately, our lives took a huge turn on the day which was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life. The infamous bomb blast killed and injured many innocent souls on lord Krishna’s day. I was severely injured and was brought to Shija hospital for immediate treatment. We only got to know the severity of my injuries late in the night after the doctors had concluded their assessment.

I had suffered shrapnel injuries in my chest, knee and I had lost a lot of blood due to one of my fingers getting cut off and falling off because of a shrapnel hitting it directly.

After regaining consciousness for a few hours before I was to be prepared for surgery the next day, I got to know the extent of damage the blast had done; to many families, including my own. Many of my family members including my mother in law suffered grievous injuries. She is still disabled to this day.

Glimmers of hope

But in the few hours I regained consciousness in the hospital that night, two things kept me going. One was realising that Dr Damodara was alive and being treated in the same ward with me and the second thing was getting to see my eldest son (who was 7 years old at the time) for a few minutes at the hospital.

The following day I had a fairly successful surgery due to the medical expertise of Dr Palin, who took great care of me in his hospital. But the fate of my mother in law was still not known as she had lost all the muscle tissue in her right leg and the amount of blood loss she had suffered could prove to be a deciding factor in her survival.

 Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami
Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami :: Pix - Sriman Prasada Das / Roshni Thokchom

A lifelong lesson in persistence and optimism in a friendship of 5 days and a few tales

After surgery, I spent 5 days in the ward with Dr Damodara. Those 5 days would come to shape my life in ways I never anticipated. To this day, I believe his prayers saved my mother in law’s life.

In the ward, he told me how he was pained by the violence and bloodbath that had engulfed Manipur and the pain he was suffering from his injuries was nothing compared to the pain in the heart that he was suffering since decades due to the violence in our State.

He also narrated me many tales from his eventful life. Each and every tale he narrated me touched me emotionally. A thing he told me still resonates in my mind everyday. He said Manipur with its beauty never deserves to be a place known for its violence and bloodbath and that he had a dream to organise an International Peace Conference in Manipur, which he told me was his lifelong dream and to let the world recognise Manipur as a land of peace, beauty and of lord Krishna.

To turn this dream into reality was his goal. Also he told me of his dream to take Manipur to the level of a developed city like Singapore, which he told me to visit at least once in my lifetime. I visited the place in 2018.

But perhaps the most important story he narrated to me was that of Bhagavad Gita; particularly tales of Arjuna and lord Krishna. It gave me many valuable lessons on ethics, morality, selfless actions, role of conscience, and loyalty in any crucial moment of someone’s life.

He told me to forget the intense physical pain of the injuries we had sustained and focus on the fact that we had been given a second life by lord Krishna and that second chance was meant for a purpose; to do something meaningful for others. Those 5 days I spent with him in the septic ward of Shija Hospital was responsible for me recovering psychologically from the traumatic effects of the blast and the effect it had on my family.

I will always remain indebted to the fact that I got to spend some unimaginably tough but invaluable days with such a humble, thoughtful and marvellous soul like Dr Damodara. His view of lord Krishna giving me a second life truly feels like reality today as I continue to work harder than ever before, with renewed energy and optimism in my lifelong goal to create a better Thanga (the place I grew up in).

Building bridges for causes greater than anyone.

Dr Damodara was responsible for bringing together many of us to build the ISKCON building complex in Imphal. This was his gift which I admired. The ability to bring together any number of people in any circumstance, for a greater cause.

Peace and Manipur : A lifelong dream of many selfless souls of past times and a gift to be cherished and protected by the younger lot. We have achieved his dream of a peaceful Manipur but sadly, the man who had this dream is no more amongst us to witness this. That is what hurts me most. But looking down on us from heaven, he must surely be happy with how Manipur has come to peace from the days of bloodbath.

It is the responsibility of each and every one of us who believed in his life and philosophy to work for causes, which are greater than us in our lives. Peace is not an achievement, it is a responsibility.

As people of this great and beautiful land, we owe it to ourselves and to our forefathers of the past to maintain peace and harmony amongst us, so that our children can grow up loving each other rather than harbouring hatred, jealousy towards each other.

Great souls touch the lives of many in one form or the other. Dr Damodara touched mine deeply in a short amount of time and that is a debt which I shall never be able to repay.

* M Asnikumar Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The Writer is a founder secretary of Manipur Thinkers Forum and also spokesperson of BJP Manipur Unit
This article was webcasted on March 01 2021.

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