No Kidding. My Children. Not Yours.

“We’ll find a wet-nurse for it.  We’ll put it in a basket and keep it in the attic.”

Padyavali followed me into the kitchen, and before I could stop myself, I turned and said, “No.  No one is going to be my baby’s wet-nurse. I am not giving up my baby.”  Padyavali reached up and slapped me, hard, on the face.  I heard the clap of her palm against my cheek, but somehow, I did not feel the sting.  I was stunned, but what was most surprising to me was that I said ‘no.’  I had never said ‘no’ to her before.

mommy

Padyavali was older; she did not have children, nor had she ever been married.  She was our headmistress, the overseer of the women and girls of the Seattle Hare Krishna temple.  Rocan, our temple president, had hired her as his right hand ‘man’ so he wouldn’t have too much direct contact with us.  Women, according to the Hare Krishna philosophy, were the downfall of men.  We were full of lust, and our brains were half the size of a man’s.  We were simple minded, and if supplied with enough children, jewelry and saris, we would be satisfied.  It was unusual for a Hare Krishna woman to have any position of authority, but Padyavali was not woman-like; there was not an ounce of femininity about her.  She was short and skinny, and her movements were jerky and rigid.  She was pinched and tight-lipped, her forehead lined with deep furrows, a permanent scowl chiseled into the middle of her dark eyebrows.  Her wide, black eyes darted behind thick-lensed glasses that constantly slipped down her hooked nose.  Despite her size, she was powerful and foreboding, and we all feared her.  Padyavali hovered around Rocan constantly, her white-widow’s sari engulfing her small body, her arm hooked up like a princess to prevent the folds from falling.  I suspected she had a secret crush on Rocan, that she was jealous of me and the other women because we were young and pretty, but I chalked this up to my own sinful thinking and wiped it away.  I had learned to be good at that — ignoring any doubt that entered my mind.  I remember the way Rocan looked at us, though, tilting his head back slightly, fluttering his eyelids and rolling his eyeballs in their sockets as if he was experiencing some sort of ecstasy, oddly flicking his tongue around in his mouth while he led chanting sessions and preached inaudible sermons.

After my pilgrimage to India, when it was deemed I needed special attention  and guidance because of my lack of surrender, because I could no longer meet my daily quota of collecting $250,  I was informed that it was time for me to be married.  My future husband, Hrsikesa, had flown to the Seattle temple from New York seeking a wife, and we were betrothed.  “Please,” I begged, “Please don’t make me marry him.”  I sat on the floor, cross-legged, my head bowed in a gesture of humility, while  Padyavali and Rocan sat on satin pillows on the other side of the room, stone-faced and cold: “You need your own personal guru.”  I was usually good at forcing myself to be submissive and quieting my mind, but I was concerned about marrying this man, and submitting to the idea was difficult. Hrsikesa was a stranger to me, a man with a thick Brooklyn accent and anxious, tense expressions.  Even though he had a handsome face, with soft blue eyes, and he appeared strong-bodied and healthy, something about him made me uncomfortable.  We were discouraged from knowing each other, from becoming attached to each other, from even liking each other. During our betrothal, we were allowed to interact for one hour each day, and then only to read scriptures together in the temple room.  I didn’t want to get married, but I was not given a choice, or at least I believed I had no choice.  If I didn’t follow the plan, I would be forced to leave the temple.  For me this was terrifying because it equated to going to hell and being damned for life.  “We know what is best for you,” Padyavali said, and she forced me, fully clothed, into a cold shower and berated me until I agreed to surrender.  I had witnessed one of the other women refuse an arranged marriage, and she was shoved down a flight of ceramic-tiled stairs, out the door, and into the street.  I pushed away my thoughts, my feelings, and my unhappiness about this arrangement.  Hrsikesa and I were married less than six months after our betrothal.  A few months after we were married, I was pregnant.  I was twenty-one years old.

My husband and I stayed in Seattle up until a month after I gave birth to my daughter.  For much of the first year of our marriage, I wasn’t permitted to live with Hrsikesa, even while I was pregnant.  Padyavali continued to control my daily activities, so I remained in the temple, living with the other single women and working in the kitchen.  On the weekends, I looked after the young girls who lived at the boarding school and whose parents did not live close by.  We took trips to parks and playgrounds, but I always asked the girls to keep our activities secret.  They were not supposed to be having fun, and we would all be punished if anyone found out.  One Saturday, we took a trip to the beach on Lake Union.  It was an early Spring day, the air crisp and chilly.  As soon as the girls were out of the car, they romped and raced toward the water, hooting loudly, stripping off their saris and slips. They jumped into the frigid lake, swimming and splashing until their lips turned blue and their teeth chattered, but they seemed immune to the cold — they were having too much fun.  I suspected this Saturday’s adventure would be impossible to keep secret.  In her excitement, one of the girls told her mother about the day, who in turn told Padyavali.  I was called to the office and severely chastised for having been such a bad influence, for having allowed the girls to be so unchaste as to frolic around in their panties, in public. “But, they need exercise,” I said quietly, trying to defend myself and the girls.  Padyavali sneered, clenched her teeth and proclaimed, “They get exercise going from one building to another to attend classes!”  I was no longer permitted to care for the children.

I worried, for not only were the children prohibited from being children, but abuse and horrifying punishments were being inflicted on the little girls.  These were children. Padyavali and Rocan rationalized and attempted to hide the abuse, but it was impossible to hide it all.  One day, I found a little girl in the basement standing before the washing machine, waiting for the wash cycle to complete, her urine-soaked panties pulled onto her head like a hat, sobbing while she chanted the Hare Krishna mantra at the top of her lungs.  She was a shy and sweet little girl, with curly reddish hair, her cheeks and nose spotted with tiny, red freckles.  She tried so hard to be pleasing, and she seemed always anxious and remorseful.  Her mother lived in a temple in another state, so she could not see what was happening to her daughter, and her father did not know where she was.  If I tried to help the little girl, she would be punished even more.  The most I could do was to gently rub her back and whisper, “It will be okay.”  How sad she was!  Despite her punishment, she could not stop wetting the bed, so she was locked inside the basement’s dirt-walled root-cellar, behind a heavy, metal door, too heavy to push open, her chanting so loud and desperate you could hear the anguish all the way on the third floor of the building.  “She’s a bed-wetter!”  Padyavali condemned the little girl, her lips curled in disdain, when I expressed concern.

Another time, I found a little girl locked inside a dark, basement closet as punishment because she could not control her energy.   She was impish and giggly, but her sense of humor was considered defiant and disrespectful.  She bounced even when she walked, and her laughter was infectious.  I heard scratching behind the door, so I quietly unlocked it and snuck in.  She was humming to herself, scribbling little cartoon characters on the walls with a crayon she had smuggled in with her, a little mischievous smirk on her face.  We whispered and read together for a while, and I only hoped she would not feel alone and frightened.  A few of the children’s parents lived near the temple, and they were able to spend time together with their girls on Saturdays, but even they seemed helpless when it came to their own children.  A mother asked me one evening to come to her house.  Her six-year-old daughter slept in her lap while she stroked her hair.  Tears streamed down the mother’s face.  She showed me her child’s bruised and swollen lips.  “Look,” she whispered. “What do I do?”   A protective, maternal sense was waking inside of me; what I was seeing was deeply disturbing.  I would have a child soon.  I could not fathom any child being treated so badly.

During my seven-year marriage, Hrsikesa and I had three children – two girls and a boy. The Hare Krishna standard was for parents to send their children away to boarding schools when they reached the age of five, and it was encouraged to limit contact with them.  It was not unusual for parents to only see their children a few weeks out of the year.  Children were considered material attachments, we were told, and material attachments were impediments to spiritual advancement.  We were expected to procreate, but we were also expected to hand our children over to others to raise.  We were discouraged from loving our children and our spouses; we were told that love was a perverted sense of lust and kept us stuck in the material world, impeding our spiritual advancement.  As my oldest daughter was nearing the age of five, pressure was mounting to send her away to school.  I had seen too much abuse, and I was not going to allow this to happen to my children. Even if Hrsikesa tried to force it, I would not send my daughter to a Hare Krishna school.

This, in my Hare Krishna life, was the second time I said ‘no.’  I was not going to give my child to someone else to raise.  I was not going to send her to a boarding school, away from me, where I would not be able to protect her.  With a great fear of the unknown, I snuck away with my children, finding refuge in New York with my mother and father-in-law, who were kind and offered protection for us.  After leaving, I received countless threats, and I spent many sleepless nights, staying awake to protect my children from their father, worrying that he would sneak into the house, kidnap them, and drive with them across the border to Canada.  I feared if I fell asleep, I would never see my children again.  My fear was not unfounded.  There were cases like this:  Hare Krishna members kidnapping children and hiding them from estranged spouses, taking them to other countries where they would be impossible to find.  There were cases of young runaway teenagers hidden from their parents by the Hare Krishna movement, and even a case of a father who committed suicide because he could not find the daughter who was taken from him.  I can imagine nothing worse than having my children taken from me.

Prior to being recruited into the Hare Krishna movement, I did not see myself as a mother. I was fairly certain I did not want to have a family.  But, my indoctrination into the group was complete and overwhelming.  I lost all sense of self, and I surrendered to a group of people who told me they knew what was better for me than I did, even to the point of telling me who to marry.  As a Hare Krishna wife, my role was to be submissive and follow my husband, to serve him and to bear children, and I did just that.  Ultimately, my children saved me.  These three people are the greatest gifts of my life.  Even if it were possible, I would not turn back time and eradicate the Hare Krishna experience despite the incredible pain and abuse I endured over nine years because it would mean I would not have these three wonderful people in my life.  My children saved me, they gave me purpose, they protected me, and they helped me to grow up.

 

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12 thoughts on “No Kidding. My Children. Not Yours.

  1. The photo of you at that age along with words, is so deep, your willingness to recall these memories to the page, is more than brave and fierce, thank you for letting me read as you write.

  2. Thank you, Laurie. I now understand how desperate those young women were that approached me in airports. $250! In those days it would be equal to more than $500 now. I used to wonder where they were from…approaching my car, always looking as if they were starved, eyes crazed from mind control, I wondered where they were from, what had they been, who was grieving them from home.
    I wondered how safe they were standing at the intersections selling flowers in the unsafe area of Jamaica, NY.

    Thank you for sharing these very emotional stories. And, thinking of the children you comforted, in the cellar, etc., even though you were removed from them, that pat on the back, those friendly whispers, the trip to the lake, may have given them strength to get through whatever their little lives involved.

    I am sure your children appreciate your strength. The photograph is beautiful.

    Martha

  3. Laurie,
    Thank you for your courage to write this. The feeling of little children being removed from their parents, especially mothers, is also the narrative of my two daughters and me as well. Its a life long journey for us of building and healing connection.
    love to your family

  4. Laurie- This is a powerful and moving account of how love triumphs! It was heart wrenching to read of the torture of those little children. Your brave interceptions into the closets and cellars to console them helped more than you’ll ever know. I always thought the Hare Krishna people I saw in NYC were spiritual, loving and joyous. Thank you for sharing so honestly. This is a moving piece beautifully written straight from the heart. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I’m so sorry you went through what you did. My own mother was terribly abusive and I had to learn to forgive her to go on. That happened when I remembered she too had been abused terribly by her own dad and sadly neglected by her mom who died when she was eleven. When I first met Padyavali at the Toronto temple, she scared the crap out of me with her rigid ways. I was much older than you were when you joined and not locked into the movement like you were and so I could walk away and pick and choose what I liked and didn’t.

    She became a friend on and off when she was in Toronto. We only recently found out that she too was greatly deceived. Rocana hid the letters from her husband from her pre-ISKCON days, and told her that he didn’t care, hadn’t phoned and had not written. She was lied to just like you. But, some people enjoy being powerful when they are given the opportunity. Perhaps if she had had children she would have understood and not treated you like that. I don’t know what made her the way she was.

    She is now trapped in a very broken body, suffering from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and some obvious dementia. I try to visit when I can. I am one of the few people she remembers. The rest are all lost in the cobwebs of her mind. She is in a longterm care facility. I don’t think she ever understood what she did back then or how she behaved. Eventually she regretted her marriage to Rocana who is still a complete jerk and married to a a much younger woman whom he has totally brainwashed.

    Your story is a familiar one. My experiences were much different and I had a good peer group who would not allow cult control. I still consider myself to be a Gaudiya Vaisnava but it is because I believe in the ancient philosophy not what ISKCON chauvinistic gurus taught. I enjoy Prabhupada’s books and when the women who knew him tell me about him, I realize he was nothing like the male chauvinists who took over. My own guru is a friend and a nice guy. But I have always been an explorer of religions and so have never limited myself to just one. I go to some Christian churches and experience other spiritualities as well.

    So many of these patriarchal faiths dished out the same stuff, putting down the Goddess and her lineage, we women. But I think their time is drawing to a close. Things are changing everywhere. We are in a new era where abuse of any kind is not being tolerated. Soon the old school will be gone and our world will change.

    I’m glad you are out of it and working through the nightmare of your past. I know so many who experienced the same things. My heart goes out to you.
    Much love. Lynne

    1. Dear Lynne – Thank you for sharing this about Padyavali. I always knew there was a sadness behind her meanness. Padyavli and Rocan acted married, so it does not surprise me, either, that they were married. I believe Rocan died last spring.

      I was 19 years old when Padyavali and Rocan entered my life. I was vulnerable and lost. I believed them when they told me they knew what was best for me. They were both mean spirited, and they caused tremendous damage to many women, including myself. I have had a difficult life, too, but it does not give me license to hurt others.

      You sound like a kind person, and I am glad you are Padyavali’s friend. I am also glad to hear she reunited with her love.

      Yours
      Laurie

      1. Hi Laurie,
        I am sorry her anger and bitterness caused so many problems for so many people. But it felt like I needed to let you know she too was a victim of the movement as it was then and Rocana. He’s a piece of work. I don’t know if he’s gone. I thought I would have heard something. I will certainly find out. His wife was a lovely person but obviously being really brainwashed by him.
        I have met so many of the chauvinists. They are dirty buggers. I never took any crap from any of them. My husband and I rescued a few kids and set them free. I wish I could have been there for you.
        Hang in there and remember what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I recognize abuse now and can’t stand any of it. I turn into Kali-ma! Lol. I am sure you are the same. It was a different world then everywhere, both in the homes and in organizations of any kind. Now we would never think of hitting our children and back then it was common practise.
        But you are ok now and you have a lovely family. There are some dirty footprints on your heart, but they will dissolve away with love for yourself and God. Everything can be healed. Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, but it will.
        Much love to you and yours,
        Lynne

  6. I just read your post again. Padyavali was married for 16 years before she met the Hare Krishna’s. After her husband finished his masters degree she went out to find herself and met the Hare Krishna’s. She considered Douglas to be her soul mate and was heart broken when he never contacted her or answered her letters in Seattle. He told me he was told by Rocana that she didn’t want to talk to him and eventually Douglas wrote to her and said maybe they should get a divorce. She agreed, having gotten that letter, and they were divorced. I think that was certainly a catalyst toward making her very bitter. Rocana had obviously planned to marry her and promptly did that. So when you knew her, she may very well have been married to him, unbeknownst to you all.
    Douglas tracked her down about ten years ago and she was ecstatic to see him again. They are back together and she considers him her husband and soul mate. Their story was a sad one as well. She has been in longterm care for about three years now. Just thought you should know. Lynne

  7. Padyavali later got married to Rocan.They separated after a little while.She is now in a nursing home suffering from Alzeimer.No one is above severe reactions due to offending humble devotees.Let this be a cautionary tale.I’m shocked and sad to have read your story.Hare Krsna.

  8. Lalita. Do you remember me? I was Malati. I was Rochan’s adopted daughter for a little while. Thank you for writing this. I had no idea the adults, specifically you, had it so bad. I always admired you. Wanted you to be my mommy. I hope we can meet up somewhere. Facebook?

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