My life was defined by strange Idiosyncrasies – Oblivious to the existence of others, strongly preferring solitary activities, avoiding interacting in groups with problems in expressing emotions and understanding social cues. A World Inside & A World outside that was in a whirlpool for thirty long years; a Cry within that needed a release, a talent or rather talents that needed to manifest! How, Where, When, there was no idea!
A childhood spent in boarding schools, from one to the other. There was a deficit of English Schools in the small town from where me and my brother hailed. The memories I carried for indefinite years was the wound of insecurity from the moment my parents would drop me back after the holidays, each time!! It was a survival of the fittest in the Hostel.Vacations at home were spent in classes, all fixed one after the other, from music to baking to being coached in a game. Adolescence came & I was very distinct, notable and perhaps the Centre of Attraction. Naïve, cocooned in my shell, I would never match an eye with anyone. Life moved on with friends through thick and thin. With emotions all suppressed, a victim consciousness had stated taking birth inside.
I excelled in studies and after graduation, the natural course was a Masters. During the third semester of my Masters I was a ‘gap filler’ in the singing team for college’s annual function. There I was noted, proposed, families met and within three months was married. Not a single day did I spend not weeping from the day I tied the knot. Something knew within that it was not right. It was a marriage of compromise; I had to spend my days with my parents-in-law while my husband lived in another city. There was no reason given. This is how it would be, I was told.
There was yet another semester to be completed. I was married in a traditional Zamindar Family. My father in law would drop me at college and pick me back every day. Walking, or taking an auto rickshaw or an open rickshaw was out of question. I was very lonely, very alone. The only person apart from college mates I would see was the ‘Milk Man’ on the Bike and my parents-in-law. No one else. Food would be under lock and key and measured & any unannounced consumption would become a big issue! I started becoming very weak, depressed, lost all the confidence, would have black outs. By then, I had conceived and become a mother. A renowned neurologist diagnosed me as epileptic and put me on daily dose of 1200 mg Tegratol. I became a total wreck, physically, emotionally, mentally and was sure the child would be born as ‘not normal’.
And, She was born on 9th September 96. 9.8 pounds, golden locks, fair skinned. I was 34 kgs then. Four months later, my parents came to see me and skillfully took me and my daughter away to Delhi and showed me to the best of doctors. I was diagnosed with, ‘Classical Migraine with Anxiety’, and started getting treated.
Negotiations happened between the two set of parents and we were sent back to in laws place on the condition that we shall stay with my husband hence forth. The next three years turned out to be the worst nightmare of my life — a daughter growing in an environment of abuses, an educated husband with no direction in life and addicted to forbidden vices.
With the support of my parents I started a clinic ‘Psyche & Soul’ for the mentally challenged children. During those hellish three years my daughter could not be kept at home, was not permitted to be brought to clinic and so I put her in a crèche, 2 kms away, accessible only through foot. I would walk 8 kms each day to manage all this. I did not know what The Art of Living was; had never heard of It. Every night my pillow would be soaked with tears of helplessness — this is what me and my daughter’s life would be, “imprisoned for ever.’ Fear of society and parent’s embarrassment left no avenue for escape.
One Night, I dreamt of a bearded man in White robes instructing me to ‘Chant Om Namah Shivaya’. I had taken initiation at the age of 16 from Ram Krishna Mission. And on the same night, I saw this man in white merging with Ram Krishna Paramhansa. Ten days after I started chanting Om Namah Shivaya, clarity and strength dawned. I picked up my daughter and left the house of in laws in 2000.
My Mother pushed me into the Art of Living Course and I was so resistant. She would sit on the door step with my daughter so that I would not run out. On the last day of the course, I saw Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s picture and told my teacher of my dream. She said, ‘You have a long way to go’. I liked the program so much that I ended up doing the Art of Living Part 1 Course 16 times
I enrolled for a PhD program in Gauhati University. I also joined the same neurosciences hospital as a Child developmentalist where I was treated for withdrawal of epileptic medicines. My daughter was put in a day boarding and we stayed as paying guests. Wherever there would be an Art of Living Course, or Seva I would somehow reach there with my little girl travelling in buses/ rickshaws.
My parents grew worried seeing my involvement with Art of Living and shifted us to Delhi. I was in a new city – jobless, frustrated, just out of a marriage and grappling with legal battles. One day, Swami Brahmatej ji visited my home and I was narrating my frustration. That night, I had the second vision of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, walking towards River Ganges in Rishikesh. And I was following Him. He turned around and showed me ‘Two’ with His fingers.
I got my job in a Swedish Embassy Aided Project exactly after two days. It is still a Mystery. I had not yet met Gurudev. Very soon I went to Rishikesh for Holi special Meditation and Celebrations with Gurudev. On the last day of AMC small groups were being taken up to Gurudev’s Kutir for private Darshan. Our group was on the stairs, waiting for the group inside to come out. Physically, it was impossible for Gurudev to see all of us on the stairs. HE told someone in the room, ‘That Girl from Shimla has come’. As I stepped inside, my mother was weeping. Gurudev said, ‘She is mine, She has come back’.
I had quick professional growth in the NGO I was working and was awarded the best worker for three consecutive years. I got promoted to senior levels and simultaneously completed my Art of Living Teachers Training Course Phase 1 and 2. My Daughter Malvika was admitted to Army Public School. Litigation was on full spree and at each court hearing, I would almost faint with fear and anxiety of old memories.
Something was shifting inside beckoning me for something higher. And I knew I had to spend the rest of my life with and for my Master. I came to Ashram, my HOME on 18th March 2004.
I had no seva, no direction for what to do. Six months passed. My daughter would play all day in the mud, we were both lost. And there were constant threats from my father to leave the Ashram not only to me but others as well. One Day in agony, after 6 months, I went up to HIM saying, “I am very intelligent, You have no idea of my skills’. Sri Sri gave me an apple in return and I grew more angry thinking, ‘Here I am doing nothing and He gives me an apple, does not understand me’. I came out of his Kutir. It used to be ‘Kashyapa’ in those days. Gurudev came out after a while and held me hand and took me inside and openly stated, “This girl is going to lead projects and conference one day world wide’.
I had no idea what HE was saying. And then very soon, I started working on a project at the Sri Sri Ayurveda factory. Very soon with Gurudev’s blessings I conceived, established and sustained Projects Management Unit at Art of Living International Center, Bangalore. The first project got sanctioned from ministry of Health and Famliy Welfare, Central Government. I had no team, no resources and there was no one who understood this realm. I walked this path for almost 9 years all alone, my only volunteer and support being My Master.
96 odd collaborative projects with UN & Governments happened through this office. The most unimaginable global projects such as Stand Up Speak out 2007, Mission Green Earth 2008, Faith In Action -2010 with 500 dharma Gurus on HIV and the recent Youth Summits on 7 social issues is only and only a manifestation of My Master’s Grace.
In 2007, during the management of the Stand Up Speak out event, I was coordinating with 26 states of India and 56 countries all alone. It was unimaginably crazy and hectic with no proper office set up, staff and managing with the world on one front and the UN systems on the other. I was choked with Work and was breathless each day. Not a word of appreciation from My Master, no acknowledgement from anyone. One day, Gurudev called me to His Kutir and there were many senior teachers around Him. He reprimanded me for something I had not done. I started crying and for fifteen minutes kept thinking, ‘Someone has filled His ears’ against me’. He ignored me for fifteen minutes and then looked at me and said “You think someone has filled my ears? What I am telling You is not for You but for all those standing here. Richa , I shall grind you (he did that circular motion with His hand) till the gold in you starts shining”.
From ‘Projects’ the Journey marched ahead to the Conception of ‘Punarnavahas’ (a series of back to back courses topped with various Art of Living services such as Nadi pareeksha, Sumeru Sandhya, Food fest etc) and then to the Pre TTCs. I was made the first Pre TTC teacher of India. What a faith my Master had in me, a life that was only and only a lump of charcoal.
And now, After 9 years, the long legal battle ended, I was set free. My husband later did the Art of Living”s Part 1 and Part 2 Course, met Gurudev. I visit my in-laws and do Satsang there every time I am in their city. My father is so proud of me. And, as a human being, I can proudly say today my life has truly blossomed. Nurtured by the love and wisdom of my master, I find that my Emotional Autism is gone, I can relate to and Love everyone unconditionally. I feel so free and complete as if I have re-united with my Self.
Today, I teach the Art of Living Courses all over the world. My daughter is an accomplished Sitarist and Life is a Full Circle. The Battle Inside and Outside is all over.
Dr Richa Chopra, is a Counselor, Psychologist and a Senior Art of Living Teacher