Their disease was supposed to be terminal,
but they've survived for lives of
inspired and inspiring devotional service.
THE CROWDED BUS JERKED to a stop. A concerned father and mother, Mukunda and Mina Gandhi, struggled out. With them were their two children, Chirag (7) and Vishal (3), in wheelchairs. Both boys were victims of Pseudohypertrophic Muscular Atrophy, an incurable, terminal disease that gradually destroys all the muscles in the body.
Pushing the wheelchairs forward, the parents walked to the base of famous Mount Abu in Rajasthan. Their destination was a large cave atop the mountain. They had been told that in the cave lived a four-hundred-year-old baba (renunciant). He was an accomplished tantric who could cure any disease.
The wheelchairs could move no farther. The determined parents lifted the children onto their shoulders and proceeded up the steep mountain. Thorns pierced their feet and the sun burned their skin, but they trudged on, seeking a cure for their incurable children.
At last they reached the cave. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they saw the old baba. He looked remarkably young, and his body was covered in ash. Next to him were his fellow babas. Many of them were naked, with long matted hair, and they all held the trisula Lord Siva's trident weapon. It was a frightening sight.
Mukunda explained the reason for their visit. The baba said that he would need to find out whether the children were curable. He picked up a human skull and, holding it up to his ear, began talking to some higher spirit.
He then set the skull down and said, "Yes, your children shall be cured. But I need some herbs from Nepal. These herbs will cost about twelve thousand rupees."
The parents quickly realized that they had fallen into the hands of robbers in the guise of saints.
This was not the first time the Gandhis had been baffled in their attempt to find a cure for their children. Over the last seven years, they had tried every possible cure allopathic, homeopathic, ayurvedic, tantric, and acupuncture. They had also consulted doctors in America, but all of them had pronounced Chirag and Vishal incurable. The doctors said they wouldn't live past eighteen.
Mukunda and Mina escaped from the cave and ran down the mountain as fast as they could, carrying Chirag and Vishal in their arms. Sweating and panting, they boarded the first bus back to Ahmedabad, their hometown in Gujarat, never to see the babas again.
Soon, Chirag and Vishal began going to school, despite their ill health. By the time Chirag turned fifteen, both parents had resigned themselves to the fact that there was no cure and had decided to let fate run its course. The parents lost interest in religion, while the boys developed a deep interest in science and the meaning of life.
"As time passed," Chirag remembers, "I reached twelfth grade and Vishal entered eighth. Both of us were doing well in our studies. But our physical condition was worsening. We were becoming weaker, and our bodies seemed uglier than before. We began facing difficulties in eating and other ordinary activities. Our speech was unclear. Our parents were very worried."
Gita To The Rescue
At the age of seventeen Chirag completed high school, but he didn't have enough strength to pursue further studies. One day, he asked his father what he should do to use his time. His father was sitting in his office. He looked up at the five editions of Bhagavad-gita on his bookshelf, randomly pulled out one, and gave it to Chirag. It was Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Chirag read the book and found answers to questions he had been asking throughout his life. He persuaded his father to take him to the Krsna temple in Ahmedabad. Soon, the entire family became devoted members of the temple and attended the Sunday Feast every week.
As the doctors had predicted, however, in his eighteenth year Chirag became very ill. He was taken to the hospital and put under strong medication. He became extremely thin, and doctors warned that he had only a few more days to live.
But amidst all of this, Chirag never forgot the temple. He remembered that the next day was Gaura Purnima, the appearance day of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He asked his father to go to the temple with Vishal for the whole day, and to bring him there in the evening. His father agreed, although Vishal was also quite sick at the time.
Vishal had faith in the power of Krsna's holy name. At the temple on Gaura Purnima, he chanted 108 "rounds" of the maha-mantra on his beads, from six in the morning until seven in the evening. At four o'clock, Mukunda brought Chirag, who was on intravenous support. After viewing the deities, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, they both went home.
That night, Chirag drank some caranamrta (water that has bathed the deities) that he had brought with him from the temple, and went to sleep.
The next morning, when Chirag awoke, he had miraculously regained his normal strength. The crisis was over.
Soon after, Chirag and Vishal received initiation from His Holiness Gopal Krsna Goswami, and were given the names Caturatma Dasa and Visvarupa, respectively. Today, despite their illness, they perform immense service for Sri Sri Radha-Govinda. They lead kirtanas expertly and give classes at the temple. Visvarupa has translated Srila Prabhupada's Path of Perfection into Gujarati. And although they cannot walk, they make yearly visits to Mayapur, Jagannatha Puri, Vrndavana, Dwarka, and other holy places.
The brothers' most successful activity in spreading Krsna consciousness is a youth program they have started in their home. By holding regular kirtanas and discussion groups, they have touched the lives of hundreds of young people. The brothers have become spiritual mentors for the youth, encouraging them in Krsna consciousness.
"Caturatma and Visvarupa are role models for me," says one young man. "Their determination and faith are inspiring. If they can be good devotees in the face of such adversity, why can't I?"
The brothers, now 23 and 19, have no worries about the future.
"Lord Krsna nourishes and maintains every living entity," says Caturatma. "He promises in the Bhagavad-gita, 'Surrender to Me. I will protect you. Don't be afraid.' We don't consider our bodies to be miserable anymore. Actually, our disability has made life blissful: So many people come to express their sympathy, and we take the opportunity to tell them about the science of Krsna consciousness."
Gopala Hari Dasa, 18, lives at the ISKCON center in Boise, Idaho, run by his parents. He is pursuing a masters in electrical engineering from Boise State University.