“All this talk about equality . . . the only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die . . .” – Bob Dylan, American singer, poet, and author

“Manora . . . Who?” My seventy-five-yearold uncle, an avid moviegoer, struggled to remember the 1940s beauty queen Manorama. Her death some months ago went unnoticed by the glamour world. Only twelve people attended her funeral, and the Cine and TV Artists Association had nothing to say about her. Two other old-timers, comedian Rajinder Nath and awardwinning film writer Suraj Sanim passed away recently, and the Bollywood buffs couldn’t have cared less. The movie world is busy celebrating the rise of the macho men and sex symbols of the twenty-first century. As India feasts on the tabloids’ sensational coverage of a young actress slapping an actor, and later reconciling with him, I tried to rewind and fastforward life.

Six decades ago the fledgling gossip media covered Manorama’son and off screen exploits with great delight. Young starry-eyed men wooed her. A few years later the spotlight shifted to Suraj Sanim, who wrote one box office success after another. Meanwhile, Rajinder Nath’s histrionics created a few laughs, and the party seemed to go on forever.

Return to 2008. Where are the cameras, the fans, the press? Abhishekh and Rakhi Sawant’s patch-up, the Bacchan’s wedding gala, and Sanjay “Munna Bhai” Dutt’s arrest make headlines.

Fast-forward to 2080. The Bacchans are history, Munna Bhai is dead and gone, and new faces smile on the screen. Even as the young gyrate on the stage of time, the few older ones still hanging around cut sorry figures, nursing their time-inflicted wounds alone.

The Power of Time

Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.30.1) reveals the debilitating power of time:

kapila uvaca
tasyaitasya jano nunam
nayam vedoru-vikramam
kalyamano ’pi balino
vayor iva ghanavali˙
“The Personality of Godhead said: As a mass of clouds does not know the powerful influence of the wind, a person engaged in material consciousness does not know the powerful strength of the time factor, by which he is being carried.” The lonely death of Manorama raises a discomforting question: “Am I making a significant difference in the world?” And the harsh reality stares at us:

“You mean nothing more to this world than a pebble on the beach.” As the huge waves of time toss us insignificant pebbles around, we desperately seek to hold ground. History is filled with names that are worthless to us. Our exploits too are no big deal to successive generations. Yet we long to etch our names in the pages of history, and to be loved and adored forever.

Srila Prabhupada reveals the plight of an ambitious man on his deathbed: “An attached family man wants his family members to carry him in a great procession even after his death, and although he will not be able to see how the procession goes, he still desires that his body be taken gorgeously in procession. Thus he is happy without even knowing where he has to go when he leaves his body for the next life. . . .” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.30.15, Purport).

Dreams Fizzle Out

Daily a thousand actors enter the big dream city of Mumbai. Most end up as roadside hawkers. The few who manage to squeeze into Bollywood languish as unrecognizable “junior artists,” a dignified term for extras. And the one-in-amillion rags-to-riches story often ends as a big-tolonely story. Beauty and physical abilities dwindle under the ravages of time, and fans seek new heroes. The older ones are left to wonder, “Was it really worth it?”

Mr.Time treads slowly but surely. Srila Prabhupada captures this reality in his Vrindavan Bhajan (1954):

Everyone has abandoned me, seeing me penniless.
Wife, relatives, friends, brothers, everyone.
This is misery, but it gives me a laugh. I sit alone and laugh.
In this mayasaμsara, whom do I really love?
Where have my loving father and mother gone now?
And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?
Who will give me news of them, tell me who?
All that is left of this family life is a list of names.
As the froth on the seawater mixes again in the sea,
Maya-saμsara’s play is just like that.
No one is mother or father, or personal relative;
Just like the sea foam, they remain but a short time.
Just as the froth on seawater mixes again in the sea,
The body made of five elements meets with destruction.
How many bodies does the embodied soul take in this way?
His relatives are all related merely to the temporal body . . .

Our attempt to find selfworth in ephemeral worship and honor is like a child’s laborious drive to build sand castles on the beach. When tiny tsunamis crush our mansions to dust, the optimists are ready to make more. The Bhagavadgita (8.16) extols us to stop such fruitless endeavors and instead seek the permanent:

a-brahma-bhuvanal loka˙
punar avartino ’rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.”

Krishna consciousness: A Transcendental Springboard

The term of human bodily existence is a type of imprisonment and also a rare chance for self-realization, a chance to go back home, back to Godhead. For a spiritual aspirant, life in this world is a springboard to enter the Lord’s eternal abode. Thus a truly intelligent person searches for transcendental happiness. Devotional service in the association of sincere devotees provides the opportunity to experience this sublime joy. The process of bhakti-yoga also helps a spiritualist realize his or her personal relationship with Krishna. Although all designations pertaining to the body are fleeting, the eternal soul dwelling within the body is special. Krishna cares for all souls and eagerly awaits their taking the initiative to turn to Him. Through daily chanting of holy names of Krishna, the original dormant love for Krishna within us starts flowering. As our relationship with the Supreme Lord blossoms, it lends freshness and excitement to our lives.

As inevitable death approaches, a devotee is not fearful of losing anything of this world. In a typical Hindu marriage, the bride cries as she leaves her parents’ house. This is because of her familial attachments and the uncertain future waiting to unfold at her husband’s home. But if a long courtship precedes her wedding, she silently celebrates the parting from her loved ones. Similarly a devotee constantly associating with Krishna through service and remembrance fills his life with serenity and bliss and easily turns from worldly attachments.

Rejecting Worldly Fame

The scriptures glorify the devotional service of Maharaja Pariksit, who ruled the planet five thousand years ago. On receiving the news of a curse that would cause his death within seven days, he was happy. Since his whole life was a dedicated loving service to the Lord, he had no regrets about leaving behind his kingdom and preparing for his untimely death. He took the situation as a blessing from the Lord and completely detached himself from the unlimited wealth and opulence that governed his life. His attraction to Krishna was so strong that all his wealth and glory as an emperor paled in comparison. He joyfully gave it all up in preference to remembering Krishna. Thus Krishna consciousness offers a panacea for all our sufferings and lends substance to our otherwise dull, meaningless, and bruised existence.

As governments collapse and earthquakes strike, as infamy and tragedies recur, as superheroes meet with an inglorious end, we can seek solace and strength in our union with Krishna. This bonding only grows with time, immune from the changing fortunes of this world. Riding on the ups and downs of life, Krishna consciousness keeps us sane and joyful, even as the scandal hungry media hunts for yet another fading star.