By Jyothi Vijayakumar
ANDOVER, MA–After we moved to Andover with two little girls in the winter of 1989, we started settling into the new community with the help of Dwaraka and Shashi. Our first summer in New England, Shashi said she would start a small Balavihar at her house with a few families with small children from the Andover area. We were thrilled because this was a great way of getting to know people with similar interests. And, the rest is history!
We started looking forward to Sundays and the weekly classes. After class, we invariably stayed back at their house to have dinner and socialize. Then, Gurudev visited Boston in 1992. He was going to stay at Dwaraka and Shashi’s house and we were all excited and nervous about taking care of a Swamiji. There were also many other people who were visiting with him. It was an honor and privilege to host Guruji and Swami Shantananda (he was a Brahmachari at that time) at our house.
We heard Gurudev speak for the first time in our lives at MIT. I can never forget how powerful it was and the impact it had on me. To this day, I feel goose bumps when I remember that experience! He was frail and sick and needed oxygen as soon as he got home after. But he didn’t give an inkling to what he must have been going through when he gave that talk that day. During that last visit, we got to spend more time with him and see what a great spiritual leader he was! He was kind and compassionate and at the same time firm and clear in his thinking. I specifically remember a young group of college students who had come to see him and get advise about organizing an event in Boston. He talked to them for a while and gave him clear instructions on what to do. He loved children, enjoyed watching them perform and was playful with them.
After that visit, we got inspired and motivated to get more involved and do more for the Mission. Slowly, the word spread and the Andover group started growing, till it finally got too big for Dwaraka’s basement. At the same time, Shashi had started another group in Burlington at Latha’s house with a few families there. We decided to merge the two into one group and found an old empty church in Lowell. This was not the ideal location for the two groups and we were there for a short time until we found out that the Bedford town center had a few buildings and halls that we could rent. We jumped at that opportunity and moved our weekly classes there.
Many of us still remember the Bedford days! After class every Sunday, we had a potluck lunch. We celebrated festivals with special lunches and Mother’s day with the fathers cooking for the all the mothers. This brought the community together and built life-long relationships. In addition to Balavihar for the children and adult satsang, we also started other activities like community service. This included taking the youth group to churches and temples of other faiths, Habitat for Humanities and helping at food shelters. Our children grew up together with their friends. What started as a need to educate our children with good values and our historic culture took over our lives in a manner that we will always be thankful for!
Now we have this beautiful Chinmaya Maruti in Andover that is home away from home to so many people. I cannot imagine our lives without Chinmaya Mission now because it is so much a part of our lives. After our daughters left home for college and to pursue their careers, we have been involved in so many activities there. As we age, I see many young people getting involved in leadership roles here. My hope is that our center will continue to grow and our Balavihar students will return with their own families (as some of them of them are already doing).