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Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Away from cheering crowds, singer lost in Krishna's land

CHITRA SUBRAMANYAM  
VRINDAVAN, NOV 22: The lanes are narrow here. And there are monkeys all over. There is a foreigner walking through the crowded streets -- definitely not an unusual sight. Twenty-six-year-old Crispian Mills, former lead singer of Brit band Kula Shaker, thrives in this anonymity. This is Vrindavan, perhaps the only place in the world where he can walk for hours in peace, clad in an embroidered kurta and white dhoti, get head-butted by a stray cow, and not be mobbed by screaming fans. Here, he is not known as the son of the Sixties British actress Hayley Mills and the grandson of thespian Sir John Mills. Nor is he known as the lead singer of Kula Shaker, the group that hit the charts with their song Govinda.

Life after Kula Shaker (named after Chola king Kula Shekhara) hasn't been too bad for Crispian, who sees a synergy between his guitar and Krishna's flute. He has just finished promoting his second album and is working with Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia for Peter Gabriel's company, Real World. The proceedsfrom this album will go to Prema, a charity that Crispian is involved in. The charity also seems his new-found love: ``Prema is a humanitarian, cultural and spiritual establishment. We have opened a hospital in Mathura, Shyama Memorial Cancer Hospital, and have ordered a new radiology unit from London. We are also trying to build on the staff.''

In Vrindavan for over three weeks to meet his `guru', Sripad B V Narayan Maharaj, he and his red-headed wife Jo have been staying at the home of Padmanabh Goswami at the Radha Raman temple. Every day he walks around the town, sometimes he even gets lost -- last week he apparently reached half-way to Mathura. And though this is Crispian's ninth visit to the town, he still loses his way in the little bylanes.

His introduction to the Hare Krishna sect happened when he was a child, about the time Hayley Mills became interested in vegetarianism. ``That was the first time that I saw deities and heard mantras at the Hare Krishna temple in London. It was an incredibleexperience especially for a Western kid. By the time I turned 20, I started understanding the Bhakti culture behind Chaitanya Mahaprabhu better.''

That's about the first time he came to Vrindavan. An experience he'll never forget, especially as it was the month of April. ``I spent the entire first week in absolute shock. I had never experienced this kind of heat before. They say it is a very purifying experience. I guess the heat was a part of it,'' he laughs. This is also where he learnt to wear a dhoti -- something he feels is ``ideal'' for the weather. ``But I can only wear this here. I tend to revert to my jeans when I reach Delhi.''

He believes that more and more people in Britain are now letting go of meat. If you say it's the Mad Cow Disease, he says: ``That was a wave. But there are more people now, who believe that being a vegetarian is healthier. It is a sign of the times, that people want to give life more value.'' He strongly believes in karma and after-life. He feels that ``in the West, theVedic spirit is becoming very attractive because it is a science. Karma makes perfect sense.'' He interrupts the conversation to point to a temple: ``That's where Jo and I got married in 1995.''

Standing at the banks of his favourite haunt, the River Yamuna, he turns and says: ``Look at the skyline. The temples are looking beautiful from here.'' It's time to go now. Crispian wants to listen to his guru's lecture. As we leave, he's greeted by a couple of friends. Here, in Vrindavan, he's not Crispian Mills. Just another foreigner come to visit his guru.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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