In the past five years, one young woman from Chowpatty, Mumbai, has broken all women’s book distribution records, and many overall records too.
Bhaktin Radhika Mehta is an enigma. Since she began in 2007, she has distributed 228,016 of Srila Prabhupada’s books—nearly a quarter of a million. According to the World Sankirtan Newsletter, in five years, she has given out more books than any other female distributor since 1982.
In 2009 and 2010, she hit the number two and number one spots respectively out of all book distributors internationally, men and women. In 2011, she again was number one in the world, although this time under the category of “Team Book Distribution.” During the 2011 Prabhupada Marathon alone—between November 15th and January 5th—she distributed 66,000 books.
For the past four years—2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011—Bhaktin Radhika, still in her thirties, has received the World Book Distribution Award from ISKCON sannyasis at ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur Dhama, West Bengal. All this despite the struggle of living on her own outside the brahmachari-only Chowpatty ISKCON temple.
So how did she get started? How does she do it? And what makes her tick?
The key lies in the way she always says ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ when talking about distributing books. For Radhika, ‘we’ means her Deities of Jagannath (whom she lovingly calls ‘Gopal’), Baladeva, and Subhadra; her guru Radhanath Swami and instructional guru Jayapataka Swami; and her parents, Navin and Pallavi Mehta. All of them are her life and soul, and constantly support and encourage her.
Radhika is especially grateful to her guru Radhanath Swami, whom she says made her the person she is today.
Their first meeting came about in January 2005, when Radhika, a fashion designer who made a living designing clothes for affluent families, was invited to an event at the home of her friends Yash Birla—chairman of the multi-billion dollar Yash Birla Group—and his wife Avanti.
Radhanath Swami was invited to the event, where he sang kirtan and gave a lecture on Krishna consciousness that made a huge impression Radhika.
“Lord Krishna arranged for the first devotee I ever met to be my Guru Maharaja,” she says. “I began going to see him every week, and he would spend an hour at a time with me, explaining the philosophy. At our third meeting, he gave me a copy of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. With that, he brought me into the beautiful world of the Vaishnavas, and I began to regularly visit Radha Gopinath Mandir in Chowpatty. I received so much love from Radhanath Swami and from the devotees of Radha-Gopinath Mandir that all I wanted to do was give that love to others.”
And so, on December 3rd, 2007, Bhaktin Radhika began to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. As she took her Deities with her, and took shelter of Krishna at every step, the results were astonishing.
“On the first day, I took two boxes of books, got into a taxi, and headed into town,” she says. “Paramatma—Lord Krishna in my heart—was guiding me, telling me ‘Go to this building, go to that building.’ I followed His directions, going door to door from top to bottom, and like magic, the boxes were emptied.”
The next day, she brought eight boxes of books, distributing them at apartment buildings and offices, and again sold everything she had.
On the third day, Radhika set a goal to distribute 1,080 Bhagavad-gitas, but fell short by thirteen. Praying to Krishna to help her meet her goal, she was approached by a distraught-looking lady as she made her way from the Chowpatty temple to her house in the evening. There had been a death in the woman’s family, it turned out, and she wanted exactly thirteen copies of the Bhagavad-gita to console her bereaved family.
From there, Bhaktin Radhika’s book distribution began to really expand. She explored Mumbai, and even flew to different cities around India. One day, she’d be in Delhi. The next day, in Hyderabad. Everywhere, she met the most affluent people who wanted to support her mission.
“I don’t read the newspaper, watch television, or read billboards,” she says. “I’m not a computer person, and I don’t have anyone helping me and giving me names and lists. But somehow I just know where to go. Krishna takes me where I need to be.”
Wherever she is, Radhika approaches offices of a variety of businesses, such as diamond merchants and laywers’ firms, carrying Bhagavad-gitas and Krishna books, a box of prasadam (sanctified food), and laminated pictures of Radha and Krishna.
Some are major companies whose security don’t even allow anyone past the lobby unless they are staff or have an appointment. But for Bhaktin Radhika, Krishna opens every door. She smiles sweetly and gives the security staff a book and some prasadam, and they let her through. The lift operator carries her books for her.
The boss’s secretary receives her happily, and before she knows it, she finds herself sitting in front of the boss of the company.
“He happily buys a Krishna book and a Bhagavad-gita for himself,” she says. “Then I request him to chant the Hare Krishna mantra, and he does. Then I ask him to please give me ten minutes of his time, and he does. And then that ten minutes turns into forty-five minutes of me talking about Krishna’s glories as he sits and listens while honoring the Prasad I’ve brought.”
Finally, when she feels he is ready, Radhika asks the boss to donate money so that she can give books for free to the poor and needy. Some bosses donate enough for a few books, some for several hundred, and a handful for as many as one thousand books.
Radhika then visits hospitals, cancer wards, retirement homes, municipal schools, orphanages, and children’s remand homes, bringing Krishna consciousness, and with it some peace and hope of a better future.
Often, her father or a couple of other devotees help her bring an altar with her Deities, as well as a huge banner of Sri-Sri Radha Madhava and Sri-Sri Pancha-Tattva in Mayapur, prasadam, books, maha-mantra stickers, and five hundred sets of japa beads.
“In schools and orphanages, I hand all the children and staff some beads, and they chant one entire round, 108 beads, of the Hare Krishna maha mantra together loudly, which takes around fifteen minutes,” Radhika says. “It’s wonderful to see them all chanting so enthusiastically and happily.”
Radhika then gives a small class on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness in Hindi or Marathi, after which she invites the children to approach the altar in line, pay their respects to the Lord, and receive a free Bhagavad-gita and five laddhu sweets each.
In municipal hospitals and cancer wards, she carries the books in on stretchers, assisted by security. As in the office buildings, staff at first don’t want to let Radhika in to certain areas such as the ICU, but soon find themselves granting her full access.
In some of the eighteen BMC government hospitals in Mumbai she has visited, the conditions are dire. “I see things like one person asleep on top of a bed, and three lying width-ways underneath it, their clothes filled with stool and blood,” she says. “It’s so sad.”
Radhika visits each and every patient, chanting the protective Narasimha prayers softly and reading one verse from the Bhagavad-gita to them, whether they are conscious or not. To some of them she feeds charinamrita, the water that has bathed the Deities’ feet. She also gives them stickers of the Hare Krishna mantra and Bala Gopal, as well as a free copy of the Bhagavad-gita. Some, although poor, giver her a five or ten rupee donation because they want to show their gratitude, and chant blissfully along with her.
In 2011, Radhika spent much of her time in the pilgrimage city of Pandharpur, especially during the Prabhupada Marathon, and during the month of Ashadh (June-July) when around half a million pilgrims come to pay their respects at the temple of Lord Vitthal.
“Some devotees from the small local ISKCON temple helped me, and we set up a small booth opposite Lord Vitthal’s temple, which we filled with boxes of books, buckets of delicious halava, and maha-mantra stickers,” she says. “Oceans of pilgrims came by, chanted the Holy Name with us with lots of love, and took Prasad and books for a discounted price. There were so many we had to keep going back to the temple to get more books and halava or laddhus! Local children helped so much, carrying the books for me. We also did several programs at schools in local villages, giving out books along with arati, kirtan, and prasadam. Two to three thousand books were going out every day. It was wonderful.”
Although Bhaktin Radhika sells so many books, and often gets donations from wealthy businessmen that more than cover the cost for each book; and although her travels and projects are expensive, she doesn’t take one single penny for herself. Instead, she gives all the money to the temple, and supports herself using savings from her successful former career as a fashion designer.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Radhika. She’s struggled being the only woman book distributor in her area, and actually collapsed due to malnourishment in September 2011 because she was so absorbed in book distribution that she neglected to take care of her body. But she has since recovered, and continues to derive energy from the Lord, her gurus Radhanath Swami and Jayapataka Swami, the devotees, and her parents.
“I’m thankful for the struggles I’ve been through, because they have made me stronger in my service,” she says. “All I ask is that the devotees who read my story please bless me so that I can continue to distribute Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gitas with lots of humility and compassion.”
To see more photos of Bhaktin Radhika’s book distribution efforts, please visit http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002904845453&sk=photos.
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications