Manohar Krishna Das
14 March 1939 – 9th March 2020
Manohar Krishna’s smile, laughter and sense of optimism will be sorely missed by many devotees in the community of Bhaktivedanta Manor. He would often invite devotees to his home and offer to help them in some way. That especially applied to devotees that may have been struggling or just wanted to talk to someone.
He became well-known to the temple devotees and wider congregation.
Manohar Krishna Das was born on 14th March 1939 in Karachi, Sindh. That region was in India in those days, before the Partition. Manohar Krishna’s grandfather on his father’s side of the family, Varumal Bhavnani, was a senior member of the police. In his retirement Varumal took seriously to spiritual life and alternative medicine. That influenced the entire family, but especially Manohar Krishna Das. He was very much influenced by his grandfather who would take him to see the local sadhus and would often feed them.
His grandfather on his mother’s side was a well-respected solicitor and encouraged a keen focus on education. Manohar Krishna’s father, Shivaram, purchased an extremely large school in Karachi. At one point they considered turning the school into a residence.
Manohar Krishna’s parents were Mr Sivaram Varumal Bhavnani and Mrs Parpati Bhavnani. Sivaram was a famous stockbroker and his clientele were primarily Maharajas and dignitaries. Parpati was a scholar in English Literature and her side of the family founded and owned one of the largest universities in the Sindh at the time. Both of Manohar Krishna’s parents were highly educated and well-versed in the works of Shakespeare and would often recite them.
Manohar Krishna Das was 8 years old during the time of the Partition, which understandably had a huge impact on all the people who lived in the Sindh because of its geographical location. It should be acknowledged that the Partition was one of the largest upheavals of humanity in history since it displaced between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines, creating an overwhelming refugee crisis in the newly constituted dominions. There was large-scale violence, with estimates of loss of life accompanying or preceding the partition disputed and varying between several hundred thousand and two million. The violent nature of the Partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plague their relationship to this present day. Manohar always reminisced about the wonderful times the family had in the Sindh and how Sindhis had lost their home-land.
In 1947, when India was partitioned, Punjab and Bengal were divided but the Sindh was left intact. In the province, it was believed that nothing would change – the Hindus had been a minority for centuries, they were the ones with the wealth and power. However, when the time came, the best they could do was escape with their lives. This was an extremely life-threatening situation. Hordes of prosperous people became homeless and penniless overnight. A large majority had never left Sindh before. Many had to move to refugee camps with very poor amenities and little to eat and drink. This was a complete change of lifestyle . They crossed the new border to settle in unfamiliar lands with unfamiliar food, language and customs, stepping from a zone of sparse rain into monsoon country. They quickly got used to reading left to right instead of right to left. What made it a tremendous feat was that they simply picked up the pieces and kept moving without looking back.
It wasn’t just a few individuals or families who did this – it was the entire community. A community that made the entire world their new home. Some went to Nigeria, some went to Hong Kong, Philippines, Liberia, the UK : They spread their wings all over the globe. The Hindu Sindhis, a rather heterogeneous mass for historical reasons, and without any central binding force, behaved in this moment of trauma as one entity.
This situation ultimately led to Manohar’s family fleeing from Karachi to Mumbai where they had to start afresh a new life, which unsurprisingly had a huge impact on Manohar, his parents, and his younger sisters Myna and Roshan. It was a particularly big struggle for his family because they were doing well for themselves back in the Sindh. During this period his mother’s family moved the university to Churchgate in Mumbai/ Bombay, and named it Jai Hind.
His uncle, Professor TG Kubchandani (mother’s brother), was also one of the longest standing Principals of Jai Hind college. Famous alumni that had attended Jai Hind included Ashwira Rai Bachan (actress) daughter-in-law of Amitabh Bachan Priyanka Chopra (actress), Gopichand Hinduja (businessman), and Handa Kochhar who was the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ICICI Bank. Finally, Pritee Jangiani (an actress who also happens to be Manohar’s niece) together with a host of others. Manohar would often reside in an apartment on top of the University campus during his holidays in Mumbai. His children would have a great time exploring the site.
Much can be found on Jai hind online. Thus it was that Jai Hind carved a place for itself in the life of cosmopolitan Bombay. Academically, it had moved to almost the top among educational institutions in the city. His father joined the Mumbai Stock Exchange (and later in the 1950s he briefly came to the UK to work).He then returned back to Bombay. Manohar attended various schools in the city and also for a short time in Delhi. One of the schools he attended in Mumbai was St Peters, the same school that the singer Freddie Mercury attended.
During his time in Delhi he attended St Columbus, a school that was formed by Christian brothers. He had great memories of his schooling there, his grandson Rishi incidentally attends St Columbus here in St Albans, as did his nephew Raul. Despite the challenge of migrating from their homeland, the family continued to move within aristocratic circles and thrive. Manohar on the other hand was more interested in a wider variety of people from diverse backgrounds,
Interestingly, in the 1950s Maonohar Krishna’s father had professional dealings with Mrs Muraji, who ran the Steamship Company that owned the Jaladhuta. The Jaladhuta was the cargo ship that Srila Prabhupada sailed on to reach America for the first time in 1965!
Growing up in Mumbai, Manohar Krishna Das played a lot of cricket and even wanted to play professionally. However his parents were not at all supportive of that route, which they considered short-term and unstable. Manohar Krishna Das then considered joining the Indian Air Force, but that was also discouraged by his family.
It was around the same time that Manohar Krishna Das developed a lot of compassion for the less fortunate he saw across the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, and has ever since tended to favour the ‘underdog’. For example, he would visit the lady Northcote orphanage in Mumbai to give donations and help feed the children. That same orphanage building is now under the guidance of HH Radhanath Swami.
In the end, he decided to embark on a degree in Chemical Engineering. By 1960 he was 21 years old and having been successful in his studies he travelled to the UK to do a Post Grad in Chemical Engineering at the University of Central London. Manohar arrived in the UK in the 1960s alone and without any family at that time.
It was therefore extremely difficult as he went from house to house seeking accommodation, often to no avail as landlords did not take too kindly to individuals who were not local, let alone from another ethnic background. He eventually found a place to stay with a Polish landlord who was extremely welcoming and kind-hearted. Manohar grew fond of the Polish community from this day onwards and was extremely fond of one particular devotee, Harinaam Das, who he called his adopted son. Later on he moved into a Sindhi household with other Sindhis but was always attracted to the underdog and made friends with another tenant named Tom Docherty who had left Newcastle to come to London. Tom became like a brother to Manohar. Manohar continued his friendship with Tom for 45 years and at Tom’s last moments Manohar gave him Tulsi and Gangajal and performed his funeral.
The early days were extremely hard in the UK with the severe cold weather and the lack of acceptance of ethnic groups. However Manohar somehow adapted and despite on one occasion being attacked in a local park, he found it easy to adapt to the local way of living and made many friends who continued to be his friends until his final days. He was later joined by his sister Myna and then his mother and younger sister Roshan. His father finally arrived in 1962 after winding up affairs in Mumbai.
Remaining in the UK, he landed a job in the UK Defense Industry, including British Aerospace Marconi and Ultra Defense Systems and was involved in the team that designed Concorde. He was even involved in projects involving submarine technology. In 1970 he got married and had two sons, the eldest of which was Maharishi Das. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted five years after which he found himself working hard to bring up his two children as a single parent. It was around that time that he first started visiting Bhaktivedanta Manor and reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. He remembered well a particular visit in 1977, when he saw a very frail-looking Srila Prabhupada, which turned out to be the Acharya’s final visit there. Seeing Srila Prabhupada in the flesh drew him ever closer into ISKCON.
Still working for British Aerospace, during the 1980s he would visit the Manor regularly with his friends. By the late 1980s Manohar Krishna found himself helping temple devotees with a variety of practical things. That was a tendency he continued in different forms for the rest of his life. He loved to cook for the devotees and would quite often invite guests to the Manor home. Manohar always had a passion for music and had a collection of 10,000 vinyl lps. In later years this interest lessened, so, when his son Maharishi was a teenager, he encouraged him to develop his business of distributing, selling, and manufacturing Hi End audio equipment. It turned out to be very successful business, and Maharishi continues with it today 33 years later.
Manohar would always offer customers prashad and would be often wearing devotional cloth and tilak and on many occasions would bring customers to the Manor. Manohar would regularly visit Audio exhibitions with his son Maharishi and on some occasions wear devotional clothing and tilak and was always well received. To this day Audiophiles remember him as a Hare Krishna devotee. He even managed to introduce chanting to some of the Audio community which was not easy as his son had professional interests.
Meanwhile Manohar Krishna Das remained part of the London Sindhi community and he was respected by his juniors because unlike them he was born in the Sindh before the Partition. He attended many events organised by the Sindhi community and tried to form links between them and ISKCON devotees. For example, he used to take devotees to the Sindhi temple in Cricklewood, to deliver lectures, lead kirtan and even perform dramas.
Manohar Krishna Das built himself a reputation of being friendly, approachable, fun-loving and helpful. Indeed, after he went out of his way to move just a mile away from Bhaktivedanta Manor. He would often invite devotees to his home and offer to help them in some way. That especially applied to devotees that may have been struggling or just wanted to talk to someone. He also helped some devotees financially. He thus became well-known to the temple devotees and wider congregation.
Devotees would visit him daily and some Manor resident devotees would take their daily walk to his house. Quite often devotees would stop at the bus stop adjacent to Manohar’s house after visiting Watford and would ask him to drop them at the Manor. Manohar would freely share his worldly wisdom and knowledge with the devotees, in fact often devotees would be at his house well past midnight while Manohar would be helping with form-filling and letter writing for various reasons including financial and housing needs and disputes. He saw this as his service to the devotee community as he felt this was practical. In the majority of occasions, Manohar was able to secure successful outcomes.
As a confirmation of his commitment for ISKCON, he took formal initiation from His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami. He encouraged his son to take initiation from his HH Radhnatha Swami. Manohar Krishna’s smile, laughter and sense of optimism will be sorely missed by many devotees in the community of Bhaktivedanta Manor. Manohar departed from this world on the 9th of March 2020 on the auspicious evening of Gaura Purnima, 5 days before his 81st birthday. He had remarked to his son, Maharishi Das, previously that he would be leaving his material body before his 81st birthday.