Apr 19, 2010
On LBS Marg, just after you pass the left turn towards Kanjur station, there was a bar and restaurant called ‘Sadhana Palace’. It was one of those typical overcrowded, noisy, messy bar. The flooring was uneven and cracked, the furniture comprised of small, portable wooden chairs and plastic tables. Bricks had to be placed below the legs of the table to balance the liquid above. Waiters had to move carefully among randomly arranged furniture to cater to the loud, inebriated crowd that thronged the place in the evenings. The air was filled with the stench of cigarette smoke. The owner, Manoj Shetty barked orders and moved among the crowd to ensure that everyone had their fill and that everyone who walked in is seated, however uncomfortably. The wine flowed freely, late into the wee hours of the morning.
Today, with the same owner, the place has completely changed. It is called as ‘Gopalas’. The tables and chairs are of one of the best qualities with light blue predominating all around. They are spread far apart and there is an open, almost divine atmosphere. The divine ambience is further emphasized with chants of ‘Hare Krishna’ in the background from hidden speakers. The two walls on either side depict scenes from the lives of Krishna in floor to ceiling paintings. Of course, the restaurant serves pure vegetarian food. Although the dishes served are typical Udipi, it is referred to as prasadam and customers are referred to as Narayan.
Manoj Shetty owned two other bars in Kanjur Marg and Bhandup area. He has opened a gym called Prime Fitness near Bhandup station and another gym called Body temple in place of those bars.
So, what brought about the change?
In Manoj’s Shetty’s own words, “Six years ago I met my guru in ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). He inspired me to lead a life that was pure and true. So, I decided to shut down the bars and start afresh. That’s why I opened Gopalas in place of Sadhana Palace. All my restaurants will have images of Lord Krishna. Customers are called Narayan because they are like the Lord’s avatar. I have lost some amount of money. But I don’t think it’s important. For me, the divine and spiritual matters more than material pursuits.”
What about employees and customers? “Most of the employees still work with me but I have found replacement jobs for the others. Some of the customers have been put off by my change in lifestyle but many have returned, stopped drinking, and have become pure vegetarians.”
His lifestyle too has seen a marked difference. “My life has turned a new leaf after I shut down the bars. My family is happier. A bar owner leads a dangerous life and is surrounded by unwanted associations. But now, none of that remains. I sleep well at night as I don’t have to worry about what I do for a living anymore.”
Sometimes, real life can be stranger than fiction.