Suburbs have a rep as soul-killing, climate-changing centers of sprawl, not havens of spirituality. But maybe the suburbs just get a bad rap.
From the ‘burbs of Edmonton, Alberta comes a look at the life of Shiv Shankar Dwivedi, a pandit (teacher – pundit is a variant) or Hindu priest who came to Edmonton for a stint with the province’s Hindu Society and stayed. Though, as the Edmonton Sun put it, Dwivedi “recoiled at the thought of the materialism of the western world,” he seems to have made the best of more than two decades in Canada.
His life in Edmonton is now the subject of a documentary, “The Three Lives of Panditji,” directed by Robert Chelmick, a long-time broadcast fixture in the Edmonton area, who now runs a show on the local public radio station CKUA.
Chelmick, who meditates regularly, told the Edmonton Sun that what inspired him to make a documentary was Dwivedi’s unique story. “Here was a gold-medal Sanskrit scholar living in a suburb of Edmonton. He lives physically in two worlds and has this vibrant inner life,” Chelmick said.
The film starts with Dwivedi shoveling snow in Edmonton, wondering how a boy from hot, hot India wound up braving the Canadian winter. The documentary looks at Dwivedi’s activities teaching Hindu traditions in the Edmonton area and also at the school he founded in his village in India. Funding that school became a fundamental reason why Dwivedi stayed in snowy Alberta, rather than living in India. In India, he could perhaps have schooled two or three children. By living in the West, he is able to provide education to 400 students.
The Edmonton Journal noted that the documentary reveals Dwivedi as an intriguing cross between the modern and the ancient. Chelmick tells the paper that “his two kids are more interested in listening to hip-hip (sic) music, staying out late. They’re typical teenagers.” Dwivedi apparently handles them in enlightened fashion. The paper says he has not forced his beliefs on them. “I’m not saying you have to follow me,” Dwivedi told it. “If you need guidance anywhere, I’m here for you.”
Dwivedi has guided Edmontonians in the Hindu tradition and shared his knowledge of Sanskrit, the ancient sacred language that’s connected to numerous eastern religions and philosophies, as well as yoga.
The Edmonton Examiner said that “in addition to the vibrant juxtaposition of a life split between a wintery Alberta and hot, dry India, you witness a man who somehow remains deeply spiritual while living in our materials-obsessed North American culture, and while living as a family man with a wife and two Canadian teens.”
Has it really become so remarkable for people to practice spirituality? Perhaps at the depth of a pandit.
The documentary premiered on Saturday.
See the trailer here: