Thursday, August 9, 2007

25th Reunion Festival Remembrances of Srila Prabhupada in Bombay

Sridhar Swami: In my time there was no books. There would be mimeographed magazines. Actually, we used to distribute mantra cards, that was our distribution, and beg for laxmi. Prabhupada said that Laksmi or Sita, "Her another name is Laksmi." That's the way he would say, "Her another name." He said that Ravana stole Laksmi, stole Sita, and Rama, of course, killed Ravana and got Sita back but He was helped by Hanuman. So he said that our business is to help Lord Rama or to get Sita from the hands of Ravana, meaning the materialistic men. Not to say that everybody in the world is Ravana, but maybe they're Ravana-like in some of their activities. We have to call a spade a spade, is an English expression. We have to say it as it is. So the fact is that people are using Krishna's resources, Krishna's money, for their sense gratification. So our duty was to go out and bring Laksmi back and Sita back and put Her in the service of Rama. So many of us, that was our first service was distributing mantra cards, inviting people to the temple, asking for donations, making the temple. We had very small temples, very sparse, oftentimes just…I remember in Vancouver we had a warehouse. On top of the warehouse, there is a kind of room or whatever, a few rooms, but a warehouse in an industrial area. Somehow we converted it into a temple and putting the Deity of Jagannatha there. He wasn't installed, but He was there and He was beautiful. It was a simple altar and some incense and some photos and voila, a temple, let there be a temple.
So then we got some books in '69. We had the Bhagavad-gita by Macmillan, it was a small abridged…small edition, but it was a famous book, blue cover, introduction by Thomas Merton and I think Allen Ginsberg was in there. Allen Ginsberg was a shaggy…well, he was a great soul but, apart from that, he had a huge head of hair; and he was a poet but he mixed with the lowest of the low, as Prabhupada would say. One time Prabhupada was in San Francisco and he was in the small temple, he was preaching, and somebody stood up at the back of the temple and started screaming that "I am God! I am God!" And this was not an uncommon happenstance in our temples. People drug-induced, crazy, hippies, they would think they were God and they would come to the temple, they liked the food. They really liked that Hare Krishna food. So one man stood up and started…a boy stood up and started screaming that he was God. Prabhupada just let him scream for a little while and then he said, "The lowest of the low." That's who we were. We had fallen that far. So anyway, this book came out with an introduction by one of the gurus of the lowest of the low, Allen Ginsberg, and Thomas Merton was a very highly respected Catholic scholar. Actually he was a Jesuit monk, he was actually a monk, and he wrote about the Bhagavad-gita very nicely and praised Prabhupada. Of course, they are all more or less Mayavadis. So we were distributing that for a while and we had Back to Godheads but they were in mimeographed form, means they weren't colorful like they are today at all. They were wonderful, and I can remember each new issue that came out. I was thinking, "This philosophy is so wonderful and, wow, we've got this new issue of BTG, now people will really take to Krishna consciousness!" But they didn't. We sold our magazines, or took donations and gave the magazines away. A few people would join.
Then 1970 in San Francisco, you heard the stories, the first Krsna books came out, and that was just a wonderful, wonderful thing. A beautiful golden-covered book, a golden jacket on the book. Silver, I'm sorry. Not golden, silver. I'm seeing silver in my mind and saying golden. My brains are a little scrambled. Beautiful silver, nice finish, printed at one of the best printers in the world practically at that time, Dai Nippon. And it had this beautiful, beautiful painting of Radha and Krishna with red and…who is that painting by? Was it Jadurani's painting? Beautiful painting. There were two volumes, I believe. So we got those books and it was ecstatic, and it was just about that time we heard that the Srimad-Bhagavatam was coming out but Prabhupada was also going to India and he wanted devotees to go. All up and down the West Coast of the U.S.A. and the East Coast of the U.S.A. devotees were being picked from every temple to be on that first group to go, and I was also one of the persons who was supposed to go. I was in charge of organizing a group of devotees, getting their passports and visas and everything together, but I was so much enjoying distributing books that I decided I wouldn't go. Anyway, I was distributing books for a couple of years in North America, and what can I say? I have a little bit of the gift of the gab. Good old Irish expression. Anyway, I was a good book seller. I was the first one to distribute 400 BTG's in a day, which was at a festival in Reno. I believe it was one of these big fairs where they have all kinds of rides and everything, and we would stand outside and hit up…that was the expression, we'd "hit up" everybody that went in. It was so funny, it was really funny. I was so ecstatic after that day of doing two full boxes of BTG's, 400 BTG's, that I thought I should have a little reward. So I was really thirsty, and so they had this juice that they were selling there called Orange Julius. So I thought, "All right, I'm going to have an Orange Julius." Generally devotees didn't buy anything outside, it was taboo. We had the fear of hell in us that if you had anything outside of Krishna prasadam in the temple you were doomed. I remember once, I was in…I opened the first temple in Salt Lake City with Jagat Guru and Narada Muni and a few other devotees. Something happened and I was hitchhiking back to L.A. and I went into a gas station. I was hitchhiking, and it was a long way from Salt Lake City back to L.A. So I went into a gas station and I had a Seven-Up, and then after drinking it I felt so guilty. I thought, "Oh, my God, I've broken the regulative principles," or something like that. So anyway, I had this Orange Julius and my thirst was quenched, I was feeling so good, and then I found out they had egg powder. So after doing wonderful service, I ate some eggs. Anyway, I pray Krishna will forgive me. Maybe that's why I'm suffering now, all my sins.
Anyway, Buddhimanta…right after that I had a party, a bus, a van. We had a big van, a Ford double cab. It had a double cab, and you see Mahindra has some of these. They have the front seat and then they have the back seat in the cab, and then in the back part there's a pickup, it's open, you can carry anything in it. So we had a big one, a Ford, and we had a camper on the back. There was me, Yogescandra, Buddhimanta, Vyala, Sharma, somebody else, Vyasatirtha, it was a big party. We were the big book distributors. Anyway, ultimately Buddhimanta and I emerged as two very very big book distributors, so we were sent to London to train the devotees up in book distribution there. Actually, Syamasundara was the president, I believe, at Bhaktivedanta Manor at that time. Do you remember that?
Syamasundara: We didn't have the Manor yet. Bury Place.
Sridhar Swami: Oh, Bury Place, OK, but I remember you were in charge. You were the GBC or something like that. What happened was we went there and we were training devotees up. In those days, it was like "This is how you distribute books." In San Francisco, we were trained up by Kesava that every devotee brahmacari…we had 35 brahmacaris and one or two demure brahmacarinis who stayed in the background because the energy was so intense, and they were all gung ho book distributors. Every day, every morning we'd have a huge plate of sweet rice, sugar and milk and rice, and the idea was you eat as much sweet rice as you can and you get all fired up, and then you go out on the streets and distribute books. It was like a shot of adrenaline, of sugar. So anyway, we were in London and we used to eat big amounts of double clotted cream, Devon, whatever, and we'd go out and distribute books and we were training devotees up. We were making good collections, but there was some debate about where our personal collections should go. We were ordered to send them back to San Francisco, but the U.K. management wanted that it should stay in the U.K. So then our party broke up. So I was already halfway to India and I thought I should have gone before and so I thought, "All right, I'm going." Kesava came through and took Buddhimanta with him separately, and so I was on my own. Then I came to India in 1972 in the fall. At first I came to Vrindavan just after the…I heard Prabhupada was in Vrindavan, I went there and he had just left for Hyderabad, I missed him.
Devotee: At Radha-Damodara, the Nectar of Devotion [inaudible].
Sridhar Swami: The Nectar of Devotion class, I missed that. But I met Gurudasa and Yamuna, they were there in charge. So I stayed there for a month, and we did some preaching there. It was very nice, Vrindavan. It's a funny thing, really funny thing. I came directly from Palam Airport, and usually Westerners when they first come to India it's a real culture shock. I remember one devotee, I think his name was Ruci dasa, he came from America and he got off the plane in Bombay and the odor and smell was so bad, he said, "Oh, God, what is that smell?" and he got back on the plane and went back to America the same day.
Devotee: Puranjana [inaudible] Calcutta [inaudible].
Sridhar Swami: Another one in Calcutta, Puranjana. There's one here in Bombay too. So devotees usually had a culture shock. But when I came to Palam Airport, I went right from the airport to Vrindavan, got in a taxi, and as I was going to Vrindavan it was almost déjà vu. I was saying, "This is nice." I felt like I'd been there before, I honestly had that feeling. It was just something wonderful. So then I went off to Calcutta, I was sent to Calcutta, and I ended up in Mayapur. I was in Mayapur for a number of months. We lived in a hut, the grass hut in Mayapur. Prabhupada came there, and he lived in the grass hut with us. It's not a big hut, so he had half and we had the other half. Those were wonderful days. Then Goswami Maharaja, Tamal Krsna Goswami, he organized a traveling sankirtan party. We had three Jeeps with trailers and there was Acyutananda, at that time Acyutananda Swami, Gargamuni, Tamal Krsna, Harikesa, Gopal Swami and myself, and Subhavilasa and a few other brahmacaris. One boy from Mayapur, Mahendra, very nice boy, wonderful mrdanga player. So we took off on a tour of India that was organized by Mr. H. P. Singhi, who was Mr. Birla's right-hand man, and we went to a number of factories and did programs and we ended up in Bhopal. So from there we heard about the problem in Bombay. This was early 1973. So Tamal ordered us all to head for Bombay and we drove across land, came to Bombay. And from that time, '73 up to now I guess, more or less, except for I was a year in Hyderabad…no, six months in Hyderabad and six months as the president in Calcutta…I've been here at Hare Krishna Land. I guess I'm in some ways the last of the Mohicans. Of course, I was here during that period of construction and the great fight. Prabhupada called Bombay, Juhu, he called New Kuruksetra because it was a great battle here.
Certain things stand out in my mind just now. I hadn't really thought of speaking now. His Holiness Lokanatha Swami has now come and I'll vacate soon for him, but a few things come to mind. One was how Prabhupada, he spent a lot of time at Hare Krishna Land and in Bombay. As I said before, he spent more time in Bombay than any other temple in the world, more or less. In fact, one time he spent four months in a row finishing the Caitanya-caritamrta. He would go out to Ahmedabad, he would go out to…but he would always come back to Bombay, his base was here. Of course, all the tenants here were South Indians, mostly from Kerala, and Prabhupada got a lot of idlis and sambar. He had a relationship with everybody, as you heard. I lived in the hut, we were in the hut. "The hut," it's like of like a word, "Did you live in 'the hut'?" That description of sweeping, the more you swept the more the cement would come up, it was really like that. The cement floor and then there were half walls and cement and the rest was chitai, the whole thing was chitai, and there was a court injunction because of the fight with Mr. N. Nobody knows who Mr. N is, right? Out of politeness, Mr. Nair. So a number of monsoons passed, and it was in bad condition from the first day. We had a tendency to get cheated. People thought we were all big rich Americans, they didn't know I was a rich Canadian, but they thought we had money - and even if we didn't, business is business. I remember I thought when I came to India that everybody was going to be like Prabhupada. I thought, "Oh, Indians, they're all like Prabhupada, pure devotees." I found out quite soon they weren't. A billion and there's variety. Variety is the spice of Indian life, a lot of spice. So we got well cheated. Prabhupada called us "damn cheap babus" because if someone was selling something for 50 rupees and it actually cost 5 rupees, but we would calculate in dollars, "Oh, five dollars. Oh, that's damn cheap." It actually cost 5 rupees, so we got cheated. So we got cheated on the hut, and it only got worse. I'm sure some of you have seen at Hare Krishna Land, if you come here in the early morning you will see running around…they were there at that time, I recognize some of them, my old friends…these rats that are bigger than cats. The cats run from the rats. They're big. We're sitting on this pandal, who knows the holes and tunnels that are right underneath us. Today, of course, there's so much prasadam everywhere, and what do rats like? Prasadam. They love prasadam, whether it's offered or not. So I lived in the hut. We had a common bathroom for the men and the women, and on occasion a man would walk into the bathroom and there was a woman bathing. People were sick. I think I was one of the only ones…of course, Brahmananda, Gargamuni may have been in the crowd too…but most devotees came from the West quite healthy and went back with every disease under the sun, tropical disease, because the closer you are to the equator, the shorter your duration of life is actually. It's to do with the heat, the flora and fauna, the atmosphere. So most devotees come here, and they go back very skinny. Well, I came very skinny and I'm still skinny, right?
They were hard days but they were so beautiful; and what I remember is we took such poor care of Prabhupada, it just makes me cry. We made so many mistakes. One time I remember Prabhupada was staying at the dog man's house, this big mill owner, Sri Krishna Kapoor, and he had this big car and he took Prabhupada to the beach every morning and the dog sat right beside Prabhupada in the back seat, a big black German shepherd dog. Oh, my God. Mr. Kapoor thought it was completely OK, I don't know where he… He used to walk on the beach with his dog, and he would strut down with his chest out and his dog would be on a leash strutting down the beach with his chest out. Prabhupada said, "Just see, they're the same, master and dog." Prabhupada came to stay there, he had a guest house, which was not a guest house, it was a guest bungalow. And Prabhupada, we didn't have good accommodations for him here so he was going to...he never liked to stay at other…he always liked to stay at the temple. Nowadays preachers and sannyasis, etc., they go to temples and they stay outside with disciples, OK, or whatever, but it's rare to find the big leaders who stay at the temple, sorry to say. But Prabhupada always liked to stay at the temple with his devotees; and when it was impossible, then he would stay with a member or something. So I remember he came and there was miscommunication. Giriraja Swami was our fearless leader and somehow or other between Prabhupada's secretary and him, the time of arrival, they went off to greet Prabhupada at the airport but they missed him and Prabhupada… I was at Sri Krishna Kapoor's guest house fixing the place up and I had a few helpers and we were madly trying to put things together, and all of a sudden Prabhupada shows up in a taxi with his servant. Prabhupada came into the room and nothing was ready, and I saw Prabhupada and, ohhhhh, my heart went from my chest down into my feet. I just felt, "Oh, no," and I fell down on the floor and I let my spiritual master down again. But Prabhupada just tolerated all our mistakes. It was so wonderful. So wonderful.
He was always encouraging devotees. As someone said, he knew everybody by first name and he always had a good word or a strong word for everybody. I remember once we were going for a walk on Juhu Beach and one devotee, M., who is no longer with us but…Gujarati, Manasvi…he had a lungi on. Eh, from Gujarat, I don't know, whatever. Anyway, he was a householder and he had a lungi on, and Prabhupada stopped and for about a minute at least he chastised him, "This is not proper dress. You wear a dhoti." But you never felt…although he would chastise devotees, the most dedicated devotees he seemed to chastise the most and those who couldn't take it like me, he was very gentle with me because he knew I was fragile like peanut brittle or something, I'd crack. I remember once he chastised me up here…these were his quarters where it's now the BBT…and something I'd done, I think I beat up Yasomatinandan or something. He said, "Sridhar, you work very hard, but sometimes you cause misunderstanding." "Oh, I'm sorry Prabhupada," again I fell down, offered my…he didn't heavy me out because he knew I was just such a wimp. But with Tamal Krsna Goswami, when he canceled the sales agreement here, that was…I don't know, I've heard about it in other places to some degree, but Prabhupada chastised him so heavily and he talked about it for days and days afterwards in class. When members would come he would call Tamal, "This is Tamal Krsna Goswami, he canceled the sales agreement." It was the worst thing he could do. Just to give you an idea of what we were facing. Mr. N. was the Sheriff of Bombay. He was also the owner of the Free Press Journal, which has quite a wide circulation. Plus he was a very influential land owner and construction person or whatever, he had a lot of money and friends. There was a court case and we hired a top solicitor, Mullah & Mullah, and I think they were mullahs, I don't know. Actually they weren't, but the name sounds so opportune, Mullah & Mullah. But anyway, Tamal took full shelter of them and they advised him to cancel the sales agreement, "This is ridiculous, it's a nonsense case. Mr. Nair should give the…you cancel the sales agreement. It's the absolute number one worst thing you could do."
Brahmananda: He bought our lawyers.
Sridhar Swami: Yeah, Mr. Nair bought the Mullahs, Mullah & Mullah. Anyway, what to do? But because Goswami Maharaja was so dedicated to Prabhupada and strong in his own right, Prabhupada would chastise him. But you never felt that he did anything out of vindictiveness or loss of control of his senses. He did it out of love, and you always felt that. He used to call me, I would come after making life members, preaching, I was life membership director, in charge, and he would joke, "Oh, here comes Sridhar Swami." I was a brahmacari.
Devotee: [inaudible]
Sridhar Swami: No, no, before that, I was a brahmacari, he would call me Sridhar Swami. That's why I wanted to take sannyasa.
Brahmananda: He could see the future.
Sridhar Swami: Yeah, he could see the future. Brahmananda couldn't, he tried to stop me getting sannyasa. Anyway, I'm going to stop by a little story here…