February 2011


12 March 2001, Bhaktivedanta Hospital, Mumbai

I attended the Morning Programme at Radha-Giridhari Temple.  Prahladananda Maharaja gave me a garland during Tulasi Arati.  Savyasaci prabhu went to Mumbai to purchase some electronic equipment.  I cleaned Prahladananda and Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja’s room.  Prahladananda Maharaja said, ‘You are a good cleaner.  A gentleman and a scholar.’  I served him breakfast.  Then I performed my daily seva of washing the senior devotees’ cloth.

Lunch was ecstatic.  I assisted Giriraja prabhu (one of the doctors at the Hospital) and Siksastakam prabhu (Radhanath Maharaja’s personal servant) with serving lunch to the sannyasis – Suhotra Maharaja, Prahladananda Maharaja, Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja, Niranjana Maharaja, Vaidhinatha prabhu and Radhanath Maharaja.  I was told to serve Radhanath Maharaja separately (‘special prashada‘ for his health).  Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja rebuked me when I served him, ‘When you serve with your wrist going that way, that is how you sere a dead man.  Serve this way!’  He grabbed my wrist and showed me the correct way of serving.  Giriraja prabhu disappeared.  I was left alone to serve the waiting sannyasis.

The matajis sent me with the dal. Prahladananda Maharaja asked if that was the only preparation.  I scurried off to the kitchen, bringing back chapatis and several other preparations.  One of the preparations, some khichari, was for Radhanath Maharaja.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to offer Maharaja some personal service.  The meal ended with buttermilk (chaas) and the sannyasis gradually left their make-shift prashadam room.

Mother Nama Cintamani and another Mataji arrived from Juhu Temple with a bouquet for Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja from His Holiness Giriraja Swami.  They also gave Niranjana Maharaja a bouquet and presented Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja with a garland from Radha-Rasabihari.  They also gave the convalescent sannyasis some maha-prashadam from Rasabihari.  They also had a garland, from Radharani’s hand, for His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja.  They had also brought a beautiful vase of flowers and a card for Radhanath Maharaja from Giriraja Swami.  Radhanath Maharaja was talking to his sannyasi godbrothers at the end of the hall.  The devotees all offered obeisances when Maharaja stopped by the kitchen.   Maharaja saw the garland that was intended for him and asked that it be sent to his room by someone.  Dwarkadisha prabhu’s wife said I should take the garland down to his room, along with maha prashadam from Lord Gauranga.

Radhanath Maharaja was occupying a room in one of the wings of the hospital.  He had given strict orders not to be disturbed – even by the doctors.  Practically no-one could see him, unless he called for them.  And here I was, following Maharaja down the passage with garlands in both hands.  Maharaja seemed shy.  I think he could sense my nervousness.  He pressed the keys on the combination lock and pulled the latch in a dramatic manner…as if opening the door of a dungeon.  KLUNK!  He turned, half smiling half grinning.  I got the feeling that Maharaja did not like being in the Hospital.  I wasn’t sure what to do, so I offered Maharaja the garland.  He asked me to put it on the shelf.  I placed it next to another garland before pictures of Gaura-Nitai and Radha-Gopinath.  The room was decorated with pictures of Varshana, Madan Mohana and Radha Kunda.

Maharaja opened his card from Giriraja Swami.  He pushed his reading glasses to the front of  his nose.  ‘Can you read this?’ he asked.  ‘Arjentaria’, I replied.  He corrected me, ‘Carpentaria.  That is where Giriraja Maharaja stays.’  I then gave Maharaja Radharani’s garland.  Since there was no string to tie the garland, Maharaja wound it around my neck and said, ‘Be careful with that.  There’s no string on it.’  I then presented Maharaja with Radha-Rasabihari’s maha prashada. Maharaja took a cake crumb and said, ‘You can have that.’  Maharaja placed his hand on my sikha, then embraced me.  I held his arm.  I felt there was hope in my life.  Maharaja asked, ‘Who brought these things?’  I told him that some disciples of Giriraja Swami, matajis from Juhu Temple, had brought them.  He said, ‘Please call them here.  I would like to thank them.’    I looked everywhere for them.  I even made several announcements on the Hospital intercom.  I eventually found them in the canteen.

The matajis were delighted to have Maharaja’s darshan. Maharaja was curious to know how Giriraja Swami knew he was in hospital.  The ladies expressed their appreciation for association of Mother Yamuna, Mother Malati and Mother Vishaka at the Pune Yatra.  Maharaja mentioned that Mother Yamuna wanted to write a book about the early days of ISKCON with Srila Prabhupada.  He mentioned that she wanted to stop, however, because she felt unqualified.  Maharaja then cited the example of Krishnadas Kaviraja Maharaja who wrote the Caitanya Caritamrita at the provocation of the other devotees.  Maharaja then said, ‘To feel unfit.  This is Vaisnava.’  The ladies left.

Maharaja said he would not meet me today as he had spoken so much already.  I offered him my obeisances.  Maharaja graciously said, ‘Thank you for your good service.’   I took his leave, marvelling at my good fortune.  Krishna had fulfilled my desire to offer Maharaja a garland.  And I had gotten my first opportunity to render personal service to him.

In the evening, I served prashadam to the sadhus with Giriraja prabhu. This time there were no complaints.  I went down to the laundry with Satyavaan (one of the hospital-workers) to collect the sannyasis’ washing.  I got back just in time to see the second half of Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja’s ‘Vrindavan Parikrama’ slide-show.  Radhanath Maharaja smiled blissfully as he watched the slide-show.  The evening ended with a brief kirtan by Niranjana Maharaja.  All in all, it was a blissful day.

Radha-Gopinath Mandir, Chowpatty, Mumbai, 21st February 2001

‘Maharaja got in the night before yesterday’, Radha-Gopinath prabhu intimated to me.  We were both waiting outside his living-quarters.  ‘Do you think it would be possible for me to meet with Maharaja?’ I asked.  Radha Gopinath prabhu was doubtful, ‘Maharaja has hardly had time to speak to me about the Gaura Purnima Festival and other important Temple matters.  And I’m the Temple President.  I’m not sure if he’ll meet you, prabhu.’

Maharaja’s servant came out.  Radha Gopinath went in.   I was still waiting outside Maharaja’s room when Radha Gopinath re-emerged three hours later.  Had he put in a  good word for me?  Would I be able to meet with Maharaja? Yes, he had spoken to Maharaja.  Maharaja had no problem with me going to Mayapur.  I explained to Radha Gopinath that I was in India was to request diksha initiation from Maharaja.  I had a letter of recommendation from my Temple President.  I might not see Maharaja for another three years.  Radha Gopinath was concerned:  ‘Let me speak to Krsnanand prabhu.  He is going to the Station with Maharaja tonight.  They might have space for you in Maharaja’s vehicle.’

Radha Gopinath presented my case to Krsnanand prabhu.  Krsnanand paused then said, ‘Yes, prabhuji.  You can join us.  Just be on time.’  It seemed like there was a glimmer of hope.  I went back to the ashram to take a shower, feeling a little bit better.  I went downstairs at the appointed time, and squeezed into the back of the Temple Sumo with Krsnanand prabhu, Maharaja’s servant, an American disciple and another Temple brahmacari. Maharaja sat in the passenger seat.  He exchanged some words with Gaurakishore, the American boy, asking him if he was alright.  Maharaja turned around, and greeted me. I was surprised he remembered my name.  Maharaja asked me if I was going to the Belgaum Ratha Yatra.  No.  I was just joining them for the ride.  But there was more.  The vehicle threaded its way through the night traffic past the old Siva Temple, Babulnath Mandir.  ‘Maharaja, I wanted to talk about our previous discussion…about my proposition’, I said, trying to find the right words.  It was frustrating.  You cannot demand initiation.  It is an act of mercy on behalf of the guru. I wanted to scream out, ‘Please, initiate me now!’  But I had to be patient.

Maharaja asked if I was going to Mayapur.  ‘Yes’, I replied.  ‘That is not a problem’, he said.  ‘When are you leaving India?’  I answered, ‘The 29th of March.  From Delhi.’  As the Sumo veered along Marine Drive, Maharaja humbly said, ‘I am your servant.’  I counteracted, ‘No.  I am your servant!’  Maharaja said, ‘You should go to Vrindavan after Mayapur, then back to South Africa.  You can do two things.  Meet me here, in Mumbai.  Or – if  you are leaving from Vrindavan to South Africa – write a long letter with your realizations, ideas and convictions about your stay in India and the places you go.’  He paused: ‘What are you going to do?  Go to Mayapur, Vrindavan and South Africa?  Or, Mayapur, Mumbai and Vrindavan?  You have two choices.’

The vehicle arrived at the bridge that crosses the highway.  Maharaja returned to the subject of initiation, ‘I take these things very seriously.  When you go back you must think very seriously about what you want to do.  You must be sure that you won’t go away.  You must be convinced about what you want in terms of your connection.’  I wasn’t sure what Maharaja meant, ‘Do you mean my connection in relation to the bhakti process?’   Maharaja responded, ‘More specifically, with your connection to that process.’  I realized that he was talking about the disciple’s relationship with the guru;  and  the disciple’s relationship with the chain of disciplic succession or parampara.  Initiation meant a lot to me.  ‘I could return to Mumbai, Maharaja.  If you are here’,  I said.  Maharaja described his schedule, mentioning that he was going to Kurukshetra Ratha Yatra on the 17th of March.

The vehicle neared Victoria Station.  I could see the trains and train-lines below.  People swarming in the floodlights.  Maharaja encouraged me, ‘You have served nicely in the Temple.  You are sincere.  And you have a nice disposition.’  The car stopped.  Maharaja spoke reassuringly, ‘Do not feel dejected.’  He stroked my sikha (the unshaved part of the devotee’s crown).  Maharaja sat back in his seat and said, ‘I am nice to people until they want initiation from me.  Then I harass them!’  He laughed heartily.  I felt bad.  ‘Sorry for asking’, I said.  My response elicited more laughter from Maharaja and the devotees.  I was embarassed.

The brahmacaris scrambled out of the Sumo.  Radhanath Maharaja’s personal servant grabbed his suitcases.  We all offered dandavats to Maharaja as he climbed out of the passenger seat.  I stood up.  Maharaja was facing me.  He placed his garland around me neck.  Maharaja looked so clean and fresh.  One of the boys was holding Maharaja’s danda.  The party disappeared into the crowds, leaving me to reflect on the day’s events.

Mumbai, February 2001

Vrajabihari prabhu asked me to accompany him to the airport to fetch Prahaladhananda Maharaja and Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja.  I was looking forward to seeing Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja and meeting His Holiness Prahladananda Maharaja.  Vrajabihari prabhu garlanded Praladhananda Maharaja and I garlanded Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja.

Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja asked, ‘Where are they taking us?’  I wasn’t sure.  I asked a rhetorical question, ‘The Temple?’  Maharaja said, ‘Aren’t they taking us to the hospital?’  It was distressing to see Maharaja looking so weak.  He didn’t speak much, just chanted.  When we arrived at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, we took the sannyasis suitcases to their rooms.  They spoke to one of the main doctor’s at the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, Sri Krsna Caitanya prabhu.  I offered obeisances to Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja.  He thanked me for coming and gave me his garland.  He said, ‘Sorry for being such a nuisance.’  I replied, ‘No, Maharaja.  We were looking forward to receiving you.’  I then asked, ‘Is it an emergency?’  Maharaja said, ‘Yes…it’s serious.  We had to leave Mayapur directly.’  Maharaja had a severe case of asthma.  I asked Maharaja if he required any service.  I would cancel my Mayapur trip if necessary.  He said, ‘If you like.  But you can go ahead.’

As it turned out, several other sannyasis and senior devotees checked into the hospital.  I soon met Niranjana Swami and Vaidhinath prabhu.  The hospital was also offering relief for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake.  I shared a room with Niranjana Maharaja’s personal servant for 20 rupees a night.  I developed the habit of taking breakfast at the Mira Road Temple and dosas and sambar in the canteen for lunch.  My main service, in the beginning, was cleaning Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja’s room with the help of Savya-saci, Niranjana Maharaja’s servant.  I ended up, however, cleaning the room every morning and washing cloth for Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja, Niranjana Swami, Prahladananda Swami and Vaidhinatha prabhu.  Other services included serving prashadam for these devotees and performing various menial services in the hospital, such as accompanying His Grace Vijay prabhu into the operating-theatre and assisting the servants of the various Maharajas.  It was a great opportunity to serve, but very intense.  On one of the nights, we sang in Niranjana Maharaja’s room.  On another night, we visited Sridhar Maharaja (who had severe hepatitis) and chanted in ‘Nrsimha Kutir’.  The apartment was across the road from the Hospital.

I accompanied a young Indian bhakta, Manoja, to Sridhar Maharaja’s apartment on one of the mornings.  We presented Maharaja with a garland of marigolds from Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari.  Maharaja was very happy with the garland.  He asked what I had done before I took up Krishna consciousness.  I informed Maharaja that I had been a student of History and had written a thesis on the slave trade to the Cape.  Maharaja told me that his brother had been a Rhodes scholar.  He then asked, ‘Why History?’  He seemed bemused by this.  He said, ‘My brother studied South American history.’  ‘Do you think it’s practical to take initiation from Radhanath Maharaja.  After all, Maharaja never visits South  Africa.  Maybe I am being idealistic’  Sridhar Maharaja replied, ‘You have to have faith in that person.  The person you receive initiation from has to inpire you your whole life.’  I offered obeisances to Maharaja and took his permission to leave.

Something extraordinary happened in the afternoon when I returned to the Temple to get maha sweets from the pujari (priest of the Deity).  The altar was closed and there were no devotees around.  As I was leaving the Temple compound, a devotee called Premavatara offered me a garland.  It was the same garland which I had presented to Sridhar Maharaja in the morning!

Serves 20

Method

1. 1 3/4 500g blocks of butter and 2 500g packets of semolina

2. Melt 1 3/4 blocks of butter (500g) over fairly low heat.  Add fennel seeds and bay leaves to butter.  Add semolina.  Cook until semolina goes the colour of beach sand (about 20 mins).

3.  Syrup. Add 1 3/4 litres full cream milk to 2 litres of water.  Add the equivalent amount of sugar as semolina and butter (1.875 kg) to the water.  Bring to boil, then simmer until it is fairly condensed.  Takes about 25 mins.

4. Slowly pour the syrup into the roasted semolina mix and cook on medium heat for five to ten minutes.  One of the ways you can usually tell that the halava is finished is if it peels from the side of the pot or gets a pasty texture.

5.  Other ways to enhance this preparation is to add currants, saffron, glazed pineapples or cashew nuts.

6.  Always offer your food to Krishna to make your cooking complete.