We left Amsterdam where I joined in 1970 to take initiation in England. The first time I saw Srila Prabhupada was at Bury Place—a very narrow temple with beautiful Deities. We came in the temple, all of us on our knees, waiting for Srila Prabhupada to enter. I had so many tears in anticipation, and then I looked around and everyone else had tears pouring down. That was the scene and emotion waiting for the pure devotee to arrive.
During the early days in Vrindavan when the temple was being built, Srila Prabhupada was very protective of us so that we wouldn’t get cheated. Prabhupada said, “You have to understand that the merchants will never see that you have tilak on your forehead. They will only see dollar signs on your forehead.” I understood that he wanted us not to be naive but to be grounded and very practical.
Srila Prabhupada told me ways to treat children according to the Vedic or Vaishnava ways. He said very firmly, “A child should never be left to cry. You immediately pick him up.” He also said, “Never say ‘No’ to a child,” so then he will feel confident later on in life. He said, “If a child has something that you don’t want him to have in his hand and you want to take it away, the way that he will not cry is to show him something else in the other hand and give him that item. He will drop the first thing by himself and forget about it.” Srila Prabhupada said that academics should never be given to a child before seven years old. “He should play. He should play so much.” He said, “A boy who is naughty is a sign of intelligence.” Then he said, “Children should have toys. Boys should have cars. So if he has toys or cars to play with, then he will not have so much desire for big cars and all this later on in life.” Then about the boys Srila Prabhupada said, “The mother should breast feed the male child as long as she can.” Then he gave the example that Krishna was being breast fed by His mother up to seven years old. He said, “If a boy takes milk from the breast of his mother for a long time, then he will not be so attracted to the breasts of women later.” About small babies Prabhupada said, “You give bath to your baby, and then you put the arm of the baby like this (straight) near the body, and you take a cloth and roll the cloth around him up to his neck.” He said, “The infant will sleep all day.” He continued to say, “Feeding and sleeping for the baby are about the same. It makes them grow nicely.” Then he said, “For one month you only allow very close family near the infant. Only the father can take the baby. And you never go out for a minimum of one month so they don’t get infected from outside bacteria. No one should touch the baby.” Concerning eating, he said, “If you are cooking, even for the Deities, and the child is coming in the kitchen and he wants to grab something because he is hungry, you have to immediately give him the food, even if it is not offered.” In other words, it is very important to feed the child. And, “Never, never beat them.” Especially for girls he said, “If a girl cries in the house, then Laksmi will leave the house.” Prabhupada also said, “Girls should never be married to a man if she is repulsed by him. That is a big crime. The wife should be attracted to the husband.”
In Amsterdam on the day of the installation of Lord Jagannatha, unfortunately we did everything wrong. One thing after another went wrong and I was running all over the place trying to make things right. After a short time Prabhupada said, “Is there not any man here in this temple?” [chuckles] Prabhupada was performing the abhisheka, and he asked if there were any towels. Of course there were no towels, so I rushed outside quickly. I knocked on doors and I came back with some bed sheets someone had given me. The sheets were in a plastic bag and I began to cut open the bag in order to cut the sheets in three as separate towels for each Deity. Prabhupada turned to me, “Don’t spoil the sheet!” He stopped me from cutting the bed sheet. I was amazed that Srila Prabhupada did not want to misuse Krishna’s energy, even for Lord Jagannatha, Balaram and Subhadra. Other times he would give everything for Lord Jagannatha, for Krishna, but this was Prabhupada’s unpredictable character. What he will do, what he will say, that we will never know. We would go to him, thinking, “Oh, he is going to approve this,” and then he would say the opposite. In Vrindavan during the construction of the temple, Surabhi, my husband, and Gunarnava had an idea how to make a little income to maintain our families. They decided to make some kurtas and shawls and they wanted to offer the first one to Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada looked at their samples and he said, “Oh! I cannot accept. I cannot wear kurta with the Holy Name because I cannot sit on the Holy Name. I cannot wear a shawl with the Holy Name because it will touch a different part of my body. So don’t do that. You never wear anything with the Holy Name—even a bead bag.” We had the privilege to understand that the Holy Name is Krishna. When Prabhupada gave instructions, he opened the doors of Vaikuntha for us. Also in Vrindavan, Palika and I had some conflict between us regarding our service. She would like to give Prabhupada his milk, but actually Srila Prabhupada at one point gave the responsibility of boiling his milk to me. She was not so happy about that, but no one else knew of our spat. One morning I was in Prabhupada’s room with a few other devotees. Prabhupada looked at me and smiled. He looked at the other devotees and he said, “Just see, this Palika and this Kishori, they will never get along because they are not of the same crew.” Then Prabhupada looked at me again and said, “Even in Goloka Vrindavan they will never get along because they are not of the same clan.” I could not believe what I was hearing. At that moment I simply heard that one day I would go to Krishna Loka. I left the room very quickly as I don’t think my feet were touching the ground. It was like I had little wings and I was screaming, “Palika! Palika! Srila Prabhupada said we are going to Goloka Vrindavan, and we are not from the same clan. We will not be together!” Palika was grumbling, but I was so happy. I thought, “That’s unbelievable! How Srila Prabhupada knows everything.”
One evening in Vrindavan we had a darshan with Bhagatji and Prabhupada. Bhagatji, who was helping us so much with the temple building, was a little disturbed because young devotees were being rude to him. Srila Prabupada said, “You know, my disciples are very raw.” Then Bhagatji said, “Srila Prabhupada what will happen when you will go? Who will be there after you?” Srila Prabhupada reflected a few minutes, and then he said, “Bhagatji, at night if you look at the sky, there are so many stars, but when the moon is rising, everyone can see the moon. So in that way, when that moon will be rising—everyone will see that moon.”
In Vrindavan we had a very nice devotee named Tejiyas who was the treasurer. He was very shrewd with money. He was trustworthy and very dear to Srila Prabhupada. The only problem was that he had some marital difficulties with his wife Madhira. One evening we had a sweet darshan with Prabhupada and Tejiyas said to him, “Srila Prabhupada, my wife doesn’t listen to me.” Prabhupada looked at him and he said, “Oh! Your wife doesn’t listen to you? So why don’t you listen to her!” All the girls went, “Haribol! Haribol!” I noticed that Srila Prabhupada was always very kind to the ladies. He was very soft with us except when there was an important instruction he gave us for the sake of our spiritual life.
In Vrindavan in the early days, Yamuna was heartily engaged in the service of Krishna and Balaram. Prabhupada would sometimes compliment the temple of Radha-Raman by suggesting to Yamuna, “Maybe you can see at Radha-Raman how they do.” Since Yamuna had a very nice relationship with the Brijibasis, she associated with one of the Goswamis at the Radha-Raman temple who taught her about initiation into the Gopal mantra. Maybe she wanted to surprise Prabhupada, but she did not ask his permission when writing a letter to all the temples that said, “When you come to Vrindavan, this Goswami will come and give you initiation with the Gopal mantra that is necessary for the worship of our Krishna-Balaram Deities. And if you want, please you can buy some toys of silver to put on the altar.” So one day I was in Srila Prabhupada’s room and he called for Yamuna. She came in and Srila Prabhupada immediately said, “So Yamuna, you wrote a letter to all the temples and you told them that when they come they can get initiation with this Gopal mantra?” He said, “I never said that. I have given you everything about Deity worship. So, I don’t want this to be done. I don’t want any toys, anything like this on our altars. So you will write a letter now and you will cancel this program!” Of course, she did it. Prabhupada was always very strict about going outside for instructions.
My grandfather was one of the greatest home decorators in France. He was most famous for his huge fireplaces. Because it was cold in Vrindavan in the winter, I thought it would be nice if Prabhupada had a big fireplace for his room. Surabhi was not sure this was a good idea, but I convinced him. He constructed the huge fireplace that is currently in Prabhupada’s room today. The day arrived when Srila Prabhupada came into his darshan room for the first time since the fireplace was constructed. My heart was pounding with the anticipation of Prabhupada’s reaction to the beautiful fireplace. The first words Prabhupada said were, “Oh! Surabhi!” He was a bit surprised. “You put the fireplace in my darshan room? You put my kitchen in the darshan room!” He was shocked because in India there is never a fireplace where people sit together. The fireplace is small and it is always in the corner of the kitchen in every Brijibasi house. Surabhi said, “Srila Prabhupada, in this fireplace we will put wood, make a big fire, and in the winter you will be warm.” Prabhupada turned to him and in a grave voice said, “Vaishnavas, they never burn wood to keep warm. They wear shawl,” and he gestured wrapping a shawl over his shoulder. Surabhi shot me a dark glance. I left the room as he received some more chastisement. The next day we tried the fireplace, but the chimney was not working properly, and it seemed like the whole house was burning. That’s the last time the fireplace was ever used. We received another instruction from Srila Prabhupada when we had to travel to Makhana in Jaipur to get some marble for the altar in Vrindavan. It was such a long distance to travel that it was impossible to take prasadam with us. We asked Srila Prabhupada, “When we travel for our service, is it possible to go to the restaurant?” Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes, you can go. You go quickly. You order quickly. You eat quickly. You pay quickly, and you leave quickly. In that way you can eat when you are traveling.” So I understood that Prabhupada was, of course, very practical. [chuckles]
In Mayapur I was in the room with Prabhupada and Surabhi when they were looking over the Master Plan for the Mayapur complex. At one point in their discussion, Prabhupada said, “Surabhi, you forgot something.” “What, Srila Prabhupada?” “The jail.” Later on in a class I remember Prabhupada commenting, “When an architect prepares to design a city, even though there currently are no prisoners, a jail must be built because they know there will be criminals in the future.” I remember that statement because he was very firm.
One time at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, Malati asked me to make some samosa for Srila Prabhupada. I never had made samosas for Prabhupada before, but I did it according to Malati’s direction, and Prabhupada liked them very much. About a year went by, and I was on a morning walk with Prabhupada in India, along with Surabhi and Narottama, when Prabhupada said loudly, “So, Kishori, she can make me some samosa. She makes a good samosa.” I was shocked not only because Yamuna was his cook at that time, but also because he remembered my samosas from over a year before. How could he remember my samosa after going all over the world and having so many devotees cook for him? What I learned from that was that Srila Prabhupada is pure gratefulness. He never forgets any little service we can render him.
One time in Vrindavan the mosquitoes were out in force. So we all got the alert. We were told to be very careful and to make sure the doors to Prabhupada’s quarters were perfectly closed. We didn’t want the mosquitoes to attack Srila Prabhupada. I entered Prabhupada’s quarters one morning, and immediately Hari Sauri blocked me from going further as he screamed at me, “What are you doing? You never closed Prabhupada’s door! You want Prabhupada to be attacked by the mosquitoes?” I was startled to say the least because I was so careful to close the door. He pointed his fingers at me and continued screaming. “You are stupid!” I defended myself by saying, “Yes, yes, I promise you, I did close the door.” Suddenly I felt such a strong grip on my hip. I looked to see whose hand was on me and I saw that it was Prabhupada. With one hand he pushed me behind himself and he said to Hari Sauri, “So what now? Why are you speaking to her like this? What is this? You should not speak like this to her.” Srila Prabhupada started to defend me with such anger. He always defended the poor, the defenseless, and as devotee women, we were not always treated with much respect. That was such an unbelievable day that I will never forget how Prabhupada defended me. And you cannot imagine Prabhupada’s strength.