This is a story that doesn’t directly involve me although I was there. It shows me how Prabhupada desired to encourage the devotees when they needed encouragement. It was during the Bhagavatam class when Srila Prabhupada said, “Oh, who has dressed Radha-Govinda?” Narayani, who was the head pujari and extremely shy, didn’t want to put her hand up. Again, Prabhupada said, “Who has dressed Radha-Govinda?” All the devotees were turning to her and eventually she very shyly put her hand up. Srila Prabhupada gave her a beautiful smile and said, “Thank you very much.” It was such a lovely show of kindness and compassion, and she was very excited about that because she was a very devoted pujari for Radha-Govinda.
At that point in time, I was still a bhaktin and the temple really needed a pujari for Jagannatha-Balaram-Subhadra. So Gargamuni Maharaj wrote to Srila Prabhupada and asked, “We have one Australian bhaktin here, and would you kindly agree to give her first and second initiation?” I never saw the letter, but this is what Gargamuni, then Maharaj, had told me. He told me Prabhupada agreed, and then I traveled back to Vrindavan for Janmastami in 1974 for both initiations. Visalini, who was a dear god-sister of mine, had given me a couple of instructions. I asked her, “What shall I do when
I go in and see Prabhupada?” She said, “Prabhupada really likes it if you smile so give Prabhupada a really big smile.” She had kindly lent me a very glamorous forest green sari full of sequins, and because it was forest green, she decided she would stick leaves in my hair. [laughs]
I went into Srila Prabhupada’s room, bowed down and then sat up with a really broad grin on my face. Prabhupada looked at me and asked, “Oh, you are from Calcutta?” I said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada. I am from the Calcutta temple.” He then asked, “Do any men go upstairs to the women’s quarters?” I should note that the Calcutta temple was designed such that the ladies, who lived upstairs, had to go down and through the men’s bathroom to get to the temple. It wasn’t comfortable. We would all gather before mangala-arati, bang on the door, “Haribol, matajis coming through!” Then we would have to barge through hoping we wouldn’t get contaminated by bathwater because the brahmacaris kept on bathing. So in response to Prabhupada’s question, I said, “No, Srila Prabhupada, they only come up to get their suitcases that are stored on the roof.” Prabhupada was satisfied with that, and then he called me over to sit right next to him, literally an inch from him. He held out his lotus palms and showed me how to chant the Gayatri, and by a miracle I was able to pronounce the Sanskrit properly. He didn’t correct me, and I promised him that I would follow the four regulative principles always. That was a wonderful experience and example of Prabhupada’s great concern.
Another example that illustrates Prabhupada’s love for his female disciples occurred when I was picking flowers in front of the lotus building in Mayapur. Prabhupada was up on the balcony, and he said to his servant, Hari Sauri, who later related it to me, “Every flower she picks is a step towards Krishna.” It was wonderful to learn that Prabhupada observed and appreciated our service.
In 1975 my god-sister and friend, Vrindavan-viharini, had the good fortune of taking Srila Prabhupada’s plate of prasadam up to his room. This one time, however, she said, “Krsnarupa, why don’t you take this up for Prabhupada.” His evening plate was usually comprised of a cup of hot milk and a guava with some spices. But this day she prepared a bowl of cream. I didn’t know for sure what it was, so I asked her, “What’s that?” She said, “Oh, that is shar.” [shor bhaja in Bengali] I was a little puffed up so I didn’t want to ask her, “What’s shar?”
At that time in ISKCON Prabhupada told us that he did not like us to use the words, “I think.” We either knew or we didn’t know. We were always conscious, therefore, not to speculate. [laughs] With this in mind, I went up to Prabhupada’s room. I went in, put the plate on Prabhupada’s desk, offered my obeisances, and just as I was bringing my head up, Srila Prabhupada said to me, pointing to the bowl of shar, “What is that?” Immediately I said, “I think it’s cream, Srila Prabhupada.” As soon as I said those words I blushed bright red. I thought, “Oh, no. I said ‘I think’ directly to Srila Prabhupada,” mentally hitting myself on the head with a shoe. But Prabhupada didn’t say anything. He was very tolerant. He didn’t say, “What do you mean ‘you think?’ You know or you don’t know.” He simply said, “Oh, thank you,” and I left the room. Since then I have learned the lesson that if you don’t know something, just ask. I’ve used that in my professional career as well as my devotional career. If you don’t know, just ask. No matter how stupid it seems, just ask. That was a very good lesson.
Living in Mayapur and seeing Prabhupada very often was special. Being in a female body, however, and not being able to go on morning walks with him, allowed me the service of cleaning his room. One morning Prabhupada had come back a little early before I could finish my service, so I continued on as Srutirupa delivered the
breakfast she had prepared for him. Because I wanted to be in the same room as Prabhupada, I got a little slower cleaning the floor. At one point, Prabhupada was eating a piece of cucumber when I heard a noise. I looked up and Prabhupada had made a loud spitting noise. Srutirupa said, “Oh, Srila Prabhupada is something wrong?” Prabhupada picked up the piece of cucumber and said, “Have you not tasted this? It is bitter.” Srutirupa said, “Oh, Srila Prabhupada should I taste it before I give it to you?” He said, “Yes.” I thought, “Ah, that’s an interesting lesson,” and soon thereafter left his room.
Later Prabhupada tolerated me once again when I was cleaning his bedroom. He didn’t say, “What are you doing here? Leave.” He didn’t say that, but he tolerated me. However, the next morning, Bhavananda, who was then the co-director of Mayapur with Jayapataka Maharaj, made the announcement to all the devotees that Prabhupada said, “You all must clean early in the morning. Cleaning late is mleccha. So, before mangala-arati everyone must clean the temple room.” I felt a little guilty because I thought that it was my fault because I had been a little slow in getting out of his bedroom.
Over the years the women in ISKCON in general have not been treated very nicely. But Prabhupada really loved his daughters. One time Prabhupada had a cold, and Hari Sauri had given me a little scrap of orange silk to make into a handkerchief for Prabhupada. I was a neophyte devotee sewing for Radha-Madhava, and I thought, “Oh, I have to sew this quickly.” But I didn’t sew it very well, and I gave it
to Hari Sauri anyway to give to Prabhupada. After many years I saw Hari Sauri again and asked him, “Prabhu, do you remember that little orange handkerchief you gave me to sew for Prabhupada? That little scrap of silk?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Did Srila Prabhupada actually ever use it?” He said, “Oh, yeah. Prabhupada used it and he loved that handkerchief.” I said, “Really? It was so horribly sewn. I’ve lamented for forty-three years that I sewed it so poorly.” He said, “Look, I’ll tell you what happened.” He said, “There were a lot of sannyasis in the room, and I came in with that handkerchief to give to Prabhupada as one of the sannyasis was telling Srila Prabhupada what an excellent sannyasi he was. He told Prabhupada, ‘I don’t talk to women, I don’t look at women, and I’m very fixed in my sannyasa vows.’ Srila Prabhupada was just looking down quietly listening, not commenting. I handed the handkerchief to Prabhupada and he beamed. He picked up the handkerchief and he addressed the sannyasis in the room. He said, ‘I will always accept service from my daughters.’”
I am convinced that Prabhupada knew our hearts and knew exactly what we were thinking. I had seen a beautifully embroidered kartal bag of the six Goswamis that someone had given Prabhupada. I thought, “This is so beautiful. I want to make something as nice as that and give it to Prabhupada.” My hidden agenda, however, was for Prabhupada to notice me and say, “Oh, who has made this?” Someone will say, “Oh, Krsnarupa has made it.” “Oh, very nice,” and then I would feel like my life had been successful. This was my strategy. Before I’d start sewing for Radha-Madhava, I would spend half an hour every day embroidering that kartal bag for Prabhupada.
Finally it was complete, and I said to Srutirupa because she was still cooking for Prabhupada, “Srutirupa, can you give this to Prabhupada for me?” She said, “No, you give it to him.” I said, “No way. I’m not giving this to Prabhupada.” She said, “Okay, come with me and we will give it to Prabhupada together.” Srila Prabhupada was sitting outside on a little asana. My usual modus operandi was to hide behind Srutirupa. I was thinking Prabhupada would say, “Oh, this is very nice. Who has made this?” And then she’ll say, “Krsnarupa.” Then I’ll stick my head out beside Srutirupa, and Prabhupada will say, “Oh, thank you very much. This is very nice.” This was the scenario that was playing around in my head.
Of course it didn’t happen like that because Prabhupada knew my motivation. Srutirupa handed the gift to Prabhupada, who looked at it quizzically and asked, “What is this?” [laughs] Internally I was laughing my head off. I thought, “Oh, thank you Prabhupada, you’ve really given me a very good lesson here for my false ego.” [laughs]
Another event that happened and showed me again that Prabhupada was very attentive to his disciples was either in 1976 or ’77 in Mayapur when Prabhupada was unwell. Every day at four o’clock in the afternoon we would go into his room and have darshan for two hours. Prabhupada would either talk or he would chant, and we were very happy just to be in the same room as Srila Prabhupada. I’m sure each devotee in that room was praying for Prabhupada’s quick recovery. One time I was a little bit late coming to his room as my service had extended longer than usual. I normally sat in one particular spot, but this time, much to my dismay, I could see that the room was crowded and my spot had been taken. I must have had such a devastated look on my face because when Prabhupada noticed me, with just a very elegant movement of his head, he indicated that I should come around to the side entrance. It was also quite
crowded there as well, but when I got to the doorway, Srila Prabhupada gestured with his hand for the devotees to move and make room for me. Even though I was a little devotee in the movement, Prabhupada could see that I had been really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to fit in that room, so he made sure that I could.
Another time in his room, Prabhupada had one of his disciples hand out gur-balls, which were coconut and sugar, to his god-brothers when they left the room. The devotee opened the jar, put his left hand in, and handed it with his left hand to one of Prabhupada’s god-brothers. Prabhupada was embarrassed. He said to his god-brothers, “Please excuse my mleccha disciples. They do not know.” This poor devotee, who I think was left-handed, was totally embarrassed. Again, the devotee put his left hand in and handed out a gur-ball [laughs] to another god-brother with his left hand. But at this stage Prabhupada was annoyed. I learned that one has to be very careful to always give with the right hand and accept with the right hand, no matter whether you’re ambidextrous or not.
There was another incident when one devotee had just arrived from America and he was trying to praise Srila Prabhupada. But by praising Srila Prabhupada he was negating Prabhupada’s god-brothers. In Mayapur we were all very clear about the relationship with Prabhupada and his god-brothers. We understood very clearly what Prabhupada wanted us to do in relation to that dynamic. But this devotee started to somewhat denigrate Prabhupada’s god-brothers while praising Prabhupada. He was saying, “Oh, Prabhupada, you’ve done so much.” Then he went on to criticize his god-brothers in so many ways. Prabhupada’s displeasure was palpable. We were all sitting there in the room thinking, “Oh, mother Bhumi, please open up a hole in the floor so that poor brahmacari can just disappear because he had really displeased Prabhupada.” Prabhupada was silent for a good fifty to sixty seconds. It felt longer. He was looking down and then he raised his head and looked at this boy. He said, “I can criticize my god-brothers, but you cannot.” That was a very valuable lesson that we should always be respectful to all Vaishnavas. Prabhupada exemplified that perfectly.