I was with Srila Prabhupada in Delhi and as I was a good friend with Srutakirti, he would always allow me to get a little close to Prabhupada. One time everyone left the temple so I was the one who, if Prabhupada rang the bell, had to go see what he wanted. I was certainly hoping he wouldn’t ring the bell because for some reason I thought it was too intimate or too much responsibility. But anyhow Prabhupada did ring the bell, and I came and offered my obeisances. He was standing in a room next to his room looking at the wall. There was really nothing on the wall but he was asking me about the painting and asking me what do I think about the painting. I couldn’t figure out whether he was asking me if the room should be painted, what color the paint should be, or should he put some painting on the wall. I said, “Well, whatever you think, Srila Prabhupada.” I was trying to get out of thinking about it and just throw it back at Prabhupada. He said, “No, no, no. Not whatever I say. What do you think? What do you think? What do you want to do for Krishna?” I don’t even know what I said at that point because I still didn’t know what he was talking about. It was incredibly awkward. But I didn’t forget that he was very keen on having us not just following rules and regulations, but was keen on having us think for ourselves, and finding out how we could serve Krishna. Krishna was in our hands also and he had given Him to us and now we were to use the best of our intelligence how to serve Him. It was a very instructive moment.
Before I went to Africa, Brahmananda, Tamal Krishna, Srila Prabhupada, and Srutakirti were living in a house right near the Bombay temple. Brahmananda asked me to come and live there too so that I could help as a sannyasi servant, and also back up Srutakirti. I did all the shopping for the house, the laundry for everyone, and washed the dishes. It was really a wonderful engagement. I was living in the spiritual master’s house with a few devotees and was engaged all the time. One time I was asked to arrange a car for Srila Prabhupada. I found a hip Bombay guy to bring a car and he showed up with an American low-rider car. (laughs) Tamal Krishna gave me a look like, “Oh, you’re toast. This is really bad.” But Prabhupada didn’t bat an eye. He got in the car and rode to the temple. Another car experience I had was once when Srila Prabhupada stepped into the car, and just as he was sitting down he said, “Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadadhara, Srivasati, Gaur Bhakta Vrinda.” It was literally as if the universe had stopped. Everything became so thick and heavy. Srutakirti and I were more or less just stunned for a moment by the mood in which Prabhupada spoke. Prabhanu: We were in Africa and my friend Paramesvari and Vivikar were sitting around when Vivikar got his nose in an atlas and said, “Oh, look here. There’s an island out a thousand miles off the coast and it’s got a million Hindus on it. Why don’t we go there?” Paramesvari had been to Mauritius before and he said, “Yeah it’s a good place.” So Vivikar and I went in Prabhupada style. What that means is that we had a trunk of books, enough rupees that you could count on your fingers, and a letter of introduction. It’s not such a rich place and it was a little bit of a struggle. But after a year or so, Mr. Gautam Tilak, the Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture of Mauritius suggested, “Why doesn’t your guru meet the prime minister?” And that was suggested to Prabhupada. He said, “Yes, very good.” He liked to speak to leading people so we made all kinds of arrangements and Prabhupada came. He stayed in a beautiful beach house someone had donated. During that time Prabhupada went on a morning walk when some guys on the sugar cane trucks mocked us and sarcastically said, “Aaaah, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama”. One of the devotees said, “Prabhupada, what happens to a person when they chant Hare Krishna like that?” With a lot of conviction Prabhupada said, “They are liberated.”
In Bombay I was living in a house with Tamal Krishna, Brahmananda and Srutakirti. Prabhupada was talking with Tamal and I began to hear Tamal raising his voice, more or less really arguing vehemently against Srila Prabhupada. The subject was that Tamal should go to China and Prabhupada was just speaking so calmly even though Tamal was, in my estimation, angry. I had never heard anyone raise his or her voice against Srila Prabhupada. Tamal was just being incredibly strong in his statements. Obviously their relationship and preaching was very intimate but in retrospect I remember just hearing Srila Prabhupada’s patient voice. Tamal would throw out some loud objection and Prabhupada would kindly diminish that objection and speak very much like a patient father with an enraged child who wasn’t following his directions.
I got to drive Srila Prabhupada to the beach every day in the Jeep, and he would sit right next to me. He would chant the Govinda prayers while he was riding in the Jeep, which didn’t have a canopy on it. I remember thinking of myself as someone in World War II driving a great general to a battle station and he was holding on to the top of the Jeep as we were driving and chanting Govinda prayers. Then we would walk on the beach. During that time Prabhupada had asked Brahmananda, “So who is this boy? Who is this boy, Paramesvari?” Brahmananda came and told me that Prabhupada was taking notice of me. I was feeling very enthused because I was about as happily engaged as I had ever been, being more or less a secondary servant, behind the scenes as a personal backup for Prabhupada. It was completely satisfying to be in that situation. Some nights I’d be able to sit and chant japa while Srutakirti was massaging Prabhupada’s legs and it was almost as if Krishna’s pastimes were being performed in that little dimly lit room. I remember thinking how it really doesn’t get any better than this, being in the association of my guru. Daily so many realizations and intimate feelings were coming. Eventually, however, I had to say goodbye to Srila Prabhupada because it was time to go to Africa. He was very aware from Brahmananda of my situation, and he was very encouraging of the devotees who went to Africa because it was far away and an austere place. He was exceptionally kind. I went in and paid my obeisances and told him, “I just wanted to say goodbye, Srila Prabhupada. I’m going to Africa and ask for your blessings.” He said, “Yes. May Krishna give you all His blessings. You are a very nice devotee. You serve Krishna very nicely.” He said, “Here, take my garland,” and he gave me his garland and then gave me a glass of orange juice. He looked at me and said, “Hare Krishna”, and sent me on my way. I went out of there feeling like my whole life was successful. Certainly his benediction is there all the time but when you get that intimate feeling and kindness, it was (chokes up) very overwhelming.
Brahmananda had gone back to India for a program and during that time, somehow or another, I was able to pay for the whole temple maintenance with our collections. Prabhupada had written me a letter saying that he had always wanted the temple to be paid for, and that I had done that in Brahmananda’s absence for which he was very grateful. He said the preaching work to the African devotees was the most important preaching in the world and we must continue to do this. Having gone to Africa after receiving that garland and blessing from Prabhupada, and just the personal contact, I was probably as fired up in my own personal preaching as I had ever been because everything was falling into place. I was extremely successful in dealing with Indians and I was just very inspired. But gradually my enthusiasm did wane and I had my difficulties in Africa. One of them was that I had misappropriated some funds and bought a Rolex watch for myself. After some time I started feeling mortified that I had done this. I was a brahmachari and watches were kind of like the thing that you could be attached to. Even though it was bogus, still, everybody had watches. Once I returned to India I decided that I wanted to give this watch to Srila Prabhupada. When I got to Bombay, I remember Prabhupada was walking with a group of devotees. I walked up and paid my obeisances and Prabhupada folded his hands and said hello to me with pranams. I was overwhelmed that he even noticed me or remembered me in any way. Srutakirti made an arrangement for me to come up and see Srila Prabhupada and it was just myself, Srutakirti, and Paramahamsa sitting just two feet away from Srila Prabhupada. I gave him the Rolex watch and he said, “Oh, Rolex. Hmm…” He put it on along with the one he was already wearing. He looked at the watch and he looked at me, and he began lecturing on the purity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement. He explained that we are only different from others because we are following purely these principles that Lord Chaitanya had presented. He stated the success of our movement is when we follow everything purely. He went on for maybe twenty or thirty minutes personally lecturing me on the purity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement and how it was important not to spend a farthing of Krishna’s money on sense gratification. I felt from the very beginning he had seen all the way through me and knew that I got this for myself and this was my act of redemption by giving it to him. However, he was extremely gracious and warm and strict all at the same time. Srutakirti and Paramahamsa were more or less amazed at the talk too in that he had taken so much time. I think that was pretty much the last time I really had personal contact with Srila Prabhupada.