The first time I saw Prabhupada was on television in 1969. I really felt his presence even though I was not seeing him in person. I had no idea who he was when he came on this late-night program in the United Kingdom. I later learned that the devotees were staying at John Lennon’s house, and Mukunda had managed to organize the television interview. I was staying with my father at the time, and a fairly assertive host, Tony Bluebird, who interviewed famous people like politicians, playwrights and authors, conducted the interview. Then at 10:30 at night suddenly an elderly Indian monk appeared on the show. I thought, “Wow, what an amazing looking person. Who can that possibly be?” Tony Bluebird began to question this man. He asked, “What has brought you here to this country?” This elderly man said, “I’ve come to teach about God.” Immediately I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting,” because I had been taught about God all my life by monks. These Catholic monks had assured me that I didn’t need to hear about God from anyone else because they could tell me everything I needed to know. [laughs] Anyway, I thought, “This is going to be interesting. I wonder what he’s going to say.” The interviewer said, “Is this the same God that we already know about in this country?” This elderly wise Indian man said, “It’s the same God that I’ve come to speak about. God has many names, but God is one.” I was intrigued with that response. Then Tony asked him, “So what are you teaching?” The elderly Indian man said, “I’m teaching how you can see God and speak with God, just as I’m speaking with you, face-to-face.” I thought, “That sounds amazing,” and then the next question was, “What is your method? How could we do this?” Then the elderly Indian man said, “You simply sing the names of God.” I thought, “It can’t be that simple.” My father was sitting next to me and I asked him, “What did he say? Did he say, you just sing and...?” My father said, “I don’t know. I couldn’t understand because his accent is too strong.” I was still intrigued when the interviewer asked, “Well, would you like to demonstrate?” Up until that time this saintly man had looked very grave. Now suddenly his face just lit up with this huge smile and sparkling energy that really captured me. He said, “I would love to.” They got up and walked across the studio where there were some devotees sitting on the floor. The monk sat on the floor with them. In retrospect I realize I don’t think I have ever seen anyone sit on a television studio floor before or since. When they were all on the floor, the host interviewed at least one devotee who I remember very clearly was Shyamasundar. He had tilak that went from his nose all the way to the back of his shiny shaven head. I thought to myself, “Gosh, I admire that young man, but I wouldn’t be able to do what he is doing.” But I did admire that man and those people who obviously had something really special. I could tell it was really serious and something to aspire to. Then they began to sing. Prabhupada had his kartals and Shyamasundar had his esraj. Yamuna was probably the one that was singing with the harmonium and Mukunda had his tambura and mridanga. They chanted one round of the maha-mantra, and it was such a beautiful sound. As soon as I heard the sound, I thought, “That is right. You just have to sing it.” It all made perfect sense. It just connected completely with me. I was ready to sit there for hours listening, but quickly the program ended. The credits started to scroll up, and as it faded out, I turned to my father and asked him, “Wasn’t that amazing?” My father said, “No.” [laughs] Prabhupada had this amazing presence that he was able to project across the screen. I didn’t know if I would ever meet the devotees again, but I did think I wanted to be like that young man who was questioned. I had developed an appreciation for the chanting, and a few weeks later the Hare Krishna mantra was being sung on the radio all the time. That was my first encounter with Prabhupada. The main impression I had was that he was one hundred percent genuine. He really knew what he was speaking about when he talked about God, and I knew I had to hear what this man had to say.
Prabhupada heard news apparently from India that Tamal or Jayapataka had acquired the strip of land that Prabhupada was pushing them to acquire in Mayapur. They signed a contract for the land, and somehow or other word had reached Prabhupada that I knew something about architecture. I was called to Prabhupada’s room and Shyamasundar introduced me to Prabhupada as his intitiated disciple. Prabhupada asked, “Oh, where are you from? Where were you born?” I said, “North of England, Prabhupada.” “Oh, Scotland?” I said, "No, [laughs] Yorkshire, Prabhupada.” But what struck me was that Prabhupada immediately wanted to get to know me. I was too young to appreciate the significance of that, but I thought it was very personal. He wanted to have an interaction with me, and that began several days of talks and discussions in Prabhupada’s room about what he wanted in Mayapur. He began describing how he wanted a big temple. At first, all he wanted was some residential blocks where devotees could live, and he gave quite detailed instructions about what he wanted, and then he said, “Four of those and then a big temple.” For the next couple of weeks, I was making drawings.
Prabhupada wanted a very large temple in Mayapur. Around this time our god-brother Nara-Narayana arrived from America. He had been added to the team that was going to go with Prabhupada to India because he was a construction man. I was told to work with him and that was, shall we say, an interesting experience. [laughs] However, Nara-Narayana took charge of me. We were working hard, long hours late into the night to try to get everything ready for Prabhupada. He wanted a finished set of drawings to take with him to India. On one occasion Nara-Narayana said, “Come on, let’s go down and see Prabhupada. It was in the morning after breakfast and as soon as we got there Nara-Narayana said, “He, (meaning me) is tired, Prabhupada. He’s tired,” which I was. Then Prabhupada said, “Oh,” and he looked at me and asked, “Are you tired?” I said, “No, Prabhupada.” [laughs] Then Prabhupada turned to Nara-Narayana and said, “You are tired. Atmanam manyate jagat—What you are feeling, you’re thinking that he’s feeling. He’s not tired.” I was working steadily to make the drawings and on one occasion I still had many rounds to chant. I quietly let myself out the front door and off I went into the night with my beads. I was walking around the streets in central London and everything was quiet in those days. London was asleep. I finally got back to the street where the Bury Place temple was located at about one o’clock in the morning. Everything was quiet, so when I turned onto our street, I could hear Prabhupada’s voice. I saw that his lights were on. He occupied the room on the first floor above the temple room and his opened windows looked out onto the main street. I realized he was dictating, translating and commenting on the Bhagavatam. Immediately I felt nervous because I didn’t want him to know that I was out late at night. I sort of tiptoed to the front door, which was open because we never locked it in those days. I tried to be as quiet as I could while going up the stairs and past his landing. The stairs were creaking. I thought, “Oh, God, I really don’t want to disturb Prabhupada.” But when I got outside his door, I had to just sit there and listen. I could hear the clicking noise of Prabhupada’s Dictaphone turning on and off as he spoke a few words in between the clicks. Sometimes there was a long pause and then a lot of words, and I had this amazing realization that when everyone else was asleep, he was awake and he was speaking not just to the Dictaphone but also to the entire world. I’m sure that’s what he felt as well. He was speaking to the world.
Because I was involved with the construction of the Mayapur temple, a lot of my interactions with Srila Prabhupada were centered around his desires for that project. He did want the temple very big. The temple that has been built there is colossal. I tend to like things to be more human scale, but Prabhupada wanted it large. I have no doubt about that. He wanted something colossal. During this period, we used to go with Prabhupada every morning around Russell Square in London. One morning I was sitting in the temple room chanting my japa, and Shyamasundar stuck his head in the door and said, “Come and walk with Prabhupada.” He knew I wanted to be there because I was part of the team. I dashed out onto the front door step and there was Prabhupada with Shyamasundar and Pradyumna and one or two others. I was wearing a very thin kurta that had been donated by a Hindu and it was almost a see-through kurta. Prabhupada said, “You will be cold.” It was six o’clock in the morning and I said, “Oh no, Prabhupada, I’m not cold.” [laughs] He said, “Put on something warmer.” I hesitated because I thought he would leave without me and then Prabhupada said, “That’s all right, we’ll wait.” [laughs] I ran up and put on something else and came down and off we went to the Square. While we were walking around Russell Square, Prabhupada pointed to one of the buildings around the Square and asked, “How tall is that building?” Everyone looked at me because I was the one that was supposed to know. I said, “Well, it’s about fifty feet.” Prabhupada said, “Higher than that.” The next day there was one large hotel on Russell Square called Russell Hotel, and it is the tallest building. Prabhupada again asked, “How tall is that?” I said, “Prabhupada it’s about eighty feet tall.” It was eight stories and Prabhupada said, “Hmm. Higher than that.” We carried on walking and Prabhupada turned around and said, especially to Nara-Narayana, “It should be three times as high as that.” Prabhupada wanted a very, very tall building for the Mayapur temple, and in the end it is over three hundred feet! Prabhupada said because Mayapur is a floodplain, we had to leave the first floor, the ground level, for storage. Prabhupada said, “Also, we will need a raft foundation.” I had never really heard of such a thing, but the next day an engineer, who happened to be a highly qualified professional structural engineer from India, came and spent a couple of hours with Prabhupada. We were sitting around and he was also saying, “Yes, you have to have a raft. The only way to build this temple is with columns going down into the ground, but it should be a raft.” Prabhupada also told us, “I want you to build this temple out of brick, and you should manufacture the brick locally on-site by the local people.” He even gave us specific dimensions. He said, “The walls should be between two and three feet thick.” We asked the engineer how thick should the brick walls be, and after he did some calculations, he said, “Two foot nine.” [laughs] Prabhupada also gave the instruction that he wanted a dome. He had a particular idea of cross beams, like an umbrella, as a vertical support system for the dome. That was his idea. He also spoke about Krishna’s palaces as described in the Bhagavatam as an example of the beauty and opulence he wanted for the Mayapur temple.
I was living in London and I had to come in on the train and then walk across the fields to get to the Manor. One morning I was late and got there as the kirtan was already going on. It was just such an amazing atmosphere with Prabhupada on the vyasasan appreciating the dancing. I remember on this occasion our god-brother Tribhuvanatha was dancing in front of Prabhupada. Once Tribhuvanatha got a mridanga around his neck, he was in another world, and Prabhupada was just gazing with laughter and joy into Tribhuvanatha’s eyes. It was just a wonderful connection confirming there were certain devotees who really drew Prabhupada’s special affection. In fact, that summer we were sitting on the lawn at the Manor when Srutakirti, his servant, read from the Caitanya-caritamrta. The full versions were not published yet, but there was a preliminary sample chapter, “The Lord in Five Features.” Prabhupada was listening and then one of the devotees, Yogesvara, asked, “Prabhupada, the text just said something about Lord Caitanya’s mercy being causeless. We know that Lord Caitanya’s mercy is causeless, but still is there some reason why we’ve got it?” Prabhupada said, “Simply Krishna likes you. Krishna likes you, so you got the special mercy and if Krishna does not like you…” [laughs]