Hare Krishna dear God family,
The events of this blog took place in London just before Maharaj left for India and then to South Africa where he was diagnosed with a malignant tumour.
So now I’m writing this blog with an anxious heart. And somewhat regretful that I could’ve served Maharaj a lot better. I hope this blog gives an insight into Maharaj’s state of mind and health before the diagnosis. Thus serving as a source of narrative in his on-going, incredible life journey.
Whatever little fruit this blog may reap, may it be an offering to help in Maharaj’s speedy recovery.
It was Monday, 01 February, around 5.30 pm in London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4. The weather was nippy, damp but not too cold. Could’ve been a lot worse considering it’s London in the early part of the year. Three of us were waiting to receive him. Ter Kadamba Prabhu (tall, scholarly with a gregarious personality to boot), Sesa Prabhu (young, full of beans and Bhaktivedanta Manor ‘born and bred’) and myself.
After about 20 minutes, Maharaj came through with his young German servant, the ever pleasant Nimai Prabhu. Despite looking a little tired and weary coming through the arrivals lounge, Maharaj still had the bearing of an old lion striding through. Nimai looked like his young cub. No doubt Maharaj attracted a few stares and glances from onlookers, especially when the three of us paid dandavats to him!
In the car ride to Krishna Kirtan Prabhu’s house (Maharaj’s stalwart disciple in England), Maharaj mentioned how nowadays there seems to be sensors everywhere. Coming in and out of cars, buses, terminals, platforms, rooms, they’re everywhere! Soon there will be sensors in our body. A full on big brother society! The devotees stated that there’s already talk of inserting a microchip in the body and Ter Kadamba Prabhu quipped how this will become the modern day supersoul! Maharaj chuckled.
Whenever Maharaj is with his British disciples, he loves to take humorous pot shots at ‘Britishness’ and comparing them to the Germans, noting their long held national rivalry. And this time it was no different! Maharaj joked about how the German air staff were a lot more polite than the British ones and there is no way near as many ID checks, interrogations and security measures as in Britain. While Maharaj was making fun of British idiosyncrasies, the road suddenly became very bumpy and full of potholes and all of us saw a man peeing at the roadside. In the middle of Central London! This was too much for Maharaj to resist and he went on a roll about the state of Great Britain now. Everyone was in raptures and our facial muscles were actually hurting from laughing so much!
I had the privilege of driving Maharaj and thought it a good idea to have the heat on full blast. Just to make him feel comfortable… bit of a misjudgement in hindsight. Maharaj looked at me with a semi frown and remarked that it’s pretty tropical in the car! What was I trying to do? Grow fruits in the car! He looked in the back and lo and behold, there was a whole bunch of fruits that I had stored for Maharaj! His timing was impeccable and cued more laughter and jokes about the Brits. This time, their weird habit of keeping the temperature at full blast even when it was mildly temperate!
It is interesting because the British love to make fun out of the Continentals but now I realised that it works both ways. True to form, Ter Kadamba Prabhu (who is a ‘classic’ Dane) also joined in the fun; remarking how the British are always so comical when trying to interact with locals in India. The British are always stuck on this superficial notion of politeness and consideration. Whereas Indians don’t give a damn about these things, but Indians possess bucket loads of tolerance, tolerance and more tolerance. Now if there was a contest between the qualities of consideration and tolerance, tolerance would always come up trumps. Thus Ter Kadamba Prabhu concluded that the British always end up frustrated in India while the Indians just carry on with their business!! To be fair, it was an astute observation and Maharaj found it rather amusing. At this point, our car got cut up on the highway by another driver. In annoyance, I honked my horn. Then the devotees started joking about me having a go driving in Kolkata. Out of the question as far I was concerned. Then Maharaj settled it; driving in Kolkata is easy, just honk your horn and cut the other person, done! The devotees concurred.
After the wonderful bout of humorous revelry, the discussions in the car soon became more sober as Maharaj spoke on his role in Mayapur management and the work still needed to be done on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium. As expected, Maharaj’s eagerness to let go of these managerial duties and do more direct preaching was palpable…
After we reached Krishna Kirtan Prabhu’s house, Maharaj sat on a sofa in the living room. But not his usual spot. It was on the other side of the room under a picture of Krishna and his gopa friends. Srila Prabhupada’s chanting was gently going on in the background and one could sense Maharaj was low on energy. Physically undemonstrative but still keeping the mood upbeat. More for our sake than his own. Naturally Krishna Kirtan Prabhu wanted to pile on as much prasadam as possible for Maharaj but he refused most of it. He simply didn’t have the appetite but he softened the blow for Krishna Kirtan Prabhu; joking that it’s typical of him to want to give as much prasadam as possible. After all Mother Yasoda always wanted to give Krishna more and more, so if it’s a natural tendency in the spiritual world then it’ll certainly be reflected here.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, a couple of devotees were mock wrestling. They thought Maharaj would be unaware but Maharaj immediately clocked it. One of the devotees was German so Maharaj shouted out from the living room, “Watch out, the Germans never like to lose! They may not be the strongest but they NEVER like to lose!” Soon Ganesh Prabhu (a lively, energetic young chap from Himachal Pradesh, now part of the ‘Manor’ ashram) turned up at the house and the devotees glorified him to Maharaj explaining how he did so amazing in the Christmas book marathon. He came third in the country. Ganesh is normally a very upfront, ‘in your face’ kind of guy but this time he was ‘beetroot red’ with a bashful smile. The embarrassment was clear. One could tell Maharaj was pleased with him but at the same time nonchalant in his encouragement to Ganesh. It was obvious Maharaj was protecting his disciple from being over glorified knowing where it could lead. But he did instruct Ganesh saying, “You’re young and strong. So now you have to really do something.” An instruction, I’m sure many of us should follow.
While Maharaj was sitting on the sofa, the rest of us were sitting on the floor spread out in different spots. We all looked like little children and Maharaj was the kind and humorous nursery teacher! Soon there was talk of Maharaj’s travels. How he was to-ing and fro-ing between Germany for the sankirtan festival and South Africa where he was part of the famous retreat in the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains.
Maharaj mentioned how won’t be going Vrindavan soon; seven degrees at night is just too cold for him right now. Ganesh smilingly protested, “It isn’t that cold Maharaj!” Maharaj just said, “You’re a pahari (mountain folk), so you’re used to it. But I’m Dutch. We’re used to being in the house with the heating on always!” Of course, Maharaj said this out of humility and naturally everyone laughed. But anyone who knows anything about Maharaj’s history will know he’s done more austerities than most of us could imagine.
Maharaj then noticed Sesa Prabhu sitting snugly with his back next to the warm radiator and exclaimed, “Look at Sesa! Always finding where the radiator is; his back will always find the radiator!!” Although Maharaj’s humour was on form, the mood in the room was a lot calmer than usual. Everyone but especially Maharaj, was feeling tired. One of the disciples then enquired about Maharaj’s state of health. Maharaj spoke about his recent bout of shingles but he seemed to downplay the health issues in general. But it was apparent that this time it wasn’t the usual strain of travelling. This time it was different, Maharaj was scheduled to spend a day at the Soho temple and he was explicit that doing one of his famous harinams in Central London would be out of the question! Despite all his love for harinams.
For a long time, Maharaj was one of the sannyasis that went for it ‘full throttle’ and maybe devotees expected that from him all the time. Out of his selflessness, he would do it to keep the devotees inspired. He even conceded that he is like a car with a turbo engine. He can’t help it, it’s his nature. But sitting in that room with Maharaj, all the disciples knew that he couldn’t just put others before him all the time. This time he had to put himself first.
It’s interesting because after speaking to a number of devotees about Maharaj, most would agree that even though he was a sadhu of mature age, he always had this air of ‘cool’ about him. With his sharp features, pale piercing eyes and endless wisdom, he came across as an ageless wizard. But we are in the material world and even transcendental personalities like Maharaj have to deal with these fallible vehicles we are all embodied in. In retrospect, the health issue was more serious than any of us envisaged (including Maharaj himself).
Maharaj spoke in some detail about the horrid effects of ageing. It might as well have been an ‘old school’ Srimad Bhagavatam class. You now the type; those hardcore, purifying classes that send shivers down your spine and leaves you under no illusion. Sobering to know, we all have to cross that bundle of misery. While he was talking, some whispering was going on, Maharaj bellowed, “Why are you guys whispering? Don’t you know that’s how poison and rumours will start coming?”
Soon Sesa Prabhu offered to give Maharaj a massage, but he replied that unless it’s a professional Ayurvedic Kerala massage, then forget it! Cue giggles from the others.
Maharaj made it clear that now he’s in England he just wants to take it easy. He has had to deal with so much emotional downloading from so many people across the world. So many people downloading, heavy, heavy downloading and getting his undivided loving advice and care. But now that he was in England, he will chill and keep a simple program. Nice preaching, nice association, keeping it cool and simple!
At this point Krishna Kirtan Prabhu said how he had a ‘helluva’ day at his surgery today, “One patient came in for a root canal surgery but she just wouldn’t open her mouth wide enough, no matter how much I told her to. Man, it just did my head in!!” To which Maharaj grinned and said, “Yeah, I know how you feel!” As if on cue from one of those TV show’s based in a house, Sutapa Prabhu (one of Maharaj’s most illustrious and brilliant disciples in the UK) came along. He had just dropped off Jayadvaita Maharaj at another house and the conversation turned to the recording at the studio that Maharaj was due to do in a few days. There was discussion on having an all-star Iskcon cast to participate. Names like Amala, Jahnavi and Ravi Pattni were being put forward. To dub it in or do it all together? Tuning the harmoniums? Where to get ace quality harmoniums? Maharaj reassured Sutapa not to worry, that he won’t hammer the harmoniums too much! Maharaj commented that editing the sounds can be such a painstaking process and when you’re working with proper artists they can be very critical over certain things.
Regarding the casting, Sutapa joked that in case the all-star cast don’t come through, there’s always him and Nandan (myself) to be the backup!!! NOT a good move, I assure you dear reader… anyhow the devotees found it hilarious.
Shortly after, Maharaj took a bit of light prasadam and retired for the night. The disciples exchanged a few more words, on this and that, on Maharaj and life in general before heading of.
HH Kadamba Kanana Maharaj ki Jai!