Chapter 21: On the house

 

June 28-July 10, 2004
By Indradyumna Swami

I flew back to Poland from Baku, and as soon as I arrived, the tour committee held its last meeting for the summer festivals. The first order of business was security.

“I found three security companies we can choose from,” Jayatam began.

“Which one we take depends on Srila Gurudeva’s recent collection.”

All eyes turned towards me.

I hesitated. “Well …,” I said, “ummm … actually, I didn’t bring anything back. I spent the week in Azerbaijan with my disciples. It’s a poor country, but we had some great programs.”

Jayatam seemed a bit worried. He did not want to argue, but he was concerned about our safety. “Then what about security?” he said. “The hooligans on the streets caused us a lot of misery on the spring tour.”

“Some of our own men are trained in security,” I said. “Other than, that we’ll just have to depend on the Good Lord.”

On the flight back from Baku, I had partially memorized an appropriate verse, knowing the subject would come up. I began speaking:

raksatv asau madhvani yajna kalpah sva damstrayonnita dharo varahah ramo dri kutesv atha vipravase salaksmano vyad bharatagrajo sman

“The Supreme indestructible Lord is ascertained through the performance of ritualistic sacrifices and is therefore known as Yajnesvara. In His incarnation as Lord Boar, He raised the planet earth from the water at the bottom of the universe and kept it on His pointed tusks. May that Lord protect me from rogues on the street. May Parasurama protect me on the tops of mountains, and may the elder brother of Bharata, Lord Ramacandra, along with His brother Laksmana, protect me in foreign countries.” [Srimad Bhagavatam 6.8.15]

As we had no other recourse than to take shelter of the Lord, there was no further discussion on the topic.

And there were matters of more immediate concern. The weather bureau was predicting the coldest and rainiest summer in 10 years. As our caravan-a large semi-trailer, three buses, seven vans, and an assortment of other vehicles-headed north towards the Baltic Coast to begin the festival season, the weather bureau’s gloomy prediction manifested itself right before our eyes. Rain poured incessantly all the way to the coast.

In fact it continued non-stop for one week at our summer base as we put the final touches on our festival paraphernalia. The devotees had worked all winter putting a new face on our festival: many new tents made to look like colorful Indian temples and many new exhibits and stage productions.

We were eager to show our upgraded festival program, so with great expectations we went on Harinam in Dzwirzyno three days before the first festival. But echoing the dismal predictions of the weatherman, dark clouds hovered over the town, and as soon as we got out of the buses they poured down rain. We quickly retreated back into the buses and waited patiently for the rains to abate. As soon as the showers stopped we jumped out again, onto an almost empty street.

It was the first time in 15 years that I had seen so few people on the streets of a summer resort. The locals told us that less than 40 percent of the normal summer crowd had shown up. “Everyone is holding back until the bad weather recedes,” a shop owner told me, “and in the meantime we’re going bankrupt.”

Despite the bad weather I took the Harinam party down to the beach. I was surprised to see a few hundred diehards lying on the beach, trying their best to enjoy the few rays of sun that had broken through the clouds. The wind was blowing, and they had barricaded themselves behind little walls of cloth. We went forward, oblivious to the elements, chanting and dancing against the wind. Several times strong gusts blew whole bunches of invitations out of the hands of the distributors, who ran to retrieve the flurries of colorful paper blowing down the beach.

Despite the austerities, the devotees were blissful. We had waited all year for this moment, and a little wind and rain weren’t going to dampen our spirits. The contrast of the dismal weather and the attractive Harinam had people mesmerized. At one point, a large man came running towards me. Before I could react, he put his arms around me, picked me up, and twirled me around. “You’re back!” He shouted with a big smile. “You’re back! The festival is back! We’ve been waiting for you!”

There was no need to say anything. He’d said it all.

Despite the unending rain, we managed to distribute 5,000 invitations in three days. Then we held the festival in Dzwirzyno. By Krsna’s grace the rain held back that afternoon, and several thousand people showed up early for the event. A photographer from a famous magazine was there, shooting away.

“I can’t believe you people,” he told me. “You’re so courageous to attempt an event this size on the coast this summer. It’s unbelievable how many people have come.”

“Our festivals are always successful,” I said. “They’re the will of the Lord, rain or shine.”

Nevertheless we had to use discretion in choosing which towns to hold our events in. Small places were out of the question. We could only hope to be successful in larger towns, but they were few and far between.

I talked about it with Radha Sakhi Vrnda, our in-charge for contacting town officials. “What about Ustronie Morskie?” I said. “It’s a good- sized town.”

“Srila Gurudeva,” she replied, “it was only because the town secretary was away from Ustronie Morskie last year that we managed to get permission for the festival. He doesn’t like us at all. Two years ago when I went to the town hall, he literally screamed at me to get out of town.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I said. “And we don’t have many options.

You’ll have to try again this year.”

Radha Sakhi Vrnda looked apprehensive. “It’s Mahaprabhu’s desire,” I continued, “and along with the instruction of the Lord, comes the ability to execute it.”

The next day she called me. “Srila Gurudeva!” she said excitedly. “I just came out of the town hall in Ustronie Morskie. I was so scared to go in. Fortunately, the town secretary was away again. I was able to see the mayor himself. He received me warmly. First he took my hand, kissed it, and then asked me to sit down. I told him of your desire do to a festival in his town. He smiled. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said. ‘You are welcome. We’ll give you the market place. Many citizens told me how much they enjoyed your event last year, and the same people are already asking when you’ll be back this summer. With the bad weather and small crowds, we need you more than ever.'”

And so the contract was signed – all by the strong desire of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama
“In every town and village, the chanting of My name will be heard.”
[Caitanya Bhagavata, Antya 4.126]

But reverses continued. In one village, minutes before our program was to begin, a surprise storm blew the tarpaulin top off our 12-meter- long stage. The fury of the storm sent guests scrambling for cover under our many tents. They all waited for the storm to pass, and then instead of going home, they wiped the water off the benches and sat back down for the program. Not a single person in the crowd of 800 people left. The show went on, even without a top for the stage.

An even more pleasant surprise came the next morning. Sri Prahlad told me that a special guest was waiting to see me at the reception desk in the school where we were staying. I rushed downstairs, but I did not see anyone who looked like a VIP. I wondered whom Sri Prahlad was talking about.

Suddenly I heard a familiar little voice: “Srila Gurudeva, I’m here.”

I looked down and saw nine-year-old Syama-lila dasi, whom I had met during the spring tour. She was standing there with a little suitcase and a sleeping bag.

“Syama-lila!” I said. “What are you doing here?”

Her mother stepped forward. “We’ve come to join your summer tour,” she said. “What can I do? She talks about you constantly, day and night. She even calls out your name in her sleep. When she heard you had a summer festival, she pleaded and pleaded with me to come.”

Syama-lila grabbed my hand. “We’ll do Harinam with you,” she said.

“How did you get here?” I asked. “By bus or train?”

“We saved up to take the bus,” the mother replied.

“Saved up?” I asked.

The mother looked down. “We’re quite poor,” she said. “Ordinarily I couldn’t afford such a long bus ride, but we used our savings.”

Later that evening I met them again. “I just received a letter,” I said.

“Someone read a chapter in my diary about Syama-lila. He is asking if he could sponsor her schooling.”

The mother began to cry. “Last year I couldn’t afford schoolbooks for her,” she said.

Syama-lila spoke up. “Mommy,” she said, “we’ll only accept this money if you promise not to buy cigarettes or liquor with it.”

“Yes, darling,” The mother replied. “I’ll stop those things today. I promise. Your Krsna is so kind to us.”

That evening when I downloaded my email, I noticed a short message in Polish. It wasn’t the first time. For several weeks, I had been ignoring similar short messages in Polish. I receive over 100 emails a day, so I have to be selective about what I answer during the festival tour season.

But this time, I noticed six exclamation marks after the last sentence, so I asked a Polish devotee to translate the message for me. I was stunned when he handed me the paper:

“Gurudeva! We have written you six times. This is our last chance. We are the brother and sister you spoke to last year at the festival in Mrzezyno. We live in an orphanage in Gryfice. We can’t come to your festival in Mrzezyno tomorrow because our orphanage doesn’t have a car. Please come and rescue us!!!!!! Hare Krsna, Kristof and Ella”

I called Nandini dasi. “Look up an orphanage in Gryfice. Tell the director that we’ll send a bus to pick up all the kids and bring them to the festival in Mrzezyno tomorrow.”

“Srila Gurudeva,” she said. “Please excuse me, but I have some urgent matters I’m working on.”

“Treat this as most urgent,” I said. “There are some little souls out there crying for mercy. We can’t ignore them.”

“Okay,” she said, “but it won’t be easy. Orphanages are usually under the direction of the Church and they may not like it that we get involved.”

One hour later Nandini called me, “Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “it’s amazing. I called the director of the orphanage and told her about our festival tomorrow in Mrzezyno. I was a little apprehensive, but she immediately agreed. ‘Oh the Festival of India,’ she said. ‘I’m one of your fans. Yes, come and get all of us tomorrow. We’ll be waiting at 4 p.m.”

Nandini continued: “I told her. ‘Okay, we’ll send one of our buses. And please pass a message to Kristof and Ella: Gurudeva is waiting for them.'”

The next afternoon, as a light rain fell before an approaching storm, the bus arrived at the festival site with 40 children from the orphanage. I didn’t remember Kristof and Ella by more than their names, but I stood at the door of the bus, confident they would recognize me.

Sure enough, as the door opened they were the first ones out. They came running towards me and Ella jumped into my arms. “Gurudeva!” she cried out. “You have rescued us!”

By this time all the other children had surrounded me, smiling and laughing.

Kristof spoke up. “We told all the kids about you,” he said, “and we have all been waiting the whole year for the festival to come back.”

I called Nandini and Jayatam over. “For these kids,” I said, “everything is on the house.”

They stood there looking confused. “I’m sorry, Srila Gurudeva,” Jayatam said, “What does that mean, ‘on the house’?”

“It means you give these children whatever they want for free. Sweets from the restaurant, saris from the fashion booth, gopi dots at the face-painting tent, gifts from the shop. Whatever they want and as much as they want.”

Nandini, always prudent and practical in managerial affairs, looked at me dumbfounded. “Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “there are 40 children here. Who will pay for all of this?”

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’ll go out and collect the money during the break before the Woodstock festival.”

Nandini smiled. “In Azerbaijan?” she said.

I laughed. “Probably not,” I said, “but let’s not worry about that for now. We’ll make it our business to take care of these orphaned souls, and in turn the Lord will take care of us. Have no doubt.”

“If one tries to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world, he should be understood to be performing the best welfare activity. The Lord is automatically very pleased with him. If the Lord is pleased with him, what is left for him to achieve? If one has been recognized by the Lord, even if he does not ask the Lord for anything, the Lord, who is within everyone, supplies him whatever he wants.”
[Srimad Bhagavatam, purport 8.7.44]