Chapter 11: Summer Has Never Been The Same

July 14–20, 2009

By Indradyumna Swami

“Losing the battle doesn’t mean losing the war,” I said to Nandini dasi. One of our festivals had been canceled despite her determined efforts, and she was sitting there fuming.

I tried to smile. “It’s OK, Nandini,” I said. “You can’t win them all. We just have to find another town.”

“Guru Maharaja,” she said, “the festival was supposed to be tomorrow.”

“I know,” I said, “so let’s put our heads together and come up with a plan. Jayatam, do you have any idea where we could do the festival?”

Jayatam dasa looked hopeless. “Even if we miraculously found a town that would agree on one day’s notice,” he said, “we’d need permission from the health department, the fire department, the sanitation department, the police department, and God knows what else.”

I thought for a moment. “If we go straight to the top, it’s possible,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Nandini said.

“Straight to the mayor,” I said. “We can choose a town and go directly to the mayor and ask his permission.”

“But the new European Union laws are so strict,” she said. “I doubt that even a mayor could get around them.”

“He doesn’t have to,” I said. “He can just make a few phone calls to the right people and get the job done.”

Jayatam and Nandini were silent.

“We have to try,” I said.

Jayatam looked at his watch. “It’s 3:30 pm,” he said. “All town administrative offices close in ninety minutes.”

I smiled. “Nandini got a result in ten minutes in the last town,” I said. “This may sound corny, but the English poet Tennyson wrote, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’”

“I don’t understand the English,” said Jayatam.

“It means we have nothing to lose by trying,” I said. “Come on now, think of a town.”

Nandini thought for a moment. “Well,” she said, “we’re already doing all the towns in this region twice this summer. But there is one town nearby that we haven’t done in thirteen years. We used to do it every year, but the town officials became unfavorable, especially the director of the sports hall. That’s where we held our events, just outside of town in the parking lot.”

“I remember,” I said. “One year he simply refused us. I also recall how before that the officials wouldn’t let us do harinama on the beaches.”

“I think there’s a new mayor now,” Nandini said.

“It sounds like a pretty tough option,” said Jayatam.

“It’s our only hope,” I said. “Nandini, get in the car and go straight there. Don’t even call the town hall. We have to take a chance that the mayor’s still in his office.”

“And that he’s favorable,” added Jayatam smiling, “and ready to make a few calls himself.”

In a matter of minutes Nandini was out the door, leaving Jayatam holding their sleeping five-week-old baby, Alexander, in his arms.

“Hey!” yelled Jayatam as Nandini got in the car. “What if he wakes up hungry?”

“I just fed him!” she yelled as she pulled away. “He should be OK! But you’ll have to change his diapers!”

Back in my room I found myself praying to Lord Caitanya again for the success of yet another festival. “I’m sorry to keep appealing to You for the same thing,” I prayed, “but You are the master and we are the servants. It is not up to us to deter-mine what will fail and what will succeed. These festivals are giving many people a chance to know and serve You. Please intervene. Please make the necessary arrangements and let us hold our event for Your pleasure again.”

Two hours later my cell phone rang. I knew it was Nandini. Before I could say anything, she spoke. “You’ve got your festi-val, Guru Maharaja,” she said.

I knew it was her determination more than my feeble prayers that clinched the event.

“So how did you do it this time?” I asked, reflecting on her uncanny ability to sway authorities.

“There was lots of traffic on the way,” she began,” so I got there only five minutes before the offices closed. I went straight to the receptionist, and I said, ‘I want to see the mayor.’

“She laughed, and she said, ‘Just like that? You want to see the mayor?’

“I said, ‘Yes. I have something very important to discuss with him.’

“And she said, ‘It will have to wait. You can fill out this form, and if your proposal is interesting enough we’ll contact you for an appointment some time next week.’

“And I said, ‘No. I insist on seeing the mayor immediately.’ “Then she said, ‘Oh. Well he’s gone home. Our offices close in three minutes. Come back tomorrow and fill out the form.’ “I glanced at all the plaques on the nearby doors to see if one displayed the title of mayor. None of them did. I decided to take a chance that there would be other offices upstairs, so I rushed to the stairway nearby.

“Then she screamed, ‘Wait! Where are you going?’

“I didn’t answer or look back, and I started running up the stairs. It was a long, winding staircase, and the next floor seemed far away. Suddenly I saw a man coming slowly down the stairs with a briefcase in his hand. I guess I was inspired by the Supersoul because I went directly in front of him and stopped him. When he saw me he got such a surprise.

“I stood right in front of him, and I said, ‘Excuse me, sir. Are you the mayor?’

“He seemed stunned for a moment, and then he said, ‘Well, yes I am, and I’m on my way home, young lady. If you want to meet me you can make an appointment downstairs.’

“He tried to go around me, but I blocked his way. I said, ‘I have to talk to you, sir. It’s important. Please. I’m from Viva Kultura. We hold a big cultural event — the Festival of India — along the coast every summer. It’s greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, one of our festivals was canceled, and we’re looking for another town.’

“And he said, ‘Just go through the normal procedures. We’ll consider your application.’

“I looked him straight in the eye, and I said, ‘No. We want to do the festival tomorrow.’

“Then the most amazing thing happened, Guru Maharaja. Suddenly he seemed to have a change of heart, and he said, ‘Tell me more about your event.’

“We stood there on the stairwell, and I described our festival. The more he listened, the more he seemed interested. After a few minutes he put up his hand and smiled. He said, ‘All right, you have my permission to put on your event in my town. I would suggest you contact the manager of the big parking lot off the main boardwalk and see if you can rent it for a few days. You can mention my name.’

“I took a deep breath, and then I said, ‘Mr. Mayor, we’ll need permission from the various departments like health, police, and sanitation.’

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll make a few calls on the way home.’

“I said, ‘You’re so kind.’

“He chuckled. Then he said, ‘And you’re a very brave young woman. Just make sure your people don’t burn down my town.’”

The day after Nandini’s success, I gathered all the harinama devotees and piled them in the bus. “We’re going to take the town by storm,” I said. “We’ll let everyone know about the festival today.”

“Guru Maharaja,” said a devotee, “Jayatam was telling us how Nandini got permission from the mayor, but we also know that many years ago we were not allowed to do harinama on the beach here. What if they stop us again?”

“We’ll take our chances,” I said.

It took the bus and the vans almost two hours to get to our destination. When we arrived, the road into town was congested with vacationers. The bus driver looked for a parking place for an hour and finally pulled into a large parking lot just outside of town. I’d been napping in one of the vans on the way, and when I awoke I saw a number of devotees going into a building nearby to use the rest rooms.

When I looked closer I got a shock. It was the sports hall where we did our festivals years ago, where the director was our enemy. I knew if he was forewarned of our event he would cause serious damage.

“No! No!” I shouted to the devotees. “Don’t go in there!” But it was too late. No one heard me, and several devotees had already gone into the hall.

I opened the door of the van, jumped out, and sprinted towards the building. Inside I saw the devotees waiting peacefully in line by the rest rooms. Suddenly an older woman came up to me and shook my hand.

“Welcome back,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said, looking around uneasily for the director. “It certainly is good to be here.”

“You may not remember me,” she said. “I’m the manager of this complex. You gave me your flower garland at the end of the last festival you did here in 1996, just as you left the stage. I still have it hanging in my kitchen.”

“Is that so?” I said, my eyes darting around expecting the director to appear at any moment.

“And I also remember your talk,” she said. “I used to tell my friends that if there were more people like you in this world, we’d have a lot fewer problems.”

I felt a little embarrassed, and I forgot about the director.

“Well that’s very kind of you, ma’am,” I said.

“The people here often talk about your festival,” she continued, “especially the children. They’re all grown up now, but they do remember. Sometimes they come and ask if I know when you’re coming again. I never know what to say.”

That was my cue. “Did you know about the director of this complex?” I said. “He denied us permission when we asked to use the parking lot, and he campaigned against us.”

“Oh, that old fuddy-duddy,” she said. “He died six months after that.”

“He did?” I said.

“And the new director is quite a different fellow,” she said. “I’m sure he’d let you use the parking lot.”

“It’s OK this time,” I said. “We’ve rented one further down the street.”

“Well, you know you’re always welcome here,” she said.

I gathered all the devotees and gave a little pep talk before we went out on harinama. “I suppose this is going to be something like a homecoming parade,” I said. “Apparently many people have been waiting for our return. Let’s not disappoint them. I want all of you to chant and dance with great joy and to savor every moment of our chanting of the holy names.”

“Maharaja,” said a devotee, “will they stop us from chanting on the beach?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “We’ve come this far. And it’s all been the arrangement of the Lord. Everything’s happening by His internal potency.”

As we chanted along the street, the invitations seemed to fly out of the distributors’ hands. Not one was left on the ground. People waved and one group cheered “Bravo!” as we passed by. We went through the town quickly.

Suddenly we were on the beach. It was packed with sunbathers. I urged the devotees to push on, and immediately we were surrounded by people wanting to take pictures. Within minutes, groups of children were chanting with us, and an hour later we were lost in abandon as we chanted and danced deep into the crowds.

As we rounded the first bend in the beach a man came up to me with his two young daughters. “Can I speak to you for a moment?” he said.

“Sure,” I said, stopping as the harinama went ahead. “What is it?”

“I just want to say thank you for coming back to our town,” he said. “The summer has never been the same without your festival. I used to come every year when I was a boy. Now I’m married and I have my own family, and my children will have a chance to know the same happiness I did as a child. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Well, right there on the beach, surrounded by the holiday-makers, I got all choked up and couldn’t reply. I just nodded my head, tried to smile, and continued walking.

As I caught up with the harinama party I felt a sense of deep happiness and reward. I knew that by serving Lord Caitanya we were experiencing the greatest joy and somehow that joy was overflowing into the hearts of many conditioned souls.

It’s the joy my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, lived for, and it’s the joy I live for as well.

Srila Prabhodananda Saraswati writes:

“In every home there is a tumult of hari-sankirtana. On every body are tears, hairs standing erect, and other symptoms of ecstasy. In every heart is the most exalted and sweet spiritual path that leads far from the path of the four Vedas. All this has appeared now that Lord Gaura has descended to this world.”

[Caitanya-candramrta, chapter 10, verse 114]