Back in Town
August 26, 2016
For years we have taken pride in doing our summer festival in Kolobrzeg, one of the biggest and most popular tourist destinations along the Baltic Sea coast in Poland. There was a time when we had to fight for permission to hold our programs there, but as the years rolled by, word spread that our event is highly professional, cultural and fun. The city has warmed to us and has even suggested specific dates on which to hold our festival.
Unfortunately, last year we were unable to perform in Kolobrzeg because the city was upgrading the waterfront where our event has taken place over the last twenty seven years. This summer we anticipated a big comeback, only to be disappointed when we learned that the renovated area could no longer support the semi-trailer that unfolds into the large stage on which our show takes place.
Nandini dasi, as determined as ever, met with the mayor of Kolobrzeg to discuss alternative sites for our event.
“As much as we’d like to host you, there is no suitable site where we can hold an outdoor event the size of yours,” the mayor told Nandini.
“What about the area around the lighthouse at the end of the big boardwalk?” Nandini suggested. “Thousands of people gather there every day to see the ships going out to sea. It would be a perfect venue.”
The mayor shook his head.
“We’ve never allowed that spot to be used for an event in the history of the city,” he said. “It has its own ambiance and we don’t want to detract from that. Besides, that site is under the jurisdiction of the captain of the port. He would never agree because it would be a distraction for his job of safely seeing off and receiving ships each day.”
“But Mr. Mayor, our event is not a commercial event. We hold our festival to introduce people to the attractive culture of India and to a positive spiritual message that can benefit their lives.”
“I know, I know,” said the Mayor. “I’ve been to your event many times and I know it’s well-organized; in many ways it’s the main event of the summer here in Kolobrzeg.” He paused for a moment and thought. “OK,” he said at last. “If you can get permission from the captain of the port, the City Council will back you. But bear in mind, he won’t be an easy person to convince.”
The large paved area around the lighthouse was crawling with thousands of tourists when Nandini arrived. “This would be perfect for our event,” she thought. But when she was asking the secretary if she could speak to the captain, he walked out of his office and stopped her speaking before she could even start.
“No! No! No! I will not give permission for you to hold your event on this property. It’s under my jurisdiction and I refuse to even consider it.”
“But how did you know that was what I was going to ask?” Nandini said.
“I heard you were denied permission for your event at the waterfront,” he said. “I was expecting you’d come here, and I have told you my answer. There is no need for further discussion on the matter.”
“Sir,” Nandini said, “We have done our festival in your city every summer for almost three decades. It’s a tradition here. It’s not an ordinary event. It brings color, joy and festivity to the Kolobrzeg, but more importantly it brings a deep spiritual message. And the ambassador for India to Poland, Mr. Ajay Bisaria, has promised to come if you give us permission ….”
“Stop!” the captain said. For several moments he looked out the window at the waves breaking on the rocks. “Alright. I give you permission to hold your festival at the lighthouse. I’ve been to your event many times over the years and if I am honest I have to say that I believe in everything you people stand for. Now go!”
Nandini scurried out of the office as fast as she could and reached for her phone.
“Gurudeva, we got permission for the festival in Kolobrzeg,” she said when I answered the phone. She was obviously on the verge of tears.
“That’s amazing,” I said. “How did you convince them to let us use the waterfront?”
“Not the waterfront,” she said. “They’re letting us use the lighthouse.”
“The lighthouse!” I exclaimed. “Nothing is impossible if Krsna desires it.”
The next day 100 devotees charged out of our base into two large buses to begin advertising the festival.
“Faster!” I told our bus driver.
“Your event is still two days away. Why the hurry?” he asked.
“Every minute counts,” I replied. “Step on it.”
Our colorful harimana party was replete with banners, flags and even balloons; as we began singing and dancing down the beach people took notice. Three children in the water jumped up and down, waving their arms to attract their parents’ attention. “Mom! Dad!” they screamed. “Take an invitation!”
Further down the beach I saw a woman crying.
“She looks distressed,” I said to a devotee. “Can you go and ask her if she’s ok?”
The devotee returned with a smile on her face. “She apologized for causing us worry,” she said. “When we didn’t come last year she didn’t know if we would ever come back. She’s crying out of happiness because the festival’s back in town.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man speaking angrily to a devotee.
“What happened?” I asked.
The devotee said, “This gentleman is angry…”
The man interrupted in a loud voice. “Why didn’t you come last year?” People began to gather around, interested in the apparent conflict.
“Excuse me?” I asked, still not understanding the nature of his dissatisfaction.
“Why didn’t you come last year?” he repeated. “My children wait all year for your festival to come here in the summer. You let them down. They were so upset. You have a responsibility to the public to be consistent.”
A number of people in the crowd nodded their heads in agreement.
“I am so sorry, sir,” I said. I spoke loudly so the crowd could hear. “It was beyond our control; the city was doing work in the site where we usually hold our festival. But in two days we’ll have the festival at the lighthouse.”
The man looked surprised.
“The lighthouse?” he asked in a calmer voice. “The city gave you permission to have your event there?”
“Well, the captain of the port to be specific,” I said.
“Well… That’s very good!” he exclaimed. “My family and I will be there.”
I shook my head in disbelief as the crowd dispersed. “In the old days some people would become angry when we showed up in town. Now they become angry when we don’t come! This is a sure sign that this movement is progressing.”
We stopped to have kirtan in one place, and, as always, a large crowd of sunbathers gathered. Many of them were soon dancing with us.
“Would you like to hear my opinion about this singing and dancing?” a nicely dressed gentleman asked me.
“Of course,” I said. “I’m always interested to hear the public’s opinion of our efforts.”
“My opinion,” he said in a serious voice, “is that this singing and dancing has the potential to unite all the religions of the world.”
As the blissful singing and dancing continued, I watched one lady who had joined the kirtan as soon as we had arrived. She was beaming as she swayed back and forth with her arms around two devotee girls, chanting in a loud voice. Then she entered the circle of devotees and began dancing on her own, her arms stretched towards the sky. She stayed for more than an hour.
“Looks like you really enjoyed that!” I said to her as the kirtan party moved on down the beach.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I really love you people.” Then she winked. “But remember: Jesus is the only way!”
Further down the beach a man came towards me.
“Hare, Krsna and Rama,” he said. “There! I said it! One gets so much benefit from saying those words even once in a lifetime. I read that somewhere. Bye!”
The next moment a woman approached me, a Bhagavad-gita in her hand.
“The girl who sold this to me said you would sign it.”
“Yes, of course I will,” I said.
When I gave it back to her she said, “Finally, something else to read besides the Bible!”
“Oh, but the Bible is also an important scripture,” I said.
“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “But all the questions I have ever had about spirituality were answered this morning in the few pages of this book I’ve read so far.”
We concluded the harinam after four hours and returned to the festival site to prepare for the crowds that would come. On the boardwalk, a man called out to me.
“Indradyumna Swami,” he said, “Do you remember me?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. “I can’t seem to place your face… “
“You must remember,” he said. “We met on this beach in 1997. We had a very interesting discussion for ten minutes or so. It changed my life in lots of positive ways.”
My guilt subsided a little knowing that the meeting occurred nineteen years ago.
“I bought your Pada Kamalam kirtan tape that day,” he continued. “I still listen to it every day on my way to work. And my children can’t go to sleep without it. I just wanted to thank you for what you’ve done for me and my family.”
“It was just a short talk…” I said.
“But it was enough,” he said. “It was more than enough.”
The festival site was already crowded with people sitting on the benches in front of the main stage.
“The show doesn’t begin for another two hours,” I said incredulously to Guru Kripa das.
“I guess because there was no festival last year they want to make sure they don’t miss anything this year,” he said.
The festival looked especially charming with the lighthouse towering overhead and the beautiful port as a backdrop. More and more people poured through the gates, and I took the opportunity to ask them why they had come.
“I purchased some chanting beads a few years ago at one of your festivals,” a lady told me. “I use to use them as a decoration in my home. But something told me they have a more important purpose, and one day I saw a devotee chanting on them. I have them here with me today so that I can learn how to chant on them.”
“My grandkids have never been to your event,” an elderly man told me when I asked him why he had come. He gestured to the four children by his side. “But I have been many times. I convinced them to come because there’s something for every member of the family at your festivals.’’
Then he lowered his voice. “But if they didn’t show any interest I was going to take them back to their parents for the afternoon. I wouldn’t miss this festival for the world, believe me. Especially because you didn’t come last year!”
It started to rain midway through the program, but the people were prepared: everyone in the audience popped open an umbrella as if on cue.
When it was time for my lecture, I prayed to Srila Prabhupada.
“Srila Prabhupada, I’ve never asked you for anything other than the blessing that when I speak my words will touch people’s hearts. My only prayer all these years has been to be your representative and speak on your behalf. Once again, allow me to be that transcendental medium.”
When I came off the stage forty five minutes later, there was, as always, a small group of people with Bhagavad-gitas to be signed.
“I am genetics scientist,” said the first woman. I saw she was not holding a book, and I flinched expecting a debate about science and religion. I wished I had the scientific jargon to make my presentation more acceptable to her.
“I loved your talk,” she said, and I sighed with relief. “Your approach to science and religion is interesting. Your arguments are much better than the standard ones I hear when speaking to religious people. Where did you get this knowledge?”
“From my spiritual master,” I said proudly.
“Was he a scientist?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “But he was a representative of the greatest scientist.”
“The greatest scientist,” she repeated. “Tell me. Who is that?”
“God,” I said. “The one who made it all.”
“Well that’s debatable,” she said, pulling a Bhagavad-Gita out of her handbag. “But you did convince me enough to buy this book to find out more.” She shook my hand when I gave the book back to her. “It would strengthen your presentation if you had some scientific terminology.’
“I was thinking the same thing,” I said with a smile.
“Srila Gurudeva,” Mathuranath das said as she walked away, “I was listening to your lecture and your arguments against mundane science were awesome.”
“Well, don’t be under any illusion,” I said. “If it wasn’t for Srila Prabhupada I’d still be mowing lawns at the University of Michigan without a clue about science or religion.”
Next in line was a man holding the Gita so tightly that initially I couldn’t take it from his hand to sign.
“Sorry,” he said, relinquishing the book. “All my life I’ve been searching for the knowledge you shared with us this evening. And now that I finally have it in my hand, I am reluctant to give it up even for a minute. It’s unbelievable. I finally have it in my hand!”
“It will just take one minute to sign,” I said.
“OK,” he said. “But make sure you give it back.”
The next person in line was a man with a big handlebar moustache. He stood silently as I signed his Bhagavad-gita.
“What inspired you to buy the book?” I said hoping to initiate a conversation.
“I’m a train conductor,” he replied. “My route takes me all over Europe.”
“That’s an interesting profession,” I said. “It gives you the opportunity to travel and see the world.”
“It gives me reason to inquire about birth and death,” he said without smiling.
“Oh,” I said. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve seen many people give up their lives on the train tracks,” he replied. “Suicides. Each year four or five people jump in front of my train or tie themselves to the tracks. I always feel some guilt when I see them die in that way. I’ve come to accept it over time. But recently it’s caused me to consider whether there is life after death. The things you said about reincarnation made sense to me. I’m buying this book so I can understand more and in doing so alleviate my fear and doubt.”
“It’s easy to understand how Srila Prabhupada was so insistent that his books be widely distributed,” I thought. “They do indeed relieve the suffering of the fallen conditioned souls.”
Next a man in a wheelchair came up to me.
“Where did you get all the knowledge that you wrote in these purports?” he asked.
“I didn’t write them,” I said, chuckling. “My spiritual master wrote them.”
“Oh I see,” he said. “But because you are saying the same thing you are qualified to speak from the stage. Is that the idea?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And if I learn the same teachings and practice them, then I can also share the knowledge with others?”
“Yes,” I said. “Is that your intention?”
“It is,” he replied. “I am bound to this wheelchair and I can’t do much. But your talk inspired me to try and make my life worthwhile by sharing this knowledge with others.”
The last man in line was dressed nicely and had been waiting a considerable amount of time. When I apologized for this, he smiled.
“No problem,” he said. “I wanted to get a dedication in this book I bought, but I also wanted to compliment you on your event. I have been following it for quite some time now and have seen it grow year after year.”
When I handed his book back to him I asked him what his profession was. I was curious because he looked so aristocratic.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said in a serious way. “And neither would you believe me if I told you who I am. In fact, you would probably faint.”
“You would,” he said. “But know for certain that with my influence many people in this country will hear about your event and will come to appreciate it.”
As he walked away clutching the book tightly under his arm I thought of my spiritual master, and I prayed to him.
“Srila Prabhupada, this is all your mercy. Fifty years ago in 1966, you incorporated your International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and that movement is continuing to produce miracles one after the other. What we witness daily in our humble attempt to serve you here in Poland is just part of a great worldwide phenomenon. We pray for the day when your glories will be compiled into a great journal to be appreciated by the entire world now and for all of eternity.”
“But there are also many other things which Jesus did, so vast a number indeed that if they were all described in detail, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would have to be written.” [ Bible: John 21:25 ]