Because if you do, I’d have to answer, “Great.”
I didn’t want it to be great. I didn’t want to have a good time. I wanted to go to M. Acuyta’s and be like, see, this stinks. I don’t fit here. I don’t even like it here! We are moving to Alachua and that’s that.
But as the devotees started to arrive, and I saw faces I haven’t seen in the weeks since my husband went to Bombay and I decided to bloop, well, my heart began to ache. I couldn’t think about moving.
Venumadhava, Akincana, Madhumati and I were downstairs watching a video of the Manipuri dancers while waiting for things to get going. We headed upstairs when the kirtan began. A slow start, but it was wonderful chanting with Lila Katha, Mother Kaulini, Jagannatha Prabhu and the other devotees. Venumadhava was getting antsy; thankfully Kirtan Rasa arrived just in time to keep Venumadhava in the temple room. Mother Loka gave me a big hug and a smile and I just felt so relieved to see Sahadeva Prabhu.
When it was time for Gita Nagari’s famous “sharing” moment, Gandiva started by saying he was thankful for the 9 years he had with his wife, Mother Lalitamrta . I didn’t get a chance to speak with him much but was moved to tears just seeing him. His head-felt obeisances, chapatis and toothless grin are as much a part of Gita Nagari, in my mind at least, as Radha Damodara and the cows.
After sharing, M. Cintamani asked for 6 volunteers. I quickly turned myself over to her while Tamal demonstrated his intelligence asking what people were volunteering for. It was then that I realized that was the problem of my life. Well, okay, only one of them, but still a problem. I should ask questions first, surrender later. Just when I was starting to get nervous I was informed that I had volunteered to be part of the first in line for prasadam. Works for me. Of course, the prasadam was heavy on the starches (gluten kabobs, 2 types of stuffing, mashed potatos, bread, gravy, etc.) and gave me an instant belly ache. I think my tummy is not used to “American Fare,” so even though I did not pig out, I got done in and am still hurting.
And then, the real fun began. A bunch of us assembled in the temple room for “the game,” which turned out to be charades. These types of games always make me anxious since I know even fewer pastimes than I do philosphy. But thankfully, Tamal and Lila did not get esoteric (Krishna dresses as Lalita and swings with Radharani!!!) and pretty much stuck to the basics.
The teams were fairly even, with Madhava, Jagannatha Pandit and Sri Vrindavan heading up one side and Sahadeva, Yasoda-Mayi and myself serving up the opposition. Our team was behind the first seven rounds and then it was neck and neck until the end. There has never been and will never be (well, not until next year) a more wild game of Krishna charades. This was more like 1980’s Chinatown street fighting than 1960’s hippies dancing in Tompkins Square Park. We lost by a single point. A few of us took Jagannatha Pandit out back and roughed him up a bit. Let’s see if he’ll be so quick to shout out “Krishna dancing on the hoods of Kaliya serpant!!!” next year. Not if he knows what’s good for him.
Mother Sri Vrindavan said that she hasn’t been this uninhibited in years. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing since her kids deserted the room and her husband hid downstairs until the charades were over. In the end, everyone was a winner and Akincana rewarded us all with a piece of candy from his personal stash.
After charades the majority of folks headed home. As the crowd dispersed I saw the shining moonlike face of Balaramacandra Prabhu. I was so happy to see him since he was one of only a few people I actually knew who attended my wedding. We sat together while he honored the feast and I listened to him talk of his preaching efforts at Ohio University in Athens.
Amazingly warm, charasmatic yet mellow, Balaramacandra’s loving personality is the key to the successful program he runs at the university. His Vegan Cooking Club has 300 members, 130 of which regularly attend the weekly cooking class. They all cook a meal together while Balaramacandra gives himself 100% to the students. He is is sort of like a celebrity guru, in my opinion.
Additionally, he runs a morning program at the preaching center, a rented house near campus. Some students even accept “The Challenge,” where they vow for one week to go to bed by 11 pm, wake up before sunrise, shower, chant a round of japa and then read for fifteen minutes. Additionally,they endeavor to abstain from intoxication (or at least for the ones addicted to cigarettes, regulate it), not lie, eat vegetarian (no eggs) and be celebate (including no pornography or mastrubation). While not everyone is able to satisfy the vow, they usually finish up the week with a ton of respect for a clean and pure lifestyle. Balaramacandra said that the students just feel so much better from getting 7 hours of sleep that it doesn’t take much else to convince them.
But what was most interesting to me was what Balaramacandra said in answer to my question about girls. Surely in his position many college girls must develop huge crushes on him. What does he do?
He began by saying that sometimes he has to have a talk with them and say…
And this is where I interjected. “What, that you’re a monk?”
“No, I never say that. Everything is kept really on a personal level.”
He explains to the girls the priniciples of the life he has chosen. That he has to remain true to himself. I really respected his answer and it reminded me of our conversation during the summer with HG Pusta Krishna Prabhu. Prabhuji, when speaking to my husband and I about raising kids, strongly stated that you have to know yourself and be true to yourself.
It is a much sounder position to place oneself in in terms of raising children. To fallback on “We don’t do this because we are devotees” or “Prabhupada said” or “That is not what devotees do/That is not pleasing to Prabhupada” is kind of weak. These are thoughtless arguments based on institutional ideas which are not very compelling. They are simple, not nuanced. While I don’t fault the mindset, especially if someone has deeply thought about the reasoning behind them (ie Srila Prabhupada is a pure devotee who has my best interest at heart), the glibness of the soundbite does not convey the complexity of internalizing and understanding the what and the why of what one is doing.
We should do the right thing. We should have values. We should teach our children morality based on logic, not random decontextualized quotes. We should function as a family unit and have something personal to give our children. We should speak from our level of realization. In this way, we can be relevant. Not just to our children but to whomever we share our life with.
Later that evening the kids and I went to the temple, took darsan of Sri Sri Radha Damodara and chanted Damodarastakam with Jagannatha Prabhu and BCd. It was the 8 o’clock aroti and my kids were all over the place. Before the chanting was finished, they were writhing about, crying. Not in ectasy but exhaustion. We got our shoes, emerged into the brisk moonlit nite and rushed towards the car. None of us had our coats and our bodies contracted in the cold air. Venumadhava was the most uncomfortable, calling for me to put the hot air on inside the car. As I turned the wheel towards the farm rode I thought back to my wedding day. Balaramacandra assisted Jambavan. He added wood to the yajna fire and drew seven circles on the floor for me to step into. The circles represented different vows of the marriage, including working together for happiness in family life.
Later that evening, after I put the childrent to bed, I called my husband in Bombay and told him about our happy Thanksgiving. We began to discuss how we could stay at Gita Nagari, ways to survive 4 hours of commuting to bring the kids to Montessori in State College and talking about what is really important for successful family life. We ended the conversation meditating on the words of Balaramacandra and Pusta Krishna. It was a peaceful and hopeful goodnite.
And then the next morning, Venumadhava woke up and I asked him if he would like to stay in Gita Nagari and go to school with non-devotee kids who were very nice or would he like to move to Alachua and go to school with devotee kids. With a scowl on his face he said, “Uh-uh. I want to move to Alachula.” I told him that we wouldn’t get to see the Gita Nagari devotees very much if he did. “I like the Deities in Alachula!”
About an hour later he was asking for his friends to come over and play. All the boys here are older than him by at least three years. It was then that I called my husband and we both came to the same conclusion.
We’ll go and check it out.