34 Years Closer to Death

The only thing certain at the time of birth is death. What comes in between is really up for grabs. While many devotees choose not to celebrate their birthday I have, since joining, made it a point to not let the day go by unmarked.

Since my first year in the temple, I began cooking for the devotees on my birthday. And while that probably doesn’t seem that surprising now–since it seems like I am always cooking something–at the time I was just a floor mopper and toilet scrubber. My cooking experience was limited to microwaving vegetarian meals for myself while living at my folks’ house. 
I still remember that first birthday at Towaco. I cooked stuffed shells, bread rolls, steamed broccoli and prepared a salad for the devotees. At that time there was no question of offering the preps on the altar to Sri Sri Gaura Nitai since I wasn’t even initiated. I cooked in the kitchen and then offered everything to Prabhupada on a makeshift altar above the Deity sink. 
All of us young devotees–maybe 25 in all–attended the evening aroti lead by Mahamuni (HH RVSD) and as a special gift to me Muni Prabhu chanted a tune that HH Bhakti-tirtha Swami would often chant. Considering how at the time Muni and I had a sort of adversarial relationship, it was pretty darn sweet of him.
After aroti we headed to the prasadam hall where I served out the birthday meal. Tomato sauce, cheese and pasta is always a surefire hit, especially with devotees in bodies younger than 30 without any digestive problems. And steamed broccoli and salad seemed, in those Gujarati prasad abundant days, like an exotic luxury. Everyone was happy and I was instantly hooked. Serving the devotees on one’s birthday is the most pleasurable way to enjoy in the material world.
And today was no different. 
I cooked a pretty solid menu:
khandvi
dahi bada
tamarind chutney
sak/bhaigun/khala chana sabji with fresh tomato
bhatura
blackberry shrikand
cupcakes
Because of some unexpected events after school the previous day, I got started cooking a little late. Before cooking I did a maha-cleanup of my upstairs kitchen which took me until 11 pm to complete. One hour before midnite the cooking began. Honestly, I didn’t plan on starting this late. But in order to get it all done in time for getting the preps on the Lord’s offering, there really was no choice on the matter.  I had to do it all by 6:30 because once I dropped the offfering at the temple, I had to get the kids ready for school.
I cannot even begin to explain how warmly the devotees received my offering. When I dropped stuff off at the kitchen, Mother Laksmi was so excited about the Lord’s breakfast. Me too! I don’t really get a chance for cooking for the Deities, other than Their kheer, and I was really relishing the opportunity, which of course, was available to me through the mercy of the devotees. Thank you, Mother Mukhya.
After class  my husband and I headed over to help serve out; Saksi Gopal and Kishor were already there getting things going. Right away I knew we were going to run short of cupcakes.  Individual servings of things are always a bit sketchy. Note to self: 48 cupcakes is not enough!
Anyway, I could go on and on but let me cut it short because who is really going to read this anyway?  In summary, service to the devotees is the topmost. I love cooking for the devotees. So much mercy available. The goal of life is Vaisnava seva. I don’t mind taking birth again as long as I am in such good company. And can cook for the devotees.
And as one final point–it probably should have been the first–I want to thank my diksa guru, HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami–for being an example of service to the devotees. Because of my karma and conditioning, I was limited in what I learned from him. But from the very beginning of my spiritual life, I was able to identify this as the most important lesson. 
If only every day was my birthday!

Because the morning was so hectic, I didn’t get a pic of the preps. Here are some shots from after the serve out.

Saksi getting Babu (my husband/Madhava Pandit) a plate of what’s left…a little khandvi and dahi bada.

Thanks, Prabhus!

The cupcakes were super cute, colored with blackberry juice. This was one of the few that had not been eaten by the time I was done serving. Apparently most devotees went for the dessert first.

“Honoring”

Gopal is so cute. Just thought I would get a shot of him.

Happy Devotees = Happy Birthday

Sweet Walli Malati Prabhu with one of her cupcakes.

Thank you, devotees of New Raman Reti, for making my birthday super fun and fulfilling and allowing me the opportunity to start my 35th year off right. Hopefully we can do it again next year.
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