Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you on a flight from Moscow to Omsk, in Western Siberia. It is the final leg of my Russian tour for 2006, and is quite out of the way for me, but some disciples there have been asking me to come, so I am on my way.
A few days ago I wrote to you from London, which is where I joined Srila Prabhupada’s movement on January 7th, 1973. Whenever I go there I feel a little nostalgic, remembering the times we had in the pioneering days of ISKCON, in the company of my Godbrothers who were at the time young brahmacaris like me, but many of whom have gone on to become great leaders in our movement…
The first Deities I saw were Radha Londonisvara, now at Soho St temple in central London. In those days They were in the Bury Place temple, less than a kilometer away from Soho St, near the entrance to the British Museum.
Londonisvara is Krishna as a very cheerful young boy, and is surely one of the most beautiful Deities I have ever seen. I remember when I walked in off the streets and met Subhaga das, now Subhaga Swami based in Mayapur, and he took me into the temple room to have my first darsana of Them. He asked me “do you know who They are?” and somehow, even though I had never seen Radha Krishna Deities before, nor even pictures of Them, still I answered him that They were Radha and Krishna, which he appreciated. Then he asked me if I knew the Hare Krishna mantra, and I recited it to him, as I had heard it many years before when the Hare Krishna record was at the top of the hit parade in New Zealand.
Later I was introduced to the Temple President, Dhanajaya prabhu, who asked me my name, and when I told him he became very surprised and said “we have the same family name!” It’s a rather obscure Scottish family name, and then we discussed it and found that our fathers had told both of us the same story of how the family received the name. in this way we concluded that we must be related. He then invited me to come and stay as a guest, and I came a few days later and moved in, never to leave.
Now Radha Londonisvara are in Soho St temple, and the darsana is very nice, as They’re almost close enough that one could lean forward and touch Them, and They’re standing more or less at eye level with the observer.
I had to leave London on the 29th and fly to St Petersburg, back in Russia, several hundred kms north of Moscow. My flight was with British Airways from Heathrow and I didn’t know what to expect at the airport, as they have been on high security alert there for weeks after some terrorists were captured, intending to blow up some planes when they flew from there.
The flight was about 10am, but we decided to leave the house we were staying in early, to make sure we had as much time as possible for the security formalities at Heathrow. We left at 5am, and it took us an hour to wind our way through the streets of London to the airport, one of the biggest and most complex in the world. When we got inside, sure enough, the place was already total chaos, with hundreds of people lined up in different queues through the whole of Terminal 1, making it very difficult figure out what we should do. Dhanistha went and found out where I should check in, and we made our way there, only to find that we were in a queue with about 100 other people waiting to be checked in by all of two check in staff on the counters. We stood and waited, gradually edging our ways forward for nearly an hour until finally we reached the counter.
I handed my ticket to the lady there and she said “oh, your flight is still only after some hours. You’re too early. I can’t check you in. Come back later.” That wasn’t very encouraging, but then she checked the time and said “no, you’re only ten minutes early, so I’ll take you now.”
In this way we proceeded further through the labyrinth of Heathrow, and the next step was the security check before passport control. It was another queue with about 200 or 300 people in it, and took another 45 minutes to get through. Everyone had to take off their shoes and jackets and take their computers out of their bags and so on, and then finally we were through and I was able to get to the plane in good time.
The Britishers were clearly deeply into their security arrangements, and it made me remember a Srimad Bhagavatam verse:
atma-sainyesv asatsv api
tesam pramatto nidhanam
pasyann api na pasyati
“Persons devoid of atma-tattva do not inquire into the problems of life, being too attached to the fallible soldiers like the body, children and wife. Although sufficiently experienced, they still do not see their inevitable destruction.”(SB 2.1.4)
So the materialistic people are always thinking how to secure themselves in this material world, and this was so prominent there in Heathrow. However, despite their best efforts they are ultimately defeated.
The flight to St Petersburg was uneventful, and when I landed there that afternoon I was met by some disciples at the airport. It was a cold miserable afternoon, as we drove back to the flat of Ter Kabamba das and his wife Madhavi devi dasi, and I was happy to settle in there for my visit, which was going to be three full days.
The St Petersburg yatra has gone through one of the most difficult histories of any yatra in ISKCON. In the heyday of Harikesa das it was the biggest temple in Russia, without about 200 devotees living in the asrama, and a congregation of thousands more. They had a massive building with a temple room big enough for 300 or 400 devotees, but when Harikesa left ISKCON, the devotees lost it. Since that time they have not even had a temple of their own, although recently they tried to rent one hall on an ongoing basis, which was fine until the place burned down some months ago. Other than that, since 1998 they have been renting halls for their Sunday programmes and other festivals, and continue to do so to this day.
We had a programme in the Gauranga Cafe on Saturday afternoon, the 30th. It is run by Krishna Kirtana das, one of the senior devotees in the city, and my disciple Vrindavanesvari works there as the head cook. Maybe 30 or so devotees came. Then on Sunday we had a programme in a hall with about 150 devotees. Actually there would have been a lot more, but many of them were still on the train, returning from the Black Sea festival, which was about a
2-3 day train ride away.
I showed them part of the Russian version of the Nandagrama DVD. We have got a devotee in East Siberia who is a professional radio announcer, and he spoke the narration in the most convincing way one could possibly imagine, getting completely into all the moods of the pastimes we tell init. The devotees were quite captivated by it.
The next day we did another programme at the cafe, and then I met disciples during the day.
Then at 3.30 in the morning on Tuesday the 3rd of October we were up and off to the airport to fly, first to Moscow, a little more than an hour to the south, and then at 11am from Moscow to Omsk. It is this flight that I am on right now. Fortunately the flight is more than half empty, so there’s plenty of room and I can relax a bit, which is different from most of the flights I take, in which I’m usually cramped in with so many people.
I’ll try to write in a few days with some report about the preaching in Omsk.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami