Dear devotees and friends,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
On the 13th afternoon (August) I flew from Moscow to Novosibirsk, back in central Russia, for my birthday celebration. I landed at 3.30 in the morning, having not had more than an hour of sleep, so I took some rest in the flat of Krishna Kaneya and Srimati, and then got up to chant the rest of my rounds and then go to the programme. It was very nice, and the devotees really tried hard to do it nicely.
The next day I flew with the Central Siberia Regional Secretary, Visnu Tattva prabhu, to Krasnoyarsk, a little further to the east, near which we were going to participate in a Deity installation programme for the local ISKCON yatra. The particular town is called Jheleznogorsk, and it’s a closed military town where they make fuel for atomic submarines and various other types of atomic things, like maybe even bombs.
In order to enter one needs special permission, so we decided that rather than go through all of that we would hold the programme at a holiday camp about five kilometres outside the town. There were about 150 devotees present, and we named the Deities Sri Sri Nitai Mayapurcandra.
On the 17th I flew to Irkutsk, further east again, to take part in the annual East Siberian summer festival at nearby Angarsk. There were about 450 devotees there, and we were joined for a few days by Prabhavisnu Maharaja, one of the pioneers of Russian preaching from the Communist times, along with Govardhana Gopala prabhu, a very nice Russian devotee who is a well known psychologist in Russia, and who has established a Vaisnava psychological institute where devotees become trained as psychologists, from the Krishna conscious point of view. There was also Adi Duhkaha prabhu, one of the most senior Russian devotees, who is also the top kirtana singer in Russia.
A couple of weeks before this, on July 25th, I had badly injured my right big toe, when my new red Ferrari bag landed on top of it. When we were in Jheleznogorsk the toenail finally came off, and by the time I reached Angarsk it was quite painful. There were two devotee doctors at the festival and they examined it and recommended it be x-rayed, so we did that one day and fortunately found out it was not fractured.
We had lots of kirtana, and I gave a short seminar on Vaisnava etiquette.
Then on August 24th, Lord Balarama’s Appearance Day, I flew back from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk to attend the annual Central and West Siberian summer festival in the Altai mountains.
On about August 26th I received news from New Zealand that my 91 year old mother was in the process of passing away. I became concerned about what I should do. Should I drop everything and return to New Zealand to see her
before she leaves? Should I just carry on with the festival and not worry about it too much. I consulted with my senior Godbrother, Prabhavisnu Maharaja, who advised me that it would probably be an overendeavour to try to go all the way back, particularly seeing it would take about 4 to 5 days of travel to get there, during which time she might well have passed away.
So I stayed on, and then on Saturday the 28th I received news from my sister-in-law in New Zealand that my mother had passed away the day before, the 27th, at about 6am New Zealand time, and they were going to delay the funeral till September 7th so I could go back and attend it.
At the festival, most days we would go for a walk through the countryside around the festival site, and then spend an hour or so sitting on the banks of the Katyn River with 40 or 50 devotees, in the early evening, chanting japa.
My mother was an interesting person. She was materially very intelligent, and was a major crossword expert (!). In my youth she had interested me in Dylan Thomas, a famous Welsh poet of the first half of the 20th century who Bob Dylan apparently took his name from (Bob Dylan’s real surname is Zimmerman). I read a lot of Thomas’s work, and was particularly struck by a line from one of his poems – “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, drives me.” It made me think more deeply about a spiritual element in life.
That was something of a turning point for me, and my interest in spirituality started growing from that time.
In January 1973 I joined the ISKCON temple in London, and till 1980 I did not see my mother, or my father, again, although I would correspond regularly by mail. They were very tolerant of my being involved in Krishna consciousness, and even quite supportive, so one time I decided to preach strongly to my mother to become vegetarian. I wrote to her, stressing how sinful it was, and how much bad karma was involved, and so on, hoping she
would accept it, but unfortunately she didn’t seem to take it seriously, and when she replied to that letter she just told me the usual things about my relatives and life in general in New Zealand. I decided not to push her, but rather maintain a very good personal relationship with her.
I visited New Zealand in January 1980, on the way from the UK to South Africa, where I was to become the Temple President in Cato Ridge, and had a nice time with my parents and brother, although being careful not to be too pushy about Krishna consciousness, and it seemed to work well.
From 1988 onwards until this year I visited New Zealand every year and spent some days with my family, and during that time my mother developed quite a taste for prasadam. Actually one of my father’s friends became a devotee at
some point in the 1980’s, and my father would regularly visit the Gopala’s restaurant in Queen St, the main street of Auckland, so prasadam became quite popular in the family.
My father passed away in 1996, but I continued visiting my mother, and she became more attached to prasadam. When I would visit I would always cook for myself with pots that were kept especially for my use when I would come. I
would offer the food, often pushpanna rice and one or two vegetable preparations, and my mother would always be waiting for some as soon as it was offered.
In the early 2000’s she became unable to live on her own, and moved into a retirement village in Auckland, and I would go there and stay in a visitor’s flat in the village and spend the days in her little flat, doing email and chatting with her from time to time. She would go for a walk every day, which is perhaps one reason why she lived to the age of 91, and when I was there I would go with her.
There was one place in the footpath on her walking route that she would pass every day, where people had dug up the tar to put a pipe under it, and then filled it up again with concrete. As the concrete was drying someone wrote
the word “Krishna” in it, so every day for some years, as my mother walked she would see the Lord’s name. She told me that she would see it and think of me.
So now she is gone, and I am on my way back to South Africa. I’ll celebrate Janmastami there on the 2nd, and then on the 3rd fly to New Zealand, arriving on the 5th, to take part in the funeral on the 7th.
When I get back to South Africa from there I will write again.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami