Compiled by Mahavishnu Das
In October of 1970 I was one of a group of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples from America who were going to join him in India. On the way, we stopped in Brussels, and it was there, in an apartment, that I first met Yamuna-devi—and Malati and Syamasundara (I had met Gurudas before that, in Boston). Upon entering, I could immediately feel their intense, extraordinary devotion to Srila Prabhupada—it was so palpable, so tangible; the room was just suffused with their devotion—and we spent the next several hours there together. As enthusiastic as I was to go to India to be with Srila Prabhupada, I felt like I could stay that room forever; I never wanted to leave the association of these amazing devotees who were so attached to Srila Prabhupada and so capable of serving him in such different ways.
Gurudas had arranged a cheap flight on a small airline, and that evening we boarded an old converted dual-propeller cargo plane, bound for Bombay with a stop in Cairo. In my mood of Krsna consciousness then, I was quite oblivious to things around me. I wanted to avoid maya—anything that could distract me from Krsna—and didn’t pay much heed to anything that didn’t relate directly to my service. I was focused on the idea of chanting and hearing every word of the Hare Krsna mantra distinctly, on always thinking about Krsna and never forgetting Him. And I had heard that Srila Prabhupada had said that if you have trouble hearing you should chant loudly.
And sometimes, to really get into the holy names—and to break out of any possible lethargy—I would jump up and down. One or two of the devotees told me that they were anxious about how people in Egypt might react to my chanting, but I was determined.
There was unrest there at that time, and when we landed in Cairo there were blown-up jumbo jets and tanks in and around the airport. We were met on the tarmac by soldiers and armed security guards with bandoliers of bullets around their chests and machine guns over their shoulders, and as we deplaned, walking down the steps, the men were pointing machine guns in our direction. Then Yamuna, as I was later told, saw the guards suddenly move their guns up and down, shifting their aim. And when she turned around to see why, she saw me behind her, walking down the stairs chanting japa, jumping up and down.
Anyway, we escaped Egypt and flew to Bombay, where, as arranged by Srila Prabhupada, we were taken to Kailash Seksaria’s house. There I went through a period of confusion—some things were very difficult for me to understand and cope with—and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was a relatively new devotee, at least compared with the others in the group, and somehow I just got the inspiration to go to Yamuna and Gurudas for help. What they told me was extraordinary, and for me, revolutionary. I entered their room feeling completely at a loss, but they turned the whole thing around, saying that Srila Prabhupada had sent me to engage them in thinking about him and about topics of deep significance.
They turned the whole thing completely around, and I believe they were completely genuine in the way they took it and in what they said. And that was the beginning of what proved to be a very close relationship with them both.
While we were staying at Seksaria Bhavan, Srila Prabhupada introduced a new tune for the Gurvastakam prayers in the morning. He tried to teach some of the men, but they couldn’t quite get it. Then he decided to instruct Yamuna-devi, in the presence of us all, and she picked it up right away. Afterward, Srila Prabhupada told Yamuna, “Learn to listen. You cannot follow nicely unless you hear nicely, and you cannot lead nicely unless you have learned to follow nicely.” And gradually the rest of us learned the new melody.
In Bombay, Srila Prabhupada was invited to attend the Vedanta Sammelan in Amritsar, and so a party of seven men and two women—Yamuna and Kausalya—traveled there with him by train. The Vedanta Ashram offered us two small rooms and the use of the large common courtyard just outside. Srila Prabhupada occupied one room, Yamuna and Kausalya the other.
Srila Prabhupada was very protective of the women, and he would have them ride to programs with him in his car (while the men took rickshaws). He did programs in the morning and evening—and often in between. Kausalya told me that while driving to one engagement, he had mentioned that he needed new shoes. “Stop at the next Bata shoe store,” he had said. In the store, he had told Yamuna and Kausalya, “You choose the shoes for me” and sat down. So they looked all around the store and found some white crisscross plastic sandals that they thought would be just right. Each of them carried one shoe up to Srila Prabhupada, and they slipped them on his feet. He smiled and asked, “Do you like them?” They responded, “Yes.” “Then we will buy them.” And so he did.
In the afternoons when there was some free time, Yamuna-devi would chant in the courtyard. It was very cold in Amritsar in November, but it would be a little warmer when the sun came out in the afternoon, and she would sit cross-legged with her back erect and chant Hare Krsna maha-mantra japa continuously with her eyes closed—nonstop. She told me then that when she chanted, her ears and mind and heart opened up to the holy names and that the names would enter and she would just hear the sound. She would be fully absorbed in the sound, not even thinking that she was chanting the holy names or that these were names she was hearing—she was just absorbed in the sound.
After Amritsar, Srila Prabhupada and his party traveled by train back to Bombay. On the way, the train stopped at the New Delhi station, and a gentleman, a lawyer named D. D. Gupta who had been corresponding with Prabhupada and had been informed of his stopover, came to meet him. He requested Srila Prabhupada to leave some disciples in Delhi to start the activities there. Prabhupada turned to Gurudas, who was riding in the same compartment, and said, “This man is inviting us. Get down and see what you can do.” Gurudas asked for some devotees, and then he and Srila Prabhupada agreed on a team: Yamuna-devi, Gopala, Bhakta Bruce (now Bhanu Swami), and me.
Mr. Gupta arranged for us to stay in two rooms in Old Delhi, near Delhi Gate. The rooms were very basic—just plain concrete with whitewash on the walls—and they abutted the courtyard at the center of the building. We would have to walk around the courtyard to use the simple latrine (though, in urgent cases, we would often have to run!).
Mr. Gupta, it turned out, was a peculiar man. He was an advocate, but not a very big one. And he was miserly. He would keep his used, dead batteries in a drawer, in the hopes that they would come back to life. Carefully, he would take them out, show them to us, and ask if we could revive, or “recharge,” them. The whole situation was very austere, but it was wonderful being with Gurudas and Yamuna. We were like a family, with Gurudas and Yamuna like our older brother and sister, taking care of us in the absence of our father, Srila Prabhupada.
By: Giriraja Swami