The Dream Come True
I planned that I must go to America. Generally they go to London, but I did not want to go to London. I was simply thinking how to go to New York. I was scheming, “Whether I shall go this way, through Tokyo, Japan, or that way? Which way is cheaper?” That was my proposal. And I was targeting to New York always. Sometimes I was dreaming that I have come to New York.
– Śrīla Prabhupāda
WRITING WAS ONLY half the battle; the other half was publishing. Both Bhaktivedanta Swami and his spiritual master wanted to see Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam printed in English and distributed widely. According to the teachings of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, the most modern methods of printing and distributing books should be used to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Although many books of Vaiṣṇava wisdom had already been perfectly presented by Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Jīva Gosvāmī, the manuscripts now sat deteriorating in the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple and other locations, and even the Gaudiya Math’s printings of the Gosvāmīs’ works were not being widely distributed. One of Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Godbrothers asked him why he was spending so much time and effort trying to make a new commentary on the Bhāgavatam, since so many great ācāryas had already commented upon it. But in Bhaktivedanta Swami’s mind there was no question; his spiritual master had given him an order.
Commercial publishers, however, were not interested in the sixty-volume Bhāgavatam series, and Bhaktivedanta Swami was not interested in anything less than a sixty-volume paramparā presentation of verses, synonyms, and purports based on the commentaries of the previous ācāryas. But to publish such books he would have to raise private donations and publish at his own expense. Rādhā-Dāmodara temple may have been the best place for writing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but not for printing and publishing it. For that he would have to go to New Delhi.
Among his Delhi contacts, Bhaktivedanta Swami considered Hitsaran Sharma a likely helper. Although when he had stayed in Mr. Sharma’s home Mr. Sharma had appreciated him more as a member of a genre than as an individual, at least Mr. Sharma was inclined to help sādhus, and he recognized Bhaktivedanta Swami as a genuinely religious person. Therefore, when Bhaktivedanta Swami approached him in his office, he was willing to help, considering it a religious duty to propagate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Hitsaran Sharma was qualified to help for two reasons: he was the secretary to J. D. Dalmia, a wealthy philanthropist, and he was the owner of a commercial printing works, Radha Press. According to Mr. Sharma, Mr. Dalmia would not directly give money to Bhaktivedanta Swami, even if his secretary suggested it. Mr. Sharma therefore advised Bhaktivedanta Swami to go to Gorakhpur and show his manuscript to Hanuman Prasad Poddar, a religious publisher. Accepting this as good advice, Bhaktivedanta Swami journeyed to Gorakhpur, some 475 miles from Delhi.
Even such a trip as this constituted a financial strain. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s daily ledger showed a balance of one hundred and thirty rupees as of August 8, 1962, the day he started for Gorakhpur. By the time he reached Lucknow he was down to fifty-seven rupees. Travel from Lucknow to Gorakhpur cost another six rupees, and the ricksha to Mr. Poddar’s home cost eighty paisa.
But the trip was well worth the cost. Bhaktivedanta Swami presented Mr. Poddar with his letter of introduction from Hitsaran Sharma and then showed him his manuscript. After briefly examining the manuscript, Mr. Poddar concluded it to be a highly developed work that should be supported. He agreed to send a donation of four thousand rupees to the Dalmia Trust in Delhi, to be used towards the publication of Śrī A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
Indian printers do not always require full payment before they begin a job, provided they receive a substantial advance payment. After the job is printed and bound, a customer who has not made the complete payment takes a portion of books commensurate to what he has paid, and after selling those books he uses his profit to buy more. Bhaktivedanta Swami estimated that printing one volume would cost seven thousand rupees. So he was three thousand short. He raised a few hundred rupees more by going door to door throughout Delhi. Then he went back to Radha Press and asked Hitsaran Sharma to begin. Mr. Sharma agreed.
Radha Press had already produced much of the first two chapters when Bhaktivedanta Swami objected that the type was not large enough. He wanted twelve-point type, but the Radha Press had only ten-point. So Mr. Sharma agreed to take the work to another printer, Mr. Gautam Sharma of O.K. Press.
In printing Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Volume One of the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, O.K. Press printed four book pages twice on a side of one sheet of paper twenty by twenty-six inches. But before running the full eleven hundred copies, they would print a proof, which Bhaktivedanta Swami would read. Then, following the corrected proofs, the printers would correct the hand-set type and run a second proof, which Bhaktivedanta would also read. Usually he would also find errors on the second proof; if so, they would print a third. If he found no errors on the third proof, they would then print the final pages. At this pace Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to order small quantities of paper as he could afford it – from six to ten reams at a time, ordered two weeks in advance.
Even as the volume was being printed, he was still writing the last chapters. When the proofs were ready at O.K. Press, he would pick up the proofs, return to his room at Chippiwada, correct the proofs, and then return them. Sometimes fourteen-year-old Kantvedi, who lived at the Chippiwada temple with his parents, would carry the proofs back and forth for the Swami. But in the last months of 1962, Bhaktivedanta Swami usually made a daily walk to O.K. Press.
His walk through the tight, crowded lanes of Chippiwada soon led him to a road close to the Jama Mosque, and that road led into the noisy, heavily trafficked Chawri Bazaar. The neighborhood was a busy paper district, where laborers with ropes strapped across their shoulders pulled stout wooden carts, heavily loaded with stacks of paper, on small iron wheels. For two blocks, paper dealers were the only businesses – Hari Ram Gupta and Company, Roop Chand and Sons, Bengal Paper Mill Company Limited, Universal Traders, Janta Paper Mart – one after another even down the side alleys.
The neighborhood storefronts were colorful and disorderly. Pedestrian traffic was so hectic that for a person to dally even for a moment would cause a disruption. Carts and rickshas carried paper and other goods back and forth through the streets. Sometimes a laborer would jog past with a hefty stack of pages on his head, the stack weighing down on either end. Traffic was swift, and an unmindful or slow-footed pedestrian risked being struck by a load protruding from the head of a bearer or from a passing cart. Occasionally a man would be squatting on the roadside, smashing chunks of coal into small pieces to sell. Tiny corner smoke shops drew small gatherings of customers for cigarettes or pān. The shopkeeper would rapidly spread the pān spices on a betel leaf, and the customer would walk off down the street chewing the pān and spitting out red-stained saliva.
Amidst this milieu, as the Chawri Bazaar commercial district blended into tenement life and children played in the hazardous streets, Bhaktivedanta Swami was a gentle-looking yet determined figure. As he walked past the tenements, the tile sellers, the grain sellers, the sweet shops, and the printers, overhead would be electric wires, pigeons, and the clotheslines from the tenement balconies. Finally he would come to O.K. Press, directly across from a small mosque. He would come, carrying the corrected proofs, to anxiously oversee the printing work.
After four months, when the whole book had been printed and the sheets were stacked on the floor of the press, Mr. Hitsaran Sharma arranged for the work to be moved to a bindery. The binding was done by an ancient operation, mostly by hand, and it took another month. Bhaktivedanta Swami would come and observe the workers. A row of men sat in a small room, surrounded by stacks of printed paper. The first man would take one of the large printed sheets, rapidly fold it twice, and pass it to the next man, who performed the next operation. The pages would be folded, stitched, and collated, then put into a vise and hammered together before being trimmed on three sides with a handsaw and glued. Bit by bit, the book would be prepared for the final hard cover.
In addition to his visits to O.K. Press and the bindery, Bhaktivedanta Swami would also occasionally travel by bus across the Yamunā River to Mr. Hitsaran Sharma’s Radha Press. The Radha Press was printing one thousand dust jackets for the volume.
Hitsaran Sharma: Swamiji was going hither and thither. He was getting whatever collections he could and depositing them. And he was always mixing with many persons, going hither and thither. With me he was very fond that I should do everything as soon as possible. He had a great haste. He used to say, “Time is going, time is going. Quick, do it!” He would be annoyed with me also, and he would have me do his work first. But I was in the service of Dalmia, and I would tell him, “Your work has to be secondary for me.” But he would say, “Now you have wasted my two days. What is this, Sharmaji? I am coming here, I told you in the morning to do this, and you have not done it even now.” But I would reply, “I have got no time during the day.” Then he would say, “Then you have wasted my complete day.” So he was very much pressing me. This was his temperament.
The binding was reddish, the color of an earthen brick, and was inlaid with gold lettering. Bhaktivedanta Swami had designed the dust jacket himself, and he had commissioned a young Bengali artist named Salit to execute it. It was a wraparound picture of the entire spiritual and material manifestations. Dominating the front cover was a pink lotus, and within its whorl were Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and Their pastimes in Vṛndāvana, along with Lord Caitanya chanting and dancing with His associates. From Kṛṣṇa’s lotus planet emanated yellow rays of light, and in that effulgence were many spiritual planets, appearing like so many suns. Sitting within each planet was a different four-armed form of Nārāyaṇa, each with His name lettered beneath the planet: Trivikrama, Keśava, Puruṣottama, and so on. Within an oval at the bottom of the front cover, Mahā-Viṣṇu was exhaling the material universes. On the inside cover was Bhaktivedanta Swami’s explanation of the cover illustration.
When the printing and binding were completed, there were eleven hundred copies. Bhaktivedanta Swami would receive one hundred copies, and the printer would keep the balance. From the sale of the one hundred copies, Bhaktivedanta Swami would continue to pay off his debt to the printer and binder; then he would receive another supply of books. This would continue until he had finished paying his debt. His plan was to then publish a second volume from the profits of the first, and a third volume from the profits of the second.
Kantvedi went to pick up the first one hundred copies. He hired a man who put the books in large baskets, placed them on his hand truck, and then hauled them through the streets to the Chippiwada temple, where Bhaktivedanta Swami stacked them in his room on a bench.
Bhaktivedanta Swami went out alone to sell his books and present them to important people. Dr. Radhakrishnan, who gave him a personal audience, agreed to read the book and write his opinion. Hanuman Prasad Poddar was the first to write a favorable review:
It is a source of great pleasure for me that a long cherished dream has materialised and is going to be materialised with this and the would-be publications. I thank the Lord that due to His grace this publication could see the light.
Bhaktivedanta Swami went to the major libraries, universities, and schools in Delhi, where the librarians found him “calm and quiet,” “noble,” “polite,” “scholarly,” “with a specific glow in him.” Traveling on foot, he visited school administration offices throughout Delhi and placed copies in more than forty schools in the Delhi area. The Ministry of Education (which had previously denied him assistance) placed an order for fifty copies for selected university and institutional libraries throughout India. The ministry paid him six hundred rupees plus packing and postage charges, and Bhaktivedanta Swami mailed the books to the designated libraries. The U.S. embassy purchased eighteen copies, to be distributed in America through the Library of Congress.
The institutional sales were brisk, but then sales slowed. As the only agent, Bhaktivedanta Swami was now spending hours just to sell a few copies. He was eager to print the second volume, yet until enough money came from the first, he could not print. In the meantime he continued translating and writing purports. Writing so many volumes was a huge task that would take many years. And at his present rate, with sales so slow, he would not be able to complete the work in his lifetime.
Although there were many who took part in the production of the book and still others who became customers, only Bhaktivedanta Swami deeply experienced the successes and failures of the venture. It was his project, and he was responsible. No one was eager to see him writing prolifically, and no one demanded that it be printed. Even when the sales slowed to a trickle, the managers of O.K. Press were not distressed; they would give him the balance of his books only when he paid for them. And since it was also he who had the burden of hiring O.K. Press to print a second volume, the pressure was on him to go out and sell as many copies of the first volume as possible. For Hanuman Prasad Poddar, the volume had been something to admire in passing; for Hitsaran Sharma, it had been something he had tended to after his day’s work for Mr. Dalmia; for the boy who lived at Chippiwada, the book had meant a few errands; for the paper dealers it had meant a small order; for Dr. Radhakrishnan it had been but the slightest, soon-forgotten matter in a life crammed with national politics and Hindu philosophizing. But Bhaktivedanta Swami, by his full engagement in producing the Bhāgavatam, felt bliss and assurance that Kṛṣṇa was pleased. He did not, however, intend for the Bhāgavatam to be his private affair. It was the sorely needed medicine for the ills of Kali-yuga, and it was not possible for only one man to administer it. Yet he was alone, and he felt exclusive pleasure and satisfaction in serving his guru and Lord Kṛṣṇa. Thus his transcendental frustration and pleasure mingled, his will strengthened, and he continued alone.
His spiritual master, the previous spiritual masters, and the Vedic scriptures all assured him that he was right. If a person got a copy of the Bhāgavatam and read even one page, he might decide to take part in Lord Caitanya’s movement. If a person seriously read the book, he would be convinced about spiritual life. The more this book could be distributed, the more the people could understand Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And if they understood Kṛṣṇa consciousness, they would become liberated from all problems. Bookselling was real preaching. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had wanted it, even at the neglect of constructing temples or making followers. Who could preach as well as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam? Certainly whoever spent sixteen rupees for a book would also take the time at least to look at it.
In the months that followed, Bhaktivedanta Swami received more favorable reviews. The prestigious Adyar Library Bulletin gave a full review, noting “the editor’s vast and deep study of the subject” and concluding, “Further volumes of this publication are eagerly awaited.”
His scholarly Godbrothers also wrote their appreciations. Swami Bon Mahārāja, rector of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Vṛndāvana, wrote:
I have nothing but admiration for your bold and practical venture. If you should be able to complete the whole work, you will render a very great service to the cause of Prabhupada Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the country also. Do it and rest assured there will be no scarcity of resources.
Bhaktisāraṅga Mahārāja wrote a full review in his Sajjana-toṣaṇī.
We expect that this particular English version of Srimad Bhagwatam will be widely read and thereby spiritual poverty of people in general may be removed forever. At a time when we need it very greatly, Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami has given us the right thing. We recommend this publication for everyone’s serious study.
Shri Biswanath Das, governor of Uttar Pradesh, commended the volume to all thoughtful people. And Economic Review praised the author for attempting a tremendous task.
At a time when not only the people of India but those of the West need the chastening quality of love and truth in the corrupting atmosphere of hate and hypocrisy, a work like this will have uplifting and corrective influence.
Dr. Zakir Hussain, vice president of India, wrote:
I have read your book Srimad Bhagwatam with great interest and much profit. I thank you again for the kind thought which must have prompted you to present it to me.
The favorable reviews, although Bhaktivedanta Swami could not pay the printer with them, indicated a serious response; the book was valuable. And subsequent volumes would earn the series even more respect. By Kṛṣṇa’s grace, Bhaktivedanta Swami had already completed many of the translations and purports for Volume Two. Even in the last weeks of printing the first volume, he had been writing day and night for the second volume. It was glorification of the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa, and therefore it would require many, many volumes. He felt impelled to praise Kṛṣṇa and describe Him in more and more volumes. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had said that the presses of the world could not print fast enough the glories of Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual world that were being received at every moment by pure devotees.
Bhaktivedanta Swami decided to return to Vṛndāvana for several months of intensive writing on Volume Two. This was his real business at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. Vṛndāvana was the best place for writing transcendental literature; that had already been demonstrated by the Vaiṣṇava ācāryas of the past. Living in simple ease, taking little rest and food, he continually translated the verses and composed his Bhaktivedanta purports for Volume Two. After a few months, after amassing enough manuscript pages, he would return to Delhi and once again enter the world of publishing.
In Volume One he had covered the first six-and-a-half chapters of the First Canto. The second volume began on page 365 with the eighth verse of the Seventh Chapter. Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote in his purport that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was meant for paramahaṁsas, persons engaged purely in self-realization. “Yet,” he wrote, “it works into the depth of the heart of those who may be worldly men. Worldly men are all engaged in the matter of sense gratification. But even such men also will find in this Vedic literature a remedial measure for their material diseases.”
Bhaktivedanta Swami returned to Delhi to raise funds for printing Volume Two. When he visited a prospective donor, he would show the man Volume One and the growing collection of reviews, explaining that he was asking a donation not to support himself but to print this important literature. Although for the first volume he had received no donations equal to the four thousand rupees he had received from Mr. Poddar, an executive in the L & H Sugar factory gave a donation of five thousand rupees for Volume Two.
Bhaktivedanta Swami had been dissatisfied with Hitsaran Sharma as a production supervisor. Although supposedly an expert in the trade, Hitsaran had caused delays, and sometimes he had advised Gautam Sharma without consulting Bhaktivedanta Swami. The work on Volume One had slowed and even stopped when a job from a cash customer had come up, and Bhaktivedanta Swami had complained that it was Hitsaran’s fault for not giving money to O.K. Press on time. For Volume Two, Bhaktivedanta Swami decided to deal directly with O.K. Press and supervise the printing himself. He spoke to Gautam Sharma and offered a partial payment. Although the majority of the copies of Volume One were still standing on their printing floor, Bhaktivedanta Swami wanted O.K. Press to begin Volume Two. Gautam Sharma accepted the job.
It was early in 1964 when Volume Two went to press, following the same steps as Volume One. But this time Bhaktivedanta Swami was more actively present, pushing. To avoid delays, he purchased the paper himself. At Siddho Mal and Sons Paper Merchants, in the heart of the paper district, he would choose and order his paper and then arrange to transport it to O.K. Press. If the order was a large one he would have it carried by cart; smaller orders he would send by ricksha or on the head of a bearer.
In his Preface to the second volume, Bhaktivedanta Swami expressed the apparent oddity of working in Delhi while living in Vṛndāvana.
“The path of fruitive activities i.e. to say the path of earn money and enjoy life, as it is going on generally, appears to have become also our profession although we have renounced the order of worldly life! They see that we are moving in the cities, in the Government offices, banks and other business places for promoting the publication of Srimad Bhagwatam. They also see that we are moving in the press, paper market and amongst the book binders also away from our residence at Vrindaban, and thus they conclude sometimes mistakenly that we are also doing the same business in the dress of a mendicant!
“But actually there is a gulf of difference between the two kinds of activities. This is not a business for maintaining an establishment of material enjoyment. On the contrary it is an humble attempt to broadcast the glories of the Lord at a time when the people need it very badly.”
He went on to describe how in former days, even fifty years ago, well-to-do members of society had commissioned paṇḍitas to print or handwrite the Bhāgavatam and then distribute copies amongst the devotees and the general people. But times had changed. “At the present moment the time is so changed that we had to request one of the biggest industrialists of India, to purchase 100 (one hundred) copies and distribute them but the poor fellow expressed his inability. We wished that somebody may come forward to pay for the actual cost of publication of this Srimad Bhagwatam and let them be distributed free to all the leading gentlemen of the world. But nobody is so far prepared to do this social uplifting work.”
After thanking the Ministry of Education and the director of education for distributing copies to institutions and libraries, Bhaktivedanta Swami again stated his predicament before his reading public. “The problem is that we must get some money for completing the work which is admittedly a mighty project. The sales proceeds are being employed in the promotional work and not in sense gratification. Herein lies the difference from the fruitive activities. And for all this we have to approach everyone concerned just like a businessman. There is no harm to become a businessman if it is done on account of the Lord as much as there was no harm to become a violent warrior like Arjuna or Hanumanji if such belligerent activities are executed to satisfy the desires of the Supreme Lord.
“So even though we are not in the Himalayas, even though we talk of business, even though we deal in rupees and paisa, still, simply because we are 100 per cent servants of the Lord and are engaged in the service of broadcasting the message of His glories, certainly we shall transcend and get through the invincible impasse of Maya and reach the effulgent kingdom of God to render Him face to face eternal service, in full bliss and knowledge. We are confident of this factual position and we may also assure to our numerous readers that they will also achieve the same result simply by hearing the glories of the Lord.”
On receipt of the first copies of the second volume – another four-hundred-page, clothbound, brick-colored Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, with the same dust jacket as Volume One – Bhaktivedanta Swami made the rounds of the institutions, scholars, politicians, and booksellers. One Delhi bookseller, Dr. Manoharlal Jain, had particular success in selling the volumes.
Manoharlal Jain: He would come to me for selling his books. He would come often, and he used to chat with me for one or two hours. He had no other business except selling his books as much as possible. We would discuss the difficulties he was having and also many other things – yoga, Vedānta, and religious aspects of life. His problem was distributing his work, because it was a big publication. He had planned to publish it in many volumes. Naturally, I told him it was not possible for any individual bookseller or publisher here to publish it and invest money in it. So that was a little bit of a disappointment for him because he could not bring out more volumes.
But my sales were good because this was the best translation – Sanskrit text with English translations. No other such edition was available. I sold about one hundred and fifty to two hundred copies in about two or three years. The price was very little, only sixteen rupees. He had published his reviews, and he had a good sell, a good market. The price was reasonable, and he was not interested in making money out of it. He was printing in English, for the foreigners. He had a good command of Sanskrit as well as English. When we met, we would speak in English, and his English was very impressive.
He wanted me to publish, but I didn’t have any presses and no finances. I told him frankly I would not be able to publish it, because it was not one or two volumes but many. But he managed anyhow. I referred him to Atmaram and Sons. He also used to go there.
He was a great master, a philosopher, a great scholar. I used to enjoy the talks. He used to sit with me for one or two hours, as much as he could afford. Sometimes he would come in the morning, eleven or twelve, and then sometimes in the afternoon. He used to come in for money: “How many copies are sold?” So I would pay him. Practically, he was not doing very well with finances at that time. He only wanted that his books should be sold to every library and everywhere where the people are interested in it.
We used to publish a catalog every month, and I would advertise his book. Orders would be coming from all over the world. So, at least for me, the sales were picking up. If I sold one hundred copies of the first volume, then I figured the second volume would be sold in the same number, naturally. But definitely those who would take the first volume would also take Volume Two, because it was institutional and the institutions will always try to complete their set. He used to discuss with me how the volumes can be brought out and how many it would take to complete the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. He was very much interested in bringing out the whole series.
In January of 1964, Bhaktivedanta Swami was granted an interview with Indian vice president Zakir Hussain, who, although a Muslim, had written an appreciation of Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As Dr. Hussain cordially received the author at the presidential palace, Bhaktivedanta Swami spoke of the importance of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the cause of love of Godhead. But Dr. Hussain wanted to know how love of Godhead could help humanity. The question, put by ruler to sādhu, was filled with philosophical implications, but the vice president’s busy schedule of meetings did not permit Bhaktivedanta Swami to answer fully. For the vice president the interview was a gesture of appreciation, recognizing the Swami for his work on behalf of India’s Hindu cultural heritage. And Bhaktivedanta Swami humbly accepted the ritual.
Later, however, he wrote Dr. Hussain a long letter, answering the question he had not had time to answer during their brief meeting. “… Mussalmans [Muslims] also admit,” he wrote, “that ‘There is nothing greater than Allah.’ The Christians also admit that ‘God is Great.’ … The human society must learn to obey the laws of God.” He reminded Dr. Hussain of India’s great cultural asset the Vedic literature; the Indian government could perform the best welfare work for humanity by disseminating Vedic knowledge in a systematic way. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was “produced in India”; it was the substantial contribution India could offer to the world.
In March of 1964, Krishna Pandit, Bhaktivedanta Swami’s sponsor at the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple in Chippiwada, arranged for him to reside for a few months at the Śrī Rādhāvallabhajī temple in the nearby Rosanpura Naisarak neighborhood. There he could continue his writing and publishing, but he would also be giving a series of lectures. Krishna Pandit provided Bhaktivedanta Swami about fifteen hundred rupees for his maintenance. On Bhaktivedanta Swami’s arrival at Śrī Rādhāvallabhajī temple, the manager distributed notices inviting people to “take full advantage of the presence of a Vaishnava Sadhu.” As “resident ācārya,” Bhaktivedanta Swami held morning and evening discourses at the temple, without reducing his activities of writing and printing.
In June, Bhaktivedanta Swami got the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The meeting had been arranged by Doladram Khannah, a wealthy jeweler who was a trustee of the Chippiwada temple and had often met with Bhaktivedanta Swami there. An old friend of Prime Minister Shastri’s since his youth, when they had attended the same yoga club, Mr. Khannah arranged the meeting as a favor to Bhaktivedanta Swami. Let the prime minister meet a genuine sādhu, Mr. Khannah thought.
It was a formal occasion in the gardens of the Parliament Building, and the prime minister was meeting a number of guests. Prime Minister Shastri, dressed in white kurtā and dhotī and a Nehru hat and surrounded by aides, received the elderly sādhu. Bhaktivedanta Swami, looking scholarly in his spectacles, stepped forward and introduced himself – and his book, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. As he handed the prime minister a copy of Volume One, a photographer snapped a photo of the author and the prime minister smiling over the book.
The next day, Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote to Prime Minister Shastri. He soon received a reply, personally signed by the prime minister:
Dear Swamiji, Many thanks for your Letter. I am indeed grateful to you for Presenting a copy of “Srimad Bhagwatam” to me. I do realise that you are doing valuable work. It would be good idea if the libraries in the Government Institutions purchase copies of this book.
Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote back to the prime minister, requesting him to buy books for Indian institutions. Mr. R. K. Sharma of the Ministry of Education subsequently wrote back, confirming that they would take fifty copies of Volume Two, just as they had taken Volume One.
To concentrate on completing Volume Three, Bhaktivedanta Swami returned to the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. These were the last chapters of the First Canto, dealing with the advent of the present Age of Kali. There were many verses foretelling society’s degradation and narrating how the great King Parīkṣit had staved off Kali’s influence by his strong Kṛṣṇa conscious rule. In his purports, Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote that government could not check corruption unless it rooted out the four basic principles of irreligion – meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. “You cannot check all these evils of society simply by statutory acts of police vigilance but you have to cure the disease of mind by the proper medicine namely advocating the principles of Brahminical culture or the principles of austerity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness. … We must always remember that false pride … undue attachment for woman or association with them and intoxicating habit of all … description will cripple the human civilisation from the path of factual peace, however the people may go on clamouring for such peace of the world.”
To raise funds for Volume Three, Bhaktivedanta Swami decided to try Bombay. He traveled there in July and stayed at the Premkutir Dharmshala, a free āśrama.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: At Premkutir they received me very nicely. I was going to sell my books. Some of them were criticizing, “What kind of sannyāsī? He is making business bookselling.” Not the authorities said this, but some of them. I was writing my book then also.
Then I became a guest for fifteen days with a member of the Dalmia family. One of the brothers told me that he wanted to construct a little cottage at his house: “You can live here. I will give you a nice cottage.” I thought, “No, it is not good to be fully dependent and patronized by a viṣayī [materialist].” But I stayed for fifteen days, and he gave me exclusive use of a typewriter for writing my books.
Bhaktivedanta Swami made his rounds of the institutions and booksellers in Bombay. He now had an advertisement showing himself with Prime Minister Shastri, and he also had the prime minister’s letter and the Ministry of Education’s purchase order for fifty volumes. Still, he was getting only small orders.
Then he decided to visit Sumati Morarji, head of the Scindia Steamship Company. He had heard from his Godbrothers in Bombay that she was known for helping sādhus and had donated to the Bombay Gaudiya Math. He had never met her, but he well remembered the 1958 promise by one of her officers to arrange half-fare passage for him to America. Now he wanted her help for printing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
But his first attempts to arrange a meeting were unsuccessful. Frustrated at being put off by Mrs. Morarji’s officers, he sat down on the front steps of her office building, determined to catch her attention as she left for the day. The lone sādhu certainly caused some attention as he sat quietly chanting for five hours on the steps of the Scindia Steamship Company building. Finally, late that afternoon, Mrs. Morarji emerged in a flurry of business talk with her secretary, Mr. Choksi. Upon seeing Bhaktivedanta Swami, she stopped. “Who is this gentleman sitting here?” she asked Mr. Choksi.
“He’s been here for five hours,” the secretary said.
“All right, I’ll come,” she said and walked up to where Bhaktivedanta Swami was sitting. He smiled and stood, offering namaskāras with his folded palms. “Swamiji, what can I do for you?” she said.
Bhaktivedanta Swami told her briefly of his intentions to print the third volume of his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. “I want you to help me,” he said.
“All right,” Mrs. Morarji replied. “We can meet tomorrow, because it is getting late. Tomorrow you can come, and we will discuss.”
The next day, Bhaktivedanta Swami met with Mrs. Morarji in her office, where she looked at the typed manuscript and the published volumes. “All right,” she said, “if you want to print it, I will give you the aid. Whatever you want. You can get it printed.”
With Mrs. Morarji’s guarantee, Bhaktivedanta Swami was free to return to Vṛndāvana to finish writing the manuscript. As with the previous volumes, he set a demanding schedule for writing and publishing. The third volume would complete the First Canto. Then, with a supply of impressive literature, he would be ready to go to the West. Even with volumes One and Two he was getting a better reception in India. Already he had seen the vice president and prime minister. He had successfully approached a big business magnate of Bombay, and within a few minutes of presenting the book, he had received a large donation. The books were powerful preaching.
Janmāṣṭamī was drawing near, and Bhaktivedanta Swami was planning a celebration at the Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. He wanted to invite Biswanath Das, the governor of Uttar Pradesh, to preside over the ceremony honoring Lord Kṛṣṇa’s appearance. Shri Biswanath had received a copy of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Volume One and had written a favorable review. Although a politician, he was known for his affection and respect for sādhus. He regularly invited recognized sādhus to his home, and once a year he would visit all the important temples of Mathurā and Vṛndāvana. Bhaktivedanta Swami asked Vṛndāvana’s municipal president, Mangalal Sharma, to invite the governor to the Janmāṣṭamī celebration at Rādhā-Dāmodara temple. The governor readily accepted the invitation.
Bhaktivedanta Swami printed a flyer announcing:
On the Occasion of JANMASTAMI ceremony at
The Samadhi ground of Srila Rupa and Jeeva Goswami
SRI SRI RADHA DAMODAR TEMPLE
Goudiya Kirtan Performances
In the Presence of
His Excellency Sri Biswanath Das
GOVERNOR OF UTTAR PRADESH
The chief Guest SRI G. D. SOMANI of Bombay
Trustee of Sri Ranganathji Temple, Vrindaban.
Dated at Vrindaban Sunday the 31st August, 1964 at 7-30 to
The flyer contained an advertisement for the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam series, to be completed in sixty volumes. Bhajanas to be sung on the occasion – “Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Prabhu,” “Nitāi-pada-kamala,” the “Prayers to the Six Gosvāmīs,” and other favorite songs of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas – were printed in Bengali as a songbook.
The program was successful. A large crowd attended and sang songs to Lord Kṛṣṇa and took prasādam. Bhaktivedanta Swami lectured on a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describing the Age of Kali as an ocean of faults that had but one saving quality: the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa. After leading Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana, Bhaktivedanta Swami presented a copy of his second volume of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to the governor and spoke of his plans to preach all over the world.
The day after Janmāṣṭamī was Bhaktivedanta Swami’s sixty-ninth birthday. A few days later, Biswanath Das requested Swami Mahārāja to visit him at his mansion in Lucknow. It was a special occasion, and the governor had invited several sādhus and planned a kīrtana program. He had invited a professional musical group who toured India performing kīrtanas and giving recitals. One of the musicians, young Sisir Kumar Bhattacarya, was very impressed with Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Sisir Bhattacarya: We were invited to perform kīrtana in the governor’s house in Lucknow. We had about seven or eight in our group. This was the governor’s house, a big home, and I was sitting on a dais. I saw the governor, Biswanath Das, and beside him was a sādhu who was old but I thought was really strong. When I saw the governor sitting there, I came down from the dais and bowed down. Then I asked which subject he wanted to listen to. He said, “Let’s have something about Caitanya Mahāprabhu.” Then I said, “I’m very glad you selected this.” About one half hour we spent on Mahāprabhu’s kīrtana, and then we had our dinner in the big banquet hall on all silver plates with the governor’s symbols on each of them.
We sat together, and I was sitting side by side with the same sādhu, and he introduced himself as Bhaktivedanta Swami. We discussed, and then the Swami presented me with a book, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Bhaktivedanta Swami said, “I am interested to propagate kṛṣṇa-nāma and Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the Western countries. I am trying to get some way to find some ticket. If I get, I will go, and I will propagate Mahāprabhu’s teachings.” And he uttered this verse from Mahāprabhu: pṛthivīte āche yata nagarādi grāma / sarvatra pracāra haibe mora nāma.* But I did not think he would actually be able to do it, because he was very simple and poor.
* Caitanya Mahāprabhu had predicted, “One day My name will be known in every town and village in the world.
With the manuscript for Volume Three complete and with the money to print it, Bhaktivedanta Swami once again entered the printing world, purchasing paper, correcting proofs, and keeping the printer on schedule so that the book would be finished by January 1965. Thus, by his persistence, he who had almost no money of his own managed to publish his third large hardbound volume within a little more than two years.
At this rate, with his respect in the scholarly world increasing, he might soon become a recognized figure amongst his countrymen. But he had his vision set on the West. And with the third volume now printed, he felt he was at last prepared. He was sixty-nine and would have to go soon. It had been more than forty years since Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had first asked a young householder in Calcutta to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West. At first it had seemed impossible to Abhay Charan, who had so recently entered family responsibilities. That obstacle, however, had long ago been removed, and for more than ten years he had been free to travel. But he had been penniless (and still was). And he had wanted first to publish some volumes of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to take with him; it had seemed necessary if he were to do something solid. Now, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, three volumes were on hand.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I planned that I must go to America. Generally they go to London, but I did not want to go to London. I was simply thinking how to go to New York. I was scheming, “Whether I shall go this way, through Tokyo, Japan, or that way? Which way is cheaper?” That was my proposal. And I was targeting to New York always. Sometimes I was dreaming that I have come to New York.
Then Bhaktivedanta Swami met Mr. Agarwal, a Mathurā businessman, and mentioned to him in passing, as he did to almost everyone he met, that he wanted to go to the West. Although Mr. Agarwal had known Bhaktivedanta Swami for only a few minutes, he volunteered to try to get him a sponsor in America. It was something Mr. Agarwal had done a number of times; when he met a sādhu who mentioned something about going abroad to teach Hindu culture, he would ask his son Gopal, an engineer in Pennsylvania, to send back a sponsorship form. When Mr. Agarwal volunteered to help in this way, Bhaktivedanta Swami urged him please to do so.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I did not say anything seriously to Mr. Agarwal, but perhaps he took it very seriously. I asked him, “Well, why don’t you ask your son Gopal to sponsor so that I can go there? I want to preach there.”
But Bhaktivedanta Swami knew he could not simply dream of going to the West; he needed money. In March 1965 he made another visit to Bombay, attempting to sell his books. Again he stayed at the free dharmaśālā, Premkutir. But finding customers was difficult. He met Paramananda Bhagwani, a librarian at Jai Hind College, who purchased books for the college library and then escorted Bhaktivedanta Swami to a few likely outlets.
Mr. Bhagwani: I took him to the Popular Book Depot at Grant Road to help him in selling books, but they told us they couldn’t stock the books because they don’t have much sales on religion. Then we went to another shop nearby, and the owner also regretted his inability to sell the books. Then he went to Sadhuvela, near Mahalakshmi temple, and we met the head of the temple there. He, of course, welcomed us. They have a library of their own, and they stock religious books, so we approached them to please keep a set there in their library. They are a wealthy āśrama, and yet he also expressed his inability.
Bhaktivedanta Swami returned to Delhi, pursuing the usual avenues of bookselling and looking for whatever opportunity might arise. And to his surprise, he was contacted by the Ministry of External Affairs and informed that his No Objection certificate for going to the U.S. was ready. Since he had not instigated any proceedings for leaving the country, Bhaktivedanta Swami had to inquire from the ministry about what had happened. They showed him the Statutory Declaration Form signed by Mr. Gopal Agarwal of Butler, Pennsylvania; Mr. Agarwal solemnly declared that he would bear the expenses of Bhaktivedanta Swami during his stay in the U.S.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Whatever the correspondence was there between the father and son, I did not know. I simply asked him, “Why don’t you ask your son Gopal to sponsor?” And now, after three or four months, the No Objection certificate was sent from the Indian Consulate in New York to me. He had already sponsored my arrival there for one month, and all of a sudden I got the paper.
At his father’s request, Gopal Agarwal had done as he had done for several other sādhus, none of whom had ever gone to America. It was just a formality, something to satisfy his father. Gopal had requested a form from the Indian Consulate in New York, obtained a statement from his employer certifying his monthly salary, gotten a letter from his bank showing his balance as of April 1965, and had the form notarized. It had been stamped and approved in New York and sent to Delhi. Now Bhaktivedanta Swami had a sponsor. But he still needed a passport, visa, P-form, and travel fare.
The passport was not very difficult to obtain. Krishna Pandit helped, and by June 10 he had his passport. Carefully, he penned in his address at the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple in Chippiwada and wrote his father’s name, Gour Mohan De. He asked Krishna Pandit also to pay for his going abroad, but Krishna Pandit refused, thinking it against Hindu principles for a sādhu to go abroad – and also very expensive.
With his passport and sponsorship papers, Bhaktivedanta Swami went to Bombay, not to sell books or raise funds for printing; he wanted a ticket for America. Again he tried approaching Sumati Morarji. He showed his sponsorship papers to her secretary, Mr. Choksi, who was impressed and who went to Mrs. Morarji on his behalf. “The Swami from Vṛndāvana is back,” he told her. “He has published his book on your donation. He has a sponsor, and he wants to go to America. He wants you to send him on a Scindia ship.” Mrs. Morarji said no, the Swamiji was too old to go to the United States and expect to accomplish anything. As Mr. Choksi conveyed to him Mrs. Morarji’s words, Bhaktivedanta Swami listened disapprovingly. She wanted him to stay in India and complete the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Why go to the States? Finish the job here.
But Bhaktivedanta Swami was fixed on going. He told Mr. Choksi that he should convince Mrs. Morarji. He coached Mr. Choksi on what he should say: “I find this gentleman very inspired to go to the States and preach something to the people there. …” But when he told Mrs. Morarji, she again said no. The Swami was not healthy. It would be too cold there. He might not be able to come back, and she doubted whether he would be able to accomplish much there. People in America were not so cooperative, and they would probably not listen to him.
Exasperated with Mr. Choksi’s ineffectiveness, Bhaktivedanta Swami demanded a personal interview. It was granted, and a gray-haired, determined Bhaktivedanta Swami presented his emphatic request: “Please give me one ticket.”
Sumati Morarji was concerned. “Swamiji, you are so old – you are taking this responsibility. Do you think it is all right?”
“No,” he reassured her, lifting his hand as if to reassure a doubting daughter, “it is all right.”
“But do you know what my secretaries think? They say, ‘Swamiji is going to die there.’ ”
Bhaktivedanta made a face as if to dismiss a foolish rumor. Again he insisted that she give him a ticket. “All right,” she said. “Get your P-form, and I will make an arrangement to send you by our ship.” Bhaktivedanta Swami smiled brilliantly and happily left her offices, past her amazed and skeptical clerks.
A “P-form” – another necessity for an Indian national who wants to leave the country – is a certificate given by the State Bank of India, certifying that the person has no excessive debts in India and is cleared by the banks. That would take a while to obtain. And he also did not yet have a U.S. visa. He needed to pursue these government permissions in Bombay, but he had no place to stay. So Mrs. Morarji agreed to let him reside at the Scindia Colony, a compound of apartments for employees of the Scindia Company.
He stayed in a small, unfurnished apartment with only his trunk and typewriter. The resident Scindia employees all knew that Mrs. Morarji was sending him to the West, and some of them became interested in his cause. They were impressed, for although he was so old, he was going abroad to preach. He was a special sādhu, a scholar. They heard from him how he was taking hundreds of copies of his books with him, but no money. He became a celebrity at the Scindia Colony. Various families brought him rice, sabjī, and fruit. They brought so much that he could not eat it all, and he mentioned this to Mr. Choksi. Just accept it and distribute it, Mr. Choksi advised. Bhaktivedanta Swami then began giving remnants of his food to the children. Some of the older residents gathered to hear him as he read and spoke from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Mr. Vasavada, the chief cashier of Scindia, was particularly impressed and came regularly to learn from the sādhu. Mr. Vasavada obtained copies of Bhaktivedanta Swami’s books and read them in his home.
Bhaktivedanta Swami’s apartment shared a roofed-in veranda with Mr. Nagarajan, a Scindia office worker, and his wife.
Mrs. Nagarajan: Every time when I passed that way, he used to be writing or chanting. I would ask him, “Swamiji, what are you writing?” He used to sit near the window and one after another was translating the Sanskrit. He gave me two books and said, “Child, if you read this book, you will understand.” We would have discourses in the house, and four or five Gujarati ladies used to come. At one of these discourses he told one lady that those who wear their hair parted on the side – that is not a good idea. Every Indian lady should have her hair parted in the center. They were very fond of listening and very keen to hear his discourse.
Every day he would go out trying to get his visa and P-form as quickly as possible, selling his books, and seeking contacts and supporters for his future Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam publishing. Mr. Nagarajan tried to help. Using the telephone directory, he made a list of wealthy business and professional men who were Vaiṣṇavas and might be inclined to assist. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s neighbors at Scindia Colony observed him coming home dead tired in the evening. He would sit quietly, perhaps feeling morose, some neighbors thought, but after a while he would sit up, rejuvenated, and start writing.
Mrs. Nagarajan: When he came home we used to give him courage, and we used to tell him, “Swamiji, one day you will achieve your target.” He would say, “Time is still not right. Time is still not right. They are all ajñānīs. They don’t understand. But still I must carry on.”
Sometimes I would go by, and his cādara would be on the chair, but he would be sitting on the windowsill. I would ask him, “Swamiji, did you have any good contacts?” He would say, “Not much today. I didn’t get much, and it is depressing. Tomorrow Kṛṣṇa will give me more details.” And he would sit there quietly.
After ten minutes, he would sit in his chair and start writing. I would wonder how Swamiji was so tired in one minute and in another minute … Even if he was tired, he was not defeated. He would never speak discouragement. And we would always encourage him and say, “If today you don’t get it, tomorrow you will definitely meet some people, and they will encourage you.” And my friends used to come in the morning and in the evening for discourse, and they would give namaskāra and fruits.
Mr. Nagarajan: His temperament was very adjustable and homely. Our friends would offer a few rupees. He would say, “All right. It will help.” He used to walk from our colony to Andheri station. It is two kilometers, and he used to go there without taking a bus, because he had no money.
Bhaktivedanta Swami had a page printed entitled “My Mission,” and he would show it to influential men in his attempts to get further financing for Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The printed statement proposed that God consciousness was the only remedy for the evils of modern materialistic society. Despite scientific advancement and material comforts, there was no peace in the world; therefore, Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the glory of India, must be spread all over the world.
Mrs. Morarji: He used to come in the evening and sing the verses in rhythmic tunes, as is usually done with the Bhāgavatam. And certain points – when you sit and discuss, you raise so many points – he was commenting on certain points, but it was all from the Bhāgavatam. So he used to sit and explain to me and then go. He could give time, and I could hear him. That was for about ten or fifteen days.
His backing by Scindia and his sponsorship in the U.S. were a strong presentation, and with the help of the people at Scindia he obtained his visa on July 28, 1965. But the P-form proceedings went slowly and even threatened to be a last, insurmountable obstacle.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Formerly there was no restriction for going outside. But for a sannyāsī like me, I had so much difficulty obtaining the government permission to go out. I had applied for the P-form sanction, but no sanction was coming. Then I went to the State Bank of India. The officer was Mr. Martarchari. He told me, “Swamiji, you are sponsored by a private man. So we cannot accept. If you were invited by some institution, then we could consider. But you are invited by a private man for one month. And after one month, if you are in difficulty, there will be so many obstacles.” But I had already prepared everything to go. So I said, “What have you done?” He said, “I have decided not to sanction your P-form.” I said, “No, no, don’t do this. You better send me to your superior. It should not be like that.”
So he took my request, and he sent the file to the chief official of foreign exchange – something like that. So he was the supreme man in the State Bank of India. I went to see him. I asked his secretary, “Do you have such-and-such a file. You kindly put it to Mr. Rao. I want to see him.” So the secretary agreed, and he put the file, and he put my name down to see him. I was waiting. So Mr. Rao came personally. He said, “Swamiji, I passed your case. Don’t worry.”
Following Mrs. Morarji’s instruction, her secretary, Mr. Choksi, made final arrangements for Bhaktivedanta Swami. Since he had no warm clothes, Mr. Choksi took him to buy a wool jacket and other woolen clothes. Mr. Choksi spent about 250 rupees on new clothes, including some new dhotīs. At Bhaktivedanta Swami’s request, Mr. Choksi printed five hundred copies of a small pamphlet containing the eight verses written by Lord Caitanya and an advertisement for Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, in the context of an advertisement for the Scindia Steamship Company.
Mr. Choksi: I asked him, “Why couldn’t you go earlier? Why do you want to go now to the States, at this age?” He replied that “I will be able to do something good, I am sure.” His idea was that someone should be there who would be able to go near people who were lost in life and teach them and tell them what the correct thing is. I asked him so many times, “Why do you want to go to the States? Why don’t you start something in Bombay or Delhi or Vṛndāvana?” I was teasing him also: “You are interested in seeing the States. Therefore, you want to go. All Swamijis want to go to the States, and you want to enjoy there.” He said, “What I have got to see? I have finished my life.”
But sometimes he was hot-tempered. He used to get angry at me for the delays. “What is this nonsense?” he would say. Then I would understand: he is getting angry now. Sometimes he would say, “Oh, Mrs. Morarji has still not signed this paper? She says come back tomorrow, we will talk tomorrow! What is this? Why this daily going back?” He would get angry. Then I would say, “You can sit here.” But he would say, “How long do I have to sit?” He would become impatient.
Finally Mrs. Morarji scheduled a place for him on one of her ships, the Jaladuta, which was sailing from Calcutta on August 13. She had made certain that he would travel on a ship whose captain understood the needs of a vegetarian and a brāhmaṇa. Mrs. Morarji told the Jaladuta’s captain, Arun Pandia, to carry extra vegetables and fruits for the Swami. Mr. Choksi spent the last two days with Bhaktivedanta Swami in Bombay, picking up the pamphlets at the press, purchasing clothes, and driving him to the station to catch the train for Calcutta.
He arrived in Calcutta about two weeks before the Jaladuta’s departure. Although he had lived much of his life in the city, he now had nowhere to stay. It was as he had written in his “Vṛndāvana-bhajana”: “I have my wife, sons, daughters, grandsons, everything, / But I have no money, so they are a fruitless glory.” Although in this city he had been so carefully nurtured as a child, those early days were also gone forever: “Where have my loving father and mother gone to now? / And where are all my elders, who were my own folk? / Who will give me news of them, tell me who? / All that is left of this family life is a list of names.”
Out of the hundreds of people in Calcutta whom Bhaktivedanta Swami knew, he chose to call on Mr. Sisir Bhattacarya, the flamboyant kīrtana singer he had met a year before at the governor’s house in Lucknow. Mr. Bhattacarya was not a relative, not a disciple, nor even a close friend; but he was willing to help. Bhaktivedanta Swami called at his place and informed him that he would be leaving on a cargo ship in a few days; he needed a place to stay, and he would like to give some lectures. Mr. Bhattacarya immediately began to arrange a few private meetings at friends’ homes, where he would sing and Bhaktivedanta Swami would then speak.
Mr. Bhattacarya thought the sādhu’s leaving for America should make an important news story. He accompanied Bhaktivedanta Swami to all the newspapers in Calcutta – the Hindustan Standard, the Amrita Bazar Patrika, the Jugantas, the Statesman, and others. Bhaktivedanta Swami had only one photograph, a passport photo, and they made a few copies for the newspapers. Mr. Bhattacarya would try to explain what the Swami was going to do, and the news writers would listen. But none of them wrote anything. Finally they visited the Dainik Basumati, a local Bengali daily, which agreed to print a small article with Bhaktivedanta Swami’s picture.
A week before his departure, on August 6, Bhaktivedanta Swami traveled to nearby Māyāpur to visit the samādhi of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Then he returned to Calcutta, where Mr. Bhattacarya continued to assist him with his final business and speaking engagements.
Mr. Bhattacarya: We just took a hired taxi to this place and that place. And he would go for preaching. I never talked to him during the preaching, but once when I was coming back from the preaching, I said, “You said this thing about this. But I tell you it is not this. It is this.” I crossed him in something or argued. And he was furious. Whenever we argued and I said, “No, I think this is this,” then he was shouting. He was very furious. He said, “You are always saying, ‘I think, I think, I think.’ What is the importance of what you think? Everything is what you think. But it doesn’t matter. It matters what śāstra says. You must follow.” I said, “I must do what I think, what I feel – that is important.” He said, “No, you should forget this. You should forget your desire. You should change your habit. Better you depend on śāstras. You follow what śāstra wants you to do, and do it. I am not telling you what I think, but I am repeating what the śāstra says.”
As the day of his departure approached, Bhaktivedanta Swami took stock of his meager possessions. He had only a suitcase, an umbrella, and a supply of dry cereal. He did not know what he would find to eat in America; perhaps there would be only meat. If so, he was prepared to live on boiled potatoes and the cereal. His main baggage, several trunks of his books, was being handled separately by Scindia Cargo. Two hundred three-volume sets – the very thought of the books gave him confidence.
When the day came for him to leave, he needed that confidence. He was making a momentous break with his previous life, and he was dangerously old and not in strong health. And he was going to an unknown and probably unwelcoming country. To be poor and unknown in India was one thing. Even in these Kali-yuga days, when India’s leaders were rejecting Vedic culture and imitating the West, it was still India; it was still the remains of Vedic civilization. He had been able to see millionaires, governors, the prime minister, simply by showing up at their doors and waiting. A sannyāsī was respected; the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was respected. But in America it would be different. He would be no one, a foreigner. And there was no tradition of sādhus, no temples, no free āśramas. But when he thought of the books he was bringing – transcendental knowledge in English – he became confident. When he met someone in America he would give him a flyer: “ ‘Srimad Bhagwatam,’ India’s Message of Peace and Goodwill.”
It was August 13, just a few days before Janmāṣṭamī, the appearance day anniversary of Lord Kṛṣṇa – the next day would be his own sixty-ninth birthday. During these last years, he had been in Vṛndāvana for Janmāṣṭamī. Many Vṛndāvana residents would never leave there; they were old and at peace in Vṛndāvana. Bhaktivedanta Swami was also concerned that he might die away from Vṛndāvana. That was why all the Vaiṣṇava sādhus and widows had taken vows not to leave, even for Mathurā – because to die in Vṛndāvana was the perfection of life. And the Hindu tradition was that a sannyāsī should not cross the ocean and go to the land of the mlecchas. But beyond all that was the desire of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, and his desire was nondifferent from that of Lord Kṛṣṇa. And Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu had predicted that the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa would be known in every town and village of the world.
Bhaktivedanta Swami took a taxi down to the Calcutta port. A few friends and admirers, along with his son Vrindaban, accompanied him. He writes in his diary: “Today at 9 A.M. embarked on M.V. Jaladuta. Came with me Bhagwati, the Dwarwan of Scindia Sansir, Mr. Sen Gupta, Mr. Ali and Vrindaban.” He was carrying a Bengali copy of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which he intended to read during the crossing. Somehow he would be able to cook on board. Or if not, he could starve – whatever Kṛṣṇa desired. He checked his essentials: passenger ticket, passport, visa, P-form, sponsor’s address. Finally it was happening.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: With what great difficulty I got out of the country! Some way or other, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, I got out so I could spread the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement all over the world. Otherwise, to remain in India – it was not possible. I wanted to start a movement in India, but I was not at all encouraged.
The black cargo ship, small and weathered, was moored at dockside, a gangway leading from the dock to the ship’s deck. Indian merchant sailors curiously eyed the elderly saffron-dressed sādhu as he spoke last words to his companions and then left them and walked determinedly toward the boat.
For thousands of years, kṛṣṇa-bhakti had been known only in India, not outside, except in twisted, faithless reports by foreigners. And the only swamis to have reached America had been nondevotees, Māyāvādī impersonalists. But now Kṛṣṇa was sending Bhaktivedanta Swami as His emissary.