Italian Tour Diary, Autumn 2005
|Wed 2 Nov
After lunch prasad expertly prepared as usual by Atula Krishna Prabhu's wife, Lasamayi Devi Dasi, I rested for a while after the long and tiring journey which had started at 4 a.m.
In the evening we had bhajans in the presence of Her Divine Grace Tulasi Maharani, a recent and divinely welcome (and luxuriantly growing) addition to the home (her sweet name shared incidentally by Atula Krishna and Lasamayi Didi's only daughter).
The family had elected to stay with Lasamayi's mother over the nights, kindly giving their small but comfortable house over to Mohita Krishna Prabhu and myself for the duration.
Thurs 3 Nov: morning
Armed with some small books in English still in my book-bag from London (Home Comfort, etc.) and plenty of leaflets advertising locally the two day 'Conferenza' to be held on the Saturday and Sunday to come, I ventured forth after breakfast about 9.30 a.m. into the streets of the town for distribution and preaching - or as I prefer to say, sharing.
Now, if I may digress a little, I had sometimes found it a bit difficult to connect satisfactorily with the general folk in Italy, in the preaching field (i.e. not our devotees), despite the fact that as generally Catholic, in line with my own upbringing, and as a people, by their nature, I found myself quite 'sympatico' with them. This was somewhat baffling me and it was as if I had been searching for some trick, some technique or some key, perhaps, to break through the barrier. But it seemed to me I was trying too hard and wasting energy worrying that they could not understand me, etc. This time my realisation was that behind all this, of course, was the fear of failure and of rejection, which though partly a trait of character, nonetheless stemmed from my attachment to the result. And it was this which was making everything much heavier than it needed to be.
And taking that further, I realised that one can only be attached thus, if one is thinking of himself as important:
Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid (Don Juan Mateus)
So in this way a practical lesson was brought in front of me, again, from the basic teaching of the Lord in Bhagavad-gita; and so, depending on the Lord, and trying in a very relaxed, open way (but still with full energy and determination) to do the service, things turned out better all around. (In any case, experience will tell us that people respond much better when approached in this way.)
In Italy, the shops and offices all close for lunch at 12.30 or 1 p.m. and remain so during 'siesta' time, opening again at 4 or 4.30 p.m. But the evening period takes on a more 'festive' mood as folk come out for a little relaxed 'retail therapy' to meet up with friends in the 'piazzas' and bars, or apparently to just come out and be seen (style being quite important here. I always make sure my shoes are polished, at least...!) Consequently I would be going for 'bhiksa' during the morning session.
About 7.30 p.m. I came downstairs to a programme in-house, at which a few guests were present, including Virginia, a second cousin of Lasamayi D.D., who had been reading the Bhagavad-gita over a period of 1+ years, and asked many pertinent questions; this kept me on my toes (or rather blessed me with the opportunity to be Krishna conscious by trying to answer them!).
Friday 4 Nov: Morning
Mohita Krishna Prabhu accompanied me on the train to Rome (1 hour) and after we had some 'panini' breakfast, I went out for sharing in the area around the main station, while he went off checking various wholesalers for his family business. This district is packed with mainly souvenir-type shops, religious and otherwise (in Rome, nothing is 'very far' from the Vatican) or Chinese/Pakistani/Bangladeshi retailers. My Urdu and Bengali-speaking is not up to much, not to mention my awful Mandarin/Cantonese, but I always like to remember the story Srila Sridhar Maharaj tells of how when he was preaching in South India, the King of a particular province asked him: "Swamiji, how will you preach here, not knowing the language?" To which Srila Guru Maharaj replied to the effect: "Suppose I am walking along the road in some foreign country and I see a boy drowning in a pond, flailing about and shouting, will I first have to go to the local school or university to learn his language, and only then I will be able to help him? Because he is desperate, and in that time he will have drowned; no, by any means, by gesture, by posture, or any words, etc. I must have to immediately try to save him."
So Mahaprabhu's message of divine love does not wait for any particularly favourable context to be preached; it is in fact the people's heart's own property, and we are only going to remind them of that.
Around 1 p.m. Mohita Krishna Prabhu met me at the Central
Station (Termini) again and we boarded a packed bus to Via Argentina,
to Govinda's Restaurant (run by Iskcon) for lunch. It is simpler in design
and menu than its Milanese counterpart, but includes the Rome Iskcon Temple
complex. After a simple lunch we chatted briefly with the devotee staff
there (the President is a long-time Srila Swami Prabhupada disciple originally
from New York) and then took another 'standing-room only' 'nectar-bus'
back to Termini. I had suggested the possibility of a taxi, but when Mohita
Prabhu explained the notorious circuitous route and consequent exaggerated
fare of the Roman Taxi.... in some ways, Italy is (and this I mean not
in a derogatory sense) 'half-way to India;' the telephone and ticketing
systems may be other examples....
Sat 5 Nov: Morning
It had rained heavily during the night and was maintaining a steady drizzle through most of the day. I went out about 10 a.m. to 'cover the ground' remaining in Terni with my books and pamphlets but after some time the damp seemed to penetrate my body and I returned to base camp a little early. After lunch it was rest time in preparation for the first evening of our two day 'seminar.'
At 5 p.m. we arrived at the venue, La Salle in via Carrara, part of the new Town Hall complex. (I learned later that it had previously been the local prison buildings, also that one of our congregation had experienced it at that time on the inside!) After the kirtan quite a few questions began coming in from the thirty or so guests; one man I noticed was jotting everything down. Several older devotees had also managed to come some distance for the event. As is often the case, the talk gravitated to the vital point of the Spiritual Master: why he is a must for the spiritual seeker, how he can be the representative of God, how to recognise him.
We had again this year a most able translator in the person of Paolo, mentioned earlier. He is an older devotee who is very affectionate with us. (As my own Italian improves I can understand more and sometimes had to correct him a bit when I knew he was not giving exactly the sense on some more subtle points, or was getting a bit carried away; but mostly I was happy to let him preach according to his inspiration also, I am sure it was just as valuable as what I could say....) About 9.30 p.m. we had to draw to a final reluctant close, and sweet samosas and laddus were distributed to all.
Sun 6 Nov
Ouch! The phrase 'a bear with a sore head' comes to mind,
as this morning I was feeling the result of my exertions last evening.
I had to engage in an emergency mind/body rejuvenation programme with
nutrition, massage, pranayama and meditation to offset the horrible suspicion
that I would not be fit for this evening's event. (As Srila Sridhar Maharaj
writes in 'Golden Volcano,' speaking about Krishna consciousness requires
utmost concentration, and writing perhaps even more so because it is being
recorded in black and white as a testament-in-time that anyone can see
and examine, so it must be 'on the mark' as it were; so please excuse
the deficiencies in the present account....)
Mon 7 Nov
The family saw me off with my packed lunch at the Terni
train station; Mohita Krishna Prabhu accompanied me as far as Rome Termini,
where he was being met by his daughter, Devaki Devi Dasi, in her car,
and from there they returned to his house near the beautiful village of
Montone (which, as its name suggests, is situated on the top of a small
mountain! Usually I would stay at least some time there with him but he
apologised on this occasion that his house was being entirely refurbished...).
- BS Tridandi Swami
Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Nabadwip
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