Saturday, April 12th, 2003
Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Rama, Rama, Rama, and more Rama
Goswami Maharaj arrives at seven thirty. The manager of the St. Petersburg temple, Vijay Rama Prabhu invites us for breakfast at his house (within the temple compound).
The weekly Saturday program has been well advertised as celebrating Rama-navami, so about sixty people attend. The program begins at 5:00 p.m. Goswami Maharaj gives a short talk, and, after the arati, leaves. I discover that I am now expected to say something about Lord Rama to the guests.
I don't know how much more I can say about Rama. I feel that I have almost exhausted my meager knowledge (we are Krishna bhaktas, after all!) on the morning and evening talk yesterday, and the talk this morning.
I try to wiggle out of talking about Rama by immediately taking questions from the floor. Muralishwara Prabhu interprets. A woman near the front sticks up her hand: "Can you please tell us something about Rama..."
I rattle off a ten-minute synopsis. Any other questions? The same woman: "That was just the introduction. Can you tell us a little more?"
I give a staccato rendition of the Ramayana in thirty minutes. Any other questions? The same woman: "Yes, can you tell us about the significance of the Rama-navami festival itself?"
Alright Krishna, I see you! It's not funny! Cut it out, okay?
Later, as we all partake of the huge prasadam feast, an elderly lady thanks me, in English, for "the beautiful story of the Ramayana." I apologize for my begrudging narration. She says: "I know that the Ramayana is over 180,000 verses; your version was just right." I feel terrible...
The Russian preaching program is so together! In the entrance hall, on the way out, they have set up a large book-table with well over thirty books and pamphlets. While the guests gather their hats, coats, and shoes, they have a chance to look at the books and ask the attendant devotees questions.
I am standing around, admiring the book-table, when a babushka, an old Russian grandmother, clutching on to her daughter's arm, shuffles past the donation box and thrusts a bill into my hand.
It is fifty rubles: about one American dollar and seventy cents. I know that this is a lot of money for her, probably from her pension.
To give you some idea: for fifty rubles she could purchase the most expensive Russian book on the book-table — a beautifully bound, hardcover edition of Sri Sri Prapanna Jivanamritam, with many glossy, color pictures, which would retail for $15-20 in the U.S.A.
I thank her warmly, and start to move towards the donation box, but she clutches my arm and says something. Ragalekha Devi Dasi, the editor of the Russian newsletter, Sadhu Sangha, translates:
"She wants you to have it."
My second donation. I'm speechless. Who devised this stupid English language anyway? Why isn't there a stronger expression than "thank you"?
Layout by iMonk — April 12th, 2003.