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Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

London, England

Q & A

Airport questions and answers

Ramaray Prabhu and about twenty other devotees gather to see me off at Ankara's Esenboga (Snorting Bull) airport at nine-thirty this morning. I have been in Turkey for nineteen days and have met so many sincere devotees and disciples of Srila Gurudeva.

It is a cool and cloudy morning; by the time the Turkish Airlines RJ100 Auroliner lands at the Ataturk International Airport on the European side of the Bosporus in Istanbul, it is drizzling slightly.

Transit passengers destined for London are ushered to a separate security checkpoint.

First a female security officer questions me at length: Where are you going? Why are you going to London? Where have you been? And so on, then she hands me over to her superior, who seems more interested in where I have been.

"Why did you go to Ankara?"

"To teach yoga."

"Are you a yoga teacher?"


"Where did you stay?"

"In Ankara."

"Whereabouts in Ankara?"

"In Cankaya" (the suburb where the Sri Govinda Math Yoga Center is located).

"Who did you stay with?"

"Ramaray Prabhu." (I can't remember his legal name; it does not seem to matter.)

"Did he invite you?"


"Why did he invite you?"

"To instruct his students in yoga."

"He is also an instructor?"



"Do you have a friend who went from Ankara to London last week?"

Now what?

"Uh, yeah-s," I answer, circumspectly.

"Is he also a yoga teacher?"

What did Paramahamsa Maharaj tell them? Again, warily: "Yeah-s..."

Smiling, "I recognize your similar dress."


In a friendlier tone, he asks about the tilak on my forehead:

"What is that?"

"It's tilak."

"What is tilak?"

"It is a clay that we use to mark our foreheads."


"To... um, it helps to concentrate the chakras...


"Er, the energy in our bodies..."

"Oh, yes — energy!"

He affixes two stickers to my passport and hands it to me: "Have a pleasant flight."

By contrast, my arrival in London is a breeze. One of the officials, an elderly Indian lady policing the queue waiting to be cleared by Immigration sees my dress and says to me, "Are you from Hare Rama Hare Krishna?"

"Er, yes."

She puts her hands together, and bows slightly: "Namaste."

"Hare Krishna."

At the counter, the immigration officer, a much younger Indian lady, is all efficiency:

"How long are you staying in Britain?" she asks.

"Two days."

"Business or pleasure?"

Pleasure: it sounds so gross! I am standing before her in my sannyas vesha: does she not recognize me as a sannyasi? Just one generation removed, and already her rich Indian culture is lost! Her mother would not ask me such a question.

But she is staring at me, hand poised to stamp my passport, waiting for an answer. I cannot vacillate, wrestling with this dilemma, any longer, so I finally choose discretion:

"Um, er, ah... pleasure..." I vouchsafe, abashed.

Stamp! I'm in. I go through Customs (nothing to declare) and am met by Lavanya Mayi Devi Dasi, Bala Gopal Prabhu, and Nitai Pada Prabhu, who startle be by kicking off their sandals, and in the middle of the crowded Heathrow airport, offer their obeisances.

By the mercy of our gurudevas, we know how to act properly, how to show proper respect:

vancha-kalpatarubhyas ca / krpa-sindhubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo / vaisnavebhyo namo namah

"I offer my respectful obeisances to all the Vaishnava devotees of the Lord..."

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