San Jose, California — Saturday, May 8th

First sravan, then kirtan

I am invited to give the talk at the San Jose Seva Ashram. This is my last weekend here in California; it will be a while before I see the devotees here again.

It is always sad to leave the association of the devotees (Srutasrava Prabhu and his family, Ramananda Prabhu and his family, Kum Kum Devi Dasi and Jivana Devi Dasi have been especially kind to me) but by definition, an itinerant monk (a sannyasi) cannot stay for too long in one place. And that means that I must always be leaving old friends and making new acquaintances...

I explain why I feel it is necessary to go to the source, to visit Srila Gurudeva, before I begin my trip to Russia. Whatever conception of Krishna consciousness that I have received from Srila Gurudeva belongs to him. It is his property, and it may be withdrawn at any time. It is all adhoksaja — a gracious gift from above. We are always dependent on the mercy of Srila Gurudeva.

It is first necessary to hear from the authorized source (sravan) before going out to preach (kirtan). So how can I have the audacity to venture to preach on Srila Gurudeva's behalf in Russia without first getting his darshan and blessing?

San Francisco, California — Monday, May 10th

I leave for India

I spend the day with my daughter, Lucille, and my twin grandkids, Maya and Michaela. I have hardly spent any time with them on this trip, and I do not know when I will see them again... I take a few photographs of the twins horsing around to try out the new digital camera they have given me for my birthday (which is tomorrow).

Early in the evening, Srutasrava Prabhu's kids, Rajani, Neela and Devaki (Tink) come over for a while, and later we stop by Srutasrava Prabhu's house before all driving to the San Francisco international airport in Lucille's minivan. My flight to India leaves at 1:00 a.m.

Srutasrava Prabhu hands me a wonderful birthday card on behalf of the devotees at the Seva Ashram in Soquel. It is touching, really. And I am so unworthy of the sentiments expressed therein. Thanks guys!

I have spent a happy two months here at the Soquel Seva Ashram, renewing my relationship with so many of my old friends (who never gave up on me!). And I have made many new friends whose dedication and commitment to Srila Gurudeva's mission has been a real inspiration to me. I am grateful to them all.

Somewhere over the Pacific — Tuesday, May 11th

Birthday? What birthday?

I board the EVA Airways flight for Taipei an hour after midnight. The seat next to me is empty. Good! It is my birthday today, and I am looking forward some quiet time to myself, without any noisy festivities. After you turn half-a-century, you are not so keen to celebrate or be reminded about your birthdays any more :-)

We fly westward through the night, across the vast Pacific, racing backwards in time, paradoxically, towards tomorrow. We cross the International Date Line just south of the Aleutian Islands, some seven hours later, and suddenly — it's Wednesday.

An eight-hour birthday! I don't know whether to feel gypped, or relieved that another birthday is out of the way. This is definitely the shortest birthday that I have ever had...

Calcutta, India — Wednesday, May 12th

Back with Srila Gurudeva

We continue flying west to the East, gaining a day as we travel back to the future, lumbering towards morning in Taiwan. As we fly south of Japan, past Tokyo, Mount Fuji, and Osaka, the lights twinkling in the darkness below delineate the contours of the coastline, the rivers, and the cities and streets.

The flight takes a little over thirteen hours to get to Taipei, although we arrive twenty-eight hours after we left San Francisco: at 5:00 a.m. the next day, Wednesday, local time.

From Taipei, it is a short flight across the South China Sea to Thailand, and from Bangkok, an even shorter flight across the Bay of Bengal to my destination: Calcutta.

We land in Calcutta a little after six o' clock, and I clear Customs and Immigration by six-thirty. Outside the airport, I hail one of the many yellow Ambassador taxis and we drive the short distance to the Sree Chaitanya Saraswata Krishnanushilana Sangha in Dum Dum Park.

I immediately go upstairs to see Srila Gurudeva, who embraces me warmly. Srila Gurudeva looks good. He has lost a little weight since I last saw him two months ago, so he looks a lot healthier. It is so good to be back in his holy association.

Calcutta, India — Friday, May 14th

Feeling the heat

I had almost forgotten how hot it gets in Calcutta in May. Although at 35°C (95°F) it is not quite as hot as the 40°C+ temperature I experienced here last year, it is nevertheless still a full 12°C (22°F) hotter than Santa Cruz, where I just spent the last two months...

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