Calcutta, India — Saturday, May 15th

Trying to stay cool

I have been terribly jet-lagged this trip, and persistently tired and listless ever since I got here. Of course, the constant, enervating heat does not make it easier to get any rest, and it saps whatever little energy I have.

The heat is unrelenting, and since one is constantly perspiring, it is very easy to become dehydrated. I am drinking lots of water: at least five liters, or more than a gallon a day!

To help keep cool, I have been taking a "cold" (the water is more warm than cold) shower at least three times a day. Of course, as any of you who have ever been to India know, a "shower" typically means using the "jug and bucket" method: you fill a bucket with water, and pour the water over your head with a jug.

It's more of a splash bath, really, but don't knock it until you've tried it: it is one of the most efficient ways to bathe in India, especially since the water coming out of the faucet is usually no more than a trickle, and often dries up completely — usually just after you're all soaped up!

Calcutta, India — Monday, May 17th

Nice improvements

Sripad Bhakti Kanan Giri Maharaj has been busy again. After redoing the floor of Srila Gurudeva's large sitting room here in Calcutta last month, he also installed an air conditioner in the same room earlier this month.

You may recall that last year at this time, Giri Maharaj was installing heaters at our Srila Sridhar Swami Sevashram in Govardhan. Giri Maharaj certainly does not blow hot and cold when it comes to these matters: he decides on a course of action and sees it through to the end. His primary concern is Srila Gurudeva's comfort.

The new floor is solid (no more give or creaks) and the larger capacity air conditioner is a big improvement over the old one. Just in time for the summer!

Calcutta, India — Thursday, May 20th

Grand festival

Today is the anniversary of the installation day festival of Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Radha Madana Mohanjiu at the Sree Chaitanya Saraswata Krishnanushilana Sangha here in Dum Dum Park.

At ten-thirty Srila Gurudeva gives a half-hour talk, in Bengali, to about one hundred Bengali devotees and guests in the large nat mandir. It is a blazingly hot day, but it is quite pleasant on the cold marble floor with a gentle cross-breeze blowing through the portals on opposite sides of the nat mandir, and the three overhead fans churning the cool air.

It is so nice to be here with Srila Gurudeva and the devotees on days like this! What would I be doing in my old life? Working hard at my networking job, or lying around, watching TV, no doubt...

After Srila Gurudeva finishes his talk, Sripad Goswami Maharaj recounts some of the early history of the temple itself, how the temple got its name, and how the deities later mercifully manifested here. This is followed by an hour of kirtan, and the noon arati.

Then, in the grand Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math tradition, all the devotees and hundreds of the local inhabitants are treated to an elaborate, transcendental feast, and everyone eats to their full satisfaction.

Calcutta, India — Friday, May 21st

I get it now

I remember the first time I read Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad's Bhagavad Gita—As It Is, way back in October of 1981, in South Africa, and came to verse 2.14:

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino 'nityas...

"Happiness and distress, like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer, are transient, and due only to sense perception..."

I must confess that I did not quite get the appropriateness of the example Srila Prabhupad used in his accompanying purport:

"...According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning, even during the month of Magha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath. Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season..."

Hey, I took a warm shower every morning, didn't I — even in the winter. What's the big deal? Only when I traveled to India in 1983 did I see that most people took their baths in the kundas (ponds) or rivers, which are icy-cold in the winter!

And what's so difficult about cooking in the kitchen in the summer? You turn on the hot plate on your electric stove...

Now, having visited India many times, I know that an electric stove is a rarity. Most Indians cook over open fires, wood-burning stoves, clay ovens, or gas stoves — all of which use blazing fires, red-hot hot coals, or flames for their source of heat. Hot, indeed!

And at the grand festival here yesterday, Srila Prabhupad's choice of the "cooking in the kitchen in the summer" example was vividly illustrated.

Sripad Mangal Maharaj presided over a team of dedicated helpers, supervising the cooking of: two gigantic cauldrons of kitchuri (balancing precariously on bricks) over two wood fires in the makeshift kitchen in the carport; huge pots of rice cooking on portable gas-burners in the room adjacent to the kitchen; and great big woks and pots cooking all the different subjis, dahls, chutneys and other preparations, in the kitchen itself.

And everywhere you looked there were perspiring devotees chopping wood, stoking the fires, washing or cutting up vegetables, kneading dough... I'm sure there was a lot more going on, but I did not dare venture any closer than the windows. You know what they say: "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen!"

The heat hit you like a blast in the face outside the kitchen windows, and could be felt in all the adjacent rooms, and even on the stairs going up to Srila Gurudeva's room.

Now I get the appropriateness of Srila Prabhupad's example!

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