Calcutta, West Bengal, India — Wednesday, June 7th


I'm always anxious whenever I have to do anything for Srila Gurudeva. You may think that it is an enviable position — being close enough to Srila Gurudeva to be able to assist him — but I dread it, because if you are not vigilant, so many things can go wrong. "Let somebody else who is more qualified do it," is my watchword. But sometimes you don't have a choice...

After two strokes and a heart attack, Srila Gurudeva is well aware of his infirmity: he often says, "I am invalid," with a twinkle in his eye and a self-deprecating smile as he deliberately stresses the second syllable of "invalid" to use the word as an adjective rather than a noun! Still, he likes to do everything for himself. He values his independence and does not like anybody to fuss over him unnecessarily.

He has told us, and we have seen, that he is scrupulously circumspect when he is alone in his bedroom or when he has to go to bathe, conscious that one little slip could have dire consequences. When he goes for a walk he not only uses his cane as an aid, but often depends on somebody (usually his servant, Gopal Prabhu) to lean on as well.

When we all came here to Calcutta after Gaura Purnima, I noticed that when Srila Gurudeva went down the stairs, everybody shuffled along behind him. If Srila Gurudeva were to stumble, how would anybody catch him? I pushed to the front and, squeezing between Srila Gurudeva and the wall, said, "Let me go in front, Gurudeva."

"That is good," Srila Gurudeva said, nodding his head.

So now every time Srila Gurudeva goes out, I jump up and rush ahead of him, to try to protect him in case he slips on the stairs. But I am self-conscious about this, and I have a nagging suspicion that this so-called service is unnecessary — something I just made up to make myself feel useful...

I'm also reluctant to take such a conspicuous role, but how do I stop now? And I worry: Am I just getting in the way? Do I irritate Srila Gurudeva because I turned his one-time sanction into a daily ritual? Does he continue to allow me to do this because he does not want to say anything to hurt my feelings? Do the devotees in Srila Gurudeva's retinue look at me askance? "Pfft! As if Srila Gurudeva can't walk down the stairs on his own!"

This subconscious self-doubt intruded into my dreams last night: Srila Gurudeva was going down the stairs and I was a fraction late again. As I rushed to squeeze past, Gopal Prabhu reached around Srila Gurudeva to grab my dhoti and pull me back. I was a little peeved at this, and glared at him in annoyance as I yanked myself free. "It is not necessary," Gopal said telepathically, as people so often do in dreams.

I positioned myself and looked up at Srila Gurudeva, waiting for him to take the first step. Srila Gurudeva had a broad smile on his face, and to my surprise, hung the crook of his cane over his left arm and, without holding the handrail, skipped down the stairs with such alacrity that I had to backpedal like anything!

Yikes! Even in my dreams, Srila Gurudeva is showing me that he is quite capable of managing without me fussing and bothering and generally getting in the way, thank you very much!

This afternoon when Srila Gurudeva stamps his cane on the floor, I jump up from my desk and rush out onto the veranda — too late! Srila Gurudeva is already at the door to the landing.

With last night's dream still vivid in my mind, I decide not to squeeze past everybody this time, and fall in line behind Gopal, Jamuna Priya, and the others, but at the top of the stairs Srila Gurudeva steps to one side and half-turns to look at me, so I smile sheepishly and slip past to assume my usual position.

Slowly, carefully, holding onto the handrail with one hand and planting his cane steadily on the lower stair with the other, Srila Gurudeva begins his step-by-step descent, and I grip the handrail firmly and walk backwards cautiously, two steps below him...


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