Does your nose work?

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Being Srila Prabhupada’s personal servant involved doing many things, but it was never boring. Although he was very regulated in many ways, you always had to be prepared for the unexpected in regard to what he did and what he said. I had been traveling with him for just over four months when we arrived at his home town of Calcutta. We arrived at his Iskcon temple during the daytime on January 25, 1973. It was on 3 Albert Rd, as it is to this day, a fairly large temple room with beautiful Sri Sri Radha Govinda Deities. 

Prabhupada’s room was just next to the temple room. In front of both these rooms was a large open veranda with a marble floor. It was certainly not the quietest place for Prabhupada to stay, although he never mentioned the noise being an issue. Well maybe he mentioned the potential of it at one time.  

Prabhupada’s room was an all-in-one room. It was where he sat throughout the day and where he honored prasadam. It was also his darsana room and his bedroom. His bed was against the back wall. There were French doors at the front of the room that opened outwards toward the veranda. The doors were glass, framed with curtains on the inside as I recall, which gave him the little privacy available.

Prabhupada, as usual, had his massage around noon time that day and then took his lunch prasadam. In the late afternoon, he gave darsana to his disciples. Because of the location of his living quarters, there was not much that could be done to keep his disciples from being nearby, as everyone used the veranda to come and go into the temple room and to go to the place of their various services. 

One of my duties in Calcutta was to sit just in front of his entrance doors and make sure that no one without permission had access to his room. Keeping guard like this wasn’t necessary in most temples, as his quarters were usually separate from the temple building and from the devotees’ living quarters.  The veranda, just in front of his room, was also the ‘servant quarters’, because there was nowhere else for them. This was one of the few times I had to sit just outside his door at all times, 24 hours a day. 

After darsana on that first evening, as I was sitting outside the French doors, Prabhupada rang his bell. He was literally less than three meters away from me, on the other side of those magic doors. I took a few steps into his room and offered obeisances. As I sat up and looked at him, he said to me in a calm but serious voice, “Does your nose work!?” I was confused by that question, and after trying to understand what he could have meant for some time, I finally responded with, “What, Prabhupada?” Again seeing my perplexity he inquired, “Does your nose work? Do you snore?” 

I was often mesmerized by his use of the English language. He could make even the simplest of questions extraordinary.  Finally I had an idea of what this was about. I happily responded, “No, Prabhupada, I don’t snore.” “Good,” he responded with relief, “because if your nose doesn’t work you can’t sleep outside my room.” I responded with a simple “Yes Prabhupada.” I understood that the investigation into my sleeping habits was finished. I offered obeisances and left the room. 

I peacefully slept outside his room each night for the week we were there. Being on the other side of those non-insulated doors and only a few feet away from him, I would wake up to the sounds of his Vaikuntha voice each night while he did his translation work, sometime between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. I drifted in and out of external consciousness, hearing his voice as he spoke into the microphone. 

The gravity of his words was not even lost on this mundane soul. Each and every word was carefully chosen, as he clicked the microphone on and off, on and off, on his Grundig Dictaphone machine, over and over, for hours each and every night. It was one of the most comforting sounds, a transcendental lullaby to the ears. 

There was a switch on the microphone that moved up and down. It allowed him to record, rewind and also replay what he had said. I could hear as he sometimes rewound and played back what he had just spoken, at times recording over it, making an adjustment. The meditation, the emotion was overwhelming. The care he took to speak each word as he referenced the previous acaaryas was unparalleled. As in everything he did, he was loyal to the predecessor acaryas and at the same time made it relatable to his Kali yuga audience. 

What I find amazing to this day is how he was able to write these books without having access to typewritten pages or a laptop screen to reference what he said in the past. As he often said, they were not his words; they were Krsna’s words. Almost daily in the afternoon I would see him reading his printed books, relishing each and every word. He told me on different occasions that any one of his books was sufficient to bring one to full Krsna Consciousness, because Krsna was in every word. One afternoon he rang his bell, summoning me into his room. Looking up from behind his desk he was so overwhelmed in ecstasy he informed me that even one word of this book was enough to bring one to Krishna Consciousness.  

Among all his miraculous accomplishments, I consider his books to be the greatest of all his transcendental treasures, because he wrote them for all future generations. These books will be there for the duration of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement. His writing was empowered, as it was the direct order of his Spiritual Master to publish books. Srila Prabhupada knew that this so-called modern civilization had a limited shelf life, and the past due-date was rapidly approaching. He was aware that no matter what else happened, as long as his books were there, the struggling living entities would have the opportunity to be freed from the hellish conditions that were ahead. 

Even if we couldn’t maintain his temples or even if our own Krsna Consciousness were to become diluted, his books would be there for the sincere souls for the next 10,000 years. My only requirement was to make sure my nose worked. 

Prabhupada was very sensitive to sounds and could hear a drip from a faucet or a ceiling fan that might even be in a different building. When doing his translating work, these sounds, although inaudible to most, were enough to distract him from his most important service. This service required his utmost concentration on each and every word he spoke.

Being very fallen, I never tried to stay awake and listen, nor did I worry about falling back into sleep. Being able to hear him speak the Bhagavata in this way was one of those rare gifts he gave freely if you were in close proximity. Now, forty-eight years later, I long to hear those sounds again, his words, the clicking of the microphone, the pausing in between. My prayer now is that life after life, as my perfect master travels the three worlds and liberates living entities here, there and everywhere, he mercifully places me, his unworthy dog, in front of his mystical doors, always waiting for his accepting glance. I promise not to make a sound. 

Your servant,

Srutakirti das