(Srila Prabhupada and Tribhuvanatha Prabhu)
"Life is Meant For Learning"
Somehow or other, I had the good fortune of having Tribhuvanatha Prabhu's association for many years, especially during the 1970's and 80's in a number of foreign countries around the world. He was a wonderful friend -- the best anyone could ever have -- and he taught me so much about life, devotional service and Srila Prabhupada in a natural spontaneous way. Because I was a few years younger than him, he automatically took me under his wing, and therefore I always felt confident that Tribhuvanatha would be there whenever I needed him. And of course, I naturally tried my best to reciprocate with him as best I could, so our relationship took on a sweetness which I had never experiened before, especially due to the life-and-death circumstances in a dangerous war zone in which we served in those days. And because Srila Prabhupada and our service to him was the center of our activities, we especially took shelter of one another's company during some very trying circumstances. Quite simply, we shared a common bond while trying our best to co-operate with one another in pleasing Prabhupada -- and not to mention, keeping body and soul together by the skin-of-our-teeth in a war zone (an experience that one never forgets and which certainly colors one's life from then on).
It could be pretty austere there in some of the hottest countries in the world in which we served, with few signs of life during the day but for a lone camel or two ambling across the barren landscape. So we passed our time during the unbearable heat of the afternoons talking about Srila Prabhupada, and those exchanges have stayed with me until this day some 35 years later. Unfortunately since that time, our dear friend Tribhuvanatha Prabhu has left this world physically (October, 2001), but his memory and the love of the devotees whom he touched continues to keep him very much alive in the hearts of those who knew him well. He was a man who lived life large for Srila Prabhupada and he'll never be forgotten for it.
I know so many stories about Tribhuvanatha, and so many lessons learned from him, that as soon as I retire from Internet work, I'll begin compiling those experiences into something which I hope is worthy of his memory. Tribhuvanatha always used to say that "Life is meant for learning." And he was the prime example of that because he wasn't reluctant to admit his mistakes in life. Whenever Tribhuvanatha made what he considered a mistake, he always profusely apologized. In fact, to this day, I still have letters, telexes, and e-mails where Tribhuvanatha offers his apologies for incidents in the Middle East which occurred through the ordinary course of life and were certainly not mistakes by any means. But that was just his nature -- humble through and through -- and especially to his friends. To him, his friends could do no wrong, and if they did, it was his tendency to blame himself -- probably one of the rarest qualities in human nature. That's how kind and considerate he really was.
And there were more strengths. When Srila Prabhupada spoke with the Irish poet, Desmond O'Grady, in May of 1974 in Rome, Italy, Prabhupada remarked: "But you Irish people, you are never tired to fight." Desmond O'Grady replied, "No. We've been fighting for three thousand years now." And Prabhupada replied, "I think the fighting is going on still" to which they both shared a good laugh. Tribhuvanatha often quoted this exchange to reinforce the natural fighting spirit that came along with his Irish birth in this lifetime. "I'm an Irish fighter," he would often say to me. "I was born to fight for Prabhupada." Of course, he realized and admitted that Srila Prabhupada was utilizing the above example in a material way, but he took pride in using it himself in Prabhupada's service even if only humorously. Tribhuvanatha was a strong and fearless man by nature, and he was always ready to fight on behalf of Srila Prabhupada at a moment's notice. It was his second nature.
Tribhvanatha's choice of countries in which to spread Krishna consciousness on behalf of Srila Prabhupada certainly attested to his inborn fighting spirit. Not content to rest on his laurels and live where he could be comfortable or glorified for past achievements in devotional service, Tribhuvanatha struck out for territories unknown and unexplored -- and often most dangerous. Rarely did he have enough money or facilities to ensure safe passage wherever he chose to go, for he was happiest when he had very little, save and except his faith in the holy names of Krishna. I vividly recall so many times sitting beside him in an old delapidated van or car, just barely chugging along as he sang his heart out with the Hare Krishna mantra at the top of his lungs, ecstatic to be completely at the mercy of the holy names of Krishna and with complete faith in the spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, in his heart of hearts. In fact, I often felt that Tribhuvanatha was the personification of the following verse in this age:
yasya deva para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
"Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed."
(Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.23)
It seems like only yesterday that we often chanted our rounds together in the old "Al Jindoul Hotel" in Manama, Bahrain, probably one of the most delapidated hotels on the face of the planet. We could barely squeeze ourselves in there, let alone chant our japa together without bumping into each other every ten seconds. To lighten things up, Tribhuvanatha would invariably add a touch of humor to the situation by relating an appropriate Prabhupada story.
For example, we had to share an old sink which never seemed to work when we wanted it to, and which never (or at least rarely) had hot water. So we took turns shaving our faces with cold water as the faucet sputtered and groaned, hopefully providing us with enough water to finish our mundane task. It was a great accomplishment if we succeeded -- something we had always taken for granted in the Western countries. But not in the Middle East. Just to get clean and refreshed on a daily basis was a big accomplishment and relief. (We even had a resident rat -- the size of a pet cat -- who made his home somewhere in our bathroom pipes to our great trepidation. But that was just par for the course in those parts, and we were advised to consider ourselves lucky that it wasn't something even more dangerous according to the locals.)
During those trials and tribulations, I never tired of hearing Tribhuvanatha Prabhu relate the now famous "Prabhupada Gillette" pastime. In those days, Gillette razors were considered the best in terms of quality and craftmanship. They were definitely Prabhupada's favorite and he didn't want any cheap imitations. Tribhuvanatha often related the following pastime which has now become a perennial favorite:
"I was in the room with Prabhupada when he was about to shave. He had gotten soaped up and Nanda Kumar was standing behind him in a towel. Prabhupada was trying to use the razor and was disturbed. He looked at Nanda Kumar, pointed to the razor, because Prabhupada had a razor with an adjustment dial on it, and said, 'No dial?' Nanda Kumar said, 'No, that is not your regular razor, Prabhupada. It doesn't have a dial.' Prabhupada said, 'It is Gillette?' Nanda Kumar said, 'No, it is not Gillette.' In a wonderful, unbelievable way, Prabhupada said, 'Simply bogus.' He rejected that razor like he'd reject Mayavadi philosophy. The razor sort of floated to the shelf. I was fascinated by the way Prabhupada was so angelic."
There was another story -- my all-time favorite. After Tribhuvanatha arranged a large program in Glasgow, Scotland which was attended by hundreds of enthusiastic participants and which Srila Prabhupada particularly loved, Prabhupada unexpectedly rubbed Tribhuvanatha's head affectionately and told him how much he was pleased with Tribhuvanatha's preaching efforts. Tribhuvanatha was speechless at the time, but later on he never tired of recounting such a spiritually memorable pastime -- and I never grew tired of hearing it either. Just imagine Srila Prabhupada rubbing your head with love and affection. It's pretty hard to top that one! It was Prabhupada stories like these which made our long sojurn in the Middle East bearable. After all, five years is no small length of time to spend in dangerous foreign countries, let alone traveling throughout eight countries steeped in a culture and history far removed from what a couple of wide-eyed young Hare Krishnas had originally expected when they first set out on their journey together so many years before.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
(To be continued.)