I joined the movement in May of 1972, and the first time I can remember seeing Srila Prabhupada was in July. Srila Prabhupada flew into the New York City airport. At that time I was with Visnujana Swami's traveling road show and all the devotees went to the airport to greet Prabhupada. We were lined up waiting for him at the door. I remember as he came walking through, he patted Nanda-kisora's head and smiled. About one month later Srila Prabhupada went to Pittsburgh. At the time, all the devotees were waiting for him enthusiastically. When Srila Prabhupada came walking into the temple from the top staircase, so many thousands of rose petals came floating down very majestically and Srila Prabhupada liked it very much.
One year when Srila Prabhupada was in Pittsburgh, he received a letter from Australia. The devotees were having some problems there with the police and the question was whether they should spend a lot of money and have a very high costing attorney to try and save them from a court case. Prabhupada said that he wrote back to them and he told us a story. He was sitting on his vyasasana and began to laugh before he told the story. He said that once there was a cow and this cow was going to be sold to another farmer, but the cow actually didn't care who owned it. Because the cow knew that her only business was to give milk, she didn't care which farmer owned her. Then Prabhupada said, "In the same way, if our devotees go to jail, that is also alright, because devotee's only business is to chant Hare Krsna. He is in jail, his business is to chant Hare Krsna. If he is out on the street, his business is to chant Hare Krsna."
Then after Pittsburgh, Srila Prabhupada went to New Vrndavana. The evening of Krsna Janmastami, all the devotees crowded into the temple room and the senior devotees read from Krsna Book for two or three hours. After some time, about eleven o'clock at night, most of the devotees were falling asleep, which was very evident. Srila Prabhupada saw this and began to laugh a little and said, "That's enough for now." Then he ended the reading. The next day on Vyasa-puja, he gave a lecture on the import of one who sits on the vyasasana. One devotee then asked him, "If the purpose of life is to become Krsna conscious, then why is maya so strong?" I remember that he sat up very quickly on the vyasasana and he pointed and said, "Because your purpose is not strong." And the devotees liked this very much.
At the beginning of Vyasa-puja, Visnujana Swami was leading the kirtana. But after about five minutes, Srila Prabhupada took over the kirtana and began to lead and all the devotees went into ecstasy. After his lecture, a very nice cake was presented to him. It was cooked by Mangalananda. After he personally cut a slice of the cake and took some of it, the devotees began to carry it off the stage. Hundreds of devotees grabbed for it and they all received the mercy of the prasadam which Prabhupada had taken first.
In New Vrndavana he gave the very nice bhagavata-dharma discourse lectures. After New Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupada went to Pittsburgh. Because I was with the road show, I was in Pittsburgh after Janmastami, and Prabhupada came there to see us perform at the Syrian Mosque. I remember Rupanuga Prabhu telling us that when Srila Prabhupada was sitting in the audience, seeing all the different dramas being performed on the stage, he looked at Rupanuga and said, "Are these our own men? These are our men?" He was so astonished that devotees on the stage were dressed up in such bizarre costumes that he could hardly believe they were his own disciples. When he was leaving Pittsburgh, we all went to the airport to see him off. All the devotees were sitting at Prabhupada's lotus feet and they had prepared a lot of nice cake prasadam with icing for distribution. But because it was early in the morning, there were not so many people there at the airport to distribute to. So Prabhupada said, "You can distribute the prasada to all the devotees." So all the devotees sat at his feet and took maha-prasada. Prabhupada was looking at us and was getting great ecstasy from seeing the devotees relish the prasadam.
The next time I remember seeing Prabhupada was when I had shifted to my next five-year residence in Sridhama Mayapur. When we found out that Srila Prabhupada was going to be arriving from Calcutta at a certain time, all the devotees went in a procession down the road towards the Yogapitha and futher on to Srivasangam. At that point, Prabhupada's car had just come up the road from Calcutta. So we greeted him at Srivasangam and we had an ecstatic kirtana alongside his car all the way to the Mayapur mandir. All the devotees danced madly around the car as it was proceeding up the road.
I was the temple commander in Mayapur then, so I had much opportunity to associate with Srila Prabhupada. Unfortunately I was not able to please him very much because in 1974, about three days before the Gaura Purnima festival, the Mayapur temple had only begun to get finished. The water system had just started to work, the electricity was just hooked up, and practically nothing was really running perfectly. And we were not at all equipped for so many devotees who came that year. Because all the devotees were living in the same building, we were never able to clean the floors properly. Every morning when Prabhupada would come down for his walk, he would see that the floors were still unclean and not so nice from the day before, so he was very upset. One day, in the middle of the heat of the afternoon, Prabhupada went upstairs to the top floor where most of the brahmacaris and visiting devotees were all laid out sleeping on the verandas, and he was very much perturbed to see that all of his men were so much in the mode of ignorance for so long in the middle of the afternoon.
One day I remember that Srila Prabhupada asked his servant to bring him some hot water because he wanted to take his bath. For some reason or other, that request kept getting passed from one devotee to another. So finally after so much time waiting, Srila Prabhupada personally came out on the veranda in his gampsa and shouted, "Why no one has brought my hot water?" At that time I remember Hrdayananda Maharaja grabbed the brass bucket from Prabhupada's bathroom and dashed down to the cooking area where the kitchen was to heat up the water.
After Mayapur the devotees all went to Vrndavana. We arrived there before Srila Prabhupada did. We weren't sure when he was coming. So one day devotees were on their way for parikrama and the buses pulled out from the temple. About half a mile up the road, Srila Prabhupada's car passed, coming from the opposite direction. So immediately everyone shouted and the buses screeched to a halt and all the devotees madly ran down to the temple and flocked to his kuti. Prabhupada was very pleased to see the devotees. He began to sing Jaya Radha Madhava and his eyes were rolling and his head was moving in such a transcendental way.
The next opportunity that I had to personally associate with Srila Prabhupada was when I was the president of Madras. We had requested Prabhupada to come. He was already planning to come to Hyderabad and to Nellore, Andra Pradesh for a program. So coming to Madras was very easy. We fixed a program for January 1st and 2nd of 1976. It was very significant that it was during the emergency period when India was under Indira Gandhi. So there was a lot of political tension then. I went to the governor's mansion in Madras and requested the governor, K. K. Shaw, to make a guest appearance with Srila Prabhupada. And somehow or other he consented. On the day Prabhupada came, all the devotees as well as so many life members, went to the airport to greet him. That was January 1st in the morning. And when he came off the plane, the kirtana grew in intensity. As Srila Prabhupada came in the door, he looked up and seemed like he was surprised and very happy that so many people had come to see him. He looked at everyone and gave a smile that lit up the entire three worlds and caused all the devotees to choke up in ecstasy. Practically speaking, everyone became completely choked just by Prabhupada's smile. It was so effulgent, so ecstatic.
In the airport, I had arranged a nice Mercedes Benz for Prabhupada which was waiting for him. I had bought it from a life member. In Madras, Srila Prabhupada stayed at the house of one Mr. Maniklal Bhaya. From the airport we drove to Mr. Bhaya's house and there Srila Prabhupada's feet were washed with pancamrta. And then because his room was on the top floor, we put Prabhupada in a chair and we carried him to the top floor. That evening we had a lecture arranged at the Rajesvari Kaliyana Mandap and that lecture was about how everyone was an isvara, but how Krsna was the param isvara. And the governor also came to see Srila Prabhupada at the program. Early the next morning I was in Srila Prabhupada's room and I mentioned to him that in Madras they had a very nice Visnu temple. It was about 2,500 years old. And inside the temple there was a very large Deity of Lord Visnu, about 10 feet high. But this particular Deity was called Partha-sarati, so the local people said that because He was a chariot driver, He acted in that role. He was a ksatriya. Ksatriyas had mustaches. So they had painted a mustache onto the Deity. When I told Srila Prabhupada that the local Visnu Deity had a mustache, he said, "This is absolutely wrong. Krsna was nava-yauvanam ca, an ever fresh youth." And then he began to explain that, "Just like a young boy who has not yet reached puberty, yet has a slight amount of fuzz on his upper lip, yet he's not quite an adult. So this is Krsna's age." And when Prabhupada was speaking like this, you could see that he was directly seeing Krsna. And I felt those words enter into the core of my diseased heart.
The morning after the second evening when Prabhupada was alone in his room reading a letter, I spoke to him and asked if I could take sannyasa. He looked at me as if I had disturbed him, and I felt very much embarrassed for having bothered him. Then the next day when Prabhupada was preparing to leave, I was walking through Srila Prabhupada's room and he looked up as if twenty-four hours had never passed and said, "And as far as your request to take sannyasa, you may do so at Mayapur this year. You have been doing nice work here in Madras."
After this meeting we were going to go by train to Nellore because the road was very bad. So we arranged for very nice, first-class accommodation in the train. The compartment was lined with nice white sheets and flower garlands and incense. It was very nicely done. And at the train station, we had a very nice shenai band that greeted Srila Prabhupada when he went out of the car and into the train.
The day after Srila Prabhupada arrived in Nellore, we went on a morning walk. I mentioned to Prabhupada that the local Gaudiya Math in Madras had said that if Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to preach Krsna consciousness in the West, why did He not go there HimseIf and preach? When Srila Prabhupada heard this, he stopped abruptly and put his cane down and said, "Because Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted to give me the credit."
Srila Prabhupada left Nellore again by train back to Madras where he was supposed to catch his plane out. When he arrived in Madras we had another shenai band waiting for him at the station and then a waiting car. At this time Prabhupada stayed only one day at the temple. When he came there I thought that he would take his massage on the veranda upstairs, but he liked the front lawn very much. So very casually and simply, uninhibited by everything, Srila Prabhupada just went down to the front lawn of the house, sat on the mat and took his massage there. That afternoon we prepared some very nice South Indian coconut sweets for him and some other nice preparations which he liked very much. We had purchased Indian Airlines tickets that left from Madras to Bombay at about five o'clock on a Thursday. When Prabhupada heard that the timing was at five o'clock on a Thursday, he was very much alarmed. He remarked that this is a very inauspicious time to travel and said, "I will not go if this is the only time." I told Prabhupada that this was the only booking available for four or five days. Srila Prabhupada said, "It does not matter. I can stay here and I can do my translation work."
After that, I looked for other airlines and Air India had a flight coming from Singapore via Madras to Bombay, which left at nine-thirty at night. So we were able to get tickets on that airline. And when Prabhupada left Madras, we had a very nice arrangement by which his car was able to go directly onto the airport. He didn't have to go through immigration or any kind of security. The car went directly onto the airport, pulled up next to the plane, and then Prabhupada got onto the plane.
Prior to that, when Prabhupada was coming from the station to our house in Andra Pradesh, South India, there is a Deity that everyone worships there. It's very popular. The name of this Deity is Ayappa Deity. He is sitting with His knees pulled up and a belt is wrapped around His knees and body. It's a very strange position. The people there worship this imaginary form of God, and they claim that this form of God has come from the conception between Lord Siva and the Mohini incarnation. When I mentioned this to Prabhupada, he began to chuckle a little and laugh. He said, "Well Lord Siva became very agitated upon seeing Mohini. There was mention of some discharge, but there was no mention of any child being born." In this way he negated the fact that this Deity ever existed.
In the fall of 1976, after Prabhupada became a little sick in Bombay, he was not taking his morning walks on the beach any more. He was taking them on the rooftop. I asked Srila Prabhupada why so many people from the Northeast area of India were wearing Vaisnava tilaka. Prabhupada replied that Caitanya Mahaprabhu's ancestors were from Assam, which is now in Bangladesh. So why not?
Another day Prabhupada called me into his room and explained to me, yasya prasadad bhagavat prasadad. He said, "By pleasing the spiritual master, one makes advancement in devotional service. So I have gone to the West by which I have pleased my own spiritual master. So I want you to please me by staying here in India and see that my books are distributed. You have done very nice work and thank you very much for helping me spread Krsna consciousness here." After that I felt such ecstasy at remembering Prabhupada's words.
Another time I was visiting Vrndavana, and I was on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada. The night before I had a dream that my orange cloth was dyed too dark, almost red colored. The next morning during the morning walk, I was walking just behind Prabhupada. When Srila Prabhupada would go on his morning walks in Vrndavana, he would proceed down the road in one direction. Then when he would go as far as he wanted to go, he would stop directly, make an about face, and come back. So when he made his about face, I was standing right in front of Prabhupada. He looked at my cloth and said, "Why is it like this? You cannot see how the others have done?" The next day on a morning walk, Srila Prabhupada said that if one renounced desire for family life and takes sannyasa, perservering, then by this sacrifice one can conquer over and win Krsna.
Then in Hyderabad there was the opening of the new Hyderabad temple. Prabhupada came in the evening. He was staying in a life member's house, but he didn't like it there at all. So early the next morning Srila Prabhupada insisted on going to see the temple whether it was finished or unfinished. When Prabhupada arrived and saw that his rooms were still being worked on, he said, "The guru's room should be completed first, always. Even more important than completing the Deities' room, one should first complete the guru's room." That evening Srila Prabhupada sat on his balcony which extended over the top of the temple room, and he waved to all the devotees as we performed kirtana.
After the Hyderabad opening, Prabhupada's health began to deteriorate and I didn't really want to burden Srila Prabhupada by my unwanted association. So although I had the opportunity, I didn't try to avoid, but at the same time I didn't want to burden Prabhupada. I didn't want to obstruct any of his translating work. The first time I visited him when he was very sick was in Bombay. From Bombay he was going to go to Rishikesh and I was also going in that direction. I was on my way to Badrikashram. So on the way to Badrikashram, we stopped at Rishikesh and Prabhupada was staying there. One life member had arranged a very nice house just by the side of the Ganga and Prabhupada was there for some days. But one day Prabhupada requested the devotees to take him immediately to Vrndavana. Srila Prabhupada arrived in Vrndavana and then the very serious sick days began. The entire time Prabhupada was sick, almost up until the last days of his pastimes there, I didn't speak to him at all, I think, except when I arrived in Vrndavana on the day before Govardhana-puja at the beginning of November. Prabhupada left on November 14th. On the day I arrived, Srila Prabhupada was very pleased when he heard about Mayapur's book distribution. He remarked that he liked it very much. And he also asked us if we were going to go to Govardhana Hill for book distribution.
The next time I spoke to Srila Prabhupada was the day he left the planet. So that day I woke up about twelve-thirty, almost one o'clock, and after showering I went into Srila Prabhupada's room. At the time, it seemed that Prabhupada was in very great pain. Prabhupada looked at me and said, "Please bring me hot coals." This meant that he wanted the coals to be heated so that he could get the warmth from the coals to be put near his legs, because he said that he was getting great pain from his legs. It was quite impossible to get hot coals at one o'clock in the morning, so I went and got a portable electric heater and brought it into the room and we started to put it near Prabhupada's legs. And he said that it was helping him somewhat.
There's no sense in talking about what happened after that, because I think that so many other devotees have already spoken about the last day when Srila Prabhupada left this material world.