Visakha Devi Dasi: On the final night of the festival, devotees carried the Deities, splendidly dressed and decorated with jewels and garlands, in a regal palanquin to the seaside. Again the devotees sang before a huge crowd and Prabhupada spoke. I inwardly groaned with disbelief—the same mood I'd had when, eight months earlier, I'd heard that God lifted a hill with his pinkie. Now Prabhupada was talking about a saint who'd received spiritual instructions while in his mother’s womb. Strangely, no one else seemed fazed by the idea of a fetus attaining enlightenment.
In early April the festival ended, the pandal was dismantled and Prabhupada was leaving for Malaysia. Leaving the disordered city far behind, John and I planned to photograph India's glorious essence: elegant village life as it had been lived through millennia, life imbued with the wisdom of the ages, life made healthy and prosperous from nature’s bounty, life filled with the freshness and joy of vibrant tradition, simple and pure life as it was meant to be lived.
When we asked Prabhupada which village we should photograph, he summarily demolished our plan by pointing out that wherever we went, villagers would rob us of all we had. We were crestfallen. We stood silent and still. We'd already experienced the painful reality of his words.
My relationship with Prabhupada could have begun and ended with that passing conversation. But during my stay in Bombay, Prabhupada had created a vortex that had started to pull me, not so much willingly as curiously, to its center—to him. At the Cross Maidan pandal Prabhupada was a sage, a savant, a simple devotee worshiping his God, pulling at the hearts of his followers and awakening his fellow citizens through his followers’ remarkable dancing transformation. At Akash Ganga, he was a warm and personable and encouraging grandfather.
“How does he have such power over his followers, how does he influence them so deeply?” I wondered. When someone praised him during a conversation in his room, I heard his reply to my question.
“What have I done?” he said. “I’ve not done a miracle. I’ve simply followed my Guru Maharaja's instructions to give this message of Krishna in English. I’ve tried to do that. That’s all.”
It was somehow an endearing answer.