History of ISKCON in Mauritius

Part 3
   

Pointe-aux-Sables
After a simple foot-bathing ceremony and guru-puja Srila Prabhupada retired to his room. Harikesha informed the devotees that Prabhupada was not feeling well. His health being fragile, no outside engagements were taken. Prabhupada would be lecturing every evening at the house in Pointe-aux-Sables. The only major public engagement would be on October 4th when a meeting with VIPs was scheduled. Invitations were launched based on the official Government VIP list.
The next day Prabhupada was ready at six a.m. for his first morning walk on Mauritian soil. He didn't talk much, but while standing on the beach and observing the scenery, he remarked that Hawaii is nicer.


Morning walk: (left to right) Sriniketana, Chayavana, Harikesha,
Srila Prabhupada, Pusta Krishna and Brahmananda.

This remark was somewhat of a shock to the local devotees. In their illusion they thought that this must be the nicest place on earth and were actually very proud to show Prabhupada Pointe-aux-Sables’s ''beauty''.
Chayavana Swami: '' Prabhupada, there was a huge cyclone a few months ago and it broke down all the coconut trees. Therefore the place looks devastated.'' But Prabhupada wouldn't have it, he preferred Hawaii. The devotee's dream of having Prabhupada stay here and translate for a few months was rapidly disintegrating.

Everyday around 5 p.m. Srila Prabhupada would receive visitors. Many people came and he would talk with them and try to infuse them with spirit of Krishna consciousness. One afternoon he met with Pandit Jagadish Sharma, a well-known and highly respected Hindu priest. The two conversed for over half an hour… in Sanskrit. The Pandit was very favorable to ISKCON and would let the devotees participate in his Bhagavat katha discourses.
Another day Swami Venkatesananda, from the Divine Life Mission in Rose Hill came with all his disciples. To the surprise of everyone, he, along with his followers bowed at Prabhupada's feet and then listened attentively and respectfully to the lecture. Afterwards Prabhupada met with the group in his private quarters. Even though philosophically opposed to the Vaisnava siddhanta, the Swami was very impressed by the meeting with Srila Prabhupada.
The programmed meeting with the PM never materialized. Sir Sewoosagur was busy and his secretaries promised the devotees that they would try their best to arrange something for Prabhupada.

The preaching strategy
As the time went by, Prabhupada became more and more enlivened by the preaching potential in the island. Several enthusiastic young boys regularly assisted his lectures, spent the night and then accompanied Prabhupada and his party on the morning walks. After that they listened to the Bhagavatam class and then went to work.
One young man named Ramoo from Rose Belle especially impressed Prabhupada. Ramoo had been in touch with the devotees and had arranged different preaching programs before. He had a keen preaching spirit and wanted to help ISKCON uplift his spiritually fallen countrymen.
Srila Prabhupada became so enlivened by the conversation with Ramoo and his friends that after a morning walk something very unusual took place. No one had ever seen anything like it before. As the party entered the temple room, Prabhupada proceeded directly to his Vyasasana, where a disciple would normally perform the guru puja. But instead of accepting guru puja, Prabhupada continued the morning walk conversation with the boys who were questioning him more and more. This conversation went on and on and Prabhupada became more and more enlivened. All the devotees were also getting drawn into this most extraordinary exchange. Even the cook preparing the breakfast came out of the kitchen and forgot all about his service. Prabhupada came to a point where he told the boys, ''Yes, organize and I can come personally and stay with you for one month and organize. Now I have to go to Johannesburg, but if you want me to come back, I can come back within one week and be with you.''
(For the full talk between Srila Prabhupada and Ramoo, please click on: Srila Prabhupada in Mauritius A Very Good Program!)


Srila Prabhupada on his morning walk with Ramoo in the blue & white shirt.

The next day Prabhupada wrote to the leaders of the flourishing branch of ISKCON in France:
…. Here in Mauritius there is a very good potency for introducing Krishna consciousness on a wide scale… Yesterday we had one meeting and all big Government officers, ministers and ambassadors came to hear me speak. And they all appreciated.
Most important the local boys are coming, and now they want to do something. They are convinced that this is a good movement. They are making a program to get boys from the villages for me to instruct them. So I am prepared to personally take up this program and remain here. The boys are educated and intelligent and speak English and especially French.
What are required immediately are some French-speaking devotees to come here for preaching. You kindly arrange for this….

After a couple days some members of the press corps came to interview Srila Prabhupada. The questions were rather superficial and didn't show much understanding of the philosophy. '' Is it necessary to be vegetarian?'' '' Is the soul locked in third eye?'' '' Why do shave your head?'' Yet Prabhupada sat with the reporters for a long time, replying to all questions with patience.

Saturday 4th October was the day the VIP program took place. The devotees arranged a buffet-style reception for the guests. Prabhupada's lecture started at 2 p.m. He selected to speak from the famous Srimad-Bhagavatam verse 1.2.6:
The supreme occupation (dharma) for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted in order to completely satisfy the self.


VIP program, Saturday 4th October, 1975

It was the ideal verse for the occasion. The audience comprised of Hindu swamis and pandits, Muslim imams and Christian priests, High Commissioners (British and Indian), Government ministers and officials, pious businessmen, lawyers and just simple devotees of Lord Krishna. They all appreciated the learned talk. The British High Commissioner remarked at the end of the question time:
''Sir, I have listened to your talk with great interest. You are very clear and lucid…. Your philosophy seems very clear cut…''
Prabhupada: Thank you very much (laughter). Therefore it appeals more to the Western countries.
After the lecture the devotees served all the guests a delicious feast. Srila Prabhupada was highly satisfied with the function. It was not every day that an audience of such highly posted people listened to Srimad Bhagavatam, heard the chanting of the holy names and accepted Krishna prasadam.
For the devotees it was definitely the highlight of Prabhupada's stay in Mauritius.
Prabhupada left the next afternoon for Durban. Because he was unable to meet the PM he promised to come back to Mauritius as soon as there would be another positive sign from the Sir Sewoosagur's secretaries.


On the way to the airport Prabhupada stopped at the Rose Belle Shivala. About 100 villagers had gathered for the occasion in the courtyard of the temple. In his short message Srila Prabhupada outlined how modern society, by following the instructions of Lord Krishna, can easily become Krishna conscious and thus perfect the rarely obtained human form of life.


Srila Prabhupada at Rose Belle Shivala



Chayvana Swami, Mr.Khemraj Gangah, Brahmananda Swami, Srila Prabhupada and Chaitya Guru das.

Pointe D'Esny
Prabhupada's South African visit lasted up to October 24th. In the meantime devotees in Mauritius were given hope that the PM was now ready to meet Srila Prabhupada. Upon his arrival in the country Prabhupada was taken to a bungalow on the beach in Pointe d'Esny, near the airport. Prabhupada had returned to meet with the prime minister. This time, as a friendly gesture, the Government put two VIP cars, including drivers, at ISKCON's disposal.


Srila Prabhupada in Pointe d'Esny.


The day after his arrival, his secretary, Pusta Krishna Swami, suggested that Prabhupada take a drive along the scenic east coast of the country. As he was about to enter the car on the right side, Pusta Krishna suggested, “Srila Prabhupada, come to the other side. It's safer." And Prabhupada complied. For half an hour they rode through the beautiful countryside, past sugarcane fields, mountains, and the ocean. At one point, they stopped and walked along a cliff beside the sea. When they returned to the car, Brahmananda Swami opened the right-side door and Prabhupada said, “No, the other side is safer," just as Pusta Krishna had previously suggested.
As the government car, black Citroen, negotiated a narrow curve while driving along the southwest coastal road of the island, a Volkswagen suddenly appeared heading towards Prabhupada's car in the same lane. Prabhupada was seated behind Pusta Krishna, and Brahmananda was seated behind the driver. The moment before the Volkswagen had appeared, Srila Prabhupada had sat up, cross-legged, planting his cane against the floor of the car to support himself. The chauffeur braked, swerving to the other lane, but the Volkswagen swerved in the same direction. There was a head-on collision. Pusta Krishna's head hit the windshield, cracking the glass. The driver's head also slammed against the glass, and his face was covered with blood.
In the back seat Prabhupada remained sitting, his face set gravely. Brahmananda, in shock, suddenly embraced Prabhupada, as if to protect him, although the danger had already passed. Brahmananda then jumped out of the car to try and flag down a motorist, and Pusta Krishna got out and opened the back door, where he found Srila Prabhupada with his face bruised, his leg bleeding and pieces of glass scattered at his feet. Prabhupada didn't speak or indicate how he felt. Suddenly Pusta Krishna realized that the car, disabled on a curve, was in a dangerous position, so he joined Brahmananda in the road to caution motorists and to try to get someone to stop. Both the Citroen and the Volkswagen were totaled, and the Volkswagen's occupants were also injured. Motorists soon stopped, and when the injured persons had received help, Prabhupada and the devotees got into a car and rode back to the temple.

Harikesh was waiting anxiously, wondering why Srila Prabhupada was so late, when suddenly Prabhupada entered, walking very stiffly, saying nothing. When Harikesh saw all three were injured, he cried out, “My God! What happened? What happened?" But Srila Prabhupada just walked to his quarters and sat down, silent. A devotee brought bandages for the obvious injuries: Prabhupada's chin, hand, and leg, and Pusta Krishna's and Brahmananda's heads. Srila Prabhupada had said nothing since the accident. Finally he spoke: “Asann api klesha-da asa dehah." And he translated: “As soon as you accept this material body, there are so many difficulties. We were sitting peacefully in the car, and the next moment—crash." He talked briefly about the collision, and Brahmananda Swami told how just before the accident Prabhupada had braced himself with his cane, preventing perhaps more serious injuries.
“Get some resin and turmeric," Prabhupada said. “Mix it together with a bit of lye, and heat it. Then you apply the mix to the bruises.” Prabhupada was again speaking—Bhagavata philosophy and practical medical remedies. It remained a frightening event, however, and Prabhupada asked the devotees to have kirtana. Krishna had saved them, he said. Considering that both cars had been destroyed, the injuries were negligible.
Sitting on the sofa, Prabhupada looked like a battle hero, anointed in three places with the yellow poultice, while Harikesh read aloud from Chaitanya Charitamrita – ''The Disappearance of Haridas Thakur''.


Gowtam Teelock (right) and Mr.M.Varjanbhay listening to Srila Prabhupada.

Then Srila Prabhupada began talking about the dangers of traveling, questioning the advisability of his extensive touring. His mission of translating Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vaishnava literature was too important for him to be risking his life traveling in automobiles. He had been considering a visit to Nairobi before returning to Bombay, but now he said he would cancel his visit. He said he had never wanted to leave Bombay, but because they had made so many arrangements in Africa, he had come. Perhaps the accident was a sign that he should go back to India.
The next morning, with Brahmananda Swami and Pusta Krishna Swami hobbling along, Prabhupada went on his morning walk as usual, although he favored his injured knee. Again he discussed with his disciples whether he should go on to Nairobi or return to India. Chayavana, the president of ISKCON Nairobi, argued that Prabhupada should go to Nairobi. The devotees there were expecting it, he said, and they had made arrangements. If Prabhupada canceled now, he would probably not come back for a long time. Others, however, argued that there was no question of asking Srila Prabhupada to keep going now, after this traumatic accident; he should go directly to Bombay.
Prabhupada heard both opinions, but he was more affected by the consideration of disappointing the devotees in Nairobi than of recuperating after the accident. He decided to go to Nairobi.
To the great disappointment of everyone, the PM's secretaries informed the devotees that Sir Sewoosagur had to take the plane the same day to fly to New York for the General assembly of the United Nations. A meeting with Prabhupada was therefore out of question.
Prabhupada took everything as Krishna's arrangement. The car accident had been an inauspicious sign. And now this. He had come back here just on the promise that he could meet the PM. Without any further ado, Prabhupada had his secretary book his ticket to Nairobi, his next stop.

But after only a few days in Nairobi, Prabhupada became anxious to return to India. Reports were reaching him about mismanagement in Bombay and about building materials being stolen from the property through a conspiracy involving the workers, the storekeeper, and the chaukidars. When Srila Prabhupada heard this, he became so morose he stopped translating. He even stopped eating. Although thousands of miles from Bombay, he was feeling the pain more than any of the devotees there. Many of them, in fact, were not even aware that the theft was taking place. When Brahmananda Swami asked Prabhupada why he wasn't eating, he replied, “How can I eat when my money is being stolen?"

Bombay, November 1st, 1975.
Srila Prabhupada's plane from Nairobi arrived in Bombay at one A.M., yet even at such an early hour he was greeted at the temple by a gathering of intimate life members, disciples, and even some of the tenants on the land. When the group followed him to his room, he confided that he had had a serious accident, and he even showed them the scar on his knee. He said he was relieved to be back. In a letter from Bombay he wrote,
“The accident was very disastrous, but still Krishna saved… Perhaps I may stay here for some time for finishing our temple construction on this land.”

Brahmanda: "Prabhupada went to Mauritius – we had some devotees who were preaching there. More then 50% of the population in Mauritius are Hindu; originally from India – mostly from Bihar. The British had brought them there mostly to cultivate sugar cane. Prabhupada was to meet with the Prime Minister of Mauritius, but when Prabhupada arrived the Prime Minister was busy with some affairs, and he gave Prabhupada one of his personal limousines, which was a very nice Citroen - which are very special cars made of aluminum instead of steel and they have this suspension system that makes you feel like you’re floating – anyway he gave this police officer who was the chauffeur. Prabhupada was there for only a few days – primarily he had come to see the Prime Minister.
On one occasion I had to make an international phone call and went to somebody’s house to make the call and while I was there I was watching TV and saw the Prime Minister cutting a ribbon to inaugurate a big project which was a chicken processing plant. It showed how the chickens were hung on these machines by the neck and there was a knife cutting them, feathers flying and the outcome was chickens ready for cooking. It was shocking seeing this all on TV. This was a gift from the French government to the people of Mauritius. So the French were going to sell fertilizers and chicken feed to Mauritius – all these foreign aid projects are all tied in with business. So I mentioned to Prabhupada that I saw the Prime Minister and what he was doing and Prabhupada said, 'Oh, he’s a Hindu and doing like that – then I cannot meet him.' So Prabhupada decided not to meet him, because it meant the man had no principles. As there were some days where no programs had been scheduled so Prabhupada said, 'Let us go for a ride,' as we had this big limousine. Mauritius is a very beautiful, scenic place – a kind of pristine island – so Prabhupada was sitting in the back and I was sitting next to him and Pusta Krishna was sitting in the front seat next to the driver."


Srila Prabhupada with Brahmananda and Pusta Krishna.

"We were driving - whizzing along the coast line and it was very pleasant, with sea breezes, the ocean and blue sky, sugar cane growing and everything was very nice. Prabhupada was enjoying it very much, with the window down and the fresh air blowing in and he was sitting crossed-legged on the back seat and beside him was his cane (walking stick). Then at a certain point - I didn’t realize it then but later on – Prabhupada just took the cane and propped against the floor and was holding it with his two hands, and just after that we were making a turn around a sharp bend and boom! – there was not a second to react – it happened so fast – a head on collision. What it was, afterwards we found out, a white tourist from South Africa was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that was it, we just hit - head on collision. Everyone was in shock, the driver was full of blood, the glass had shattered and Pusta Krishna was also wounded. My arm was gashed and Prabhupada had blood on his dhoti and a cut on his knee and we were all shocked. My first reaction, which was maybe a little naïve, I just put my arms around Prabhupada and just held him – it was just so shocking. Prabhupada didn’t say anything. As Pusta Krishna and the driver were out of it and I was the only one who could function, somehow I just got out of the car. The other car was a Volkswagen with a man and a woman – she was unconscious, and the man was getting out of his car. I realized I had to get Prabhupada out of there – I didn’t even know where we were – I didn’t know where our house was or anything. After a while a car comes by – now Mauritius has mostly Indians and there are very few western or white people – so the car coming by also had white people in it and when I tried to stop them they just went right by, they didn’t want to stop. Then another car came by, this time I stood in the middle of the road and the car stopped. I went up to the people in the car and said, 'We need help. My grandfather is injured, he’s an old man. Please you have to take us to the nearest hospital.' So they said, 'OK.' Then they also saw the other car had a woman – she’s unconscious, full of blood – and they saw Prabhupada, he’s an Indian with just a little bit of blood – but she was really in a bad way and the Volkswagen driver wanted attention for his wife, so we were competing and the stopped car said, 'Maybe we should take her first,' because they didn’t have much room in their car. I said, 'No,no, you take us!' The other man said, 'No, we want to go.' I just slapped the car and said 'You’re taking us and you’re taking us right now. Let’s go!' So they said, 'OK, OK.'
I took Prabhupada out of the Citroen. Prabhupada was absolutely silent, never said a word, and I put him the in the car and we started driving. The only reason the people were taking us was because I had forced them. They said, 'Well, we don’t know where the hospital is and we are going over here to our hotel and you can go there…,' and I said, 'No, no, we want to go to the hospital right now!' Prabhupada didn’t say anything so I knew that whatever I was doing he was agreeing to, but then I could see that these people weren’t helping us and they didn’t want to take us to the hospital – they just wanted to go to their hotel. I realized that being with these people, this was not good. They didn’t want to help us so I said, 'Stop the car.' They stopped and I took Prabhupada and we got out of the car and they left and there we are standing in the middle of nowhere – lost – not knowing where to go. Then another car comes along and I stopped that car, but this time it had three Indian guys in it. When they saw Prabhupada they were offering respects, 'Oh, Swamiji,' and I said, 'Take us to the nearest hospital.' Then Prabhupada said, 'No. Take us home. No hospital.' I didn’t even know where our home was. Eventually they understood where our home was and they were very happy to take us immediately home, all on the other side of the island as it was quite a long drive. When the car pulls in to our home, where Harikesh was, as he had stayed back typing Prabhupada’s daily Srimad Bhagavatam translations. He had seen us drive off in a limousine, so when he sees us come back in a junky old car with three Indian boys, and Prabhupada gets out of the car with blood on him, he’s shocked. Prabhupada is not speaking anything, just goes into the house and sits down in his place. He had us dress his wound, clean it, then he said he wanted to go back to Bombay. Prabhupada had never wanted to leave Bombay as he had been very much concerned with the ISKCON Bombay project, getting the land, fighting all the municipality, local politicians, the seller of the land and its residents who were causing obstructions – getting the land was a battle that needed his constant supervision. So he said, 'Let us immediately go back to Bombay.' And Prabhupada never spoke about the accident."

 
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