MK: You were born in Calcutta?
SM: I was born in Calcutta in 1954. When I was 17, I first met the devotees of ISKCON, that was Jayapataka Maharaja, actually not Jayapataka Maharaja, but Jayapataka Brahmachari and Acyutananda. Both of them were brahmachari at that time, and I was just passing by from school and they were doing kirtan on the street in the south area. There was a pretty big crowd and I was curious to see what was going on. Then I saw that two Western devotees are chanting Hare Krsna. It was very nice and amazing to me. I didn’t know what actually they were doing, these saffron people, Western. I was listening to them. After finishing kirtan, they said that they are staying in Gaudiya Math, that they are from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and their Guru Maharaja is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, they told me that they were looking for a few rooms or a flat, for making an ashram, because their Guru Maharaja was coming. So I was just listening to them. And then some people said that there is one place in Hindustan Road, (that was the first ashram in Calcutta, on Hindustan Road), in the South part of Calcutta. And when their Guru Maharaja came, I could not come because my examination of class 10 was going on, so I waited a few days. But unfortunately I could not meet Srila Prabhupada then because he left for Bombay, but I met two of the senior devotees, Hamsadduta and Himavati Mataji. They were grihastas at that time. They were a very nice couple. Hamsadduta was German, and mataji was Russian. But they had a good grihasta life, and they told me many things about Guru Maharaja and Lord Krsna, so a few evenings I used to go to them. Unfortunately, they also had to leave for Bombay. Then there was a long gap like one year. I was totally forgetting about everything, then again, I saw their big pandal program was going on at, Deshapriya Park. I was coming from school and I met devotees. The devotees said: “Oh, tonight is our Guru Maharaja’s lecture.” I was very much curious to meet him, and I went to listen to His lecture. It was such a wonderful lecture as I have ever heard. He said that to reach Krishna, simply you need love. No money, nothing. At that time, a lot of guru worship was going on in Calcutta--you need to give such a big pranam daksina, or visit and bring some nice valuable gifts. I was from a poor family, and I could not afford this, so I was always staying away. Still I had some desire to know about Sanatana Dharma, about the Bhagavad-Gita and Krishna, because my father used to go to some temples, and he used to listen to Ram-Krsna mantra, listen to the Vedanta class, and Gita. My father and his friends always had discussions in my family, which always made me interested about God. So then Prabhupada was giving the lecture about Krsna and that only to satisfy Krsna you need “Patram puspam phalam toyam” and Krsna will come very close to you, you must only try, you just try. And these lectures gave me such a good, deep impression in my heart. So, the next day, I could not be separated from Srila Prabhupada. I was trying to meet him, so I was standing beside his car, but I never knew which one was his car. So, I saw that after the lecture, Prabhupada was gradually coming to his car, and I ran down and bowed down to His Feet. Srila Prabhupada said, “Oh, who are you? What is your name?” Then I told him. He said, “Did you like my lecture?” and I said, “Oh, yes”.
MK: What was your name?
And then Prabhupada said, “Why don’t you come to our temple?” I inquired where it was. And the very next day, I went, and he accepted me. He said, “Well, please come every day. And then ask Kaushallia about initiation.” That mataji was one of the very-dear devotees to Srila Prahupada. He said, “You please take care of her. She is a very young devotee.” The very next day, I got another companion, who was Shumana, another Bengali girl; a little bit more aged than me. We used to go to the to the temple together. Then Prabhupada gave me first initiation in 1971 in Mayapur. In 1971, it was barren land only. There were the only hut houses. There were so many old devotees like Brahmananda Swami, Acyutananda Maharaja, Giriraj, and so many. Such a nice atmosphere, very pure atmosphere, much more than now. By the association of Srila Prabhupada, you could feel that there is something going on. When Prabhupada used to give classes, you could feel that Krsna is very near by, very close to you--maybe he is somewhere in the field in Mayapur. Such a pure atmosphere was there. The devotees were such…well, nowadays we feel something, but not that much pure than before when we joined which enchanted us our whole life to this movement. That we won’t be separated from Srila Prabhupada and this movement, like that.
MK: So you said that the first time you met Srila Prabhupada, in 1970…?
MK: You got initiated in 1971?
SM: Yes, and second initiation was in 1972 in Vrindavan.
MK: In Vrindavan?
SM: Yes, in Radha Damodar Kunj.
MK: And previously, you were talking about your family--you were supporting your family?
SM: Yeah, at that time, when I used to go to the temple, which was between ‘72 to ‘74, then my father got very sick. He was a civil engineer, and he was supporting my family, but he had a severe heart attack, a very bad type of heart attack. He was almost lying in the bed-- he was not able to do hard work. So, I was the eldest child of my family, like me and my other two brothers. So, they were all younger than me, 6 years,7 years, 12 years. They were just in the school, so that was Krsna’s test on me. Whether I would stay or not. I was bewildered. Temple devotees wouldn’t let me to do any service outside. Otherwise, I would have to leave the movement. So I wrote to Srila Prabhupada: “All this situation made me bewildered, what to do?’ All the time I wrote in English, but Prabhupada’s answer did not come to me. So then I had an idea--I wrote him in Bengali and Prabhupada got the letter. I think that someone would stop them from going to Srila Prabhupada, and maybe he was very busy at that time. So when I wrote him in Bengali, Prabhupada answered me, everything in English. Prabhupada could understand my situation, so it made the devotees understand, you know, to answer me in English. He said, “Oh you can bring your family to Hare Krsna, make them devotees, do work outside to maintain them”, so he gave me this…this letter is still there in the Third Volume in Prabhupada’s letters. So I had permission. I could do some tuition to the children and raise my family up like that.
MK: It sounds like they’re doing well?
SM: Yes. And my brothers now are well maintained. One of them has a big, big business. By Prabhupada’s mercy, he is the sole proprietor of an elevator company. He got the national prize from the prime minister. The second one is a chartered accountant, and a promoter. And the third one is working, as the second officer on a ship. Like that. And this all happened by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy.
MK: They are helping you now?
SM: (laughing) Now? Yeah, sometimes. No. I don’t need their help, because they are not devotees. They love Srila Prabhupada, but they do not follow the four rules and regulations.
MK: No, but I mean, do they help you with maintenance?
SM: Yes. One of them has become life member, and another is planning to become life member. They like the movement, they come visit Mayapur, and they take prasadam, like that.
MK: What about your marriage? How did that get arranged?
SM: That was also Prabhupada—he ordered that I should not marry a Western person. I did not know why. Once my father came and had a discussion with Srila Prabhupada, and after my father left, Prabhupada said, “Well I’m telling you that you should get married if your parents arrange. Or a devotee, a Bengali, or an Indian, but not to a Westerner.” So I said that if the person chosen from my family is not a devotee then what will happen? Srila Prabhupada said, “You make him a devotee. You follow the rules and regulations, and afterwards, he will become a devotee.”
MK: Your father was not liking the idea if you were to marry a Western person? That’s why he was talking to Srila Prabhupada first.
SM: I had an idea, but I did not hear their conversation.
MK: He did not talk to you about it, your father?
SM: Anything? No. Anyway, then Prabhupada told me, so I did not. Many offers came from the Western devotees, but I could not accept because it was ordered by Srila Prabhupada. Actually I was 17, at that time, very young in the movement, and everybody liked me. You know.
Prabhupada, I was always running about to his room, and bringing water, or flowers, and sometimes taking care of his room, cleaning, mopping. So Prabhupada could see me all the time. So I had his blessings, you know. And I could talk to him more. So even when I went to Vrindavan, I was also cleaning his room. So I had many discussions with Srila Prabhupada.
MK: So how your husband came about?
SM: Yes, that is also Prabhupada’s arrangement, I think. Because after 10 years, Prabhupada left, you know. Prabhupada left in ’77. My father left in ’87, and then the next year after, I went to temple for Sunday feast, and then my Prabhu, Sankarshan das, was giving the lecture, and then after the lecture he asked about my address, and I gave him my address, because he wanted to communicate with his sister, my god sister, Jalatala Devi, my very dear godsister at that time. So she got married, and I did not know, but prabhu wanted to give her a letter. So the next week, Prabhu’s father came to my house, and asked my mother about my marriage, and if she gives permission--then my mother got a very good chance because he was a devotee. My mother was very happy. She met the temple president of Kolkata and it was arranged.
MK: Who was the temple president then?
SM: Adridharan Prabhu. And at that time Jayapataka Maharaja asked my mother to come and the marriage was settled at that time.
MK: What year was it?
SM: That was in 1989.
MK: Up to that time you were not married?
SM: No. It was long time.
MK: Were you staying in Kolkata all that time?
SM: Yes, I was staying at home because brahmacharinis were not allowed to stay in the temple at that time.
MK: And after marriage?
SM: For first two years I stayed with my in-law’s family in Calcutta, then my prabhu decided to come to Mayapur, so we got the permission from Jayapataka Maharaja .We came to Mayapur and stayed in the kitchen building for one and half years. At that time my elder daughter was born. I was pregnant the second year and giving birth to my second daughter and I was also working in Gurukula. At that time a proposal came from the MAC. They had an idea to make a hospital and clinic and they asked my Prabhu to take charge of that – because he was always connected with the doctors. He was making life members, mostly to the doctors, and had much friendship with the doctors. So, on the upper level they arranged for him to take charge of this project. So, my Prabhu had an idea to make a temple also, because without a temple we would not like to stay there. So, we made Jagannatha temple and a clinic also. Many doctors are coming. I am looking after that with my husband.
MK: When you first came here in what kind of state did you find this property?
SM: This building was here and the land. Nothing was here. We had to make a garden and get the furniture. The hospital was nothing, but just a name – there was no instruments or any equipment. So we arranged for different people to donate. Someone donated an eye box, and one mataji from America had donated for the dental department.
MK: Who was it?
SM: Pikedas and her husband--they are life-members in America, and they are devotees. They helped us with the dental department equipment and some other equipment also. Not all, but some. We still need some help.
MK: How you support this whole situation now?
SM: It supported by Tellin Finance.
MK: How did you begin, just the two of you or was someone else helping?
SM: Yes, me and my husband and a very few devotees. They were not doing some high intellectual work, but simple work, like farming, cooking and cleaning. Like that.
MK: Do you farm somewhere else or just here?
SM: Just gardening around this property, not in any other area.
MK: How many devotees usually stay here?
MK: Where are these devotees coming from?
SM: Different parts of West Bengal.
MK: Did you make them devotees?
SM: No, they came from other temples, and a few we made devotees just here.
MK: How many children do you have?
SM: Two daughters – Devahuti and Devastuti.
MK: How old are they?
SM: When we first came one was 2.5 and another was 1.5. Now they are 14.5 and 13.5.
MK: What is your plan for your daughters?
SM: My desire that my daughters also will be serving the devotees and Srila Prabhupada.
MK: Do you want them to get any professional education?
SM: Yes, my elder daughter is doing computer. She wants to be a journalist or a good lawyer and help ISKCON. Some official work. This is Devahuti. In addition, Devastuti wants to be a medical expert and help to ISKCON.
MK: Do you accommodate some elder devotees to stay here in their old age?
SM: Yes, one of them is Sukamrita Prabhu -- he got first initiation from Srila Prabhupada and second he could not get from Prabhupada, because He left then, so he got second initiation from Bhavananda Prabhu.
MK: Do the elder devotees who stay here pay something? How did they end up here?
SM: We give them all kinds of medicine, clothing, food (prasadam) and room. Some little expense money they need, sometimes 150, 200, 400, not more then 500 Rupees we give them.
MK: And they do service?
MK: Can you explain more about your personal life? Maybe some memories, memories of Srila Prabhupada?
SM: I have a sweet memory of Srila Prabhupada that would be gladly accepted by the children because it is a story, you know? It is really a funny incident actually. When I went to Vrindavan to receive my second initiation, at that time I was 18. I used to love Prabhupada, to bring flowers, to arrange vases for Prabhupada’s room, to clean. So when I went to Vrindavan, I thought maybe I would easily get the service, but Yamuna Mataji was there, she would love to cook for Srila Prabhupada, so she would not allow me in the kitchen. So I went gloomily to Srila Prabhupada and I said, “Prabhupada, I have no service.” Prabhupada said, “Okay, you can clean my room like you do.” So I used to clean Prabhupada’s room every day and Prabhupada would remind me, “Close the door, okay. While you are cleaning my room, you must close the door, because of the monkeys--they are very clever.” I said, “Okay, Srila Prabhupada.” As I was young, and my movement was very fickle, I forgot what Prabhupada said. I used to say yes, but I would totally forget to close the door every day. Therefore, the day after Ekadasi, which was Dwadasi, Prabhupada said he had many laddhus in this container, and said, “Keep closed the door, and remember that the monkeys can come.” I said, “Okay, Srila Prabhupada.” Again, I forgot. At that time, Prabhupada left, and after some time, the monkey came, gradually grabbed the box and went. And I said, “Oh, there was a sound?” And I saw the monkey going. Now I thought, what to do? How will I return these? And Prabhupada will ask me, and what I will say? I was so scared. Then, I went to the roof part of the building, I saw the monkeys had climbed up to the tree, and started to eat them, one by one. My heart was beating so badly. I thought that this time maybe Prabhupada will throw me out, because I never listen to him. Then I prayed to all the demigods to get the container. That monkey would never listen to me; he ate, finished and dropped the container down. I looked down. There was one Vrajabasi mataji in the next courtyard. She was making chapattis. She just picked up the container. Then I shouted out, “Mataji, that belongs to me! How I can come to your house? I do not know the way.” She told me, “Come this way.” I went and she gave me the container, but the container was bound. I did not know what to do, so I brought the container. In the meantime, there was a bucket of water, and that naughty monkey came and dropped the water all over, and it floated.
MK: In the room?
SM: In the room. So had to clean the room again. Because I never listened to Prabhupada. So this happened. Krsna gave me a very bad lesson. Then I took the container and went down. I was just sitting there, and Prabhupada came back from his morning walk. He was talking with another Maharaja, Tamal Krsna Swami, and Brahmananda Maharaja was there, and Pishima, Prabhupada’s sister, was sitting there. I came, put down the key, and Prabhupada said, “Well, finished?” I moaned. Prabhupada said, “What happened?” My eyes were filled with tears, and I was scared. I had to say the truth. That this thing happened, that always you said to close the door, and I always forgot. Now this thing has happened. Prabhupada laughed so loud! And I could not believe myself that Prabhupada is laughing instead of scolding me. Then Prabhupada gave me a 10-rupee note, and told me to bring jalebies for everybody. And Prabhupada’s sister teased me: “Well, it may be a human monkey, not a monkey, but somebody who has grabbed the laddhus.” She was just pointing out to me. Just made a tease, you know. Everybody laughed, because Prabhupada translated it into English again. And this is the thing that happened in my life.
MK: Any other story?
SM: Another story is that Srila Prabhupada was showing me the ‘finger’ [how to chant gayatri mantra on fingers]
At that time, Srila Prabhupada’s lunch was ready, and Prabhupada would take prasadam. Prabhupada was giving everybody second initiation, a few of us. Lokanatha Maharaja was there; he also got the second initiation. Then Prabhupada called me last, called “Saci mata”. At that time I was just falling… my eyes were filled with sleep, I was sleepy at that time. Prabhupada was showing me finger, finger, how to chant. He showed me five times, I could not figure it out. Prabhupada said, “Go away, you won’t have second initiation.” Then I cried, “Oh, Prabhupada, you show me. This is the last time. I will accept it!” Then Prabhupada said, “Okay, if you do not get it, I will just go for my lunch. I won’t give you the second initiation this time. This is making wrong—you are not serious enough.” Then he showed me one last time and I was serious, and by Krsna’s mercy, I got it.
MK: So you were sleepy at that time?
SM: Yes, I don’t know why I was sleepy at that time.
MK: That was in Vrindavan?
MK: How long did you stay in Vrindavan?
SM: With Srila Prabhupada, the first time was 10 days. And the last time was about 10 or 15 days.
MK: Did you travel anywhere else?
SM: No, only morning walks, with Srila Prabhupada. Sometimes ladies were allowed to come. That was in Raman Reti. But to Radha Damodar, not. Only the men were allowed.
MK: I mean, in your life, did you travel anywhere else?
SM: After that? No. With Prabhupada, yes, only two times in Vrindavan. But after Srila Prabhupada, yes, with my husband. I went to Vrindavan, I went to Haridwar, I went to Siliguri and Darjeeling.
To stay my last days of life in Vrindavan, that is my utmost desire.
MK: You want to go there?
SM: Yes. At that time, I want to stay, and for only a few years, only to associate with the devotees. Because I was traveling my whole life, sometimes with my family, and then with my children, with this movement, with this project that we are working on… So, I never had time to give Krsna fully. So I want to do something for my life, I do not want to miss it. I would like to stay and have association with the devotees. I would like to hear more Krsna Katha, like that, a few years. That is my utmost desire. I do not know what Krsna will decide.
MK: In Vrindavan?
SM: Yes, that’s all. Daughters married, and they will do their Krsna Consciousness and I will be right there in Vrindavan.
MK: Already are your daughters married?
SM: No, after a few years I think, now they are in gurukul, and then service, I think it will take five more years, then I would like to be there teaching them.
MK: What will happen to the ashram here?
SM: Someone else will take over then. If the MAC thinks that my daughters are really qualified to run this, then they will. Otherwise, the authorities will decide. Or Prabhu will do. (Laughing) But I won’t spend a long while over here, like five or seven years. That’s all. I’d like to stay in Vrindavan, that’s all.
MK: And your prabhu?
SM: If he likes, he’ll do [the service]. If he doesn’t then somebody else will do.