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ISKCON 50 Meditations: October 21, 2015

By: for ISKCON News on Oct. 21, 2015

Every morning, several hours before dawn, Prabhupada would rise, take his bath, chant Hare Krishna on his beads and work at his translating.  While outside his closed, windowless chamber, dawn came and the city awoke.  He had no stove, so daily he had to walk the seven blocks to the Riverside Drive apartment to cook.  It would be late morning when he would come out on to the busy street.  He would walk north on Columbus Avenue amid the steady flow of pedestrians, pausing at each intersection in the sweeping breeze from the river.  Instead of the small town scenery of Butler, he passed through the rows of thirty-storey office buildings on Columbus Avenue.  At street level were shoe repair shops, candy stores, laundries and continental restaurants.  The upper storeys held the professional suites of doctors, dentists and lawyers.  At Seventy-fifth Street, he would turn and walk west through a neighborhood of brownstone apartments, then cross Amsterdam to Broadway, which was separated by a center island park area.  The park greenery could more accurately be described as “blackery” here, since it was covered with soot and city grime.  Broadway displayed its produce, shops and butcher shops, with their stands extending on to the sidewalk.  Old men sat on benches on the thin strip of park between the north and southbound traffic.  The last block on Seventy-fifth Street before Riverside Drive held highrise apartment buildings with doormen.  Thirty-three Riverside Drive also had a doorman. 

Sometimes Prabhupada would walk in Riverside Park.  Still careful for the condition of his heart, he liked the long stretches of flat walking area.  Sometimes he would walk from Dr. Mishra’s studio down Seventy-second Street to Amsterdam Avenue to the West End Superette, where he would buy produce and spices for his cooking.  Sometimes he would wander through Manhattan, without any fixed direction, and sometimes he would take buses to different areas of the City.

Here we see Prabhupada forced to do the same austerity he did in Butler: He slept in a room with no cooking facilities and had to walk many blocks to his host’s apartment, where he could cook.  He would also take walks around the neighborhood and even further afoot in the streets of Manhattan.  And even take bus rides.  New York is a dangerous city to wander in, especially for an old man.  But Srila Prabhupada was fearless.  As a “Calcutta boy” he was not afraid of big cities.  He was not wandering aimlessly.  He was studying the mentality of the people and even looking for possibilities for buildings he might purchase for use as a temple, if he could get support.  Yet we who were accustomed to never let Prabhupada go out alone but always accompanied him with a few young men, if not a larger group, feel protective and even fearful hearing of him wandering in Manhattan alone.  In later years when Prabhupada was once walking with his devotees in Calcutta, he remarked how as a young boy he had climbed up to the top of the Victoria Memorial on the scaffolding when it was under construction.  One of his disciples said, “You must have been brave.”  Prabhupada replied, “Still I am brave, or how could I have come to America alone?”  

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