Since there was a strike on my arrival, the devotees met me at the airport with an ambulance. Once again it was a mad drive through town - as if it was a life-death situation......
In this part of the world the ambulances are very basic: simply a clapped out van with a stretcher in the back and a flashing light on the top with a siren. No other equipment whatsoever.
And during times of strikes it is certainly a good business to have an ambulance - they are in demand and can thus ask for a horrendous price.
It was nice to be back in Chittagong temple, and devotees were greeting me with happy smiles.
And I could immediately see that the temple construction was nicely progressing. Some marble workers had come all the way from India to work on the inside and put the marble on the floor, the walls and the columns. Most of them were Muslims. They would live with the devotees for one year, take prasadam and hear kirtan or lectures while they eat....! What great mercy they were receiving, apart from the opportunity to engage in service and build a nice temple.
It was hard work and required good coordination to get it all done in time for the evening prasadam. I had the pleasure of serving out - it was a joyful event, with lots of students coming to join the fun. The devotees had also prepared a little birthday cake, and I was cutting it into small pieces and feeding everybody. Everybody was cheering, and the atmosphere was surcharged with joy and humorous dealings.
Every year my birthday marks the beginning of the Prabhupada marathon. This was the second year we were observing the Prabhupada marathon in Chittagong, and we were trying to inspire all the devotees to participate. After Mangal artik we read quotes by Srila Prabhupada on the importance of book distribution - to get everybody into the right consciousness.
Every evening I was going out with our boys to distribute books - a couple of days with each temple department.
Usually our brahmacaris are arranging some little get-togethers in some people's homes who are known to them. These congregational members invite their friends, neighbors and family members, knowing that we will come with books.
I usually give a ten-minute talk about the importance of Prabhupada's books and request them to take some books by offering to sign them with blessings. This trick always works fabulously in this part of the world!
And if people don't have the cash on them, we make a list with their names and phone numbers, and they pay some time later.
And of course the host always insists to give us some uncut fruits to take home. So the books go out, and the bags fill up with fruits....!
And then we knock on a few more homes of Hindu people around the area. Some people who come to the get-together simply take us to meet their friends and neighbors. Sometimes they are so enthusiastic that it is hard to get back to the temple.
A couple of times we also went to the wholesale market where the devotees often go to collect donations for big festivals such as Ratha Yatra. We met some very nice and cultured business men, and they also happily took books. To some elderly gentlemen I gave strong warnings about imminent death and the need to prepare for this final test, and they were visibly moved.
In this part of the world people have a natural respect for shastra, and it is relatively easy to place Prabhupada's books into their homes.
Some nights we distributed three or four boxes of the first four cantos of the Bhagavatam, and at least 15 to 20 more books - big and medium ones. The small one's we hardly even take out. All this within two to three hours!
Of course, some people are also "tough cases" and are maybe not so favorable to ISKCON, or they follow some local traditions.
There are all kinds of Baba's and self-made avatara's in Bangladesh.
Sometimes the boys also line up bigger programs in some Hindu temples, and I give a little longer talk - maybe 20 minutes, and we do the same procedure. And so many people take books, just by seeing a devotee in a body made in Germany.
It is hard to convince the devotees that they should report their scores. They did it last year for some time, but now this devotee was in India to get more marble for the temple construction. So now nobody was reporting the scores. So just the fact that you don't see Bangladesh in the Sankirtan News does not mean anything! They distribute tons of books here.....!
I managed to inspire them now to read out the scores every morning to the Deities after Mangal Artik. Even for this many departments couldn't be bothered to report their results....
Vijay Prabhu, our Minister for Book Distribution was so inspired about the Sankirtan mood when he visited Chittagong last year, that he offered to collect lamxi to buy a Sankirtan van for them.
Recently he wrote me a message saying he now managed to collect enough money to buy the van, after several international appeals.
I conducted the seminar just for the temple devotees and brahmacaris - around seventy boys took part.
I asked them to put on role plays at the beginning of every session, summarizing what we had discussed the day before. And they came up with such deep and sweet ideas! Indeed heart moving!
I had compared the titles and designations we accumulate throughout our life to various hats we are wearing: the 'new-bhakta hat', the 'brahmacari hat', the 'department-leader hat', etc., which are all roles we are meant to play, without identifying ourselves with them.
Another boy was playing the false ego, dressed in a black Muslim burka. He was constantly jumping around one devotee whispering some nonsense into his ear: you are so great! So intelligent! Your opinion is the best! You are right, everybody else is wrong! Your plan and vision is the best!
And the devotee took it all in and became an 'ego-driven devotee', accepting his ego's instructions and advice. Finally, after attending the Fase Ego Seminar he learnt to recognise his false ego and started to ignore and reject it, and even fight it. And finally the false ego was killed, and the boy crawled out of his black burka and transformed himself into the real ego - servant of Krsna, surrendering at Krsna's lotus feet....
In our heart is a big beautiful throne - a simhasana, and it is meant for Krsna to take His seat there.At present however we have our big false ego taking the seat instead....
On the 19th of December I flew off to Calcutta to travel out to Mayapur....
Your servant, Devaki dd