I'M WRITING MY COLUMN from the same desk and computer, but in a new place. After ten years in Washington, D.C., I have moved to Washington state's Skagit Valley, worlds away from noisy Massachusetts Avenue traffic and the Embassy Row neighborhood. Now it's privacy on forty-eight acres bordering the Skagit River, with three waterfalls, two ponds, night stars, a small lake, the sounds of nature, acres of lawns and gardens, the rising and setting of the sun and moon.
I have lived many places in Srila Prabhupada's service. Now my Deities, Sri Sri Radha-Banabihari, have brought me to this place to open a cooking school.
Setting the Scene
The lunch that inspired me to take up this service took place a quarter century ago in Calcutta. I was with a group of devotees traveling around India with Srila Prabhupada. En route from Visakhapatnam to ISKCON's new center in Mayapur, West Bengal, we stopped for some days at our temple on Albert Road in Calcutta. Shortly after arriving, Srila Prabhupada informed me that his sister would be coming for lunch. He requested a Bengali meal for the occasion.
It was my first meeting with Bhavatarini, or Pisima, Srila Prabhupada's only living sister. She bore a striking resemblance to him. Their exchanges in Bengali were warm and friendly.
While two other disciples and I served them rounds of off-the-fire dal, rice, sukta, capatis, kachoris, and chachari, Prabhupada spoke something about his sister in English. She too was a devotee of Krsna from birth, he said, and in their youth they had both prayed to Krsna to win at games from races to kite flying. Chuckling, he noted that like most older brothers, he usually won.
Although Pisima did not understand English, tilting her head from side to side she seemed to catch the gist of what he said. At one point, speaking of her girth, he teased that it was made of fat. She insisted it was water. Brother and sister laughed at this of aging and the nature of changing bodies.
Of all meals served to Srila Prabhupada, none ever finished quite like this one. Attending to his plate at the end of the meal, I noticed that the oversized plate and all of the bowls were empty, the bowls now playfully stacked into a leaning tower on the corner of his table. He then did three things in quick sequence. With his right forefinger he flicked over the tower of bowls so they clattered to the floor, then he waved a flattened palm over the top of his head (one of three signals he would make to comment on the meal this one meant "first class"), and then he said three times, "Yamuna Mayi ki jaya!" ("All glories to Yamuna!")
We three disciples spontaneously replied, "Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!"
Pisima was all smiles, reciting something on her own in Bengali. The atmosphere was amazing, surcharged with transcendental reciprocation on many levels.
Then, before I left, Srila Prabhupada asked me, "Are you teaching others?"
The Jahnava Institute For Vaisnava Arts (JIVA)
In my continuing effort to teach others, I've started the cooking school "Yamuna's Table on Fox Creek," part of JIVA,* a non-profit educational institute named in honor of Jahnava Devi, the consort of Sri Nityananda Prabhu and a great Vaisnava spiritual leader of the sixteenth century. In this first year, most classes will focus on cooking and gardening. We'll gradually branch to others of the sixty-four Vaisnava arts.
If you would like to contribute money, offer expert service, attend classes or seminars, or qualify as a guest teacher, please write to Yamuna's Table on Fox Creek, 3373 Fox Creek Lane, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep an eye out for our upcoming home page on the Internet.
See you back in cooking class in the next issue.
*An institute in Vrndavana, India, uses the same acronym. Yamuna Devi's JIVA has nothing to do with that organization.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post andVegetarian Times.