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Chapter 126: Śrīla Prabhupāda's Sandal And The Monkey

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 126
Śrīla Prabhupāda's Sandal And The Monkey

November 1972, Rādhā-Dāmodara Temple,
Vrindavan, India

During this time, Śrīla Prabhupāda stayed in a room on the second floor of the Rādhā-Dāmodara Temple. I do not remember why he didn't stay in his usual two rooms on the ground floor. His rooms on the second floor opened onto a large, concrete deck which formed the roof of his quarters on the first floor. In Vrindavan, most of the buildings are made of brick and concrete so the roof is usually a flat, smooth area of concrete that can be used for many purposes.

On the second floor facility, Śrīla Prabhupāda had a sitting room and a separate bedroom. His entourage shared another room. As Śrīla Prabhupāda took his massage on the patio in front of his sitting room, the sun glistened on his sparkling golden skin smeared with mustard oil. After his massage he bathed in the same spot from a brass bucket filled with water that was naturally warmed by the sun.

"Put the bucket of water on the roof," he told me. "The sun will heat it up."

Using his lota and this single bucket of warmed water, he took his bath while squatting on the patio in his gumpsa. Śrīla Prabhupāda made a point of keeping the maintenance of his body very simple. After taking his bath he returned to his bedroom and put on the fresh clothing I had laid out on his bed. On this particular day the weather was very hot, so Śrīla Prabhupāda only wore a dhoti and no kurta.

A few minutes after he went into his room to dress, I heard him shouting. I was still outside on the patio cleaning up. As soon as I heard him shout, I raced into the room. The front door was ajar. I had no idea what was wrong and although I ran in, out of habit, I offered my obeisances. Śrīla Prabhupāda was behind his desk. As I hurriedly sat up and looked toward him, he hurled his ball of tilaka toward my head. It was the size of a golf ball and he threw it with the vigor of a baseball pitcher. It missed my head by inches. I was shocked and frightened.

"What's the matter?" I blurted out.

"That monkey has stolen my shoe," he said, pointing in my direction.

I turned around in time to see one of Vrindavan's furry pests run out of the room with Śrīla Prabhupāda's sandal in his grasp.

Monkeys were prolific in this part of the dhama and were always looking for a bead bag, glasses, or some other valuable item to steal. They used the items to barter for eatables. I was relieved knowing that my Guru Mahārāja was tossing the tilaka at the monkey rather than me. It was an unusual experience to have a ball of tilaka whiz by my head. Fortunately, my spiritual master was an expert marksman. The monkey vaulted to the roof of Śrīla Prabhupāda's sitting room and waited.

"This rascal, he has taken my slipper," Śrīla Prabhupāda said. "Get some pera and come outside."

I grabbed a few milk sweets from the glass jar above Śrīla Prabhupāda's book case and followed my guru outside the door for the upcoming confrontation. Śrīla Prabhupāda brought his cane. The monkey sat on the edge of the roof with the sandal in his mouth and waited for negotiations to begin.

The roof was barely out of reach at about eight feet from the ground where we stood. Śrīla Prabhupāda began jumping up and down, swinging his cane over his head to intimidate the monkey. The monkey seemed to enjoy the attention. He wasn't threatened or concerned that Śrīla Prabhupāda might get the slipper. The furry fiend began waving the shoe, taunting us. Śrīla Prabhupāda continued jumping up and down with his cane over his head. Swinging at his fussy foe, he said, "These monkeys are such rascals."

The monkey continued taunting us. Now he was making faces at us. It was clear that he was skilled at holding valuable items hostage and holding out for ransom. He was a crafty thief that enjoyed his mischievous negotiations.

This was my first experience in such warfare and I have to admit, I found it very exhilarating.

"Śrīla Prabhupāda," I said. "Let me see if I can give him a sweet and get the sandal."

"Yes, see if that works," Śrīla Prabhupāda replied.

With my fearless leader beside me, I cautiously held a sweet into the air hoping the monkey would give me the magical slipper in exchange. True to the nature of a monkey, he tried to cheat me. He attempted to snatch the sweet without relinquishing Prabhupāda's holy slipper. Again I tried. I held up the sweet and motioned for the shoe. The monkey started to deliver the slipper with one hand and reach for the sweet with the other. Convinced I was successful, I let down my guard. In front of my beloved Guru, I was prematurely proud of my anticipated success. I failed and gave up the sweet. Unfortunately, the menacing monkey didn't surrender the slipper. To my chagrin, I managed to lose three sweets to the enemy without getting close to retrieving the lotus slipper.

At this point the monkey began chewing on the heel of the slipper with gusto. He managed to tear some cloth from the heel and put a number of teeth marks in it. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not amused with his aggressor's demolition.

"Forget it," he said. "He has ruined the shoe."

His Divine Grace went back into his room and prepared for lunch. I started to follow him into the room. I looked up and saw the monkey drop the sandal at his furry feet and run away. I guess he understood it was of no use to him if it was of no use to us. I figured I may as well get the slipper, so I called for Girisha, Hayagriva's son, and asked him to go up the stairs to the roof and get Śrīla Prabhupāda's slipper. Girisha was about 10 years old and eager to help.

I watched from below as Girisha headed for the slipper. Just as he bent over to pick it up, a ruthless gang of monkeys came from nowhere and attacked him. They scared the heck out of him. One monkey started to swing at the young boy. Girisha screamed, "Śrutakīrti! Śrutakīrti!" Startled, I looked about and saw a bamboo stick. I threw it to him. As soon as he grabbed the stick and started swinging it the monkeys hastily retreated. Girisha grabbed the slipper and raced down the stairs with the beasts hot on his heels. Girisha gallantly delivered the slipper.

I brought the slipper back to Śrīla Prabhupāda because he had worn these slippers for some time and seemed to be very fond of them. He had others to choose from, but he favored these. I showed him the torn slipper.

"Ah, it doesn't look so bad," Śrīla Prabhupāda said. "Get some glue and see if you can repair it."

I took it back to my room and mended it to the best of my ability. I hurried back to Śrīla Prabhupāda's room with the saved slipper, offered my obeisances, and showed him my handy work. With a smile on his face and a nod of his head he said, "That's all right. I can still use them."

Two weeks later we were in Hyderabad staying at the home of Mr. Pithi, a very wealthy life member. One day Mr. Pithi noticed Śrīla Prabhupāda's slippers. I explained to him what happened.

"I would love to get Prabhupāda another pair of sandals," he said.

I told him I thought it was a great idea. He sent his servant to buy a pair of sandals. When the new sandals were presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda he accepted them graciously, but later told me, "I cannot wear these. They are made of leather."

He continued to wear his damaged sandals for weeks until we arrived at another temple. At that time we bought some sandals to Śrīla Prabhupāda's liking and he released the others. His torn sandals now reside at the home of Kirtiraja prabhu in Alachua. They are in a glass case and are held in high esteem by their caretakers.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, it is very difficult to describe the immense pleasure I experienced that day as you swatted your cane at the monkey. For a few minutes we were fighting a common foe, in the land of Kṛṣṇa. I may never again be able to take part in such transcendental pastimes. I will never forget that one special day, for a few minutes, when you allowed me to participate in a most joyful game in Vrindavan Dhama. I pray that my memory of that day is never taken from me.