16 January 2003
While in Belgaum, I stayed at the palatial home of a wealthy and very pious businessman named Mr. Katwa. This was the third time I've visited him, so we are very friendly. He has two grown sons who live at his home and a daughter who is married and stays in Chicago. The whole family chants Hare Krsna. Mr. Katwa is really a jewel of a gentleman. He is so kind-hearted, soft-spoken, and eager to serve. Yet by his own explanation, his whole life prior to meeting devotees a few years ago was totally committed to making money and enjoying his senses. He used to be very fond of wine and meat. Most of his old eating and drinking buddies snubbed him when he gave these habits up. But he remains fully convinced of Krsna consciousness, in a quiet, sincere way. He relishes Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam and likes to discuss what he has just finished reading.
My old friend Sriman Radhakunda Prabhu stayed at Mr. Katwa's also. I got to know him in the 1970's when he was a big book distributor. When I was on the BBT library party, he was HH Satsvarupa Maharaja's personal servant. So we saw a lot of each other in those times. He's energetic, funny, and really attached to the nectar of the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna. When he honors prasadam his habit is to recite a different name of Their Lordships as he puts a bite of prasad into his mouth:
"Radha-Govinda. . . Radha-Giridhari. . . Radha-Vrajakishore. . . Radha-Vamsibihari. . . "
Radhakunda Prabhu has lived a very full life and has many stories to tell. I shall relate one here. It is very gruesome yet most instructive. I am not going to explain the philosophical meaning, since that will obvious from the story itself.
In 1975, Radhakunda Prabhu lived for some time at the Mayapur goshalla where he cared for the cows. A mystery shoe thief was coming around at night. He'd steal the nicest shoes left by devotees and guests at the entrance of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava's temple. It was an embarrassment for the management because the shoes of visiting dignitaries would go missing. So the order went out from the top: "Catch the shoe thief. And when you get him, give him a good beating. " To give a caught thief a beating is quite within the norms of social behavior in India.
Radhakunda and another devotee took the assignment to catch the "chapal chor" (shoe thief) red-handed. During Sandhya-arati Radhakunda hid in the dark in the bushes that grew around the Lotus Building. (In those days the temple room was the whole ground floor of the Lotus Building--it did not, as it does today, extend from the Lotus to the Conch Building). His partner took the lookout up on the first-floor balcony.
A man came through the jute fields in back of the Lotus Building and carefully approached the temple entrance. He shined a flashlight on the shoes and slipped two pairs into the waistband of his dhoti, one pair in front, the other in back. He pulled his kurta down to hide the shoes. Then he turned to make his getaway back through the fields.
Radhakunda Prabhu darted from the bushes, intercepting the thief from behind. He was armed with a lathi (bamboo stick) that had been soaked in cow dung to make it as heavy and as hard as iron. He raised it high to bring it down on the thief's head. Sensing something, the thief turned to face Radhakunda. Swishing through the air, the lathi cracked his skull. Radhakunda follow that blow up with two baseball bat-style lateral whacks, one to the right and one to the left side of the thief's head. But the man didn't fall. He just stood there dazed and swaying, blood flowing down his face from out of his hair. By this time the other devotee had rushed down the Lotus Building stairs to take Radhakunda's arm and stop him from hitting the thief a fourth time.
"Are you sure he's the thief?" he demanded.
Radhakunda lifted the man's kurta, which by now was stained red with blood. There were the shoes. The other devotee brought up a home-made mangowood numchaku (a Japanese-style karate flail consisting of two foot-long sticks that are connected by a short length of rope). Again and again he smashed the thief in the head with them. The man still didn't fall.
By this time a crowd of Bengalis surged out of the temple and demanded to know why the two foreigners were beating up a Bengali. "Chapal chor," Radhakunda yelled, again lifting up the thief's kurta. So the Bengalis joined in the pummel session.
Finally the man was brought up to a room in the Lotus Building. Radhakunda tried to force him to reveal his name and village by hitting him in the forehead with the tip of his lathi in the manner of striking a billiard ball with a pool cue. The man just moaned. Suddenly a Bengali devotee entered and informed Radhakunda that this man was from his own village. He was deaf and dumb and so would never be able to give his name.
When it sank in what he had just done, Radhakunda's head cleared, as if he was coming out of a red fog of blind rage. This man might be a shoe thief, but he was nonetheless a dhamvasi (resident of the birthplace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu). Being deaf and dumb, he would be even poorer than the other dhamvasis of the villages around the ISKCON center. Therefore he had become a thief. Radhakund felt terrible. What an offense he had just committed! What reaction now awaited him?
Not long thereafter, Radhakunda came down with a severe amoebic infection. His liver became abscessed, which in those days was a death sentence. But he didn't know what disease he was suffering from, and the devotees around him were taking his condition lightly. For two weeks, wracked with unimaginable pain, he laid on a cot at the goshalla, hardly able to move. Finally an Ayurvedic doctor came to look at him. He told the devotees that Radhakund had eight hours to live.
He was loaded in a car and driven to a Calcutta hospital. The three-hour drive was a nightmare of excruciation. At the hospital, a doctor urged the devotee who brought Radhakunda in to drive him back to Mayapur because death was certain. Practically getting physical with the doctor, the devotee demanded that Radhakunda be admitted. So he was given a bed in the terminal hall. . . the dying ward. It was a huge room of 150 beds. Here lay the incurables. Every day one or two dozen would die, be swaddled in sheets like mummies, and be stacked like cordwood on the balcony. At night the bodies were loaded onto a creaky wagon and removed for burning somewhere. Radhakunda was given a bed on that very balcony.
He was a skeleton shrink-wrapped in ghastly yellow skin. But he didn't die. What he suffered was worse than death.
At that time Calcutta was fervently communist (it is still communist today, but not so fervently as the 70's. . . and don't forget, the American war against communism in nearby Vietnam lasted into 1975). The Bengalis who came to the ward to visit their dying relatives would go out onto the balcony to smoke. Seeing Radhakund there, they'd make callous remarks (in Bengali language of course, but Radhakund had learned enough to understand most of what they were saying). They would ridicule him as an agent of the CIA. They would blaspheme Srila Prabhupada and Krsna. And they would stub their cigarettes out on his flesh.
To the doctors he was already dead, so he got no help there. The nurse did not swab his body down nor change his position, so he developed bedsores. Day after day he watched the bodies stack up and wondered when his own would be thrown on the pile.
The terminal hall's only toilet was located on the balcony. One day Radhakunda saw a man lurch out of the ward and make for the stool room door. But before he got there, he vomited blood and dropped dead. Another time a patient was put into a bed on the balcony just next to Radhakunda. He looked at the man's face and saw that the liquid on his eyeballs was bubbling. For just a second, Radhakund looked away. But as he was intending to tell the man about Krsna, he turned back to see his face once more. In that moment the man had died.
This went on for three months. In that time the only devotee to visit Radhakunda was HH Trivikrama Maharaja, who handed him a Limca soft drink and told him, "You're not the body, Prabhu. "
Gradually it dawned on the doctors that Radhakunda was surviving the death sentence of an abscessed liver. They became interested in him as a medical breakthrough. So he was promoted from being just a slab of meat to an experimental animal. Like clockwork throughout the 24 hours of the day, every fifteen minutes they would come to inject him with veterinary antibiotics through long, thick needles that were designed for horses.
Eventually he could sit up. Finally he could stand. He forced himself to walk. And where he walked was out of the hospital to the Albert Road ISKCON temple, which was not far away. When he arrived, the devotees were thunderstruck. He didn't understand why until he saw himself in a full-length mirror positioned inside of the door of an almira cabinet in the temple's office. He looked like an inmate of Auschwitz. He couldn't recognize himself.
He soon flew to America, to Denver temple. He tried to recover his health by resting in the brahmacari ashrama. After a week or so, he felt strong enough to do a little service, so he drove a sick devotee to the hospital. The doctor dealt with the sick devotee in a few seconds, prescribing some pills. Then the doctor turned to Radhakund.
"You. . . come come with me. "
He was taken to the emergency ward and treated for a month. He'd kept his Calcutta medical records; reading them, the American doctors were astonished to know he'd survived a liver abscess. Almost every day, specialists from other American cities, and even other countries, visited him and asked him hundreds of questions.
Nowadays, liver abscesses can be cured. I suppose Radhakund's case has something to do with that.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!