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Touring Drama Visits New York And Montréal, "Devotion" Bus Tour, Part 2

by Seva das

Posted July 22, 2007

July 5, Thursday, New York City (ISKCON 26 2nd Ave and ISKCON Brooklyn)

This morning we arrive in New York City with our bright yellow former Greyhound bus, and the orange school bus, dubbed Garuda 2 and Garuda 3 respectively. We take our showers at ISKCON Brooklyn temple. After taking darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, we hurry across the Manhattan bridge to 26 Second Avenue, where H.H. Radhanatha Swami and H.H. Jayadvaita Swami join us for a late-morning program, kirtana, and discussion.

Afterwards we head on a blissful Harinama to Tompkins Square Park, where Jayadvaita Swami shares the significance of this holy tirtha where everything began. This is the spot where Srila Prabhupada would come and sit under a tree, play a bongo drum and hold kirtana in the early days of the movement in the West.

In the afternoon, the youth break up into teams with chaperones and go sightseeing and shopping around New York. I personally took the subway to B & H Photo Video, the big electronics superstore, to figure out the microphone situation to get some sort of microphones that would work better for outdoor performances. After several hours of consultation and sorting through the best of what is available, I walk out with four head-worn over-the-ear microphones that professional performers use in outdoor situations, as well as a stage spotlight / floodlight that will serve to illuminate the performance a little bit and give it some brightness, some sparkle. The total for our wireless stage microphones thus far adds up to $4,060 on my credit card, without any budget to cover this additional expense. Time to talk to Krishna and ask Him to inspire some donors to come forward and help make this festival tour happen.

Many times on this tour we come into a situation where we have to spend money that we do not have in our budget and we throw our hands up in the air and have to depend on Krishna: "My dear Lord Krishna, You are the husband of the Goddess of Fortune, and if it is Your desire, please send the laksmi needed to carry on this festival tour, which is meant to glorify you and your devotees."

Unbudgeted Additional Expenses Thus Far: $4,060 for wireless microphone systems and one stage spot light.

Sponsors needed for the following individuals: Kalindi Holbrook, Anapayini Jakupko, Sarasvati Gil, Premanjana Weltmer, Jayadvaita Swami & Syamananda, Bhaktimarga Swami & Giovanni, Balaram Chandra Rico, $13,000.

Our expenses for the tour are budgeted very tightly and then divided between the youth participants. Our budget for this summer tour is $89,000. Every bunk bed counts. The above individuals do not have the resources to pay for their bunk beds on the buses but are essential to make the summer tour happen.

Kalindi Holbrook is a multi-talented young woman who leads kirtanas, plays mridanga, dances and acts in plays. Kalindi prabhu chants 16 rounds and is aspiring for initiation from H.H. Radhanatha Swami. She is a great asset to the tour and inspires us all. She is currently playing the role of Krishna in several scenes in our performance.

Anapayini Jakupko is a Bharata-natyam prodigy who grew up in ISKCON gurukulas and who now operates her own dance academy in Alachua, called Bhaktikalalayam. She is traveling on the festival tour with us this summer, along with her five senior students. She is directing the dance-drama performance, choreographing, singing and dancing. Anapayini prabhu is a wonderful help to my wife Jaya Radhe dasi on the bus for the women and girls.

Sarasvati Gil is a theater major at Knox College in Chicago. She grew up in ISKCON at the Chicago temple. She has played lead roles in our bus tour / festival tour performances for the past four years and is also a great spiritual examplar. She is an excellent actor and helps direct various scenes of the performance. Sarasvati prabhu is enthusiastic about Harinamas, dancing in Kirtana, her own sadhana, and again, is a great asset to have on the tour to inspire the others.

Premanjana Weltmer grew up in New Vrindavan and New Talavan. He has spent the past year at Radhadesh taking ministerial training courses and is in an internship as part of our ISKCON North America succession planning initiative. Premanjana has multiple talents, is dependable and hard working, and also drives one of the buses. (We need three bus drivers per bus, and Premanjana prabhu has been a reliable driver for four years now.) After the tour is over, he will continue his internship with ISKCON of Los Angeles to train in the responsibilities for becoming an ISKCON temple president.

Jayadvaita Swami and his assistant Syamananda prabhu, as well as Bhaktimarga Swami and his assistant Yamuna Jivana prabhu, are accompanying the tour for a few weeks this year. Swamis and their assistants are essential for the spiritual focus of our festival tour, to inspire the youth and guide their spiritual questions and discussions. Each bunk bed needs to be sponsored in order to cover our costs. Please sponsor these saintly Vaishnavas.

July 6, Friday evening. ISKCON Montréal temple.

We arrived in Montréal (360 miles (580 km) from New York City) on Friday evening, at around 8 p.m. Upon arrival, we were greeted by enthusiastic local devotees who handed us a box with about 2000 invitations to the Ratha-yatra festival, asking us if we would mind going out on Harianama and distributing the invitations so that people would come to the festival the next day.

After consultation with the bus tour organizing team, we rounded up the youth and tried to encourage them to go on a late-night Harinama in downtown Montréal. I brought the big box of invitations into the huddle of youth and said: "Here are nuggets of love of Godhead that have yet to find their way into the hands of the people of Montréal. Right now there is a jazz festival going on, and there are hundreds and thousands of people in the streets. We want to give out these invitations so these people come to the Ratha-yatra festival tomorrow. I know it's late. I know you're tired, but...."

That is all we had to say. So many of the youth were enthusiastic to go on the late night Harinama, and Bhaktimarga Swami agreed to come along. We filled the two buses with our youth and some local devotees and packed in as many mridangas and kartals as we could find (both our own and the temple's) and then headed to Saint Catherine Street in downtown Montreal, right into the heart of the jazz festival crowd.

Within an hour we had distributed all the invitations. The kirtana kept on going. The dancing intensified. We took over the courtyard of a large cathedral. People gathered around us and watched. Lots of people asked questions. One person asked Toshan Krishna prabhu's son, Govinda, "How do I become a Hare Krishna? No, I am really interested. Please tell me." Niladri prabhu was preaching incessantly in French, which she had been learning in college. (The people of Montréal are largely French-speaking.)

After the Harinama, the youth had a lively kirtana on the buses all the way back to the temple. There's something about going out on a limb for Krishna. It definitely seems like He reciprocates. He gives us a glimpse of a taste for chanting His names.

July 7 - 8, Saturday - Sunday, Montréal Ratha-yatra

Saturday morning we performed a run-through of the dance-drama performance in the temple room with H.H. Bhaktimarga Swami giving us his feedback on how to improve the production. At 11:30 we boarded the buses to head downtown for the Ratha-yatra parade of Lord Jagannatha. This year the parade went down a different route, Avenue du Parc, but passed by the old temple. There were two carts -- one for Lord Jagannatha, one for the Srila Prabhupada murti. The carts and devotees stopped in front of the old temple for about ten minutes to pay homage, and an ecstatic kirtana ensued.

We performed our second outdoor performance of "Devotion" here at the Ratha-yatra festival in Jeanne Mance Park. It was the first time we tried the new head-worn, over-the-ear microphones I had purchased in New York. After following the simple instructions for setting up several wireless mics on separate frequencies, and some adjustment of the earpieces, the actors were on their way. The sound was much improved. Finally we could properly hear the actors on an outdoor stage without feedback and interference. My faith in wireless mics was restored. Now, Krishna, please kindly inspire someone to sponsor the $4,060 for these wireless microphones.

After the performance, the youth (still dressed up in full play costumes) went around the crowds and collected donations amounting to $555 Canadian. Our bus driver noted that this was very nice, and that this amount would cover our next tank of gas. These days one tank of gas for the yellow Greyhound bus costs about that much.

On Sunday we again perform during the afternoon at the festival site, and then in the evening help take down the festival, along with the Festival of India crew and Madhuha das.

We're about to leave when we try to start the yellow Greyhound bus that the girls and women are using for the tour. We turn the ignition swith and nothing happens -- nothing at all.

July 9, Monday - Still in Montreal.

We assume the batteries are dead. We pull up the second bus, our trusty school bus that the boys and men are using. We connect jumper cables between the two buses and attempt to charge the much larger batteries of the Greyhound bus. Hours pass. Evening turns into night. Night turns into day. By 6 a.m., the bus still won't start. We call MCI (the manufacturer of our Greyhound bus), and they send a local mechanic to our rescue.

The mechanic arrives and has his assistant use a hammer on the starter block in the engine compartment. "Whack it hard with the hammer," the mechanic tells his assistant in French. After a few whacks and some help with ethanol starting fluid, the bus coughs up black smoke and begins to churn the engine belts. Gradually it comes back to life. The mechanic says that our starter has gone bad. We follow him to the repair shop. On the way, Dravinaksa das (our main bus driver) attempts to switch on the air conditioning. This causes the bus to turn off and stop in the middle of the road. The mechanic, who is leading the bus with his vehicle ahead of us, turns around and comes to our rescue again. He fiddles with the cables. He bangs on the starter. He tries to drive the bus himself to figure out what is wrong. The bus stops again. He tightens the connections on the batteries, and it seems to be all right from here on. He now says that we don't have a bad starter, but that the connections on our batteries were loose. He sends us on our way after we pay him $125 for his services. Hmm.... If all that was wrong was a loose cable connection on the batteries, why did he have to whack the starter with a hammer in the morning to get the bus started? Something doesn't add up. For now, we're happy that things are working again.

Our former Greyhound coach bus is already 15 years old. The school bus is six years old. By the time we finish paying off the loans on these used buses, we will need new ones. Sometimes people ask us how we cover the expense for this tour, how we pay for the buses, etc. The answer is: "one donation at a time, one sponsorship at a time." We still owe about $41,000 on these older, used buses. Gradually, year after year, we collect donations and pay off the buses.

Nobody gets paid to do this tour. Everyone contributes and pays to come on the tour, to help render devotional service all summer long. That's the way we like it. We are attempting to serve Lord Jagannatha from our hearts, with devotion, not expecting anything in return.

Today, after the early-morning episodes of the yellow Greyhound bus not starting, we hear that there is some transmission problem on the school bus. Premanjana das reports that as he was driving, the transmission would get stuck in a particular gear and rev up to 2700 r.p.m. without switching into the next, higher gear. Not good. As we speak, Premanjana and Dattatreya prabhus are on the phone to Detroit Diesel Allison dealers in the Montréal area, trying to find someone who will look at our school bus transmission to see if it is okay.

The fun begins. We're two weeks into the festival tour, and already both buses are refusing to work properly -- once again, one starter motor and one transmission at a time, a continuous test of patience and faith. Meanwhile, trying to keep 45 youth happy and on track, Bhaktimarga Swami continues intensive play rehearsals, drawing out acting skills from our untrained, non-professional talents, and in a few hours from now we will be heading to the Olympic Swimming Pool for some much needed rest and recuperation.

If you are interested to correspond with us about this tour, or have any questions or comments, please email us:

4. Summer festival youth group poses outside historic 26 Second Avenue temple.

5. Jayadvaita Swami addresses travelling devotees inside the old storefront.

6. Devotees meet for kirtan in Tompkins Square Park, where Prabhupada began harinama kirtan in the U.S.