Daughter Remembers Sri Rama
Posted January 12, 2006
First of all, the service for my dad was wonderful. I was there with the father of my baby and this was his first interaction with devotees and what we do. He was amazed at how joyful people can be at a funeral. He was very impressed with Bahushira das (the pujari who performed all of the final pujas for my dad).
When I first saw the casket, I was shocked. It looked so tiny. Was only a portion of his body in there? He was so big in life. This reality made me cry. Then I approached the casket and the face I saw was not his. My initial shock and fear turned quickly into relief. I knew at that moment that my dad was/is free.
For as long as I have known him (he adopted me when I was 10), his body was plagued by sickness, to one degree or another. He kept going as long as he could because, I feel, he really had a mission, which was to serve Srila Prabhupada as long as he could and also to not leave Narayani, his companion and soul-mate, alone in this world. But his body just couldn't serve him anymore. He had to leave it. I also realized how his soul is what filled that body and made him appear so big.
The ceremony continued with kirtans led by Paradhyeya das and explanations and readings of verses on the glories of being adorned with Tulasi leaves and branches at the time of cremation, by Bahushira das. Vaikunthanatha and others shared their memories of my father. More kirtan, including the singing of Ye anilo premadhana (this one always makes my heart feel like bursting).
We circumambulated his body while singing, and we placed flower after flower upon his body. Then his body was brought over to the crematorium. There was more kirtan, a final puja offered to my father while Paradhyeya led Samsara davanala followed by the Jaya om prayers, then more words of comfort and auspiciousness by Bahushira. The flame was applied to the body by my brother Ram (Narayani's son, who flew all the way from his Navy ship in Iraq for the ceremony). Ganga water was applied by a sweet little Indian girl, Aparajita. The casket was closed and pushed into the burning area. My brother pushed the button, which started the fire.
Then there was delicious kitri and papadams and other comforting foods at Paradhyeya's beautiful house/temple. We had light conversations and laughter.
Now that all is said and done (not really; we are eternal, and all), how do I feel about my dad? I was not extremely close to him. I feel that he really cared about me, and whenever I spoke with him on the phone he ended the conversation with: "I love you."
I was somewhat afraid of him. He had been strict with me in the past (in my gurukula days) and hadn't always been good at considering my feelings, like when he betrothed me to a man when I was only 12 years old (just a child). I think he was trying to do what was right in some people's eyes -- trying to follow a Vedic tradition -- but in these situations, individuals need to be considered. I was way too young, and he had been my dad for only two years. I still needed time to be a child.
He slapped me once for being rude to my would-be husband, and that shocked and hurt me. I know that he slapped one of my friends while disciplining her. Having been hit and verbally abused and worse throughout my entire gurukula life, I can honestly say that he was not an abuser to the degree of the others (not even close). When I left gurukula and was living in Australia I wrote him a letter and told him of a certain abuse that I had endured at the hands of a female teacher while he was my father and the headmaster in Lake Huntington. He was genuinely shocked.
I don't know of the details of how he tried to reform gurukula by reporting the abuses to the GBC and all, but I do remember him studying and reading books on positive discipline in parenting and teaching. I remember my mom Alarka making posters for a seminar he was going to (and did) conduct about these subject matters. I truly believe that he was trying to make things better in gurukula. I know this, because it became easier for me to share my experiences with him.
I know that even though he felt he had to keep up a façade of non-attachment and aloofness (to a point) in front of ISKCON, he really had a soft heart. His affection and love for me as his daughter shocked me; I had never experienced it ever since I was dropped off at the temple as a small child. When I was in Australia, he came over to convince me to come back -- since I had overstayed my visa, and I was getting kind of lost out there. When I said I would, he burst out crying. He was so happy to be getting me back. When Gopal passed away, my dad was so supportive of me. He missed him as well.
I will not try to put his whole life in here. I wanted to mention a little about how talented he was. In the area of music, he had a sweet singing voice. He played many instruments; my favorite was the esraj. He was writing a book. He was a good astrologer and card-reader. He was extremely intelligent.
He never stopped believing in Krsna and Srila Prabhupada. Someone at the funeral related this story. When my dad came out of his coma, he couldn't recognize anyone. However, there was a tape of Srila Prabhupada playing, and when this devotee told him that Srila Prabhupada was playing, my dad said, "Of course he is!"
In conclusion, I found myself crying at the funeral again during the kirtans, because I was feeling nostalgic towards the good old days when I had a family in ISKCON. I just don't know if I will ever have that again, not just because my devotee dad has passed, but for other reasons. I also feel now that my dad was a sincere person, and being a servant of Krsna and Srila Prabhupada was so important to him. Yes, he made mistakes in life, but those can be forgiven. And this I know because of what my brother said after the ceremony: "I've made my peace with him. At the end of the day, he was a good guy."
Photo: Sri Rama das with daughter Sri Radha dasi in Philadelphia in 1979, where he was temple president, shortly after Sri Rama adopted her.