Had a wonderful Easter break. For the first time in the history of Bendigo, the Hare Krishna’s distributed hundreds of delicious vegetarian food over the last 3 days. And yes, I am a bit proud that I had a very tiny role to play, in us being there. But plenty of thanks have to be passed onto Aniruddha prabhu (Melbourne Temple President) & Adrian prabhu, who decided to give the city’s annual Easter Festival a try.
Bendigo is classified as a regional town with a population of a little more than 100,000. It’s an old town with its history rooted in its gold mines and farms. What makes the place special -the people. It takes about 2 hrs by train to get to Melbourne and this distance has resulted in Bendigo falling of the radar, in terms of it being influenced by “Melbourne”. Here, the people are simple, welcoming and enjoys family life. There’s plenty of fresh air, less traffic and clean streets. Over the last 130 years or so, they have been holding their own Easter festival which they are very proud off. And the organizers tells me that it has grown a little bit every year. The highlight of the festival is the parade on the main street showcasing aspects of life and culture that make up this part of Victoria. The Chinese dragon that’s asleep for the entire year is woken up and it dances away ferociously on the streets. This dragon, I am told, is the world’s longest dragon.
Adrian prabhu, who looks after the outdoor event catering for the temple, arrived on Friday evening, with a van packed to its capacity. He was accompanied by another devotee, Montu. They came directly to Rosalind Park, which would be the venue for the 2009 Easter Festival. Its a beautiful park with many native Australian trees, a replica of a rain forest and a Chinese park few meters way. In about 2 hrs we had the entire facility put up.
We couldn’t believe that we were so well organized. Adrian felt that this was the first time that he was happy with the neat set up of the tent. We were off to a good start. We left the premises after soaking the chickpeas in water. At home, I tried to cook them a feast which didn’t exactly turn out the way I wanted. I was embarrassed with my cooking skills. But devotees are forgiving. They ate it anyways.
Next day, a Saturday, we arrived at the venue early to start our cooking. Adrian had decided to go for Saffron rice, Mixed vegetable curry with Chickpeas in Coconut sauce, Cherry Halava and the powerful Kofta balls along with spicy Tomato chutney. Just hearing it made me hungry. On day 2, we cooked pretty much the same but we cooked the curry in tomato sauce and changed the halava to pineapple based one. Kofta balls would remain, as it was the centre of attention in all the events we attended. And day 2, we went back to Cherry Halava and decided on simple white rice. On Saturday and Monday, we worked till 5pm and on Sunday, we worked till 10pm.
How did the event go? Fantabulous. It was life changing for all of us who helped out in the tent. Besides Adrian, Montu and myself, other devotees dropped in to help out. This included, Tim, Glenn, Kanapati, Jai, Nandi Mandir and Bhakti Saar prabhus. We could not believe the immediate transformation we were seeing in people after feasting on our dishes ! People loved us. On all the days, people thanked us profusely. They even took our photographs ! We met all kinds of people at the park. Newborns, vibrant kids, hyper active teenagers, stressed adults and fragile aged ones. And every one who passed our tents were in some way affected by our food and friendliness. And they made sure they thanked us for that. Many even suggested that we come back again & again or stay on for the whole year.
Here are some memorable incidents :
A young couple passed our tent. We stopped them in their tracks by offering a sample kofta ball. They passed it to their very young child in their arms. In all these few minutes, the boy fixed his eyes on us. He didn’t speak at all and he didn’t blink either. He was very silent. He continued to stare at us as he held his kofta ball on a tooth pick. Mum gently pushed his arm towards his mouth to start eating. The kid then, all the while still looking at us, in one move, took the entire kofta ball into his little mouth. Parents cheered. We did too. And then,
Bhakti Saar prabhu : Did you like the kofta ball?
Mum : Say, yes..come on…
Bhakti Saar prabhu : Where did you get it from?
And the kid immediately pointed to the sky !
Bhakti Saar to me : I think he is saying, “From Krishna”
We : Hari Bol !
Bhakti Saar to the parents : Actually, I have see you somewhere before…
Parents : Really? We can’t remember….
Bhakti Saar : The kid looks very familiar…I think I saw you in Melbourne…
Dad : Oh yeah….many months back, we had visited Melbourne….I think we saw you on all Swanston street…
Mum : Yes..you were singing and dancing there…
Bhakti Saar : And the boy got up and tried to dance with us then ! He jumped & clapped when we sang! Nice to meet him and you again.
This huge man waits as we prepare his feast plate which has everything on it that we cooked.
Me : Is this first time you have had a Hare Krishna food?
Him (in thick Australian accent) : Naaah…I have had it before you ever did..ha ha
Me : Really? When? Where?
Him : About 30-35 years ago….you guys used to jump all over the streets with those bells…I remember having some then…
Me : Did you like it?
Him : Loved it mate. Loved it. Don’t see you lots dancing anymore on the roads like back then…
Me: Here is your snack plate. Hope you enjoy it !
Him : We sure will…as always
Me : Oh you have had the Hare Krishna food before?
Me : When I was a young bloke, I used to attend all the rock shows that took place in Melbourne. All me mates had all kinds of food from the stalls there and fell ill with diarrhoea. I would eat only from your tent and I was the only one that was fine !! Ha Ha Ha !
Ann was one of the organizers who made sure she visited us often during the day. She just loved talking to us and was so thankful that we had decided to attend the event. She said that she used to watch the Hare Krishna’s in robes with so much happiness dancing on the streets, 30 or so years ago.
We had 2 old ladies from Adelaide who seemed to recollect the Krishnas. She said in a weak voice, “Are you the same ones who wore orange bedsheets and danced on the streets? We don’t see you anymore…”
Another time, we had a very fashionable young man visit our store. Expensive designer clothes, hair gelled in all directions and bathed in expensive perfume. After he collected his set of feast plates, he bade good bye by saying , “Hari Bol..” We stood there surprised and couldn’t even respond fast enough.
A tired looking lady walked to our store.
She : How is it going?
Us : Pretty good…people are happy with what we have made..
She : Who wouldn’t? I loved it too.
And then she lowered her voice and almost ashamedly, admitted, “I am from the junk food tent next to you“.
On one of the days, we were sitting on the lush green park, few meters behind the tent. As we sat there with ISKCON deity worship minister, Nrsimha Kavaca Das, having our prasad, a gentleman walk up to us and said:
” I am sorry to disturb you…but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the food. I have never had anything like that all my life. You have made us very happy and hope you guys return…see you all soon…happy Easter!”
Nrsimha Kavaca Das : See that. Look, how prasad transforms people. That is the potency. You can see it for yourself. You don’t see anyone going to the neighbouring tents and thanking them for their hot dogs and baked potatoes. Unbelievable.
On the final day, we ran out of all our cooked food by 2:30pm !!! There was nothing remaining. All gone. Every tray lay empty. And still people enquired for something or the other from our tent. When we shut the serving side of the tent to indicate that we had closed, people would come behind the tent where we were washing and packing up. The 5 of us, comprising of Kanapati and Jai prabhu decided that we would take a break. We sat behind the tent, in the sunlit park, underneath a grand old tree, we began to speak about Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatham, importance of serving prasadam etc. We had been conversing only for about 30 mins or so but in those few minutes :
(1) a lady and her friend came to us and asked if we could play a vital role in the vegetarian club that they had started. Her last event attracted 400 diners ! She wanted us to come and cook in their next event. We also spoke about Bhagavad Gita to her. She was so moved that she bought a copy for herself.
(2) A slightly older gentleman approached us and said, “I am celebrating my 50 years of age in January next year and I want it to be a very special occasion for my family and friends. And when I saw you guys, I decided that I wanted you to be involved and cook some tasty vegetarian meals for all those invited. I will have some 70 of my close friends, mostly from this community who will come. Can you guys come to the party?”
(3) The above gentleman’s wife then joined us later and said,
“Hey…you guys should participate in the agriculture show we have in October. Thousands of people attend this and we would love you to come back!”. With that she gave us the contact details of the person we needed to contact.
All of us seated on the grass was shocked. Jai prabhu commented that Krishna was responding strongly to our efforts of wanting to help the people along with the fact that we were discussing His lilas in our break time. In a matter of 30 minutes with no efforts, we had 3 new business proposals ! What a feeling !
Here are some photos from the event :
What is that I have taken away from this event?
(a) Not just main cities but all parts of Australia should have an opportunity to taste the delicious food preparations of the Hare Krishnas. The distance might put us off. The less number of people to cater to might not be that profitable. But we should not prejudge. Our aim is to transform people where ever and who ever they are.
(b) Its absolutely important to serve the food with great compassion and love. Every customer who visits a Hare Krishna tent is a special person. They are also receiving Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. We shouldn’t think that we are the only ones getting His mercy because we have the privilege of cooking and serving. We need to see our tent like a mobile hospital handing out medicines to patients for their well being. We are doctors not caterers. All these people are future vaishnavas. If its just about loading a plate with rice and curry, we have failed. But, if we aim at handing the very same plate with the intention of making a friend and to distribute Lord’s mercy to each and every person we meet, we have succeeded. They should say to themselves, “I like Vegetarian food. I like the Hare Krishnas!”
(c) I feel that we should not hurry up in our serving. They should see us lovingly place all the food with so much care and cleanliness. We all know that the food we make are not just food stuffs. They are made so lovingly and patiently by devotees, offered to the Lord and served to the public with the hope that they get a chance to change their lives for the best. This is pretty much the same point as above. But what I am stressing here is that, no matter how busy we are, we should ensure that the customer feels that we are treating the food with a lot of respect. And you can see how they collect the plate from your hand. Because you have treated it as gold, they take it with as much care as well.
(d) Its a great feeling to remember the customers who come back for more. Exclaim with lots of happiness, “You are back? You liked that halava didn’t you?”. Perhaps, you can place a few extra servings and say, “Just for you…for coming back!”.
(e) Considering the tent/stall as if it were a temple goes a long way. We ensured that our work area was very clean. We erected an altar and had recorded kirtan all day long on all the days we catered. This ensured that all of us in the tent were well motivated and “spiritually” situated. We also saw people dance outside the tent, listening to the music coming from within our tent. In the Pyramid rock festival that we did early this year, we sang the Maha-mantra with almost every plate that we distributed. We did the same here as well. People watched as we sang, listened to music, served with care and respect. And I think this also attracted people to us. Where there is fun, people will flock.
(f) What else? Oh, looks like the hippies of Australia have now settled in regional Victoria. Now, why would this make the Hare Krishna’s happy?