From a Teacher
This was first published in As It Is, Summer 1994, Number 5
by Krsna Kumari devi dasi
(transcribed from tape)
When I joined the movement in Florida with Amarendra and Gayatri, they wanted me to get my feet wet in Krsna Consciousness so they shipped me off to New York temple, where I sat at the front desk, answered the phone and kept the crazy people out. And then somebody found out that I had teaching credentials. I didn't really have full teaching credentials because I had dropped out of college to become a Hare Krsna one semester before graduating!, But I had a lot of experience because I had taught in deaf boarding schools for some years and previous to that, I did a lot of teaching. I had had my own little cooperative school, you know, hippie school, with a bunch of hippies, all that kind of stuff, out there in "hippie land." So somehow or other they found out that I could teach and I got a call from Nandarani in Dallas and she said, "Oh, we're just dying to have teachers come here!" This was in 1971, just after Dayananda and Nandarani got there. So when she said, "Oh we're just dying to have teachers come here," I didn't know that the teachers that had gone there had already died! And that's why they were dying to have more! So I was thinking, "Wow, well at least I won't have to cut vegetables and peel potatoes anymore, or fight off the crazies at the front door of the New York temple," so I hopped on the bus and got my way to Dallas.
When I first arrived there I can just remember it being extremely hot. There weren't all that many kids at that time. Maybe twenty or so. They were schooling the kids in the sanctuary, in the pews, and they were rotating people because nobody could last for very long. So you had an hour duty and it was like "Okay, it's your turn now." You'd go in and there would be the kids, under the pews, over the pews, around the pews, doing anything but paying attention to what they were supposed to. It was like a one room schoolhouse sort of idea, and very few people had had any experience in doing that kind of thing. I had some, but I wasn't prepared for devotee kids! So it was kind of a scary thing. You couldn't last in there too long, that's why we rotated.
Shortly after I got there there was a big influx. Rupa Vilasa and Candrika and all the people from the Florida temple that had closed down came. Mandelesvara and his wife were there. Dinatarine, a single lady, she was there.
I had to take a short break and go stay in St. Louis because my former husband, one of the "Weathermen," was going to blow up Dallas because I was there. I had split up from him a long time previous to that, but he didn't like it that I was a devotee so he was chasing all around the movement trying to find me and he was going to blow up the temples that I was in. Crazy guy.
From St. Louis we went to New Vrindavana and that's where I met up with the Dallas people again. Things had calmed down and I got initiated there. That was in 1972. They had driven all the Dallas kids up for the Janmasthami and Vyasa Puja festival. By that time it seemed like there were 20-25 kids, and I remember Rupa Vilasa and Candrika, they had brought parachutes as tents, which of course weren't water proof and it did rain! I can remember chasing down the hill after the kids' paraphernalia and it was like everything was muchy and muddy.
I've got real vivid memories of that festival with all the devotees from everywhere packed into the temple room and the kids in there, and Prabhupada sitting on the vyasasana and someone was reading the Krsna Book. Everybody was young and carefree, and we were just running around. Maybe five hundred devotees were there. On Prabhupada's birthday we had all the kids in their last clean outfits and all lined up under a big, big pandal on top of the hill. Prabhupada was speaking and Radha Damodara was there and Lord Jagannatha. The kids actually sat very quietly through the lecture. They responded immediately to Prabhupada. Every time Prabhupada would drive down to the temple where everybody was, the kids would always run after him and jump up and down. They really appreciated Prabhupada, no matter how old they were.
Things changed quickly in Dallas during the first couple of years. By the time I got back, it was more organized and we didn't have the kids in the sanctuary killing each other and killing us. There were classrooms in that main building and different teachers had different rooms. And there were more kids. It seems like every month the population doubled, I mean literally.
They had me taking care of the youngest group of kids: the German boy and his sister, Sarasvati, Visvaretah, Bhakti Kirtana. I had maybe five or six kids. They put us in the remade garage of a house that the temple owned on the other side of the fence, about the size of a small apartment, with a bathroom and sort of a half kitchen, and then just a room. It was big enough for the kids and me to lie down in.
If that arrangement had actually lasted, and what had been set up in the very beginning had lasted and we had had good guidance and a little more money, if the teacher population had expanded as quickly as the kid population, then I think everything would have gone on wonderfully there. The teachers were enthusiastic, they were patient. They were untrained and we all had the things that we were working through in our own Krsna consciousness to do at the same time, but in the beginning nobody had more than they could handle. If we had been able to grow like that, we could have avoided probably 99% of the mistakes that happened.
There were difficulties even then, but the real difficulties didn't start until the population explosion because at that time it was just me and six or seven kids and I really loved those kids. I never had a doubt that they missed their parents and I kind of felt weird about the fact that the parents either didn't write or rarely wrote. Lila Smarana's mother would write regularly. She also sent money. She was the only parent who I remember wrote regularly. She'd send a little maha to them, little Deity outfits, always some nice package once a month. The other kids, either their parents wouldn't write or wrote very rarely. And to make up for that, because the kids would ask me, "What's going on with my mother?" and I didn't know these people, really, so I'd write letters, fake letters, from the parents and I'd walk down the block or have somebody take them down the block and mail them. And then when they came, I'd have the kid open it and I read it. We're talking about little kids, three, four and five years old. They didn't know how to read yet (mostly because we didn't know how to teach them, but anyway . . . ) I just made it a habit that the kids got a letter at least every other week, if I had to write it myself. Because I could see it made a big difference with them. I didn't have money and facility to send them anything, but at least a letter was better than nothing.
I felt like it was the kind of atmosphere that there could have been a lot of hopeful development there, in the beginning. At first I was only taking care of the kids and I think Nandarani or somebody else was giving them classes. I was just their asrama teacher. So there wasn't that much pressure on me. I got the kids up, got them ready, got them clean, somebody else gave them a little class, and I watched them for lunch and then they had a little big more class, and then I watched them afterwards. And I had time to chant and clean the house and you know, it was relaxed at that time.
The only real serious difficulty I can remember at all was when v.das arrived. There is little v.das, right, fresh off the airplane, this little kid about the same size as Bhakta Visvaretah, and you could hear him before you saw him! As he was driving up, you could hear this kid: "I want [mother's name]!! I could hear this kid, little did I know it was for my group, right, and they bring this kid screaming at the top of his lungs: "I want [mother's name]!!!" into my little garage asrama, right, so we had to hear "I want [mother's name]" twenty-four hours a day for about three or four days. He wouldn't eat. He wouldn't pass. He passed urine on himself. He never passed stool, and I would go up to the person in charge at the time, who was Mohanananda, and say like, "Maybe he was a little too young," and you know like, "What are we going to do? (He was about three years old) "Maybe he needs to live with a family or something. It's like getting hard for us to sleep, because this kid, he wouldn't lie down, he wouldn't stand up, and you know it was like, and I thought he was going to die of dehydration or something because he wouldn't even drink water! I swear he went for three days without anything. So finally they decided that Krsna Priya and Dvarakanatha who lived down the block, who had nothing to do with the gurukula at that time (he was doing the incense business and she was just a housewife) that he would stay with them until he cooled off. And he did the same thing there, for another couple of days: "I want [mother's name]!!!" at the top of his lungs. And they put him out in the garage because they thought, "Well, if we put him in a place alone, he won't get any attention from anybody and maybe he'll stop." That was their thought, you know. Of course the police showed up very soon after that, because you could hear this kid all over the neighborhood, "I want [mother's name]!" There was this whole thing, and I don't remember how they solved it or settled it up, but I do remember us getting together and talking about it and Mohanananda very seriously saying, "Well, you know, we can't send him back. They said Prabhupada told the parents to send him here. We can't send him back. Prabhupada is sending him here, we have to do the best we can, so just do what you can do. He's intelligent, he'll come around." I don't remember how long it took for him to come around, but I can remember a week or so later, Krsna Priya and her little kid bringing him to the temple and by that time he was okay. He was smiling and eating sweetballs and he had gotten over the [mother's name] screaming at the top of his lungs phase. But I had lots of little kids like that and it was a while before he actually moved in.
It was an incredible population explosion. By that time I had also been appointed to teach class to the little kids, as well as have them, and we grew out of the garage. So they moved us into an asrama. In the meantime I had got married, which was another story, and they moved us into the asrama and I had class and an asrama and a new marriage with somebody I had -- It was totally arranged, with Rupa Vilasa's best friend and they thought we would get along great. In those days you didn't have time to get along! You know.
And they wanted him to help me. That was another way of getting some more help, because in the little garage asrama I could manage a few little boys and girls, but once we moved into the big building I had to have the boys in the boys' asrama and the girls in the girls asrama. In the beginning, I'd crawl through a hole in the wall and send them into the bathroom and the brahmacaris would take care of them and get them dressed while I walked back through the hole and woke up the girls. And I kind of went back and forth to keep everything going.
It seems like time went so quickly between the point in time of me having five or six or seven kids out of this little garage, to all of a sudden, it couldn't have been more than a year, maybe a year and a half, before I had fifty (50) kids! And I had thirty girls and twenty boys. And it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.
I used to get up with Candrika at two o'clock in the morning and chant japa upstairs in the sanctuary where it echoed, in the heat, with the drips coming down, and she had asked Prabhupada that if you have a crazy mind, what should you do, and he had told her to chant her japa loudly. So at two o'clock in the morning we would be chanting very loudly and somehow or other everybody tolerated us. I don't remember anyone coming and complaining although many people lived in little closets and cubby holes in that building all around. Maybe they were just so wrecked it didn't wake them up, I don't know.
We'd pace back and forth. We couldn't sit down or we'd fall asleep. Then we'd go hit the decks and wake up all the kids, which was a pretty amazing thing to be part of. All those kids, and you had to braid all that hair and take them in lines through the bathroom and all the showers in record time. You didn't want to get them up too early, you know. But there were so many of them. We had this long shower room with all these shower heads and the kids went through in lines and they'd brush their teeth in lines and it was like, phew! Just making sure that everybody used their own toothbrush was a major thing, making sure the toothbrushes went back to the right place and, you know. Trying to get the ones that were slightly older to learn how to braid hair.
We would do that, we'd get in a long line, like a circle all the way around the room , and the kids would turn and face one direction so that each of them would be facing the next kid's hair, right, and they would just do the best they could and I'd help out, going around the circle helping with the braiding, getting it done as quickly as we could. We lived out of milk crates in the basement, and for a long time there were no screens and I do have vivid memories of what we called "The Hordes." Hordes were the flying cockroaches! Now there we'd be in the basement and it would be night time, and all of a sudden you'd hear this Bzzzzzzzzzz . . . And you'd know it was one of the hordes, right, you'd know they were outside looking for a way to get in. So all of a sudden you'd have about 50 to 70, maybe more, big huge flying dates fly into your asrama window and they'd just run over and land on all the kids, right, and bite them! So there you are in the middle of the night with all the kids running around the room, "Ahhhhh!" slapping their bodies because the cockroaches were biting them and you'd have to get something out like a broom or something, or a towel to beat the cockroaches. And you really had to work hard to get those cockroaches to get the idea they had to get their horde out of there and it would take ten or fifteen minutes of beating and running around, and the cockroaches then would get the idea and fly out. We made it a point not to keep food there or anything we thought would attract them. I guess they were just blood suckers or something. I don't remember one summer night not getting landed on. It seemed like a regular routine. And it's not like we didn't think about getting screens but we couldn't really afford it. So we just suffered the consequences, and the kids would be like droopy, you know.
How any of us existed on so little sleep, I don't know. One of the big challenges we had as adults in that community was the fact that none of us were parents, except for Dayananda and Nandarani, and they were new parents, relatively. But none of the rest of us were parents. So even though we all had teaching experience, it was like organized classroom teaching experience. I had some experience in dormitories -- actually four years of experience in dormitories with large numbers of kids -- but where it was very organized and you had assistants and helpers and cleaner uppers and people to serve the meals and it was like nothing compared to this.
So I can remember getting up in the morning, chanting my rounds and then waking the kids up, putting on some kind of tape and braiding all that hair and we lived out of milk crates (sometimes we had shelves, but mostly we had milk crates lined up in a row) and at that time, a lot of times the kids wouldn't come with clothes. They'd have no clothes! I don't know if it's that the parents didn't have money and clothes to send with them or what it was, but many children just arrived with no clothes. And we got into the habit of getting clothes from thrift shops in the beginning or wherever we could get them from, and later there were ladies that sewed clothes. That was kind of much later. But, you know, we would just try to find whatever we could out of the milk crates to put on the kids in the morning and get them to mangala arati, in rows!
And there was some pressure to get the kids to perform. Me being a new devotee, I mean I had been in the movement less time than the kids, right, so I was just taking cues form people in charge, how to keep the kids together and how to enthuse them. I didn't do any physical thing about like enthusing them to dance, but there was a lot of pressure to keep the kids subdued but enliven them at the same time, which is kind of a far out thing to have to do, keep them subdued but moving at the same time. So that was a challenge and I can remember I was practically at a near nervous breakdown stage when I realized I had 50 kids, it just dawned on me one day, I was with them all the time! And I could see that I couldn't give enough attention to them. As a hobby I had herded goats before I was a devotee, and I could see I was using a lot of the same techniques with the kids, because it was too many kids to be with, so many hours out of the day, in so many different activities, with no facility. And just to keep everyone's sanity was like a challenge. And keeping everybody calm and listening to Bhagavatam class. In those days all the kids went to Bhagavatam class. Somehow or other most of them stayed awake, I don't know how.
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