By Indradyumna Swami
I arrived back in Europe in early May and met with Jayatam dasa and Nandini dasi to discuss the summer Festival of India tour in Poland. We spend the entire year organizing the 50 festivals, including the Woodstock Festival, that we hold along the Baltic Sea coast. In total, the festivals attract some 750,000 people.
The final weeks before the first festival are always hectic. This year we faced the challenge of obtaining special visas for the 200 Russian and Ukrainian devotees on the tour. They needed Schengen visas, which allow the holder to enter the European Union and visit most countries there for three months. To obtain it, however, one must have a job, a bank account, and references.
It poses a problem because many of our Russian and Ukrainian devotees live in temples. We had to negotiate at the highest levels, including meeting representatives of the Polish Ministry of External Affairs, to find a solution. The problem was resolved only days before the first festival, and the devotees were granted visas with unprecedented concessions.
“It was only because of our good track record in holding these cultural events for almost 20 years,” Nandini told me.
A contributing factor was the support of the new Indian Ambassador to Poland, who became a welcome ally when he revealed his appreciation for ISKCON and expressed a keen interest in helping us spread Vedic culture in the country.
“ISKCON is India’s cultural ambassador to the world,” he said to Jayatam and Nandini.
He offered to let the Indian Embassy be the official patron of the tour this year. With this diplomatic support we went forward with fresh enthusiasm, putting the Indian flag on our newly designed posters and invitations.
Despite the support, however, we found ourselves facing the usual opposition. In preparation for the tour, Nandini had contacted the town councils in all the towns where we planned to hold festivals. Most welcomed us back, saying they were receiving inquiries from people planning their vacations as to when the Festival of India would be in their town. But one particular town posed a problem for us, and it wasn’t the first time.
It is one of the largest towns along the coast, with a population that swells to several hundreds of thousands during the summer. Our festival there is always our biggest and most prestigious. Months ago Nandini made a request to hold the festival in a large park in the center of town. We were assured by the authorities that there would be no difficulty. But in late May Nandini received word from the council that the park was being allocated to a handicraft fair for the entire summer.
“This is the problem all along the coast,” Nandini told me over the phone while I was in America. “There are hardly any cultural events anymore. Everything has become business. It’s almost too late now to find another spot, but I’m going to try for the beachfront.”
“The beachfront is the most prestigious place of all,” I said. “If we can’t get the park, how in the world will we get the beachfront?”
The promenade along the beachfront is the very heart of the action in the town during summer. Although we had previously held festivals there, we knew that many of the town’s well-placed people were opposed to our getting the location again.
Nandini contacted the official in charge of the promenade and asked if there were any weekends available. “It’s funny you called just now,” he said. “The spot has been booked for months, but just fifteen minutes ago we had a cancellation for the weekend of July 5th and 6th. Would you like to take those dates?”
Nandini couldn’t believe her ears. “That’s one of the best weekends of the summer,” she thought, and eagerly said she’d take it. She was told the council would be notified and she could sign the contract in the official’s office in two weeks.
Nandini decided that while she was visiting the town she would meet the mayor to talk about the Baltic coast resorts giving preference to business over culture, and she made an appointment for the same day.
The recently elected mayor was no stranger to Nandini. Three years ago he was the headmaster of the biggest high school in town. He heard about our festival from some students and came to see it himself. He was suffering from a prolonged illness and was interested our Ayurvedic Cures tent.
He waited in a long line to see a devotee consultant in Ayurveda, but the festival ended while he was still waiting. He felt frustrated and approached Nandini, who was standing nearby. She arranged to bring the consultant to the headmaster’s home that same night.
It was 11:00 PM when they arrived, but he was eager to receive them, and they spoke well into the night. Nandini and the consultant encouraged the headmaster to live a simpler life and give up some of his bad habits. He took their advice and was eventually cured. This year he ran for the office of mayor and won. He was still grateful to the devotees.
Two weeks later Nandini drove north to sign the contract for the spot on the beachfront. The official in charge of the promenade greeted her enthusiastically. “Everything’s all right,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the final paper from the town hall. Please come back in half an hour.”
When she returned the man’s demeanor had changed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “There’s been a last-minute change. The council has canceled your event, and a soccer match has been scheduled for that weekend.”
“How can that be?” Nandini said. “You told me two weeks ago the spot was open and you reserved it for us.”
The man looked down. “I’m sorry,” he said. “There is nothing that can be done. The council has made its decision.”
“I’ll bring this issue up with the mayor,” Nandini thought. “By Krsna’s arrangement I have an appointment with him in 90 minutes.”
On the way out she called me again and updated me on the situation. “It doesn’t look good,” she said, “but I’ll keep trying.”
On the way to the town hall she stopped at the home of an old friend who has connections with the council.
“It’s true what you say,” the woman said. “The council is less and less inclined to cultural events as each summer passes. They give all the prime locations to business enterprises. And I’ll tell you something else: at a recent council meeting your festival was discussed. There was a lot of opposition. That’s when the council decided against giving you the park this year. After the resolution was passed one of the senior council members slammed his fist on the table and said, ‘There will never be another Festival of India in our town!'”
“Was the mayor there?” Nandini asked.
“No, he wasn’t,” her friend said. “Not everyone was pleased, of course. You have a lot of supporters here, but be warned, your enemies are in powerful positions.”
Nandini then left for her appointment with the mayor, where she was greeted by his secretary and escorted into his office.
“It is wonderful news that you’ll be having your festival on the beachfront this year,” the mayor said.
“The festival has been canceled,” Nandini said, holding back her anger. “First we were denied a request to hold it in the park, and now it’s been officially canceled altogether.”
“Canceled?” the mayor said. “Who canceled the festival?”
“The council,” Nandini said, raising her voice.
“But I’m the head of the council, and I wasn’t informed,” the mayor said.
He turned to his secretary. “Have you ever been to the Festival of India?” he said.
“Yes, Lord Mayor,” she said, “I have.”
“And what did you think of it?” he asked.
She paused for a moment. “It’s a wonderful event,” she said enthusiastically. “The citizens love that festival, especially the children. They all look forward to it.”
“Thank you,” the mayor said.
He reflected for a moment then looked at his secretary. “Ask the deputy mayor to come to my office,” he said.
Five minutes later the deputy mayor and the council spokesman came into the mayor’s office. Without introducing Nandini the mayor talked briefly with the deputy mayor, then leaned back. “Have you ever been to the Festival of India?” he asked the spokesman.
“Oh, yes,” the spokesman replied, “several times.”
“And did you like it?” the mayor asked.
“Very much so,” he replied. “I look forward to it each summer.”
The deputy mayor looked disturbed.
The mayor turned to him. “And Mr. Deputy Mayor,” he said, “have you ever been to the Festival of India?”
“Yes, I have, Lord Mayor,” replied the deputy mayor.
“And what did you think of it?” said the mayor.
“It’s terrible,” the deputy said. “We should never let that event disgrace our town again.”
The mayor then introduced Nandini. “This is Agnieszka,” he said. “She’s in charge of securing sites for the Festival of India along the coast during the summer. She just informed me that the festival, which had reserved a site along the beachfront for the first week in July, was canceled this morning by the council.”
The deputy mayor looked down.
The mayor paused for a few moments. “Do you have any idea who in the council took it upon himself to cancel this event?” he said.
The deputy mayor shifted uncomfortably. “I canceled the festival, Lord Mayor,” he said.
The mayor leaned forward. “Without consulting anyone?” he asked.
“Yes,” the deputy mayor replied, “without consulting anyone.”
“Well, let me tell you,” said the mayor, “I’m reinstating this festival on the beachfront for the weekend of July 5th and 6th. Is that absolutely clear, Mr. Deputy Mayor?”
The deputy mayor clenched his fists. He glanced angrily at Nandini and then back at the mayor. “Yes, it is, Lord Mayor,” he said.
The deputy mayor stood up. “And could I be excused now, sir?” he said.
“You’re excused,” the mayor said.
The mayor turned to Nandini. “I hope your festival will be a great success,” he said.
Nandini smiled at the mayor. “We’re hoping the Indian Ambassador will be our special guest at the festival,” she said. “And if he is, diplomatic etiquette would require you to be there as well. That being the case, I’m sure the festival will indeed be a success.”
An hour later Nandini called me. “Guru Maharaja,” she said, “we have the site on the beachfront for the first weekend in July.”
“Wonderful!” I exclaimed. “How in world did you do it?”
“It was all Krsna’s mercy,” she replied. “There’s no other explanation.”
Srila Prabhupada writes:
“If the preachers in our Krsna consciousness movement are sincere devotees of Krsna, Krsna will always be with them because He is very kind and favorable to all His devotees. Just as Arjuna and Krsna were victorious in the Battle of Kuruksetra, this Krsna consciousness movement will surely emerge victorious if we but remain sincere devotees of the Lord and serve the Lord according to the advice of predecessors . . . . If we attempt this seriously within society, it will be successfully done. There is no question of estimating how this will happen in the mundane sense. But without a doubt, it happens by the grace of Krsna.
[Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 4.79, purport]