Submitted by Murari Das
A ten-day international trade fair held in the nation of Malawi, in south central Africa, concluded recently. A well-wisher from India who is a managing director of a Malawian company had offered to hire a stall for ISKCON because he’s keen to help spread Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in Malawi. And so I showcased almost all of Srila Prabhupada’s books to those who visited our stall, people from a diverse section of society:
Students, businessmen, professionals, and even an ex-minister. There were some memorable moments.
One elderly man came up to me, and as I told him about ISKCON he said, “Oh! Krsna and the gopis!” I was surprised because I hadn’t told him anything about the gopis. Anyway, trying not to become diverted from my mission of putting a “Science of Self-realization” in his hands, I continued attempting to convince him to take an SSR. After some discussion, he agreed to take the book. I then asked him how he knew about Krsna and the gopis, and he said that in his college days he had studied oriental religions and had liked the part about Krsna and his pastimes with his different devotees.
A young person came by to look at the books and exclaimed, “Oh, Krsna consciousness!” I asked him where he was from and how he knew about Krsna consciousness. He said he was from Nairobi and had come to Malawi for the trade fair; his stall was on the other side of the pavilion. On the street in Nairobi he had once bought a book from someone whom he had taken to be an Indian lady. He had liked the book, so he took “Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers” from me.
Two friends came who said that they were self-employed. I decided to speak to the one who looked more serious. His friend looked a little frivolous and was always making jokes. While I was talking to the other man, explaining Krsna consciousness, his friend picked up “Beyond Birth and Death,” read a section, and started laughing. He interrupted us and showed his friend how Srila Prabhupada was saying that people who concentrate on the body and material things are less intelligent since these things are temporary. He laughed and said, “How can someone write in a book that we are less intelligent?” As I continued speaking to the other man, his friend interrupted again, this time wanting to read aloud something from the SSR he found amusing: “Some people think that they are God, or that there is no God or that everyone is God, and so they refuse to actually accept God. To these people God comes in the form of cruel death.” He seemed really impressed by this statement. I was thinking that this person was spoiling everything because he wouldn’t let me sell a book to his friend. Finally, the man I was speaking with said that he was impressed with the knowledge but didn’t want to take a book. While he was telling me this his friend interrupted once again and asked me, “How much for these two books?” I told him and he purchased both “Beyond Birth and Death” and “The Science of Self-realization.”
You can never predict the outcome of any encounter on sankirtan.
One of the most amazing encounters was this family of five who came and started looking at all the books. They looked intelligent and aristocratic. Father, mother and three kids in their early teens. I was just meditating that if a family like this took interest it would be really good for our movement here as they seemed highly placed in society. Then while I was explaining to them about the books I saw all members of the family picking up and reading a book from the table and they looked quite absorbed. The father looked really surprised at the titles of the books and was showing his wife (Beyond birth and death, Life comes from Life, Easy journey to other Planets etc..). The father then held up “Life comes from life” and said that they will take that book. The children and his wife each protested to the father as they wanted to take their books also. They started arguing in Chichewa (local language) and his wife listened to him and put her book down but not the kids. And so I made a suggestion; “Why not take all the books?” And so it was settled they took 4 books [LCFL, Coming back, Easy Journey to Other Planets, Beyond birth and Death].
It didn’t end there though. I gave them my contact card and today morning (a day after the end of the fair) I got a call from him; He wanted to know if I had the book called Bhagavad-gita as it is and if he could have it “today if possible”. I was surprised since I didn’t tell him anything about the Bhagavad-gita when we met at the fair.
So we met today in the afternoon in town and I asked him what prompted him to ask for a Bhagavad-Gita. He said that the whole family went home and the first thing they did was give his elderly father all the books to read and go through and explained to him about what they heard from me. His father just read half of the book “Beyond birth and Death”, and was really impressed with what he read and also saw references to a book called Bhagavad-gita. And so he told his son to immediately get this book called Bhagavad-gita. At home they said they had books on “Kabala (Jewish mysticism), Islam, Bahai and of course Bibles. But he said he told me his father said he “never read anything like this before”.
Apparently (maybe because of my devotional dress, tilak etc) they thought that I wasn’t from Malawi and might be leaving after the trade fair so they rushed to contact me to get the book. I assured them that I am here to stay and I told him to read the books and we can meet after a week or two to discuss if he wants.I took his contact and he looked really happy and thanked me and left.
After giving him the BG I went to do some errands and a person approached me on the street. He said I sold him a book once in his shop and he wants more books and he has been looking for me for a long time now. He saw me from his shop so ran out to meet me. So I gave him one of my newly printed mantra cards (H.H.Jayadvaita Maharaja, on his visit here recommended I handout these cards widely with my contact as well as the Mahamantra) and he said he would call me as soon as he got some money.
In total about 30 books (including 5 SSR’s and 2 BG’s) went out over 7 days at the fair ( I didn’t attend all 10 days). That might not seem like a lot compared to many places but according to the standards here it is phenomenal. I usually do 2 or 3 small books when I go out on the street or in the shops, occasionally a big book might go (SSR, JOSD).
Malawi is ranked among the 5 poorest countries in the world. Now and then the Govt runs out of money and can’t buy fuel so there is no petrol for a few days in the country. They also run out of foreign currency so no one can travel as there are no dollars, South African Rands or any currency to buy for the trip and so one has to wait for it to come.
Power cuts and water shortages are a regular occurrence. There is generally widespread poverty. But, due to the mercy and blessings of the Gurus, the Vaishnavas and Sri Gauranga and potency of Srila Prabhupada’s words in his books, somehow or other the books are really starting to move including BG’s, although sometimes I have to collect the money in instalments. I recall a quote of Srila Prabhupada and a similar one by H.H. Tamal Krishna Maharaja in which it is said that the more books go out in a place, the more the possibility is for even more books to be distributed there (in reference to Siksastaka; ‘anandambudhi vardhanam’). So I guess this is proof of the universality of this quote, that is, it is applicable in all places, in all times and to all people.