In the evening His Divine Grace told us more about his life before establishing ISKCON. He explained that when he began publishing Back to Godhead many people appreciated it, including his Godbrother Bon Maharaja and others.
One librarian friend asked him, "Why not write books? Paper is thrown away, but a book is kept."
So in 1958 he wrote Easy Journey to Other Planets. Then In 1960 he began the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, publishing the first part in 1962. In 1963 came Part Two, and by the end of 1964 Part Three. Each printing was 1,100 copies, the cost donated by a wealthy business magnate.
In 1965 he came to Mayapur to pay respects to his departed Guru Maharaja. The next day he returned to Calcutta and sailed for the U.S.A. It took twenty seven days via the Suez Canal and the Straits of Gibraltar. For two days at sea Prabhupada had severe chest pains and thought he might die at any time. Later in New York he became ill with the same complaint, and doctors told him that it was a heart attack. He understood this was the same as the trouble aboard ship, but at that time he did not know what it was. He said that in New York the chanting of the devotees had saved him.
Before leaving India, the American embassy in Delhi had bought nineteen copies of each volume of his Srimad-Bhagavatam and given a standing order for all the future volumes. They then sent them to different universities and libraries in America. After Prabhupada arrived in America he went to a library and offered his books, but they already had them. Then he went to a university in Philadelphia and it also had obtained them.
One teacher paid Prabhupada's fare from Butler, Pennsylvania to the main bus terminal in Philadelphia. Prabhupada went from there to New York, where he rented a small room. At that time he had an idea to get a small temple, so he wrote to a rich man in Bombay asking him for money. The man agreed, but the government disallowed it, although Prabhupada got special permission to collect funds from resident Indians. Then he went to the Salvation Army asking for help, but they refused.
He wrote to his Godbrother Tirtha Maharaja asking for men and mridanga drums, but he also refused to help. Prabhupada had originally asked him for funds for going to the West and publishing his books, but Tirtha refused. Instead, he had indirectly hinted that Prabhupada should go as his representative. In this way Tirtha Maharaja would get the credit if the mission was successful. "I understood his mind," Prabhupada told us, "and carefully avoided him after that."
While on board the ship the captain's wife, who was a palmist, told Prabhupada that if he survived his seventieth year he would live to be one hundred years old. Seeing us smile at this he added, "So, somehow or other the heart attacks were not fatal, so now let us see."
Madhudvisha Swami said that he had told Mr. Punja in Fiji that Prabhupada was getting old and couldn't travel there. Mr. Punja, who hadn't heard about the prediction, replied, "Oh, don't worry, Prabhupada will live to be one hundred!" Madhudvisha asked him how he knew. He said that he had given Prabhupada's birth details and signature, as well as a recording of his voice, to a fortune teller in Fiji who predicted Prabhupada would live to be one hundred.
"So let us see,"
Srila Prabhupada repeated with a noncommittal grin.
He recalled going to a very prominent astrologer in Calcutta when he was a grihastha and asked what his future would be. The man laughed and said only, "Oh, this will be your last birth here!"
Prabhupada also talked about the position of women in Indian society. Formerly a respectable woman would not be seen in public, but remained secluded, traveling only in sedan-chairs and closed carriages. Krishna's wives played tennis on the roofs of the palaces; and Advaita-acarya's wife, Sita-devi, traveled in a veiled chair. Prabhupada said that his own mother and his wife did the same. Only prostitutes would be seen publicly.
Formerly a woman's status could be understood simply by her dress: a married woman kept her head covered, an unmarried woman under her father's protection had an uncovered head, a widow wore a white sari with no border, and a prostitute parted her hair on the side, not in the middle. In this way Vedic society was so nicely arranged that one could easily understand another's status.
Srila Prabhupada seems to know practically everything. No matter how seemingly ordinary the subject matter, he can always offer a completely spiritual perspective. He is like a cornucopia of knowledge, overflowing with truth and wisdom. The warmth and friendliness of his personality make each exchange a completely fulfilling experience. We are indeed extremely fortunate to have his association.