Passing of Nila Kamala Prabhu

May 07, 2010 — VRINDAVAN, INDIA  — On May 2nd late in the afternoon around 5 PM, one of the workers in Krishna Balarama Guesthouse came knocking at my door with a message from Ganapati that there is a devotee from Spain who is not responding to their requests and could I go talk to him. I understood they wanted me to translate for them since, having preached in Colombia, South America for four years, I know Spanish.

On May 2nd late in the afternoon around 5 PM, one of the workers in Krishna Balarama Guesthouse came knocking at my door with a message from Ganapati that there is a devotee from Spain who is not responding to their requests and could I go talk to him. I understood they wanted me to translate for them since, having preached in Colombia, South America for four years, I know Spanish.

So I followed him to the Guesthouse and up two flights of stairs to a single room in the corner at the top of the stairs. The door was kept slightly open with some sort of stick and I could hear and feel the fan running inside. The worker removed the stick and opened the door completely, the lights were out so I sensed something is wrong. The bed was up against the wall on the left as we entered so no one could see just by passing by. In the dim light I made out the figure of someone lying on his back in a very strange position with his right hand curled curiously on his bare chest. My immediate impression was that he was dead, but in the dim light I thought I saw his chest move.

On the vain hope that maybe it was some type of seizure, I reached out to his wrist to check if there was any pulse. Then I felt that he was stiff as a board. He didn’t need a translator as he had already been transported somewhere else!

I checked the room for his passport or something to identify him with. His wallet was on the floor with his credit cards identifying him as Luis Carlos Flores Martinez, and pictures of a woman I assumed might be his wife and a young boy, his son? There was only a small knapsack that was empty, the small amount of clothes he had was on the table. In a side pocket, there was a small mobile and in another there was a name tag from Hardwar Kumbha Mela identifying him as Nila Kamala Prabhu. There were also a box of cassettes for a video camera, but no camera. When I lifted his cloth on the table, I found the camera. But no sight of a passport. And no other luggage than this small knapsack.

So I told the worker to call Ganapati and inform him and we went down one floor to his office. Since last three months he had started a policy that if any single person comes, to take a photocopy of his passport, since there is no one to verify the information recorded in the register. So he got out the photocopy. Right away I was struck with the date of birth 1950…could he be a godbrother? Ganapati told me that he knew me as he told him that he met me at Kumbha Mela in Vrindavan. But since there was a big procession with hundreds of devotees, I couldn’t recall. At first it appeared that he was from Argentina, as I saw that written in the passport. But also I saw the word Espanola. I didn’t have my glasses, but Ganapati gave me a looking glass, then I understood that his birthplace was Argentina, but he was a citizen of Spain. He gave his address as San Juan de Alicante, a city I know in Spain.

Someone then called the Foreign Registration Officer and informed him, but there was grand confusion as no one understood Spanish, so looking at the photocopy they told them he was from Argentina. When I heard them say this, I called out from across the room that not Argentina, from Spain. The person with the phone argued that it says Argentina! I stated back, that he was born in Argentina, but living in Spain. So they said on the phone that he’s Argentine citizen living in Spain. Again I called out, not he was born in Argentina, but now he’s Spanish Citizen. We had a brief argument but finally I prevailed that what was written in the passport was what I had just said. This continued to be a big contentious issue even after he hung up.

Meanwhile Ganapati called to our Temple President, who is in America right now, to see if he could contact Virabahu Prabhu who might know him from Argentina. And also to try and find the number for the Spanish Embassy there to inform them, since here there is no such efficient thing as calling information to find the number here and it would be easier for them there. He then called some devotee in Delhi to try and get us the number of the embassy.

I went downstairs to see if any South American devotees were around who might know something about him, since I had seen many in the last few days. Sure enough, right at the bottom of the stairs was a couple from Argentina! in the bakery. They didn’t know him, but told of a Peruvian couple, Mahajana and Mahamanjari, who seemed to be friendly with him. There’s special bhajans for Purusottama Month going on after artika in the Hindi Prasada Hall, so we figured they must be there. A few South American devotees were there, but this couple wasn’t there. Someone offered to go and call them.

By the time I got back to Ganapati’s office, the police were there. Now again the whole argument about his citizenship started up again. By now they have found his passport lying under the bed. It took me a while to convince the SP that I was correct, but finally with the looking glass, he was also convinced. I told Ganapati that I had found a mobile in his bag, so he sent one of the workers to get it. I turned it on only to be greeted by “Please Enter Pin” so I typed in 108 just on a chance, but now was greeted with “Two Entries Before Lock.” So no chance of finding any number to call. In the middle of all this the media appeared with all their cameras and microphones to interview Ganapati.

The police are saying we cannot dispose of the body till they get permission from the Spanish Embassy. But they also don’t know any place in Mathura district with a way to preserve a body. They also naturally want to have a Post Mortem done tomorrow. They’re also refusing us to put him on slab of ice that we have brought saying it may cause some damage to the body and then the post mortem might miss some evidence. Finally they agreed to let us put ice slabs in the room near his body.

Mahajana appeared and said he had met him here in Vrindavan, and confirmed that his devotee name was Nila Kamala and that he was a Prabhupada Disciple. Our Vice President Janardana came and said that he talked to him a few days before and understood he did service in the Pujari Dept. in 1980 when Omkara was head pujari. The police asked Janardana when was the last time he talked to him and he said that maybe yesterday he saw him and just said Hare Krishna. The police shot back with the Hindi equivalent of “bull”! This guy has been dead for some time!

I decided to go put the message out on Facebook as I have many friends from Spain and South America who might know him. On the way to my room, I ran into Govardhanahari from Costa Rica. He told me that Nila Kamala told him his whole history. At first he didn’t realize he was from South America since he’s one of the few people born from an indigenous family (most Argentineans are mixed with European stock) and looked like a Manipuri.

Nila Kamala was traveling in Bolivia in 1974 when he ran into a traveling party of devotees headed by a French Canadian Sannyasi named Hanuman Maharaja, who was the first to preach in South America. He was so fascinated by the devotees that he joined their traveling party. They traveled for three months and came to Mexico when Srila Prabhupada visited. Srila Prabhupada initiated him as Nila Kamala dasa. He never returned to Argentina and eventually settled in Spain. He came to India in 1977 and left when Srila Prabhupada went on his last visit to London. Then again in 1980, he served in the Pujari Dept. under Omkara. He married and divorced two or three times and now was single.

So I put the story up on Facebook. The next morning there were a few replies. Someone knew his son’s name was Siddhartha, but no one knew any family members to contact. Someone contacted Yadunandana Swami from Spain who sent a letter to all the Spanish Yatra conferences, and he also wrote to me that there was Spanish devotee named Shakti Traya who knew him and had sent him some information, but no numbers to call.

After breakfast I was again called to Ganapati’s office. The police were there again filling out forms and photocopying them. By this time we had a number for the embassy, but it was just a recording that for this or that push this or that number, and somebody pushed a number and got a recording of all the different visas and their cost. Finally someone got through and talked in Hindi with the worker there, but just to be sure, they put someone actually from the embassy and I talked to him in Spanish at the end trying to impress on him, we’re in a small village there’s no way to preserve the body and it’s 40+C and the body is decomposing, etc.

Someone had found a diary with phone numbers. I saw a page titled Alicante and the first entry was Siddhartha! Luckily Ganapati had a diary on his desk with the international codes. Without thinking, I dialed, but it is 3 AM there, so all I got was an answering machine, so I left the message that Luis Carlos has passed on in our Guesthouse and we found this number in his diary, if you know him, please call us.

The police want to take him for Post Mortem, and in India if there is no relative to claim the body, then to move it, there is something called Pancha Nama, five people have to sign that the body was lifted in their presence. So we all signed and then our temple commander Saranga Thakura swung into action. After dropping the body at the place where post mortems are done he went to research and found some hospital with a jimmy-rigged portable morgue. Sort of a glass case on top of a metal platform with refrigeration underneath. So we put this in a room in the Guesthouse and placed Nila Kamala’s body inside.

Meanwhile Ganapati called me again to the office. They managed to talk to someone at the phone number for Siddhartha, but no one talks Spanish. So I call and it is Siddhartha’s mother, the boy is only 15 and is in school. So I explained everything to her and she said she is already trying to contact his parents in Argentina, but it is in another timezone so she’ll have to wait. I asked her for the number of his parents so I could pass it on to the embassy, but she preferred not to give, so I didn’t press.

Finally in the evening, the Spanish Embassy calls Ganapati to tell him they have contacted the parents and verbally they have consented to let the Hare Krishna’s perform his last rites. But they want it in writing! He pleads with them about the temperature and the decomposing body, but they are adamant. Nila Kamala’s situation has had a headon collision between Indian and Spanish bureaucracy. Other embassies have been more sympathetic to our situation and here the police are still saying nothing without permission of the embassy. Now when devotees come to leave their bodies we have them give an affidavit to the embassy that when they expire they want their rites performed by the temple. A certified copy is also given to the local authorities so it is usually quite routine.

The next morning my telephone service is out of order. Reliance is very unReliable! So I send someone to tell Ganapati to send someone if any word is there. About 11:30 AM my phone service starts working again, so I call Ganapati. He says they just that moment got word from the police that they have a fax from the embassy. So now Saranga is calling the ambulance that brought the contraption, so we should be ready to leave soon.

Saranga calls me that the ambulance has gone to Agra and this contraption won’t fit in any of the small local ambulances. And no one dares open the glass case! It’s been 3 days! So I told him that Sandipani Muni School has a small flat bed truck. They are happy to serve, but their driver is on vacation since school is out now. I told him to ask around for a small truck or tractor trolley. Now I have run into this problem over and over again in India, no one will give their vehicle for transporting a dead body! At 4:30 PM Saranga calls to say that all this time they have a ‘cow ambulance’ in the goshala for transporting dead cows to the Yamuna that someone has recently donated. Even I didn’t know about it. He’s been looking for a vehicle for 5 hours and there’s one in our own back yard!

So I pulled up to the guesthouse gate to bring the kirtan party in Vrinda Devi’s car. They load the contraption on the back of the truck, and I can see that it has been failing against the 40+C heat. Everyone has towels wrapped around their faces! Now things become quite amazing. It’s been exactly 72 hours since I found him!

I see some stocky looking fellow who looks like he’s from South America standing by the gate. I wave him to come over and ask where he’s from thinking that if he’s from SA, he may want to come. He says he’s from Chile but living in Spain. His name is Shakti Traya! The very person whose email Yadu forwarded to me! I told him we’re just taking Nila Kamala to the Yamuna and his jaw dropped open! He says he lives in the same town and has known Nila Kamala for 30 years! I told him to hop in. I thought he had come on purpose, but he said he just happened to be waiting by the gate at that precise time for a friend who never showed up!

We make our way to the burning ghata and Saranga is already there fixing the pyre. We unload the contraption and transfer the body to the pyre. Ordinarily we bathe the body in Yamuna first, but under the circumstances, I opt for splashing some water on him instead. Saranga asked if I wanted to set the fire, but I said Shakti is his friend for 30 years, he should do it. So he sets the fire and we do kirtan.

While kirtan is going on Shakti told me that he also served in the Pujari Dept. under Omkara in ’82. Then softly he told me that Nila Kamala had told him ten years before, that when I die, I want you to put my ashes in the Yamuna! Little did he realize that he would actually take him to the Yamuna and do his ceremony!

Later while we were bathing, he told me the Nila Kamala was the only person he met living outside the temple that chanted his 16 rounds every day. Almost everyone else stops that he ever met. Then I asked him what Nila Kamala was doing and he said he read palms. He said that a lot of his friends were mystic people like this. Then he lowered his voice and softly told me, “Prabhu, when Yadu sent the letter around, one lady called me from Spain who knew Nila Kamala and was a medium. When she got the letter, she went into trance and said she saw Nila Kamala. He came to her and said, ‘Marga, siempre canta el santo nombre! No hay nada mas en este mundo! ‘ (Marga, always chant the Holy Names! There’s nothing else in this world!) and disappeared! 

All glories to Sri Vrindavan Dhama! 
All glories to Purusottama Masa! 
All glories to Srila Prabhupada! 
All glories to Nila Kamala Prabhu!

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