She Traded Her Son for a Cheesecake

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

Out back at the Columbus Temple Annex, we had a restaurant called “Simply Wonderful” right there on High Street. If you see the stained glass at the Palace of Gold, you aren’t surprised to read here that our New Vrindabana crafted “Simply Wonderful” sign was incredibly beautiful.

Upstairs in the restaurant, Sri Sri Gaur Nitai accepted every item before it was sold to the public down in the restaurant proper. We were distributing Prasadam. And oh, what delicious Prasadam it was. My favorite was the Pakoras. What kind of heavenly assignment was that where yours truly could take all the Pakoras I’d ever dreamed of?

Parama Brahma observed my burgeoning condition at one point and stated that I was getting so fat it seemed my eyes were squeezing shut. This isn’t about me though; I want you, Dear Reader to understand that the Prasadam we distributed there, in the guise of Restaurateurs, was absolutely sumptuous.

Why, once, in full confidence, when talking to a customer who seemed hesitant, I vowed, “Sir, you take this Bheema Burger, and if you are not absolutely totally satisfied, I will personally give you double your money back.”

That’s right. And this customer came back to the serving line with his empty plate going, “Please may I have another?” Yes, that Prasadam was totally absolutely without parallel. Stoic Chakra Pani was our main cook. Chakra Pani did everything at the same time every day. Read, exercise, chant, Chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, take measured amounts of Prasadam, all at strictly regular intervals and amounts.

And the sublime foods which he presented for Lord Caitanya were totally amazing. We had a juice bar, a sandwich bar, a serving line with veg, soups, and rice. Did I mention Pakoras?

It wasn’t a health food restaurant, though the food was absolutely wholesome and appealing. It was not the kind of restaurant where a customer would go away hungry. It was Simply Wonderful.

Advaita Prabhu was the manager when we noticed a young kid hanging out with us. This boy didn’t have much money, so he often took meals in exchange for washing dishes or sweeping up. Of course, if he’d only said he was hungry but broke, he would have been generously provided for. But the Devotees are so very expert at putting people in win win win situations.

This new young boy quickly became known as “Bhakta W*.” He never said he wanted to take initiation, but like me, he just loved the Devotees. When I looked at this shy and sweet personality, I saw that his external covering was that of a terribly introverted and timid person. He had a slight stutter. He looked like the kind of little guy school bullies would single out in a heart beat.

As he loved the Devotees, the Devotees loved him in return. Bhakta W* began hanging out more and more. He fell into performing regular Service. He was a minor, and after a while it was apparent that he was cutting school. I certainly understood, but even if school was miserable for the lad, we were aware of the legal aspects of the situation and Advaita told W* he could only show up after school hours.

Then W* really came on. After school, on weekends, he was always with us. He was quite happy. If you stood near him, you could hear him nervously whispering Krsna Songs. If you watched him surreptitiously, you’d see him studying a Senior Devotee with obvious adoration. And the respect and affection he was getting in return seemed to cause him to blossom with hope and contentment. I imagined that like anyone else, his life without the Temple was pretty miserable. W* was just one of those who was lucky enough to realize this and act upon it.

Then one day, an irate woman came storming in. “I want to talk to the manager!” she said.

Advaita saw the lady’s agitation and ushered her to a table. “What’s the problem?” Advaita asked gently.

“It’s my son,” she said. “You people have brainwashed my son.” She was referring to out Bhakta W.

“Now Mam,” Advaita crooned. “We love your son and he loves it here too.”

“He never comes home anymore. He just wants to stay here all the time.”

We were all listening with fascination. There was no doubt in any of the Simply Wonderful worker’s minds that this woman was interacting with one of our most Senior of Public Relations people. The only fun question to me was just what method Advaita would use to hit his high sailing home run.

Advaita coughed gently after the woman had told him how her son already had a home and there was no need for the boy to hang out with strangers such as us. “Mam,” Advaita said. “Your son actually wants to hang out here.”

“I know that,” the woman said.

“And the thing is, if you keep him from coming here, he’ll just feel resentment. You’ll be keeping him from one place where W* is truly happy and also very much appreciated.”

Bhakta W. had sidled close to the table where his mother and Advaita held their dialog. He was on the other side of the lattice wall which guided customers in from the door to the serving line. I was in my usual position behind the serving line. I could see W* had a cleaning rag in his hand. He was moving his feet back and forth nervously. He needn’t have worried.

“Here’s what I think you should do,” Advaita said warmly. “I think you should let your son spend the night with us a few times. I know you love him.” Advaita folded his hands on the table between himself and W*’s mother.

“I do love him,” the lady asserted.

“I know. He is a great boy,” Advaita Prabhu responded. “Let him spend three or four nights with us. Let him spend weekends with us. It isn’t easy, getting up early and chanting Hare Krsna,” Advaita said.

I saw Chakra Pani in the kitchen, working a ladle and smiling. Every ear in the place was tuned in. I thought of Lord Caitanya, upstairs, silently empowering Advaita Prabhu. Advaita continued, “Let your son get a real true taste of what life is like here. After a few days, he might come running to you. But if he is kept away, he might start thinking life is better here than it really is.”

This was a solid, enlightened proposition. The woman recognized the good sense there, but something made her hesitate. “Well …” she said.

Advaita flexed his fingers. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Let us have Bhakta W*, and I’ll give you a cheesecake!”

I don’t know where that one came from, but it certainly sealed the deal. The woman was smiling from ear to ear as I boxed up one of our most luscious Prasadama Cherry Cheesecakes.

Bhakta W* moved right into the Temple then and never looked back. Before long, he migrated to New Vrindabana. Many times in the years that followed, we danced together before the glowing Alter at New Vrindabana. He was happy and lucky to have been traded to the Devotee Life in exchange for a Maha Cheesecake and the Transcendental, virtually implacable persuasive empowerment of the Manager at the Simply Wonderful Restaurant of Columbus back in 1980.

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Reader Comments

good method.

Well, who was the devotee that moved to New Vrindaban? He is still here?