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My father's income was no more than 250 rupees, but there was no question of need. In the mango season when we were children, we would run through the house playing, and we would grab mangoes as we were running through. And all through the day we would eat mangoes. We wouldn't have to think, "Can I have a mango?" My father always provided food-mangoes were one rupee a dozen.
Life was simple, but there was always plenty. We were middle class but receiving four or five guests daily. My father gave four daughters in marriage, and there was no difficulty for him. Maybe it was not a very luxurious life, but there was no scarcity of food or shelter or cloth. Daily he purchased two and a half kilograms of milk. He did not like to purchase retail but would purchase a year's supply of coal by the cartload.
We were happy-not that because we did not purchase a motorcar we were unhappy. My father used to say, "God has ten hands. If He wants to take away from you, with two hands how much can you protest? And when He wants to give to you with ten hands, then with your two hands how much can you take?"
My father would rise a little late, around seven or eight. Then, after taking bath, he would go purchasing. Then, from ten o'clock to one in the afternoon, he was engaged in puja. Then he would take his lunch and go to business. And in the business shop he would take a little rest for one hour. He would come home from business at ten o'clock at night, and then again he would do puja. Actually, his real business was puja. For livelihood he did some business, but puja was his main business. We would be sleeping, and father would be doing arati. Ding ding ding-we would hear the bell and wake up and see him bowing down before Krsna.
SDG: Gour Mohan wanted Vaisnava goals for his son; he wanted Abhay to become a servant of Radharani, to become a preacher of the Bhagavatam, and to learn the devotional art of playing mrdanga. He regularly received sadhus in his home, and he would always ask them, "Please bless my son so that Srimati Radharani may be pleased with him and grant him Her blessings."
Enjoying each other's company, father and son used to walk as far as ten miles, saving the five-paisa tram fare. On the beach they used to see a yogi who for years had sat in one spot without moving. One day the yogi's son was sitting there, and people had gathered around; the son was taking over his father's sitting place. Gour Mohan gave the yogis a donation and asked their blessings for his son.
When Abhay's mother said she wanted him to become a British lawyer when he grew up (which meant he would have to go to London to study), one of the Mullik "uncles" thought it was a good idea. But Gour Mohan would not hear of it; if Abhay went to England he would be influenced by European dress and manners. "He will learn drinking and women-hunting," Gour Mohan objected. "I do not want his money."
From the beginning of Abhay's life, Gour Mohan had introduced his plan. He had hired a professional mrdanga player to teach Abhay the standard rhythms for accompanying kirtana. Rajani had been skeptical: "What is the purpose of teaching such a young child to play the mrdanga? It is not important." But Gour Mohan had his dream of a son who would grow up singing bhajanas, playing mrdanga, and speaking on Srimad-Bhagavatam.
When Abhay sat to play the mrdanga, even with his left and right arms extended as far as he could, his small hands would barely reach the drumheads at the opposite ends of the drum. With his right wrist he would flick his hand just as his teacher instructed, and his fingers would make a high-pitched sound-tee nee tee nee taw-and then he would strike the left drumhead with his open left hand-boom boom. With practice and age he was gradually learning the basic rhythms, and Gour Mohan looked on with pleasure.
Abhay was an acknowledged pet child of both his parents. In addition to his childhood names Moti, Nandulal, Nandu, and Kocha, his grandmother called him Kacauri-mukhi because of his fondness for kacauris (spicy, vegetable-stuffed fried pastries, popular in Bengal). Both his grandmother and mother would give him kacauris, which he kept in the many pockets of his little vest. He liked to watch the vendors cooking on the busy roadside and accept kacauris from them and from the neighbors, until all the inside and outside pockets of his vest were filled.
Sometimes when Abhay demanded that his mother make him kacauris, she would refuse. Once she even sent him to bed. When Gour Mohan came home and asked, "Where is Abhay?" Rajani explained how he had been too demanding and she had sent him to bed without kacauris. "No, we should make them for him," his father replied, and he woke Abhay and personally cooked puris and kacauris for him. Gour Mohan was always lenient with Abhay and careful to see that his son got whatever he wanted. When Gour Mohan returned home at night, it was his practice to take a little puffed rice, and Abhay would also sometimes sit with his father, eating puffed rice.
Once, at a cost of six rupees, Gour Mohan bought Abhay a pair of shoes imported from England. And each year, through a friend who traveled back and forth from Kashmir, Gour Mohan would present his son a Kashmiri shawl with a fancy, hand-sewn border.
One day in the market, Abhay saw a toy gun he wanted. His father said no, and Abhay started to cry. "All right, all right," Gour Mohan said, and he bought the gun. Then Abhay wanted another gun. "You already have one," his father said. "Why do you want another one?"
"One for each hand," Abhay cried, and he lay down in the street, kicking his feet. When Gour Mohan agreed to get the second gun, Abhay was pacified.
Abhay wanted to have his own cart and to perform his own Ratha-yatra, and naturally he turned to his father for help. Gour Mohan agreed, but there were difficulties. When he took his son to several carpenter shops, he found that he could not afford to have a cart made. On their way home, Abhay began crying, and an old Bengali woman approached and asked him what the matter was. Gour Mohan explained that the boy wanted a Ratha-yatra cart but they couldn't afford to have one made. "Oh, I have a cart," the woman said, and she invited Gour Mohan and Abhay to her place and showed them the cart. It looked old, but it was still operable, and it was just the right size, about three feet high. Gour Mohan purchased it and helped to restore and decorate it. Father and son together constructed sixteen supporting columns and placed a canopy on top, resembling as closely as possible the ones on the big carts at Puri. They also attached the traditional wooden horse and driver to the front of the cart. Abhay insisted that it must look authentic. Gour Mohan bought paints, and Abhay personally painted the cart, copying the Puri originals. His enthusiasm was great, and he became an insistent organizer of various aspects of the festival. But when he tried making fireworks for the occasion from a book that gave illustrated descriptions of the process, Rajani intervened.
When Abhay was about six years old, he asked his father for a Deity of his own to worship. Since infancy he had watched his father doing puja at home and had been regularly seeing the worship of Radha-Govinda and thinking, "When will I be able to worship Krsna like this?" On Abhay's request, his father purchased a pair of little Radha-Krsna Deities and gave Them to him. From then on, whatever Abhay ate he would first offer to Radha and Krsna, and imitating his father and the priests of Radha-Govinda, he would offer his Deities a ghee lamp and put Them to rest at night.
Gour Mohan did not have a high opinion of Bengal's growing number of so-called sadhus-the nondevotional impersonalist philosophers, the demigod worshipers, the ganja smokers, the beggars-but he was so charitable that he would invite the charlatans into his home. Every day Abhay saw many so-called sadhus, as well as some who were genuine, coming to eat in his home as guests of his father, and from their words and activities Abhay became aware of many things, including the existence of yogic powers. At a circus he and his father once saw a yogi tied up hand and foot and put into a bag. The bag was sealed and put into a box, which was then locked and sealed, but still the man came out. Abhay, however, did not give these things much importance compared with the devotional activities his father had taught him, his worship of Radha-Krsna, and his observance of Ratha-yatra.