Sunday, October 3, 2010

An Ancient Power

Yesterday I took the elevator up to the second floor of a certain building built in 1929 on the campus of the University of Florida. I rung the doorbell and the woman at the desk motioned for me to enter through the glass doors.

I stepped into the deep quiet of the Baldwin Library, Special Collections. The vaulted wood ceilings cast a hush over me, as if I was entering a cathedral. After I signed a plethora of permission sheets, the librarian disappeared to fetch two books for me.

When she returned, she placed two books upon the table. My heart jumped. I glanced at the librarian and she gave me a smile.

With a cautious hand, I opened the cover of the first book, which was covered in maroon leather that dully shone. Upon the brittle pages was a copyright date from over 230 years ago.

230 years ago.

In awe, I opened to a random page. The author was a man who traveled with the British embassy - he told of his adventures and the diplomacy of missions to the Far East. The author spoke about the 1760s as if that era was not so long ago. On one page I saw ancient Devanagari script scribbled in pencil, as if a scholar in India had taken notes.

I flagged down a librarian. "This little piece of paper says that this book was sold to the University around 60 or 70 years ago for $375. How much is it worth today?"

The librarian grinned. "Oh, 230 years old? Over 10,000 dollars."

I gasped.

I opened the second book, which told the tales of two boys and a Doctor who travel the world.

130 years old.

I skipped ahead to the chapter when the crew touches shore in "Pooree". The book overflowed with meticulous and stunning illustrations, and so lo and behold when I turned a page, there was Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra! The author even drew a map of the famous temple. I guess that was before the priests outlawed the entrance of Westerners into the temple.

For an hour, I entered the ancient world of these books. The sound of turning brittle pages seemed to echo off the ceiling.

As I was about to leave, I took one last glance upon the inside cover of the children's book. In faded script was a little note that said something like, "To Harry, Dec. 25, '81"

It took me a moment to process the year.


Where have these books been? Who were the people that wrote them? Who were the people that turned these pages before me, throughout the decades... throughout the centuries...?

Somehow, a person who lived a hundred and two hundred years ago set words to paper. I will never know how he looks, never know how he speaks, and he is forever lost to the sands of time. But somehow, that person has reached out through the centuries to speak with me.

Then I pondered how Srila Prabhupad's books continue to change lives to this very day, even though he's no longer on the planet. His books will continue to reach out and mold the lives of people all over the world, for hundreds - for thousands - of years to come. His books have certainly changed my life.

That is the power of the written word.

And then I wonder: Will someone a hundred, two hundred, maybe even three hundred years from now be reading these words of an insignificant young woman?



In Love With Krishna said...

That's a compelling, intriguing post.
The power of the written word- it couldn't have been said better.

Bhakta Antony Alexander said...

This is awesome! There is nothing like spending time in the archives and special collections of a library or research center. To help answer your question, yes, your written words will form the primary sources that generations will refer to. They will trace their fingers along hand written pages and wonder, "What type of soul wrote words such as these?"

Nityananda Chandra Das said...

great post, as usual :)

It's about me! said...


Very interesting article. Your article is just too good to describe.

Nandini said...

reminds me of a lecture by HH Radhanatha Swami, when was presented handwritten pages of evening/Gaura arati, composition work of Bhaktivinod Thakur.

Thanks for the post Bhakti.

David/Nrsimha/Pyramid/ITV said...

You couldn't have that experience with a Kindle. Paper, ink, well-worn covers, smudges on the pages, the musky odors from aged wood fibers - these objects of the senses cannot be replaced by electronic screens. The difference is almost like that of an mayavadi to a personalist. Krishna can be tasted, felt, smelled, not so with ones and zeros. Perhaps Srila Prabhupada is more accurate than we may think when he says, "Books are the basis." However, the future generations may miss the very thing that you appreciate when holding and reading those 230 year old words in your hands - because they won't be Srila Prabhupada's exact words. There are over 3000 changes in the Gita alone - and most of them are "discretionary" by the editors, not written by the author. No matter how vociferous the defense of the changes, Srila Prabhupada read the words in countless classes from his "orginal" printed books. You cannot hear his words echoed in the changes because he never said them. Never. What a loss! The editors could have made just a very tiny few obvious corrections; no one would be disturbed. But, no, now the book that is brought out in 2240 may not be the real "old" one, but a "newer old" one that isn't the words that the author authorized. You won't be able to absorb yourself in the sometimes awkward English grammer that so charmed the minds of its readers - so much so that they followed that transcendental Pied Piper away from their families, comforts, material dreams, to another place entirely. I pray that somehow, someway, by some miracle, the persons controlling Prabhupada's press stop this unnecessary changing and return to the original as closely as humanly possible. Then in 230 years, 2300 years, a person can sign into that library and experience the luminous transparency of Srila Prabhupada's words dictated to him by no less than the Supreme Lord Himself.

manav said...

a marvellous post..!!!

||Hare Krsna||

Anonymous said...

This is one of my fav. posts. Read this post many times :)

To write is to dare the soul. So write.