Episode 17: Let the Parade Begin… Plan B! 

“There is no harm. If one could not proceed, it doesn't matter. Failure is the pillar of success. Then try. Again you will try.” - Room Conversation with Madhudvisa and others -- August 17, 1977, Vrndavana

By then the ropes attached to the back of the cart had been retracted and the Gurukula kids dispersed into the crowds, hopefully under the supervision of their respective teachers. Jayapataka Maharaj had been waiting on the top of the deck with the deities and was waiting for my signal so I stuck my big thumb way into the air indicating we were now ready to go again. He confirmed it with the same gesture and with that I gave the driver a pat on the back and shouted out to the crowd. Chalo! (Lets Go!)

The ropes got tight and the tow truck along with the Rath cart behind all began rolling... this time however a lot slower. I continued to ride on the sideboard as we got underway and when we got to the end of Albert Street, I instructed the tow man to make a wide turn to allow for the large wheel base on the Rath. I coached him about looking out for over-hanging trees and told him that if he was unsure about anything he should simply stop and I would provide further instructions. I could appreciate that the driver was actually quite attentive having probably hauled long buses and other challenging things during his career so I jumped back down to the road and as the Rath approached I checked to see that everything appeared to be working okay under the unusual conditions despite our bad start.   

I perceived the usual bump and rattle that was to be expected but for the most part it looked like everything would continue to hold up fine. I did notice that the ¼” non-belted rubber which I had put on the wheels the way we did it in N.Y. was coming off in the back. I was unable to get the more durable material and the only glue I could find was equivalent to the rubber cement I was familiar with from grade school in little glass bottles used on paper. The end result was that my attempt to put tires on the Rath literally rolled off the back wheels as they rotated leaving a 20 foot long strip of rubber behind somewhere in the streets of Calcutta. Now it was cold steel against the cement which gave me chills to think what would happen if someone’s foot got caught under it. I had already provided wheel guards to prevent that so I continued to be vigilant about watching for anything else that could go wrong. The further we rolled without incident the more I was able to relax. Yes… I was finally starting to feel better. I was beginning to realize that we could do this as I listened to the kirtan, which now sounded like it was coming directly down from Vaikuntha. 

By the time we got to Park Street where the next major turn was I began to really appreciate just how miraculous everything was working out. Despite the fact that we were nearly three hours late yet nobody seemed to care and people were running out of shops and leaning out of windows to see what Srila Prabhupada’s followers had done. There was an endless stream of people bringing offerings up to the deities as they rolled by. All was well as the afternoon sun lit up the huge red and yellow canopy. Yes live was now good again and the demons that had haunted me earlier seemed to have gone away.

Just as I was beginning to get comfortable with this newfound spirit my ears heard all sorts of hysterical shouting. People were running around waving their arms frantically and I knew something was wrong especially when the cart stopped rolling. My Jagannatha? What could it be this time as I began to fear the worst considering the odds we were up against! I could distinctly hear the words “Rook Jao” and “Tram-a-lina” being repeated from all directions and the expression on everyone’s face showed grave concern. Now what? Ugg... Some new problem had apparently come up.

I soon discovered that what was alarming everyone was that we had reached the intersection of Dharmatla Street where an electric commuter tram was powered by overhead-electrified wires that were about 15 feet off the ground. The Calcutta Transportation Company had sent a crew to raise the tram wires in anticipation of our arrival, but even the guys on that assignment were baffled at what to do. Okay! They knew how to lift the wires perhaps 3 to 5 feet for large trucks, but Lord Jagannatha’s Chariot stood more than 40 feet high and they could see that was completely out of the question. It was quite evident that nobody realized that we had actually anticipated this problem and specifically designed the cart so it could duck as low as 18ft and go under the tram wires. The top had been equipped with what I affectionately referred to as the 20th Century telescope that made it easy to lower the towering canopy down very quickly with a simple man powered winch. After getting their attention I gave word to the crew on the top to lower the canopy the way I had instructed them to do so before we got started. As they did, some people gasped and some people roared but everyone was mesmerized. Calcutta had never seen anything like this before. Judging by the comments of the DurDarshan (TV) news hosts what the city saw was completely magical. We repeated the same routine at several places through the city where we encountered overhead wires and our efforts were received with the same reactions of astonishment every time. As we crossed each challenge, it seemed like the kirtan roared even louder and more ecstatic then ever before! The whole city was cheering us on now! 

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