June 1, 2013. Prabhupadanuga Farm Project in Fiji
“This Mercedes was first purchased second-hand by Karandhar in 1972, I believe, and used for transporting Prabhupada in Los Angeles. It was later sold to San Francisco temple president Bhutatma das. Whenever Srila Prabhupada came to San Francisco, he was picked up at the airport with this Mercedes, and also taken for morning walks, preaching engagements, luncheon at Mr. Joshi’s home, etc. I was the driver most of the time. The final journey with Prabhupada in the Mercedes was from the new Berkeley temple to the SF airport. Bahulasva das was complaining to Jayatirtha that having a Mercedes was bad for our public image, and the car was sold to my mother. In 1982 I bought it back from her and had the engine rebuilt. I moved to Thailand ads my wife Saranam dasi kept the car in Visalia. Then you purchased it from her in 1997… I hope you can keep it nicely there in North Carolina.” –Bhakta dasa
When we moved to the Big Island (Hawaii) in 2000, the Mercedes came safely in a container, and I would drive it up the mountain behind our home every once in awhile to keep the engine in shape. But when we decided to relocate to Isla Paridas (Panama) in 2005, I reluctantly sold it to Jayanta das in San Diego. I drove the car 25 miles to the port, rationalizing that this was necessary because, how could we bring the car to an undeveloped island with no ferries, no roads?
In September 2011, Jayanta wrote to ask if I wanted the Mercedes again, as he needed to sell. Jumping at the chance to get this incomparable maha-sized Prabhupada memorabilia back in my collection, it wasn’t until later that I confronted the realities involved in bringing it to Fiji, our last stop in 18 years of shifting around the planet.
Fiji government is somewhat dysfunctional, and I spent a year, calling, inquiring, writing letters, trying to ascertain if and how the car could be brought over from California. Upon someone’s hint, I called the CEO of Land Transit Authority (LTA), and he assured me it was no problem- just write him a letter and he would grant the authority to register the car in Fiji. I did this, and with the LTA document, arranged for shipping via ocean freight, again in a container, along with solar panels and many other things which are not available or reasonably priced in Fiji.
December 3, 2012: the container with Mercedes landed in Suva. Immediately, Customs declared the car a “prohibited item” because it was more than 8 years old and we had no import license. (I had been told by others in government that only car dealers needed import licenses…) The container went into port storage, the clearing agent washed his hands of the matter, and that was that. Prabhupada’s Mercedes waited on some wharf for week after week… Everyone I called had no idea what to do. A dead end at the far end of the world. Some urged me to return it back to California and avoid further expense.
Just before Christmas, at my wit’s end, I flew to Suva to somehow try and see the prime minister. All his top officers in Customs, Finance, LTA, as well as my attorney, had suggested I go to the PM’s office and appeal for a special concession. Commodore Bainimarama had repeatedly advised the nation that if all else failed, bring your problem to him personally and he would definitely address it. Arriving at the Government Buildings, I submitted a handwritten appeal to the PM’s fourth office secretary. I was not very hopeful. Exhausted, I went to visit our friends Vasudeva and Bhagavati Prabhus, the first Fiji devotees , and I told them the story. Bhagavati called Vasudeva’s brother Hari Punjas, the biggest businessman in Fiji (and who was a close friend and neighbor to the PM), who assured her that he would call the PM’s right hand man Col. Pio and there would be no problem in clearing the car.
After another 6 weeks and countless phone calls and emails (the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly), the PM’s office finally instructed Finance and Customs to issue an import license and the container was cleared on the basis that the Mercedes was solely for display in a church museum. The appeal submitted by our attorney proved invaluable once the decision came down from the top. Although Ports waived most of the storage fees, Customs charged the full amount in duty, VAT, and luxury tax for a new large-size SUV (really… a 45 year old antique?!?), which was very painful to meet. (The Pm’s office had told us through a third party, “…and don’t expect any concession on charges- government needs the money!)
Once in Savusavu (via the inter-island ferry on a sidelifter container truck), the Mercedes was unloaded and we could see that a complete body repair and paint job was required. Sami, our local devotee friend and mechanic, enthusiastically offered to restore Prabhupada’s car at cost only. By end of May, everything was ready and the Mercedes looked great- and I drove the Mercedes 60 km out to the farm. After 25 km, the automatic transmission clutch gave out, but letting the car rest for awhile allowed the clutch to cool down, and we would drive another segment until the clutch again was slipping. In this way, we made it by the next morning, having had a flat tire, run out of fuel, and a bush Fijian boy exclaiming in admiration at one stopping point, “Nico, new car, eh?”
And that’s how Prabhupada’s Mercedes came to Fiji, where it is available for darshan to those who know its great transcendental value and potency. How could I ever have sold it??? By the way, driving Prabhupada’s car was ecstatic, and not only because of the powerful dual carburetor precision 1960’s era engine… I kept turning to look in the back seat, as I could feel Prabhupada’s presence strongly.
IN SEARCH OF A TOP QUALITY MILK COW
As soon as we arrived in Fiji, we started looking for high quality milk cows. A daivi-varnashram farm project would be incomplete without cows. Srila Prabhupada makes clear that without cow protection, there is no human civilization. There are plenty of cows here, and on both sides of this island we have often seen bullock teams at work plowing sugar cane or rice fields, or pulling logs along the roadsides. But every cow we saw was clearly of beef stock origins, with maybe some milk cow mixed-in some generations back. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a cow that appeared to resemble, more than others, a Jersey or Brown Swiss. We then went to Tailevu where a number of dairy farms operated, and found mostly Holsteins or mixtures, and a handful of Jersey and Guernsey-lookalikes, although what their actual genetics were was a guess. In Fiji, especially since the 1970 independence, things became slack, with little proper management to maintain pure breed milk cows. Practically all cows in Fiji are now mixed with beef breeds. Even if we found a few quality milk cows, these dairies could not sell them to us because of an ongoing brucellosis epidemic that has prohibited all movement of animals.
Sridevi spent a huge amount of time researching full details of importing Guernseys from New Zealand or Australia, and finally we decided this would be the last resort due to onerous regulations and high costs. Each cow would cost FJ$10,000, if they survived the journey, tests, quarantine, etc. She learned about embryo implants, artificial insemination, government restrictions, genetic testing. The bottom line was: it is extremely difficult to find a quality milk cow in Fiji or to have them imported.
Further, there was the A1/A2 factor which our friend Narasimha das had enlightened us about years ago via a book by Keith Woodford, Devil In The Milk. Early in Kali Yuga a gene mutation in the European breeds resulted in A1 milk which was actually unhealthy, contributing to many major diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and others. The vegans are partly right in avoiding milk products, but it is the A1 milk that is unhealthy (due to one type of protein in the milk), while A2 milk does not have this effect. In Australia and New Zealand, entire herds and milk brands have shifted to pure, certified A2 milk with the scientific revelation (being fought against by vested interests, of course) that A1 contributes to many ailments. Just Google A2 milk to learn more…
Most Asian milk cows are A2, European breeds are varied with the Holstein Fresians being mostly A1, Jerseys 60% A2, Guernseys 80% A2, and so on. A simple $30 genetic test of blood or hair determines whether an individual cow is either A1 or A2 (or half of each, called A1/A2; there are 3 types). Thus, not only are we searching for healthy, quality milk cows with high butterfat and all the other desirable traits that one typically screens for, but we also must test them to confirm A2 genetics. Cows are a big responsibility and a lot of work, so we must “choose wisely…” No sense expending that amount of energy and have third class milk with health negativities. This part of our project would need to be instituted deliberately and not haphazard by taking some strays or livestock auction sales (Our first New Talavan cow was bought at auction in Louisiana, 1974).
A few weeks ago I went to Labasa, the largest town (30,000) on this island, for shopping and errands. I began asking at all stops about Jerseys, “you know, those pretty, smaller cows with small horns and black around their eyes…” I was surprised that some Indians knew about them by name, and some knew someone out in the countryside who had one as their family milk cow. I was directed to a Muslim auto parts shop to see Indrish. No one seemed to know him. As I was driving off, a man approached. He was Yakub, and his uncle was Indrish; they were a wealthy family with extensive holdings. Yes, they had many Jerseys they used to milk, now retired up on the Three Sisters mountainside, a hard place to reach.
I explained about our farm ashram project and our search for a few good milk cows. He listened intently and then cautiously revealed that his father had kept Jerseys for supplying the best milk to the extended family’s children, and had crossbred some with Cebus. The Cebu-Jerseys were much bigger than the Jerseys, less tempermental, and heavy milk producers, 4 or 5 gallons a day. That sounded like an exaggeration but his face showed complete seriousness. He would have to talk to his father and see if they would sell any of the 6 or 7 they still have, and were no longer milking.
As I drove back to the farm, I remembered Dayal Chandra das from the Big Island- he was a hermit, living in a remote farmhouse on the Hamakua coast, breeding Cebu-Jersey crosses and selling fresh raw milk. We were one of his customers- his milk was delicious. Cebu is an A2 Indian breed. So Cebu-Jersey crosses would likely be 90% or more A2. A very interesting possibility indeed. And if we could acquire 4 from him, we would bring frozen high grade A2 Guernsey semen from Australia, and our quality and genetics would be incomparable. Maybe a super-race of milk cows could be developed… at least by Fiji standards! We could call them Guer-ceb-seys… (to be continued…)
Yours in Prabhupada’s service,
New Jayapur, Vanua Levu, Fiji Islands