Yamuna devi was a very visual person. In an interview on her early life, she defined her profession as a “graphic artist.” She was personally mentored by some of the greatest artists in their respective fields: Lloyd Reynolds and Marguerite Wildenhain. Therefore, to her there was more to writing a book, than just “writing” it.
The origin of “Yamuna’s book” dates back to 1966. She had just met Srila Prabhupada, and was so struck by his artistry and grace (among other qualities). Hearing that he would be visiting San Francisco, she formulated a plan to document Prabhupada’s every moment, utilizing Roger’s photography (Roger later became her husband Gurudas). Yamuna would provide the text, in her majestic calligraphy.
However, Yamuna became immediately swept up in Srila Prabhupada’s service, which wholly engaged her and brought new dimensions to her writing. She was among the first to record audio of Srila Prabhupada, she wrote down every word he said or sang in her precious notebooks, she compiled a book of Vaisnava songs before one was ever published in ISKCON, she penned an epic Deity Book about her studies of deity worship in Vrndavan, and of course she began collecting for the unparalleled Lord Krishna’s Cuisine.
After Srila Prabhupada’s departure, she dedicated herself to helping with Srila Prabhupada’s biography project (Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta), contributing 15-20 audio taped remembrances and countless pages in letter form. Then after many years of meticulous effort, she published her cookbooks and engaged in the necessary promotions.
However, she still hoped to share her extraordinary experiences with Srila Prabhupada, in an effort to glorify him. But with many other books on Srila Prabhupada emerging, she was pressured to make her book more autobiographical. The following quote demonstrates that concept was a near-impossibility for her:
Even though my reasons not to write the book changed over time, some excuses seem as if chiseled in stone. A few enduring ones are: I may not be a good story teller; I may be unable to write with resonance; I may be incapable of doing justice to its principal character, Srila Prabhupada; and finally, the most daunting—I may end up writing a stolid, egocentric I-Me-My book.
Thus, though steady in her intent, she struggled to write. Then one day, she realized how important the project was to her:
I arrive home to an August clear blue sky, with east and west mountain ridges that parallel each other in our rectangular-shaped valley. Down its center, three glassy-smooth lakes mirror the images of thick Douglas fir and pine forests. No man-made sounds, just nature, pretty much as it has been for thousands of years. When I am allowed to return to collect valuables, I see—maybe a thousand yards away from our ashram behind the east ridge—a tsunami-like wall of crackling, jittery red, orange, and yellow fire. A giant plane flies low almost touching the treetops and drops blood red retardant powder in huge swathes and then, as if on cue, two helicopters appear and drop water on the flames. The firefighters are true heroes, working tirelessly around the clock to contain the massive blaze (one of hundreds that year in British Columbia), yet the fires continue to accelerate in almost predictable bursts. At the same time, the police are waiting for us to collect our valuables and evacuate. What items should I save? I stun myself when I fill three garden-size plastic bags with everything I have collected over the years to write a memoir—the journals, taped interviews, original letters, boxes of photos and slides, unedited videotape footage, and a few stabs at chapter first drafts. Along with a pillow and quilt, I throw the bags in the back of the pickup, and drive off to safety through clouds of choking black smoke. For the next two weeks neighbors help neighbors, and everyone helps the firefighters, but in the end, it’s the wind that saves the valley. Amazingly, it continually blows north away from the valley. This incident helps me understand that the memoir project means more to me than I have been willing to acknowledge.
Yamuna put a tremendous amount of time into the book, focusing on thorough research and accuracy (such as studying and identifying thousands of pictures from the Bhaktivedanta Archives). When Yamuna’s health began to significantly deteriorate in 2011, she earnestly asked her long-time roommate, Dinatarini devi, to complete the book if it remained unfinished. Dinatarini pledged that she would, thinking that surely Yamuna would finish, as she had already put so much time into it.
Now, utilizing the opportunity to remember, glorify, and share Yamuna Devi’s dedication to the process of Krsna Consciousness, Dinatarini herself continues the high standard Yamuna set for this book project. To her we are forever grateful, for only she can tell Yamuna Devi’s story, as even Yamuna herself could not due to her genuine humility.
Now back to the original point, Yamuna had expressed a desire for a very dynamic production: lots of pictures, scans of correspondences, accompanying audio, and artistic design. We are currently trying to understand how to fulfill that request, to the best of our ability.
The Nuts and Bolts
Voices: Yamuna Devi, Dinatarini devi, Srila Prabhupada, and the many godbrothers, godsisters and friends who contributed a remembrance for the book.
Pages: 1080 in divided in 2 volumes
Pictures: over 900
Size: 9.25” x 7.25”
Website: more pictures, audio, video, memoirs and feedback
E-book: For Apple and Android, with Apple ebooks possibly having audio and video added.
Tablet and mobile device apps: In the works…
Dinatarini and a few volunteers over the past 26 months have been the the main contributors to the project. Other than paying for the layout and design, not a penny has been spent thus far for the book – everyone has offered their service out of love and respect for Yamuna Devi. We greatly appreciate the kind donors listed on the contribute page, who have made paying for the more technical aspects possible.
If anyone would like to help with any aspect of the project, we welcome your contribution, and always value advice or tips. Below are some of the needs:
Funding: For printing
Book storage distribution and sales: currently planning three hubs – USA, UK, and India
Book translation: Russian and Chinese needed
What else? We are so inexperienced, so please let us know how we can serve better and get this book in deserving hands