When I heard of the passing away of Mother Balai due to COVID-19, so many joyful devotional memories of us together flooded my mind and heart. She was given the name Narasimha at birth and was fun loving from the start. Her recounting of her growing up was filled with stories of fearlessly swimming in rivers, laughter, and trying to increase the happiness of everyone she met.
She married kindhearted Lenny and had two lovely children, Shamen and Priyen. They lived in a beautiful home in Kinross, South Africa, where Lenny worked in the asbestos mines and Mother Balai was a librarian. Kinross is a small town, and Mother Balai, due her friendly disposition, knew practically the whole town. She was known and loved by everyone she met.
In 1990 her younger son, Priyen, met devotees and received Srila Prabhupada’s books. At that time Nama Cintamani and Lajja Sila Prabhus would get The Science of Self-Realization sponsored and distributed in schools. So, Priyen was convinced by Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and went home from school to tell his parents that he wanted to make dietary changes and be a Hare Krishna devotee. Nama Cintamani’s sister Padyavali lived a few streets away from Mother Balai, and so Mother Balai met the devotees and immediately took to Krishna consciousness, along with Lenny.
Immediately their home became transformed, and they hosted devotees and sannyasis who stayed over while preaching in the area. At the same time, Your Divine Grace invited His Holiness Krishna das Swami to South Africa, and, when informing us at the Muldersdrift temple of his imminent visit, he mentioned that he liked big hall programs. So Nama Cintamani, Lajja Sila, Bhakti-devi, Kuntidevi, and I arranged hall programs in seventeen towns, including Kinross. Mother Balai hosted both His Holiness Krishna das Swami and Your Divine Grace in her home and also cooked for the hall program. Later, Visakha Priya often visited and stayed over for preaching.
Her name was Bala, and she was a person of great strength. I recall how you asked her husband if he thought she was ready for initiation and he said, “Yes, but she does have a temper sometimes!” You laughed, she laughed, and we all laughed. And she promised to work on it. She once told you how she was addicted to drinking decaffeinated coffee, and you told her that not all the caffeine is removed in the process. She remembered this and often spoke of it.
Every time we preached in that area on traveling sankirtana, Mother Balai would let us stay over. Her motherly love was all encompassing in the huge feasts she would prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serve on huge plates that looked more like trays. She heard about the power of the dust of the feet of Vaishnavas and of the benefits of taking their remnants, so she and Padyavali devised a secret plan. One would ask you questions while the other either served you more prasada or stole remnants off your plate.
Kinross gets very cold, and Mother Balai would arrange all comforts for us when we stayed over. When we returned to her home late at night from preaching, the electric blankets would be on, hot, fresh elaborate prasada would await us, and unlimited questions about the philosophy would pour out from Mother Balai until the late hours of the night. She had an intense thirst for knowledge and was fired up to preach it to others immediately as she learned it. She was so enthused about her Krishna consciousness that she wanted to inundate the whole place with it. She cooked in huge pots in her home and arranged teams of devotees that she cultivated to assist in distributing. Her love and generosity overflowed in each plate, regardless of the recipient. This became a steady service she performed. At the same time, she would cultivate new families, and each time we visited she had a list of new people for us to cultivate. What a front liner in the sankirtana mission she was! She loved Your Divine Grace dearly and served as if you were always in her presence, constantly speaking of your service and interactions with various people.
When her dear husband became ill from asbestos pollution in his lungs and was hospitalised in Durban, Mother Balai was determined that he get maha water and caranamrta from Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath—and the holy name. She chanted sixty-four rounds daily for his benefit and held daily vigil at his bedside at the hospital until he departed.
When her helper back at home in Kinross gave birth to a child who was HIV positive, Mother Balai sort of adopted him, giving him a spiritual name and showering him with love and comforts as if he were her very own. She would buy him toys and clothes and chant and teach him to chant and feed him prasada daily. When he passed on, she cooked a huge amount of prasada and distributed it at his funeral and implored devotees to bless his soul.
Her spirit of jiva-daya continued, and she preached to and engaged everyone she met in devotional service, inspiring them to buy ingredients and sundry items for the temple. She would then drive her Mercedes Benz to the temple, loaded with all these offerings, even though she was advancing in age and the drive was over three hours. When we opened the Midrand temple, she was very enthused and when Nrsimhananda Prabhu, my husband, invited her to join our service team as a full-time devotee, she unhesitatingly joined full-time, even though she was already in her seventies. We loved her dearly, as she loved us, and gave her a very comfortable ensuite room. All she had to do was serve, as she loved to do. She attended the full morning program daily, dancing during the mangala-arati kirtans and chanting her japa in the temple room. She was an insulin-dependent diabetic and would sometime momentarily dose off during her japa; she would repent about this to me daily. I would try to encourage her, telling her that Krishna saw her endeavors.
Her determination was most admirable. She would chant thirty-two rounds daily, saying that the extra sixteen were for your good health and long life, to make this world auspicious. Her service in Midrand was to cook for the devotees, and when we went on hari-nama sankirtana just before guru-puja every morning, we would return to her hot tea before we all had class. She loved the cows and fed them daily with treats and encouraged her family and friends from Kinross to do the same. Once a month she would drive to Kinross to check up on her home and then return with the trunk of the car full of treats that she would cook for the devotees in the time she was meant to rest. Kachoris, cakes, tarts, and so much more would flow out of her car. When I ran the restaurant there, she would make cookies and pickles and many nice things to sell. She served with the enthusiasm and energy of a very young person, despite being over seventy. And she was a meticulous dresser, which added to her vibrance. On festival days she would cook more than sixty-five preps herself, and after cooking she would go to the temple room to chant more japa, even though she was physically exhausted.
Before her Midrand seva began, she would drive three hours from Kinross to Lenasia and cook the raja-bhoga with Mother Brahmini and serve the devotees and clean the kitchen and then drive back to Kinross. In her SUV she looked like a girl on a mission! And every time she came to do this service, she had new dishcloths and ghee and other things that she would engage so many people in donating for service to our beloved Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurahari. Recently, just before Nrsimha-caturdasi, she drove with her friend Shakila, who sewed the day outfit for the Deities and was delivering it to the Lenasia temple along with bhoga and thirteen buckets of pure ghee.
Mother Balai had a great sense of humor, which endeared her to all she met. On one trip to India, while we were on parikrama with busloads of devotees at Govinda-kunda, she was trying to write down something that was being spoken, and a Vraja-vasi child stole her pen right out of her hand. She laughed heartily, saying that Krishna was making her detached. Then at Kusum Sarovara she bravely went into the kunda, so happy to have the holy water embrace her, she said—and her false teeth fell out due to her laughing while taking the dip. A kind devotee dove in and retrieved them, and she happily put them on. We teased her that now her smile had become more auspicious. And when we were back on the bus, the sannyasi asked her how she was finding the trip, and she loudly told him of these experiences with such innocence and laughter that he too became red-faced, shaking with laughter.
We will always pray for Mother Balai’s mercy and love upon us. Her loss is painful, but with her attitude of service, we can only conclude that she must have transitioned into a higher realm of blissful service by Your Divine Grace’s mercy and her own love for you, and Srila Prabhupada and the parampara’s mercy.
Thank you for inspiring and cultivating and sheltering us all. We love you.
Your insignificant servants,
Nrsimhananda das and Madri dasi