Bhaktivedanta Book Trust staff from all over the world bonded and discussed plans to ensure the future of Srila Prabhupada’s publishing company during their Annual General Meeting from June 18thto 25th.
Most of the BBT’s trustees and directors attended the meeting at the New Radhakunda ISKCON community in Korsnäs Gård, Sweden, home to the North European branch of the BBT.
They included chairman Naresvara Das, North European trustee Brahma-muhurta Das, North American trustee Svavasa Das, Mediterranean trustee Madhusevita Das, Jayadvaita Swami and many more.
The most moving and memorable part of the meeting came when participants engaged in a video conference call with Yamaraja Das, who served with uncommon dedication as Back to Godhead magazine’s designer and layout artist for forty-two years, the day before he passed away from cancer.
Speaking for everyone, Madhusevita Das expressed his heartfelt gratitude and thanked Yamaraja for all his service. Yamaraja in turn was very present and reciprocative. He was also in a reflective mood – having been deeply attached to his service and reluctant to let it go, he said, “I’ve finally come to accept that all things have to end.” His last words to everyone embodied his trademark focus: “Alright, now get back to work!”
Renowned ISKCON chef Kurma Das in the kitchen as he caters for the meetings
From veterans to the future, one of the highlights of the meeting was a discussion about succession planning, and how to make sure that the BBT is handed off well to the next generation. The work is just beginning, with executive secretary Radhadyuti Dasi creating a template for trustees to work from, but many felt it was a positive move.
“I was very happy that we talked about this topic, because I feel that the BBT really needs to look forward and think about bringing in the next generation,” says editor Kaisori Dasi.
Also attempting to secure the BBT’s legacy was a discussion about painting conservation. The original paintings created for Srila Prabhupada’s books, and for temples during Prabhupada’s time, are all spread out around the world. Many are damaged, and in need of retouching or cleaning. The location and condition of some is unknown. So meeting participants agreed to begin locating the paintings, photographing them, finding out what conservation work they require, and creating metadata files with their sizes and other info.
While some devotees have been retiscent about coming forward to let the BBT know they have original paintings in fear that they may be taken back, Kaisori assures us that the conservation work would be done without taking anything away from anyone.
“We’re just trying to protect this art into the future, and to locate the paintings so that we can have an archive of where they are,” she says. “So if you have some original art, please let us know.”
Master bookbinder Wolfgang Bremer shows Svavasa Das how to handbind
Meanwhile a presentation by Vaisesika Das of the BBT Marketing and Innovations department aimed to ensure large-scale distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books into the future. Vaisesika, whose model has been used to great success in North American temples like ISKCON Silicon Valley and Toronto, outlined techniques such as team goals, Monthly Sankirtan Festivals, and language cards and explained his plan to roll them out to other temples worldwide.
Vaisesika’s efforts have seen North American temples triple their remittance to the BBT to around $2 million a year, so everyone was excited to consider the possibilities.
Meeting participants also took a look at the BBT’s acquisitions and review board for new books. “The BBT is interested in publishing books that introduce people to Krishna consciousness and to Prabhupada’s books,” says Kaisori, who is the acquisitions editor. “So we want to make the whole acquisitions and review process for those titles more accessible and user-friendly so new writers know what to expect.”
Finally BBT staff talked about the plan to reprint the Srimad-Bhagavatam – which is currently out of print except in India – in English. During the session, they analyzed paper and cover samples, looked at Srila Prabhupada’s originals which he brought from India, and discussed how to bring the publication in line with his preferences.
The set will come in nineteen volumes rather than the previous eighteen, dividing the first canto into two. It will also utilize the same font that Srila Prabhupada originally used. The publication will be a collaborative effort between the North American and North European branches of the BBT, and will make getting books for full set distribution much easier for devotees in the Western World.
As well as the meetings, BBT staff enjoyed two “association days” together. “The trustees and directors speak to each other every other week throughout the year, but rarely get to see each other in person,” says Kaisori. “So they always hold association days during the AGM to increase friendship and teambuilding.”
On the first day, everyone participated in a Gundica Marjana, or cleaning festival at the New Radhakunda temple. Many devotees brought their wives, and there was a special sweetness in seeing Jayadvaita Swami polishing brass, or Svavasa Prabhu scrubbing the temple chandelier. The endeavor was followed by a huge feast cooked by the famous chef Kurma Das, who also catered lunchtimes throughout the meetings.
The second day saw an outing to the paper mill and craft shop in nearby Tumba Bruk, where everyone got the chance to make their own handmade paper with a Bhaktivedanta Book Trust watermark. In the afternoon, devotees then received a handbinding lesson from Wolfgang Bremer, a master bookbinder from Stockholm and one of the last handbinders in Europe.
Jayadvaita Swami creating handmade paper with the BBT watermark
“Both the association days and the meetings in general went really well,” says Kaisori. “Many of the topics I was particularly interested in were tackled, and the discussions were very friendly and participatory. I hadn’t been in a few years, and I was very glad to be there.”
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Please help the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust conserve original BBT art. If you have an original painting, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.[ art ] [ bbt ] [ book ] [ painting ]