Eventually we arrived and began to set up camp. This, of course, was the second year Nitai had organized Krishna Camp at the Burning Man Festival. In the three subsequent years, Krishna Camp evolved into Krishna Kitchen and became the largest kitchen at the Burning Man Festival, responsible for feeding the leading organizers, staff members, VIPs, and artists of the event.
And so I worked my butt off, cooking, cleaning, serving, and chanting for one week straight and I can honestly say it was one of the most fun weeks in my entire life. I was dirty, exhausted, tired, and sunburnt, yet I was in ecstasy (because serving others who are on ecstasy is infinitely more rewarding than the synthetic experience of actually being on ecstasy).
At the Festival of Inspiration 2009, Nitai, Balaram Candra, Caitanya, Gauranga Kisore, Lacie and I were reunited, each having gone separate ways after our ashram days spent together at New Vrindavan. Because of their endeavors to organize Krishna Camp at the National Rainbow Gathering in 2005 and 2006, I had a chance to gain their friendship, indulge in Newman-O halava, wash Krishna's pots, and dance in kirtan. I remember thinking that these people were the coolest people I had ever met.
Over the years, although I was not able to return to Burning Man, I was fortunate enough to participate in several other festivals that Nitai began organizing. Each one was a transcendental adventure. The Mystic Garden Party in 2010 (pictured above) was no exception. That year Nitai introduced Thai coconuts to the menu, which soon became a big hit wherever Krishna Kitchen was set up. Kuva, Hari, Mahalaxmi, Govinda, Bhava, Mandali & crew rocked the kitchen as usual and hundreds of people left the festival with bellies full of Krishna prasadam.
So many stories, so many freakin' hilarious stories, so much fun, so much devotion, so much charity, so much sacrifice, so much work, so many arguments, so much driving, so many coconuts, so many samosas...this was what it meant to be part of Nitai's festival crew. The crazy thing is that Nitai was just getting started. Krishna Kitchen was just beginning to find its niche. For years he had been building contacts, networking with festival organizers and building strong relationships with everyone he worked with. Thanks to Nitai, Krishna has returned to pop culture and has become part of the collective consciousness of America's Generation X.
I last spoke to Nitai on December 30, 2011. I always looked forward to Nitai's phone calls. He would usually call every few months to tell me about what was going on, how the last festival went, which celebrities he fed, the next festival he was organizing, an update on Burning Man, news from Radhanatha Swami, and to ask if I could come help. During our last phone conversation, he shared with me some of his experiences with Radhanatha Swami at the Bhakti Festival this year. He explained that Radhanatha Swami arrived at the festival with a case of shingles and Nitai nursed him back to health. Generally Radhanatha Swami does not accept service from others, but due to his inability to reach his back to apply the medicine, Nitai explained that he was given special mercy to assist Radhanatha Swami in such an intimate way.
The conversation ended with a discussion of Nitai's plans to organize Krishna Kitchen at a big festival in Costa Rica this spring and him asking me if I could come down with them. I told him I would have to get back to him, not knowing what week my spring break would fall on. All I can say is that Nitai was no ordinary man. He was empowered by guru and Krishna, and Nitai meant business. I loved his straightforward manner of communicating with others, his monotone voice, his humor, his humility, his confidence, his dedication, his drive and his undying determination to give Krishna to others. May I again meet you in Samosaville, Nitai das. I owe you.