In principle, the editing Srila Prabhupada asked for was minimal: “[S]imply we have to see that in our book there is no spelling or grammatical mistake. We do not mind for any good style, our style is Hare Krishna, but, still, we should not present a shabby thing.”6
In practice, to keep from shabbiness, more than grammar and spelling was involved. Apart from spelling, grammar, and punctuation, the editors applied standards of consistency (Deity or deity? spirit-soul or spirit soul?). They tried to make sure that pronouns had unambiguous antecedents. They broke long paragraphs into shorter ones. They turned passive constructions (“and the rest is being awaited by Him”) into active (“and He is awaiting the rest”).7 They made skewed constructions parallel.
They turned British or Indian usages into American. “We have got” often became “we have.” Rupees became dollars, “lakhs and crores” became “thousands and millions,” and figures like “1,00,000” (one lakh) became “100,000.”
In some instances, minor examples that would have seemed strange or jarring to a Western reader were modified or deleted.
In the books as published, when Srila Prabhupada quotes a verse in Sanskrit an English translation usually follows. Most often, this translation was inserted by the editors. It was the editors, too, who routinely supplied the chapter-verse references (Srila Prabhupada did so only on occasion) and corrected wrong ones.
When Srila Prabhupada used outmoded rhetorical devices, like parenthetical question marks or exclamation marks to express irony–“the modernised Sanyasins (?)”8–the editors deleted them.
The editors often changed Srila Prabhupada’s choice of words. “Therefore give up your disparity of mind” became “Therefore give up your anxiety.”9 And the gopis, in the edited “Krishna Book,” modestly try to cover their nakedness not “by placing the left-hand palm upon the vagina” but “by placing their left hand over their pubic area.”10
Any editor, typically, strives to bring out a work that is properly polished and yet stay as close to the author’s language as possible. For Srila Prabhupada’s books, this could be especially challenging. The technical nature of the subject, the enlightened status of the author, the sense that Krishna Himself was speaking through him, and the charm, grace, simplicity, and precision so often found in his personal voice–all these were in constant tension with a grammar and diction just as often in need of serious repair.
And then again, by working so much with Srila Prabhupada’s writings and in his Society, an editor could be lulled into accepting Srila Prabhupada’s nonstandard locutions as standard. The use of benedict as a verb, and semina instead of semen, thus sometimes bluffed their way past the editors’ eyes.
The editors pruned for conciseness. “Since he has departed from this place it is now seven months past up to date but he has not as yet returned back from there” became “Since he departed, seven months have passed, yet he has not returned.”11 Sometimes redundant sentences were deleted and sometimes (again because of redundancy) entire paragraphs.
Before coming to America, Srila Prabhupada had twice translated some or all of the first five or six chapters of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, so as editor I amalgamated the two manuscripts, choosing text sometimes from one, sometimes the other. And for books compiled from lectures, of course, extensive cutting and rearranging were required.
For all of Srila Prabhupada’s books, the editors checked and revised for mundane accuracy. When Srila Prabhupada gave mathematical calculations, did the numbers tally? When he gave a geographical reference, did it match the map?
For grammar, clarity, readability, and flow, the editors routinely changed Srila Prabhupada’s sentence structure–often utterly reworking it–merging sentences, or severing them, or rearranging clauses, striving for a suitable mixture of simple sentences and complex.
Connectivity was another concern. Did each sentence follow from the one before? For this the editors routinely added connectives: and, but, however, therefore, nonetheless. (Hayagriva was particularly liberal with indeed, and I became nearly as generous.)
The editors worked for clarity, euphony, and force. Srila Prabhupada wrote to Hayagriva, “I am glad that you are not omitting anything, but just making grammatical correction, and phrasing for force and clarity, and adding Pradyumna’s transliteration, that is very nice.”12 In practice, as mentioned, such editing was a multifaceted task.