DALLAS--Prema Pandurang is at peace even as a photographer shoots away, a rapid-fire flash filling the small, custom-built prayer room where she sits on a cool tile floor.
Because this is a Tuesday, there isn't much small talk for the noted scholar on Hindu scripture and Indian culture. Tuesday is a day of introspection, a day on which to focus solely on God, without the distraction of secular talk. Only if the conversation is about God, or if she is invited to preach, will the retired English professor from India utter a word.
"I always tell people to observe silence, at least one hour a day," she says in a voice as peaceful as the look on her face. "It gives us tremendous power. Silence helps us connect."
The 55-year-old woman is in the sprawling Frisco, Texas home of Nirmala Chari, an admirer who has helped arrange the scholar's two-month tour in the United States.
Just hours after arriving from India, she will board a flight for New York, where she will remain for a month. From there, she will return to Texas for a lecture at the Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Plano.
Chari had known of Pandurang for years. When she met her in India in January 1999, she asked her to visit the United States. Chari coordinated last fall's tour, including a lecture in the Dallas area, as well as this year's.
"After people listened to her, they wanted to have her back," says Chari. "She is very well-known in India, and when she gives discourses, the hall is always overflowing."
Now the same can be said in America, says Chari, who helped found the nonprofit organization Kshetropasana Charitable Foundation. The group arranges religious and philosophical lectures in America and supports the charities of Kshetropasna, another organization founded by Pandurang in India.
"She's a very learned person," Chari says. "Her voice is so soothing, and it is so nice to hear. I just want the world to know her because she's so good. She talks with so much conviction and so much devotion, you know it comes from her heart."
Pandurang has been an orator since she was 15. As a 12-year-old, she says, she remembers attending discourses on religion by a very famous preacher called Bikshitar.
"When I was 15, I was sitting in the front row, and after the discourse, he said, `This child will speak on the incarnations of the Lord called Krishna,' " she recalls. "And I spoke extemporaneously."
She doesn't know where the wisdom came from, but she says her mind was always "inclined toward the Lord (Krishna) and scripture." After that, people would ask her to speak after every discourse she attended.
Even after she became a professor of English for post-graduate students at Presidency College in Madras, she still spent weekends and vacations giving spiritual discourses on scriptures.
"Having taught youth for 23 years, I came across their problems," says Pandurang, who is called "Amma," meaning mother. "I found that education was not giving them the preparation for life that is necessary. I discovered the wisdom of Indian scripture, which is universally pertinent and eternally relevant, so I thought, `Let me take out these gems from our scripture and share them with my audiences.' "
And the most crucial thing she teaches is the value of faith and prayer, she says.
She says she finds it is particularly important to share her message with people who are well-educated, because they need it most.
"The people who are not educated have no problems with faith," she says. "They have a simple faith, an unspoiled faith. It is the modern man, in spite of all his so-called achievements, who is still a failure in many ways.
"He can't face a financial crisis, he can't face an emotional crisis, he can't face a family problem. He doesn't have the faith that is to be the foundation of his life, without which he is not going to find peace no matter what he may achieve in the world."
She says she would like people to relearn the value of giving. One Tuesday in February, she realized how much she loved all the colorful Indian dresses in her closet. That day, she decided if she loved them that much she should give them away. So she gave them to the poor, and she has worn nothing but plain white dresses since then.
She regularly goes to her rich friends and collects money for the children from the slums that her organization feeds daily.
"I tell them, `Just feed one child; that's enough.' I believe that when you feed the poor, your child will not go hungry. It's just action reaction."
It's a simple logic giving she says, but modern man has become greedy.
"We think we should accumulate," she says. "And finally, when we die, we don't take anything with us. We leave everything behind. That's the irony of life accumulate, accumulate, and leave everything behind."
Pandurang's lecture in Plano will focus on the importance of faith and on the Sundara Kandam, a significant part of the Ramayana, a Hindu epic.
"To reach the Lord, you need a messenger," says Pandurang, who will be joined by six musicians during her discourse. "The messenger is the Guru. Hanumanji is the link character who brings together Sita and Rama. It is a great family reunion on one side and the coming together of the individual and Supreme God. Hanumanji flies across the ocean an impossible feat achieved only through devotion.
"Listening to Sundara Kandam fulfills all our righteous desires and makes the impossible possible."
She says she, and all preachers, should serve as reminders to people.
"We come and intensely remind people, `This is what you stand for, and don't forget your roots, wherever you are.' "
She says that her message during the tour is universal because everybody, no matter what race or religion, is suffering the same ills.
"I don't think it's just a message to Indians," she says. "It could be to anybody who is willing to listen."