Book Reviews — 23 February 2014

A novel about becoming and growing through diverse life experiences during the seventies.

Ascending SidewaysIt’s during the seventies when circumstances allow young Ross and his wife June to break away from a rather comfortable yet conservative and dull life in Australia; they accompany his grandfather on a family visit to London. After setting themselves up in a rented house and having found work, they live somewhat isolated. This changes when the house owners return early due to illness from their travels to the East and the four of them make an agreement to share the house between them.

They become friends and often talk about what to do with their lives; all of them feel a change is needed. Seeing by chance a flyer announcing a ‘Meditation with a difference’ at a nearby centre triggers their curiosity and they join in the new experience. One day, as they become more and more close and relaxed with each other, they decide to swap partners, which eventually leads to their foursome intimate relationship. In those days of sexual revolution and liberation, sex is what makes the world go around.

The folks at the centre speak openly about their guru in India and all have Indian names. They do the humming meditation and the shaking meditation and wear funny clothes. They listen to the guru’s tapes… and are eager to go see the guru. However, for Ross, “Gurus and ashrams were not on my radar.” But when the four friends embark on a short trip to Paris, he visits Notre Dame Cathedral where something extraordinary happens. Sitting down in a pew he closes his eyes and suddenly has a lightning insight – “I’m going to India.”

As was customary in those lovely, adventurous, no holds-barred seventies, the trip is to be overland. In 1976 Ross and June set out on a Mercedes bus from London. The account of the adventurous and often hairy journey is witty, perceptive, well written. 32 young people on a journey together results in many stories, a few scary, some hilarious, several quite insightful; here’s a group of people learning to relate to each other with very little space to hide. They cross the border to India in the beginning of May 1976 and then, by train from Delhi and later by rickshaw, arrive “at the gates of the ashram.”

To me, to some extent the narrative now changes pace. For the sake of objectiveness it helped to know that a cautionary note at the beginning of this volume declares that “this book is not an autobiography, nor is the narrator in the novel an earlier incarnation of the author.”

However, as I had obviously lived in an identical (in the book fictional) ashram during the same time he writes about (and I remember him quite well from those years) it is a very familiar world he portrays. Even though names have been changed and he states, “All characters are fictional, despite the temptation to the contrary,” many of them are suggestive of persons incredibly familiar to me.

In an effort to write fiction rather than an autobiography, actual events and experiences feel a bit contorted to me; also, some questionable actions by the ashram’s custodians (alleged insurance fraud) that he witnesses and keeps on about are never properly explained and I am bewildered why they were brought in to begin with.

The final part is about his return to Perth in Australia after four years at the ashram, primarily to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He joins a centre in Perth for a short while trying to find his land legs again and coming to terms with life back in Australia.

Besides my personal lament about the ashram part, this is a very good read, bringing to light an era of sexual liberation and relationships – and the search for spirituality.

Bhagawati, Osho News

The book is available via www.brucejamesmenzies.com

Murti TNBruce Menzies (Anand Murti) is from Western Australia and took sannyas in early 1978; he and his then wife moved to Pune with their two young sons. He first worked in the ashram’s office, then in the Legal Department in Rajneeshpuram and finally in Saraha (Carpentry Shop). He and his present wife (formerly Prem Tosha) ran holiday accommodation in a country town, where Bruce discovered his penchant for writing – publishing a family history and two novels. They live in South Fremantle. www.brucejamesmenzies.com

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