Prartho reviews Madhuri’s poetic memoir: “In these poems … we are invited guests to an improbable and luscious feast in the Garden of the Master.”
Poetry is the Language of The Listener. It gives itself to the vulnerable—those willing to move through the world with their hatches unbattened so that something beyond the self can wander through. Native speakers of this language must not only be open, but also generous, with a basic impulse to give back what is given. Madhuri is a native of this world—a natural-born poet who abandoned public education to sit and write with “the elders” at age 16, publishing her first poetry collection soon after. She is deep-listening and generous, and… lucky for us… a keeper of rigorous poetic notes for over 31 years of living and working in The Master’s Garden.
Her newest offering, The Poona Poems, is utterly unique among books about disciplehood with Osho. Rather than a series of recollections, this is an intimate 31-year journal written in real time, when the flood-gates were wide open. And with its mysterious logic, vivid images, and sweeping space, what else but poetry could deliver such a tale?—a tale that takes us from the oxcarts and jungle trees of 70’s India to the sagebrush and junipers of Oregon’s Big Muddy Ranch… And beyond… to “that field in some far time, when we all were gods.”
From the opening poem, we are struck with the poet’s prescience. Composed on her first flight to India in 1973, before even putting a toe into the river that would take her (along with so many of us) through the wild territories of her being, she writes:
flying into the specter
of my own mystery…
moon, old woman on the wing…
And later in the same poem:
and for a long time
i will ask, and ask
till i am dead of asking
till i am dead of asking,
And so it begins… this story of heartbreak, surrender, and bottomless grace. “I cried every day for the first four years,” Madhuri tells us in a note to the early poems, which paddle us through the exuberant, turbulent waters of meeting a master. We enter a love affair with the irrational, which includes forgotten childhood griefs, a long and colorful line of flesh-and-blood paramours, and moments of disappearance into the master’s silence. Metaphor is the only possible wavelength to carry us now: The heart has a hole in it, cows are huge as mountains, words clamor in [our] head like lions. We share a ship from Goa with a fortress of Chinese lizards, and “in the deeper joy of darkness” we enter a city of wet leaves.
Several years into the experiment, our interior explorer declares, “I flower in strange colors,” “i am too huge to hold me,” and a few poems later: “love doesn’t work”! Zorba must be singing along with these “songs”; no dearth of madness here! Every flavor and color of longing, with its disappointments and fulfillments, is part of the dance.
And we’re off again, improbably, to The Ranch, a sprawling desert property in remote central Oregon: “Now we lie down/ in unremarkable joy/ on the rocky mountain.” Our senses are awakened as we travel along mud-ice roads… “fragrant of mud and new-wet junipers.” We hold each other “like a strange nation holds its unmapped borders.” Anyone who helped build that city in the desert (and, true to our mad collective dream, nudged it to bloom), will be brought back to those “nights of clear cold brilliance.” But even if you missed this turn in the adventure, the details of these poems (impossibly eked out during 12-plus-hour work days) will walk you though its otherworldly mysteries.
And after the austerities of the Ranch, just like in real time, we’re beamed back to India for the two final sections: Poona 2 and Two Later Visits. Not confined to the physical commune, these sections include time spent in Poona, Goa, the Himalayas, and Sri Lanka, and take us through the master’s departure in 1990 to the healing period after the poet’s transformative brain surgery in Poona’s Jehangir Nursing Home.
In early Poona 2, we are treated to a balancing act of joy: “Dancing, loving, painting, working in the post office… walking, dressing, washing my clothes…” — a celebration of divine ordinariness. And as the myriad romantic love affairs continue, with all their requisite hope and heartbreak, we’re served both the luscious: “A blue mosquito net has trawled us here together/ and we drift in a sea of stars,” and the gritty: “I went with you/ because I am a dog on the street, ready for anything.” But often enough, especially early in the section, things turn radiantly simple: “in a music of pouring air and sun,” there are fruit wallahs and night fevers, an egret flies out of the sun. There is music playing in the space between the ribs, motorbike rides to the chai shop, and bouts of pure abandon: “I don’t want therapy, I don’t want weeping with melting…”
Then, as we move along into the 90s, glimpses of a mature vision quietly arrive, as when the poet’s mother leaves for the West: “My mother has become very beautiful/ Perhaps she thought she wasn’t…” And the ongoing struggle between the sexes continues—the all-too-familiar cycle of longing/ fulfillment/ disappointment. It takes many turns on that universal spiral before we are released. But all those nights in Jealousy’s Temple serve only to deepen our hunger for what endures. As readers, we ride the roller coaster of these years very quickly, with the pace ramped up and a sped-up cumulative effect of increasing our thirst for solitude and its gifts.
And indeed, such moments faithfully shine through—in recognitions of the deeper longing: “I only wanted/ a midnight field of time,” and in genuine glimpses of the ephemeral nature of romantic love: “It won’t last long. Some things are not favored by heaven./ Even a Buddha has no explanation for this…”
And there are moments when a fierce courage arrives, unbidden—after Kundalini, alone in her flat, for instance: “Yes/ Come then, fear, guilt, all you blind things/ every demon I ever feared,/ Come.” And other moments when the sacred seeps into the gaps: “I stay with the gap. The new gap, the nothing gap/ which has been here all along… I have felt all this before!”
And in the final poems, we are witness to the strange rite of passage that delivers our heroine into the longed-for grace—a growing brain tumor and its removal at Jehangir Nursing Home in Poona. Through no effort of her own (she admits and wonders over), our seeker-poetess is graced with both silence, which, “like a lake/ lies gleaming,” and love: “We were given it. Maybe it’s the stuff everything’s made of.”
I had the privilege of being one of Madhuri’s caretakers during her recovery in Jehangir, and I witnessed first-hand the transformation she writes of in these poems. In the days shortly following the surgery, her hospital room pulsed with tenderness and gratitude—a contagious tenderness the reader gets to imbibe here, as in one of its final poems:
Holding my own skinny body in my arms
i weep and speak with love
For this incarnation,
the heart and soul of it…
Madhuri had not intended to publish this collection, but was prodded into it by a friend: “I was afraid it was just full of folly,” she admits in the epilog. And in her introduction, she tells the reader, “I had no clue then that the excitement and travail [of sexual love] would ever end. So this is not a waking-up story, except to general gratitude, at the end.”
And that it surely is. And her friend was right, to urge her to publication. In these poems that unflinchingly explore both the earthy and the otherworldly, we are invited guests to an improbable and luscious feast in the Garden of the Master. Come. Eat. Be nourished in the Mystery.
Get a taste of some of the poems here on Osho News