Arun speaks about an incident with the police in Kathmandu, upon being arrested because he sold Osho’s books. Excerpt from his new book, ‘In Wonder with Osho’.
Peepal Pot, Kathmandu, now
In 1975, Nepal was still under the Panchayat System, the authoritarian monarchical regime. In 1960, King Mahendra had used his emergency powers to dissolve the democratically elected Parliament and took charge of the state’s affairs. Civil liberties were curtailed, and press freedom was largely compromised. Underneath the ever-vigilant eyes of the state, however, the voices of dissent and the talk of revolution had quietly started brewing.
Naturally, when our Peepal Bot bookstall began attracting a lot of young university students and the thinkers and advisors of the capital, the government’s secret service agents took notice of us. For a long time, I didn’t know we were under constant surveillance, and neither did I recognize the secret service agents, who had been visiting us in disguise. Our bookstall had become a thriving hub for young, curious minds, who found nourishment and inspiration in Osho’s literature. We gathered every evening, and spontaneous debates on love, life, freedom and such, followed.
Durga Prasad Bhandari, who was the Head of the Department of English at Tribhuvan University, was famous for his rebellious and libertine views. He often shared with me that he felt stupefied and humbled by Osho’s brilliance and courage. He was one of the earliest intellectuals of the country, who endorsed Osho openly. This demanded courage and brilliance in its own right because, in the early days, Osho had been widely misunderstood as the ‘Sex Guru’, due to his thought-provoking discourses on sex energy and the art of transcendence. These discourses have been compiled into the book From Sex to Superconsciousness.
For thousands of years, we have ignored the fundamental topic of sex, turning a deaf ear as though it did not exist. It was Osho who addressed questions on sex for the first time, and with unmatched brilliance and courage. The book immediately earned him a set of critics, who sadly never went beyond the title of the book. If anyone is to read that book with an unprejudiced mind, one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the truth it contains. Many people, who had bought that book from our stall, had been astonished. They told me they had expected to find erotic content, whereas the book was, in fact, a treatise on the art of samadhi.
The naked truth
Like all geniuses, Osho was born ahead of his time. While the world was still trying to bypass the questions of sexuality, either through over-indulgence as it happened in the West, or through the repressive techniques of the East, Osho addressed the crux of the problem. He saw no contradiction between a spiritual pursuit and normal human sex. We need not bypass one to enjoy the other. Rather, he said, these were two rungs of the same ladder. One starts from sex, and if it flowers properly, it sublimates and becomes the fragrance, prayer.
If his fiery words won him fanatical critics, it also won him the admiration of some of the most brilliant minds of the time, who made no mistake in recognizing the worth of this modern messiah in whom spirituality had attained a new glory and maturity. Osho was not interested in acting in accord with tradition. He never sought any validation or confirmation. He spoke the naked truth and offered no consolation.
He spoke the inconvenient truth and invited us to drop our masks to find the real answer, and not be content with the ready-made answers supplied to us. I sympathize with people who feel offended by Osho’s invitation, because to drop what we have believed to be our identity and move towards the unknown, requires great courage. I am not surprised that many of us cannot muster up this courage, and in defense, criticize his teaching. But Osho has heralded a new age and so divided history into two distinct eras: Before Osho and After Osho.
It was not surprising that the young and rebellious folks were among the earliest admirers of Osho in Nepal, too. Bhandari was visiting our stall regularly and gave extemporaneous talks on liberty and love. But during that time, any kind of radicalism or revolutionary ideas was viewed cautiously, with mistrust. Interestingly, the secret service agents mistook the titles of Osho’s books such as Women’s Revolution, Youth, and Rebellion, Beware of Socialism, and the like, to be politically driven books.
So they reported that I was selling political books and that our stall encouraged public debate on sensitive issues. They began keeping tabs on our activities. Eventually, when they spotted The Silent Explosion on our shelf, all hell broke loose.
Bishnu Pratap Shah, who was the zonal commissioner of Bagmati zone at that time, was reported [had been informed, ed.] that a young engineer had been selling books on how to make explosives, silently. He immediately issued warrants for both my arrest and that of my aide, Naval Kishore, whom they had judged to be equally dangerous.
It was a pleasant autumn evening. The offices had closed for the day and New Road was slowly coming to life. There were very few vehicles in those days. A group of university students had gathered as usual when, out of the blue, two security personnel appeared and said authoritatively, “Let’s go to the police station.”
We all stood there, stunned.
“But why, surely we haven’t committed any crime?” I said.
The man replied, “I have been ordered to take you to the police station. You can give your justification there. We don’t owe you an explanation.”
I broke into a cold sweat. On closer inspection, I realized that the man who had come to arrest us had been visiting our stall in civilian clothes almost every day. It was my first encounter with the police, and I was uncertain why we were being arrested. Naval Kishore, on the other hand, was in his element. They informed us that all the books were being seized, as they were dangerous for the state. They ordered us to pack them all up and forced us to carry them on our backs. Naval Kishore did it with impressive efficiency and calm. But I was stupefied by the whole situation. As we carried the books along the road, ironically, I remembered a statement by Osho, “For your whole life, you’ve been carrying the burden of scriptures that doesn’t allow you to roam freely beneath the skies of freedom.”
I smiled feebly to myself. Soon, a big crowd gathered around us. Everyone was surprised to learn we’d been arrested. Some of my friends protested, but the police were stern, and repeated, “You can give your justification at the station. Right now, you must walk there with us.”
We carried the books on our backs and walked towards the Jana Sewa police station in New Road. A small procession of young friends and sympathizers followed us. By the time we arrived, and it had not taken us long to walk from our stall, I was a little scared. Our friends, who had followed us all the way, were not allowed inside. I appealed to the officers, saying that we had been wrongfully arrested, as we had not committed any crime. The truth was, I did not even know why we had been arrested.
Much to my frustration, the Sub-Inspector, who was the officer on duty, informed us that Her Majesty the Queen was attending a reception in their area that day, and the police inspector, who was in charge and could listen to our appeal, was out on security duty. We had to wait at least until he arrived. That day, apart from the two of us, about a dozen young men had been arrested for petty robbery, pick pocketing and other minor crimes. The whole atmosphere was strangely dehumanizing. If anyone had to attend to nature’s call, all of us had to march together to the compound wall, and urinate under the surveillance of several policemen, who continued scrutinizing us with detest and suspicion.
Every evening at eight o’clock, the detainees would receive a routine beating. That evening too, the head constable, a well-built man and also the holder of a black belt in Karate, entered the cell. All of us stood up in terror. He started punching the detainees one by one. The police had to attend martial arts training every morning and, in the evening, they got to practice their skills on the detainees. We were all standing in a circle. As the police came nearer, I began to tremble. I grabbed my mala and prayed to Osho. The aggressor moved right in front of me, stood there and stared at me. I kept trembling and praying to Osho. Just as he was about to punch me, the police constable to whom I had related my entire story, intervened and said, “Sir, he hasn’t committed any crime. He was simply selling books, and he is a qualified government engineer.”
Miraculously, we were saved at the last moment. When the police moved away from me, I pulled Naval Kishore aside, and he too was spared. I sighed. The police beat the person standing next to us with double the vengeance.
The inspector returned at two o’clock in the morning, after the royal dinner. He was blissfully drunk, and in no state to hear anything. Later that morning, when he had sobered up, I went and showed him my official identity card, and explained that I was only selling religious books.
He replied, “It was the order of the zonal commissioner. His office opens at ten o’clock, and you can appeal to him. I’ve been ordered to present you before him.”
At ten o’clock, with the books on our backs, we were about to head off for the commissioner’s office at Ranipokhari. As his office was quite some distance away, and the books were heavy, we asked the police to get us a taxi. They replied shrewdly that if we were prepared to pay the fare, a taxi could be arranged. And so we traveled to the commissioner’s office by taxi.
When we arrived, the police handed over a small note, announcing our arrival. We were kept waiting outside the commissioner’s office for the whole day but did not hear anything from him. Fortunately, I met Mr. Shrestha, who was a retired zonal commissioner and a family friend of ours. He was surprised to see me with the police and the confiscated books. He asked me about the situation, so I told him the whole story. He went inside the office and checked my file, then came out and explained to us that we had been arrested for “selling political and revolutionary books.” It was unbelievable.
After hearing my story, Mr. Shrestha went inside the commissioner’s office again, assured them that he knew me and my parents and that I was not up to any criminal activity. He also told them I came from a reputable family and that I wouldn’t be involved in anything that would pose a threat to the present system. We were released on bail for the night, on the written condition to appear at the office at ten o’clock sharp the next morning. I was grateful to learn that we wouldn’t have to spend another painful night in cold police custody.
But the troubles had not ended there. When I arrived home, I discovered that my parents had been panicking for the last twenty-four hours, as I had vanished without a trace. They didn’t know anything about the arrest. They were already unhappy that I was a Osho disciple and spending my whole time spreading his message. If I told them about the arrest, they would simply go crazy, so I had to lie that I had spent the night at my friend’s place. The next day, I had to face my manager at work, who was also angry because I had been absent without prior notice. I immediately wrote a leave application and left for the commissioner’s office.
After going there again, we had to wait until five o’clock in the evening, then sign a document ensuring we would return at ten o’clock the next morning. The same routine continued for the next fourteen days. It was quite an experience for me. We were kept like prisoners, in the office. Naturally, this was very troublesome because I couldn’t go to work, and I would often meet acquaintances and relatives in the commissioner’s office, who were surprised to see me there. On the fifteenth day, Mr. Dawadi, who was the assistant zonal commissioner, was appointed to look into the case. He prepared a report stating he had looked through all the books and found them to be harmless and non-political.
As I found out later, Mr. Dawadi was a religious person. Reading the books, he was stunned by Osho’s marvelous commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Shiva Sutra and other spiritual works. He wrote in his report that the books were purely spiritual and were not politically motivated, and he recommended that everybody should read them.
In fact, he did not want to part with them, so when he called me to his office, he said, “I found nothing objectionable in the books. But by selling the books without them being censored by the government, you have violated the present laws of the country.”
During the monarchy, it was mandatory for every book in the country to be censored by the relevant authority before it could be distributed or sold.
Mr. Dawadi said, “So we will keep two copies of each book for censoring, and if you get any new books, get them censored by us before you start selling them.” So if I wanted to sell them, it was mandatory to have all the books reviewed first.
I understood that Mr. Dawadi loved the books and wanted to read them.
I asked him if I could start selling the books again at the same spot. He said he was not in a position to say yes or no; that was up to me to decide.
It took us a few days to recover from the shock. We had gone through a great financial loss because our stock of books was very limited and we had lost a great number of books, but we began selling them again at Peepal Bot. Through the stall, many people had already become connected with Asheesh Meditation Center and had started visiting the center on weekends. After some time, we decided that the bookstall had served its purpose, and people were now coming to the center for the evening Kundalini meditation, so we focused all our energy and time on the center.
Four years later, when I was working at the Pune ashram, I saw Mr. Dawadi come through the gates. Surprised to see him there, I said, “Mr. Dawadi, what brings you here?”
“Don’t act so naive. It is all your doing. I read all the books that we had confiscated, and I have become his fan,” he said smiling.
He met Osho and related the entire story to him. Later, he began frequenting Asheesh and became a good friend. Many times, he also provided official support to the center. And so it was that existence played a strange trick which connected me with Mr. Dawadi, who became a good friend of mine and a great support to the center, our ashram.
Soon the who’s who of Kathmandu began pouring into the ashram. After selling Osho’s books in New Road for two years, many Kathmanduites became aware of Osho, and I would often find myself welcoming strangers to Asheesh – strangers who came looking for the center, just as Osho had promised.