Madhuri remembers her time working in Osho’s library
In the mid-seventies I spent a year working in Osho’s library. My boss was Italian Lalita, who wore glasses, had slightly sticking-out teeth, and was sedate, serious, and secretly bosomy, like any good librarian. Her boyfriend, the famously-endowed, brown-skinned, tall skinny Kabir, had many Gopis to play his flute to, and often did not come home to Lalita at night. The next morning she would be repressedly unhappy, and, in her difficult fashion, would confide in me.
But mostly she didn’t like me at all. I did many things in a way that did not suit her:
– Every day, when I took a rickshaw to M.G. or Laxmi Rd and went round the bookshops searching for religious or philosophical books for Osho, I also ran into my tailor’s and ordered clothes. Lalita instructed me not to take these side-trips, but it was like telling the wind not to blow.
– I wore amazing outfits: I remember one strapless dress with a huge frill at the hem and a tie above the bosom, worn with a matching turban. The cloth draped in such a way as to emphasize my plentiful derrierre, and I enjoyed incidents such as the time Scottish Pramod came up behind as I was walking through the Gateless Gate and remarked sotto voce into my ear, “It’s sa nace an’ rrrooooond!” I had a backless jumpsuit with an empire waist and spaghetti straps which I wore with gold high-heeled sandals. And so on. Lalita wore strictly nursey-dresses, high-necked, short-sleeved, and tailored. All my flagrant wantonness must have reminded her of Kabir! She was generally cross with me.
– Every tea break and lunch break I would dash out of the rarified bliss of Lao Tzu to the big world of the rest of the Commune, and flirt with boys. I was very often late back to work. This did not set well. Lalita would grit her teeth and finally overflow with vexed complaint against me.
– Despite my best efforts, she was not satisfied with my filing skills. I was so annoyed and flustered at being disliked – yet so determined to plow my course regardless – that I no doubt messed up out of nerves.
– Here was my weirdest sin (and it would freak me out too, the other way around): I was obsessive-compulsive in those years. My extremes of behaviour were as much addictive as exuberant. Starting when I was a mere nymphet of fourteen, I had for a year and a half taken the ultra-strong birth control pills that had just come out, and they had made me ill and messed up my hormonal system so much that it took me many years to find my balance again. Meanwhile I was subject to terrors, compulsions, and extremes.
Meditation was slowly sorting me out, but it was a long road back to natural hormonic ease. As a teenager, to combat the awful sloth and heaviness the pills induced, I had established a rigorous dominion of Will, and could not let it go, though Osho often chastised me for Doing. If I did not want to do a thing, I did it – just to make myself; just to know I was not a half-dead coward. I did not like Lalita as much as she did not like me; therefore I would insist on hugging her. I would ask first: “Can I hug you?” She would snort annoyedly through her nose, but how could she say no to such a spiritually-correct request? So she would say yes, and I would step forward and wrap my bare, sexy, outlaw arms around her, and we would have a silly, uncomfortable hug. And she would snort in embarrassment and we would pull apart. I often did this when she was really irritated at me, which made it particularly strange.
Working in the library was, of course, an aesthetic delight, boss notwithstanding. The silent, watchful, bliss-drenched vibe… the thick walls, cool interiors of the house – the long covered porch off the large room, where jungle foliage pressed against the railings. The library doors were always open onto this porch and I would sit out there on my haunches cleaning the huge stacks of books I’d brought home from town. With a wet cloth I’d swipe the top of the book – around the sides and bottom where the page-edges were; then the front and back covers. Open book at front – wipe inner pages where, for some reason, dust tended to collect – then the last pages. Flip through pages quickly to dislodge dust. Place book upright and open to dry. (I still clean books this way, when I bring them home from secondhand bookstores or garage sales; it makes them fresh and vibe-free, ready to be mine until I’m done with them and pass them on.)
I enjoyed this work, alone out on the balcony, with rain dripping down, or with summer sweat, or in lovely cold winter. I was out of Lalita’s line of sight, it was peaceful, satisfying work, and I could ponder the strangeness of Osho’s book choices: He actually wanted books from the Christian bookstores full of stuff about Jesus! I supposed that this was a desperate measure, Lalita sending me to those places; it was for backup books, when nothing better had shown up.
Osho went through an enormous stack of books every day then, reading fifteen or twenty and marking them all up in felt-tipped pen, underlining this and that, so he really read them. He always needed more. It was understood that this was one of the ways he managed to stay in his body.
The piles and piles of dusty Christian books, and the philosophy books I’d manage to find at Manneys’ Bookstore, which filled the floor, and half the seat, and behind the seat, of the rickshaw I’d taken, all had to be lugged in, cleaned, then allowed to dry. Then they were put outside the door of his room. Next day the stacks would be back, with just a few books chosen from them to be kept. I’d return the rejects to the shops, and look, hopefully, for more.
Meanwhile, disciples from English-speaking countries shipped to us boxes and boxes of much better books – shiny and new, colorful and weighty and worthy and cutting-edge. Books about new therapies, about social issues, women’s rights, Zen, mysticism in all its expressions. These books were not dusty but they stank of newness – printers’ ink, colored inks in the jackets, paper, glue. They too had to be cleaned, then left to dry. Sometimes a book would still stink even when it had aired for a week or two.
Sometimes a particularly desirable book just couldn’t be sent in to him at all because the smell never came out. Lalita and I spent a lot of time sniffing books. And the books which passed muster would go in to him, he’d read them with the speed of light, and back out they’d be, to have a card made for them and then be put on the shelves lining the large library itself and the long corridor of the house. Though there was the card system, the placing of the books had no logical order; they were, at his instructions, put in such a way as to have their tops make a wavy line. So all up and down the corridor the books surged and subsided like gentle movements of the sea.
When I first began working in the library Osho was still painting those magical, astonishing designs on the frontispieces of certain books. It was like caressing jewels to find them, to gaze at them – it was like falling into outer space/inner space, where the patternless flow of stars seduced you. It was like looking at a thousand different kinds of flower, or like glimpsing the inner machinery of some fabulous robot tall as a skyscraper. Gears, crosshatches, supernovae, marchings of brilliantly-colored creatures over a sea floor – things that tugged at the observer and brought her into unexplainable awe. The grace – the sureness – the finality, totality of those paintings – their color-drenched impact – was a constant accompaniment to my work. But he stopped doing them when he became allergic to the smell of the magic markers he used.
Sometimes I bumped into him in the corridor. I would be flustered and agog and joyful all at once – most of all I would be, somehow, completely disarranged in my existence as to what I had heretofore assumed was ‘me’ – and I’d stand in hasty namaste until he’d passed. Then I’d be shaking for half an hour, uplifted, disarmed.
One night I was in darshan when there were important visitors: Werner Erhard, founder of EST; a friend of his, the friend’s new wife, and Diana Ross of the Supremes. Osho was gracious and welcoming, suggesting the visitors stay a little longer than the two or three days they’d allotted. The friend of Werner said proudly that he and the woman with him had just been married by Muktananda at his ashram, and asked for Osho’s blessing.
“When you want to get married, go to Muktananda,” pronounced Osho genially, “and when you want to get divorced, come to me!” The visitors sat there gobsmacked! All the rest of us laughed!
Next day as part of their Commune tour the party traipsed through the library. Diana Ross was at the back, and she drifted her fingers across things – piles of books on tables, the filing cabinets, whatever. (She must be a tactile lady.) When they’d gone, Lalita fussily attacked all the touched surfaces with soap and water and a cloth, to get the unenlightened vibes out.
It was a good job, the library; full of beauty, a job done in clean and hallowed rooms. But it did not suit me to be an underling, and when eventually I was sent to reorganize and manage the newsletter office, whatever workiness is in me was full of discovering delight – in this life I’d never been a boss, and I found it suited me well, and Osho was pleased.
But I am so happy I had that year in the library – like a long visit to a temple – the high priestess’s disapproval being another matter! Lalita, I’m sorry I was compulsive, and importuned you. I’m not sorry I was so wild. I loved the shopping part, too.