A Sannyasin in Sydney During the Eighties

Remembering Here&Now

Excerpts from a blog by Navjot that – unplanned – comprises 108 blog entries, one for each bead on the mala she wore during the years 1981 to 1986.

Part 1 – How I Got To Sydney

I was washed up on the shores of Sydney town after the failure of my first love affair. I had grown up in the quiet town of Perth and left the arms of my protective Irish Catholic family for the arms of the ‘wrong man’. I had met and fallen in love with Jay, and then became an ‘orange person’, a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in early 1981 after attending an encounter group at the ‘orange’ meditation centre Shanti Sadan, south of Perth in September 1980. Indivar ran the encounter group, and I had only attended it as Jay had done one the month before. I had no idea what I was in for, as it was the start of a wild and wonderful adventure in finding out about myself.

After a mad couple of years that included my failed love affair, a trip to Poona in India to see my guru Bhagwan from afar, a trip to the First Annual World Celebration at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, a trip around Australia with a group of people representing Rajneesh Services Australia, and what seemed like a complete break with my Irish Catholic family, I ended up in Sydney.

Antar Navjot in Australia
Navjot at the beach near Mandurah, WA, early 1982

Having been instrumental in my departure from my home town of Perth, my unfaithful lover left me in Sydney, broken-hearted, vulnerable and owning about four outfits of clothing altogether.

But Sydney caught me in its arms as I fell, and gave me adventures, friends, fun and a happy and productive life.

Jay had left me at the Sydney Rajneesh or ‘orange’ commune building on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst. The commune leader Santosha took me under her wing and let me stay there for free.

And the last act of my unfaithful lover Jay was a kind one, he talked to a sannyasin, as orange people called themselves, who worked at a computer company called IP Sharp Associates, on Elizabeth Street, and organised a job there for me.

So I started working at IP Sharp Associates and began my career in IT and, although I was not exactly a commune member, I was living at Satprakash Rajneesh Commune at 108 Oxford Street, Sydney.

Part 2 – Living in Satprakash in 1982

The commune in Oxford Street was in a large two storey building on the corner of Palmer St which ran steeply downhill towards William Street, that four lane highway that runs from the Sydney CDB to Kings Cross and beyond. Darlinghurst was a strange mixture of people back then. There were a lot of Italian migrant families, gays, orange people and punks. We all tolerated each other fairly well, although the punks would smash empty alcohol bottles and vomit on the commune doorsteps on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes if I was out late I would have to make my way up the stairs past them as they lounged on the steps. But they always just ignored me.

I remember the first time I ever went in to the commune. Just through the door was an entrance area designed to welcome people who were curious to find out what we were up to. There was a small coffee shop in the corner with amazing cakes to have with coffee or tea. The commune businesses mostly revolved around food and they always had wonderful food. On the first day that I stepped from the busy street into the normally quiet and meditative centre, the little café there was unattended. Ma Sindhu who was supposed to be manning it was sitting at one of the café tables shouting and catharting as only a therapised sannyasin could. She was being attended by another Ma who seemed to be trying to reason with and comfort her.

I was dressed in the only other good outfit I had apart from my dress, which was some woollen slacks and a silk office shirt, both in a faded pinky-maroon colour. My hair was long and blonde, and I was very thin as I had not eaten much since my split with Jay. I had a briefcase with not much in it, probably my purse and a handwritten note on how to get to the commune from the house where I was staying in Paddington. Swami Sagaro, who was the commune mechanic at the time, later told me he thought I was a wealthy new sannyasin as I looked important and was ushered in to see Santosha almost immediately. This was all a front however, which I had developed while living with Jay and helping him with his business scams. Maybe Santosha thought I was wealthy too, but she never discussed money with me. She talked kindly to me and said I could stay at the commune until I would ‘find my feet’. Sindhu had disappeared by the time I left the building to go and collect my suitcase from the house I had been staying in at Paddington. The café had a closed sign on the counter.

When I arrived back there the next day I crossed the foyer and climbed the wooden stairs up past the kitchen on the left to the next floor, which had all the bedrooms for 30 or 40 commune members. Other commune members lived in rented houses dotted around Darlinghurst and Paddington. Everyone ate at the commune headquarters up on Oxford Street. The bedrooms upstairs were very crowded. Each room had two or three mattresses on the floor and couples slept with each other and made love nearby people sleeping alone. There was no privacy, but I had already been used to that from visiting the two commune centres when I lived in Perth, and when I was touring with Rajneesh Services Australia and had visited the Melbourne and Adelaide communes. Commune members did not have many possessions really and living there was a simple affair, except the food was always plentiful and good.

Despite the availability of women in the commune, there were quite a few swamis who preferred to be alone rather than get involved with one of the powerful mas in the commune. I think Sagaro was like this. He offered me a space in his room, which had a mezzanine platform in it that someone else used as their bedroom. Sags had a mattress down at floor level and offered me one nearby as someone had just moved out.

The first night I stayed at the commune I laid down on my mattress and then started to cry. I tried to be quiet, but Sags could hear me and then offered to give me a hug. I joined him in his bed and he was very kind, letting me talk about how humiliated and demoralised I felt after my failed relationship with Jay. So after that night I slept with him each night and soon enough the relationship became a sexual one.

When I had arrived in Sydney I had taken a tiny room in a share house in Darlinghurst that was filled with other sannyasins. The room I rented was really just for keeping my stuff in and I continued sleeping up at the commune building with Sagaro each night. Not that it was a huge love affair. He usually fell asleep by about 8.30 as he was knackered after a long day repairing the commune cars and vans. He was the commune mechanic and it had a lot of old clapped out vehicles that it depended on. I was still a bit lost and just needed a warm body beside me in bed. Sags was a very kind man and seemed to understand that I really just needed someone to hold me.

I had started the relationship with Jay two years before, a young naïve Catholic girl totally sure that he was the one and that we would marry and settle down forever. Being with him had shattered this and most other illusions I had about relationship and love. It had also launched me into this new world of being a cult member and drop out from society. I had needed it, I had asked for it and it had liberated me from a life of depression and fear, but I was also left feeling totally unsure of my judgement of men and not at all ready for another relationship. Sagaro’s kindness was just what I needed. Bless him.

And so I settled into my new life in Sydney.

During the week I trotted off to work at IP Sharp every day and came back in the evening to the commune for dinner and company. I used to help out on Saturdays in the kitchen by cooking the porridge for breakfast, chopping vegetables, making huge vats of custard for dessert or helping with the shopping. The commune kitchen always had bean sprouts growing and a couple of the mas would go shopping each day for the food needs.

There were 120 people to cook for and I remember a pretty ma called Abha worked there. She and I and a few others would all chat, exchange our life stories, and gossip about the goings on in the commune as we cooked up huge vegetarian meals and yummy desserts. Most of the mas working in the kitchen had been sannyasins for a while and I loved listening to the stories about Poona. I had taken sannyas only the year before and had gone to Poona briefly just before it ended, so I felt I had missed out a bit on the whole thing. I was always asking older sannyasins (as in people who had been a sannyasin longer than me) about darshan with Bhagwan and what it had been like to take sannyas directly from Bhagwan himself. Older sannyasins had a tear-drop shaped picture of Bhagwan hanging at the end of their mala. I felt in awe of them and would soak up anything they had to tell me about the ‘early’ days of Poona.

Breakfast was usually porridge and homemade muesli with yoghurt, fruit and hot drinks; instant coffee, tea, herb teas were popular. Lunch was sandwich makings and salad, but might also be something cooked such as a quiche with salad and bread. Usually there were fewer people for lunch as most people were working offsite. There was also bread and jam, vegemite and peanut butter for morning and afternoon tea. Hot drinks were available all day and we kept the urns filled with water and the tea and coffee station stocked. Everyone would be back for dinner. The evening meals would always be accompanied by salads and usually roasted vegetables. On the menu would be vegetarian lasagne, quiche, polenta and vegetable bakes, pasta and tomato sauce, lentil curries, tofu casseroles or steamed tofu. The evening meal would be served with salads, roasted veggies, garlic bread, and fresh bread. Condiments would be soy sauce, sesame seeds, and tahini. Then there would a pudding, cake or stewed fruit with custard for dessert. The food was always plentiful and good and most people’s tastes would be catered for. If it was someone’s birthday and the cook knew about it then a huge cake would be made and happy birthday sung and candles blown out by the birthday boy or girl.

It was a very inclusive and loving group to be with and such a contrast to my friendless teenage years. I loved it. Wearing the sannyas colours had another effect on my life that I found very inclusive and friendly. If I was walking down the streets of Darlinghurst or around the centre of Sydney I could see a sannyasin coming from a couple of blocks away. We would always greet each other gladly even if we did not know each other well, so I felt surrounded by friends in big old, dirty old Sydney.


Read the other 106 stories at antarnavjot.wordpress.com
(The stories contain Navjot’s personal recollections that might not always be factual.)

Antar Navjot was born in Perth, WA, and took sannyas there in 1981. She moved to Sydney, NSW in 1982, joining the Satprakash Mesto Rajneesh Commune until 1986. She visited Rajneeshpuram five times and worked as a guest worker for several months at a time. She is now working in IT and lives in Sydney.

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