The beginning of a serialisation: 1-3 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries
These three excerpts were written towards the end of November, 2013
Pune Diary 1: Up the Ghats
It makes for a sleepless night, that’s for sure, but I like to arrive at Mumbai Airport after midnight – courtesy of Jet Airways from Heathrow – because at this time of night you can cruise quickly out of this sprawling city through empty streets instead of fighting your way through endless daytime traffic. That is, of course, if your taxi wallah is on time and waiting as you emerge from the arrivals lounge – my eyes travel along the row of 50-or-more Indian men holding notices with people’s names – and yes, there he is, same guy as last time, we exchange a friendly handshake, then he takes over my baggage trolley and off we go to the nearby parking zone.
Still, it seems to take forever to leave Mumbai, skirting slum colonies, negotiating half-constructed flyovers and passing by massive apartment blocks that probably contain the same number of people that populated this entire country a couple of hundred years ago. Eventually, we leave it all behind and soon the road begins its climb up the Western Ghats, a mountain range that runs for a thousand miles along the Western side of India, separating the coastal plain from the Deccan Plateau.
Sattar, my driver, weaves expertly through convoys of slowly moving trucks with their engines roaring and exhaust pipes belching smoke as they strain to make the grade. There’s no lane discipline here as we, and other faster-moving traffic, swing over on the shoulder, then out to the fast lane, back on the shoulder…. I love this part of the journey. It’s awesome driving, like nowhere on earth and everyone knows that if even one truck breaks down on the hill the whole procession may stagger to a halt.
Back in the 70s, when this six-lane highway was a narrow, winding, badly-paved road, naked sadhus wearing only beads and holy markings on their foreheads used to sit at the foot of the ghats and stare with unforgiving eyes at the truck drivers as they began the climb. Their unspoken message: “Buddy, if you have any hope at all of making it, you’d better throw me some coins….” Most drivers did, or rather, their assistants did, because there were never less than three men in any truck’s cab. Probably their most crucial job, in the event of a breakdown, was to leap out and jam big rocks behind the wheels to prevent a roll back.
Tonight we’re lucky… up, up, up we go… through the tunnel at the top…then we’re on the plateau, passing the little vacation town of Lonavla and about twenty minutes later it’s time to pull into a wayside truck stop for a chai break. Chai is the Indian working man’s espresso: a tiny cup of super-sweet, super-strong spiced black tea. It’s normally served twice a day, at mid-morning and around 4:30 in the afternoon, but here on the highway it’s consumed 24/7 by drivers needing to stay awake.
We drive into Pune well before dawn, travelling swiftly through more empty streets and soon I recognize the landmarks – a bridge, a temple, a government building, the back of the railway station – and smile in the knowledge that our destination, Koregaon Park, is just a couple of minutes away.
Where to stay? This year I’m determined NOT to have to deal with the traffic on North Main Road, which in recent times has become totally insane, so my old room in Rag Vilas Society is out of the question, because it’s on the wrong side of the tracks. I’ve got to find a room inside Koregaon Park, close to the Osho Meditation Resort.
I tell the driver to head for Hotel Sunderban on Lane One, whose only real virtue as a guest house is that it’s located literally next door to the resort. It has super-expensive rooms, well out of my price range, but also cheap ones that you can’t book ahead of time. The taxi pulls in and I slowly clamber out, walking stiffly after the three-hour drive, and have to wake up the concierge, who, quite naturally, is sleeping at his desk.
Yes, I’m in luck, one of the cheap rooms is free. It means shared showers and toilets, which is not much fun, and the ones downstairs are unspeakably dirty, but the upstairs bathroom is shiny and new. It’s just a little irritating when the staff pass through and say “good morning sir” when I’m cleaning my teeth. The hotel is so close to the resort that I won’t need to rent a locker and there’s tea in bed in the morning – thank god for room service. Now, let’s try and get a few hours’ sleep.
Pune Diary 2: Planet Osho
This moment always seems surreal: walking into the resort’s Welcome Centre for the first time around mid-morning after a long trip and little sleep. The place is super-quiet, in mind-blowing contrast to the noisy streets outside. The black marble décor makes it dark and cool and you look out on this little garden, with green groundcover spread over small rolling hillocks. A rippling stream with big red fish winds through it and a white marble Buddha sits in detached splendour above it all.
Tall trees overhang the area, adding more shade, and beyond the garden a few distant maroon-robed figures glide unhurriedly along pathways in front of black buildings. When you’re jet lagged and disoriented like I am now, it seems like entering another world, which, come to think of it, is exactly what it is.
This isn’t India or the West. It’s somewhere else entirely… Planet Osho.
The staff works silently. Most are new to me but one or two know me and we smile in recognition. I cruise through the mandatory AIDS test, pick up my pass, buy a day sticker and then head over to the Galleria, the resort’s clothing shop, to buy a new maroon robe, a maroon t-shirt and maroon pants. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, the colour of maroon, in its limited spectrum of shades, is in eternal fashion here in the world of Osho.
But I’m not staying, just registering, because there’s other important ‘arrival’ stuff for me to take care of first. I catch a rickshaw from outside the main gate to nearby German Bakery Lane and guide the driver to the end of the street, then turn left and arrive outside a small shop called Gulshan Forex where a neatly-dressed, chain-smoking gentleman called Shankar changes money.
He also stores trunks in his loft and that’s why I’m here. Mine have been lying in the loft for eight months, ever since I left last April. I know the drill: first, I need to hire two, strong-looking rickshaw wallahs from the nearby taxi line and then, with their help, Shankar drags a couple of big, silver-coloured metal trunks down from the loft.
With much heaving, staggering and complaining – “too much heavy sir”, which translates as “you will need to pay us more” – the drivers carry the trunks out to the waiting rickshaws and somehow jam one in each. I share a driver’s seat, sitting with half my butt dangling in empty space, my hands clinging to the sides of the cab, as we begin the short but uncomfortable journey back to my hotel.
Outside the entrance, the staff boys take over and carry the trunks to my room. I pay off the drivers – 100 rupees each keeps them satisfied – tip the bell boys, then close the door and try to unlock the trunks. The keys work! I pat myself on the back, because it’s simply amazing that I haven’t lost this bunch of tiny keys during the eight months I’ve been away in Europe, travelling between the UK, Denmark and Russia.
I peer inside, pull out some bedding and sniff cautiously. Not bad. The smell of monsoon mould is detectable, absorbed during the long weeks and months of India’s wet season, but the odour isn’t too strong and there are no mould marks on the clothes. Nevertheless, everything has to go to the dhobi for washing and that’s why I always buy a new maroon outfit in the resort’s Galleria each year on arrival: to tide me over while the annual washing rituals are observed.
Pune Diary 3: Not for the Faint-hearted
Traffic hazard announcement: there is a new ‘fear meditation’ now available for sannyasins wishing to travel via rickshaw from the Osho Resort to nearby German Bakery Lane. The turn into GB Lane from North Main Road has been closed to Westbound traffic, making it a dual carriageway with no turn-out. So, if you’re in a rickshaw, coming from the ashram front gate, your driver now crosses the busy road and drives AGAINST the Eastbound traffic flow until he can turn right into GB Lane.
One of Osho’s favourite pieces of spiritual guidance to us was ‘go with the flow’, but here we struggle against it. Of course, this is crazy. We should go with the Westbound traffic flow all the way to the main highway and make a U-turn there, but rickshaw wallahs have a unique sense of traffic rules. They don’t mind facing an on-rushing horde of motorbikes and cars, all blasting their horns, if they can shorten a local trip by a few hundred metres.
This is not a meditation for the faint-hearted, nor for tender souls emerging from the resort’s therapy courses in delicate, sensitive spaces. But if you feel like screaming in terror there’s nothing quite like it.
Now, about my washing: I could have used the hotel’s laundry service but with so much stuff I figure it’s cheaper to take it all to the dhobi in GB Lane, whose bizarre emporium is located at the end of a short side-alley. You can’t miss it. It’s the one that looks like it got bombed along with the bakery in 2010. How this man manages to make clothes clean in this chaotic jumble is a miracle… you can’t even figure out if his place has walls and a roof.
He counts it all out, sorting my dirty belongings into piles: one for maroon clothes used as daytime wear in the resort, one for white robes used only at night for the Evening Meeting, and one for ordinary street clothes. “Tomorrow evening,” he assures me.
Back in the rickshaw we head for a small shop run by Arti, a little old lady who sells just about everything a sannyasin needs: robes, dresses, pants, bed sheets, bed covers, meditation chairs, pillows…. But this year it’s different: I’m selling, not buying.
You see, I’ve come to a momentous decision: I’m downsizing, throwing away most of my storage stuff; saying, in effect, that the days of making a home for myself in Pune are over. I pull up outside Arti’s shop with one of my big trunks crammed with belongings and, with a little help from the rickshaw driver, carry it over to her emporium.
She is not surprised. “Everyone now is same,” she says, “One trunk only! Nobody wants to keep things anymore.” That’s true. Back in the 80s and 90s, people furnished and decorated whole houses in the Koregaon Park area, because they stayed year-round, or at least 6-9 months. Then, as the community that had gathered around Osho slowly broke up, everybody adjusted to the new paradigm: short visits in winter, temporary accommodation and minimum storage.
Arti looks at my treasure trove. “I give you one thousand,” she says, which is way too little for all these quilts and sheets and blankets, not to mention my space heater, but hey, a single lady has to make a living somehow. Arti’s husband, who used to sit outside her shop all day while she ran the business, passed away some years back.
“Okay,” I nod agreement and the deal is done. Wheeee! A great feeling of unburdening and relief. Now just one light trunk remains – and one lighter swami, too.
These three excerpts were written towards the end of November, 2013
Read the next sections of ‘The Pune Diaries’
Anand Subhuti has been a disciple of Osho for 38 years. He first came to Pune in 1976 and has been a regular visitor to India ever since. In the 70s, he worked in Osho’s Press Office and in 1981 travelled with the mystic to Oregon, where he founded and edited The Rajneesh Times newspaper. Subhuti has written a book about his life with Osho, titled ‘My Dance with a Madman’, and recently authored a romantic novel set in Koregaon Park titled ‘The Last White Man’. Both are available on Amazon.