Ayahs, Mosquitoes and True Love Romance

On the Go

11-13 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries

These three excerpts were written in December 2013.
Read previous sections of The Pune Diaries

Pune Diary 11: My Ayah’s Magnificent Mobile Phone

I don’t believe it. My ayah has a better mobile phone than me. I saw her sitting outside the house, on the front steps, flicking through the apps on a Samsung Galaxy, whereas mine is a smaller, lowlier, Samsung Duos.

“Is that yours?” I asked in surprise and she nodded happily. Well, I did read in The Times of India that more people in this country have mobiles than they do toilets.

The mobile culture here is huge, with 900 million accounts. Every little store is an agent for service providers. Every salesperson is an expert in problem-solving. Every police station is swamped with forms registering new users.

my ayah's mobile

But it’s a low budget market. Most people don’t use smart screens, just cheap little Nokias, so my ayah is clearly at the top of the range.

By the way, strictly speaking, the word ‘ayah’ means a nurse and caretaker for children – that’s how the British used it while ruling this country. It was sannyasins who started calling their servants and cleaners ‘ayahs’ and somehow the word stuck.

For a while, back there in the late 80s and early 90s, a colonial atmosphere was re-created by European and American sannyasins who set up permanent, comfortable homes for themselves around Koregaon Park and that’s when the ayah culture began for us.

We had servants to do cleaning and washing – sometimes cooking as well – and we would sit around the table, at lunch or tea time, discussing their virtues, or lack of them.

“My ayah is useless…,” was a common complaint.

“You can be grateful if they don’t totally destroy your clothes in the wash…” grumbled others.

In marked contrast, some sannyasins would smile with pleasure and murmur, “Oh, but my ayah is simply wonderful; she does everything for me….”

Many of us discovered an unpalatable truth, which didn’t fit well with our attempts to be more friendly and democratic than our Imperial predecessors: if you were too nice to ayahs, they thought you were stupid, became lazy and stole things from your rooms.

Low caste women from nearby slum areas, such as the so-called ‘Indian Village’ by the railway tracks, loved working for Westerners because it was such an easy, well-paid gig. As I recall, most of them were called either ‘Rosie’ or ‘Rita’.

Stealing could somehow be managed without dismissal. For example, a son might come to ‘help’ his mother with the work, then money or valuable objects would suddenly disappear from the house. The son would be accused, the mother would weep and beg him to return the stolen goods, but he would refuse and disappear.

Then… what to do? To us, it seemed unfair to dismiss the mother for the son’s wrongdoing, so life would continue as before.

Once I had a gardener who, while I was distracted and talking with a friend, managed to race inside my room, snatch a wallet containing about 3,500 rupees and go back to work as if nothing had happened. I was so impressed by the audaciousness of his crime that I didn’t do anything – except make sure my door was locked at all times thereafter.

Then there was Rosie who, when I was in charge of a four-bedroom flat, consumed so much washing powder I think she must have been supplying the whole of Indian Village. She was devastated when the apartment closed, because she knew she’d never get such an easy, lucrative job again.

Back to the present: I am intrigued by my ayah’s magnificent mobile phone and curious how she got it, because she’s an honest soul and therefore improper acquisition is not an option. Her English is not good, and my Hindi is worse, but somehow we manage:

“How long have you had it?” I ask.

“One year,” she answers, proudly.

“Did a Westerner give it to you?” I inquire.

She shakes her head.

“Did the house owner buy it for you?” I persist.

“No… I buy… new… seven thousand,” she reveals.

Clearly, being an ayah isn’t a bad job. One might even describe it as an ‘upwardly mobile’ profession.

Pune Diary 12: An Englishman Falls in Love

It’s not often that I order four expensive chocolate cakes and buy drinks for my friends but today is an exception. Today, I’m launching my novel, ‘The Last White Man’, in Dario’s Restaurant, behind Hotel Sunderban, and I’m nervous as a mother hen with a newly-born chick.

‘The Last White Man’ book launch

In spite of my neurosis, everything is going smoothly. The books have arrived on time from the printer, the waiters have given me a quiet corner of the restaurant with six of seven tables for my presentation, and even though the sky clouded over this morning it hasn’t rained on my parade.

Guests trickle in from the resort next door and soon I’m busy signing copies of my book, while helpful friends serve cake and order tea, coffee and sodas – I thought champagne would send us all to sleep at 4:30 pm in the afternoon.

So then it’s time for me to say something and I begin by posing the question “Why write a novel?”

Well, leaving aside the fact that I wrote a novel to see if I could write a novel, I’ve always felt that Koregaon Park would make a great backdrop for a love story and mystery thriller.

As I explain to my audience, I was toying with the idea even before writing ‘My Dance with a Madman’ – the story of my life with Osho – which was published in 2010. In fact, back in 2007, I wrote a complete first draft of the novel, but then, feeling dissatisfied, put it out of my mind for five years. It lay there, on the hard drive of my laptop, waiting patiently to be revived.

The story is about an Englishman who comes to India and goes through an intense process of transformation. Sounds familiar? Well, wait a moment… This isn’t my sannyas story. It’s an exploration of the power of love: how an ordinary Western businessman gets pulled out of his comfort zone when he falls for a beautiful, wealthy Indian woman.

Much of the drama takes place in German Bakery Lane, where Stephen Parkhurst – my main character – lives in a guest house called ‘Happy Home’, which some sannyasins may remember. Many of us stayed there, until it was remodelled as an upmarket hotel and re-launched as the ‘Hotel Executive Residency’.

And, of course, for the romantic scenes, Osho Teerth Park provides a great setting, with secret night-time meetings amid the bamboo groves, hollows and statues. But I won’t go into detail because it might spoil the book.

Meanwhile, next door to Dario’s, the resort is gearing up for the annual New Year’s dance party and the number of visitors is swelling. This is the peak of the high season, which, with any luck, will extend well into January before the numbers start to thin out.

I seriously doubt that I’m going to make it through until midnight this year, because my coughing rate tends to double every hour after sunset. But I’m in for a surprise: hanging out with friends, consuming a little alcohol, dancing my ass off… time flies and I walk home at 00:30. Somehow, this annual, global ritual of renewal and rebirth has to be observed.

Pune Diary 13: The Tiny Terror of the Night

After one month in India I got my first mosquito bite. This is some kind of record and shows how few mosquitoes have been around, so far, during the cold season.

The tiny air-born terror woke me up at 2:29 am, which is the reason why I’m writing this diary entry at 2:59 am. At first, emerging confused and groggy out of deep sleep, I couldn’t figure why I’d woken up, but then I heard it… that familiar, soft, high-pitched whine ending in sudden silence as it landed somewhere on my exposed flesh.

Subhuti and his mosquito racket

Adopting Plan A, I reached out from under the covers and caught hold of my trusty mosquito zapper – the kind that looks like a plastic tennis racket with electrified metal ‘strings’. I thumbed the ‘on’ switch, pressed the ‘activate’ button and waved it slowly in the darkness around my head, hoping to make lethal contact.

I was holding the zapper with my left hand, but the cunning little fellow had landed on my left elbow, so he remained completely safe from my efforts. Eventually, though, as it sucked my blood, I felt the bite and realized my mistake.

Shifting to Plan B, I staggered out of bed and switched on the main light, temporarily blinding myself and waiting patiently for my eyes to make the transition from darkness to near-daylight. I hate hurting my poor eyes like this in the middle of the night, but I have no choice.

Then, in slow motion, I cautiously re-approached my bed, zapper in hand. Often, if they’ve sucked a little blood, mosquitoes get lazy and will stay near the scene of the crime instead of immediately flying off to some dark spot in the room where they are either invisible, unreachable, or both.

Yes! There he is, sitting on my spare pillow. Or, to be strictly gender-specific: there she is, because it’s common knowledge that only the females suck your blood.

Now, patience is everything. In a kind of T’ai Chi rhythm of graceful slow motion, I come closer and closer to the bed, bringing the metal strings ever nearer to the small, dark target on my pillow. Now the racket is right above it… steady now… Whack! Sharply down on the pillow and a satisfying spark from the ‘strings’ signifies victory. Got it!

However, it’s not the end of the story. Out of long experience, I know that sometimes these tough little critters survive the electric shock. They seem dead, but wake up after a few minutes and the whole drama begins again, so I feel compelled to crush it with my thumb. The flying vampire is now effectively disabled, if not completely deceased, and sleep is once again a possibility.

It’s nice to sleep freely in an open room, but I know that, sooner or later, the number of mosquitoes will increase and I will need to fall back on my ultimate source of protection: a massive, king-sized mosquito net that has been with me for at least ten years.

I dislike the cone-shaped nets that hang from a single hook in the ceiling, because, down at pillow level, the netting is close to your face and it feels claustrophobic. So, I had this huge, square net made for me by Indo-Foreign Stores on MG Road.

Mostly, mosquitoes are just a nuisance, but occasionally, as we all know, they bring disease. Malaria is a rarity in this part of India, but dengue fever is quite common. If you’ve never had it, believe me, you don’t want it. In addition to high fever, shivering and sweating, your whole body aches like crazy and you feel sore all over. Also known as ‘breakdown fever’, dengue lasts ten days and can occasionally be fatal although I’ve never known anyone die from it – even though, during the process, you sometimes wish you would.

So, all in all, a mosquito net is a good investment. It’s now 4:30 am and I’d really like to get a little more shut-eye. Good night.

These four diaries were written in December 2013.
Read previous sections of ‘The Pune Diaries’

SubhutiAnand 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.

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