22-25 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries
These four excerpts were written in January 2014.
Read previous sections of The Pune Diaries
Pune Diary 22: Pune’s Purple Haze
“This is your captain speaking. We are approaching Pune. Our altitude is approximately 3000 metres. If you look out your window, you will see a thick purple haze in the sky surrounding us, filling in the gaps between the white clouds. This is atmospheric pollution generated by the city beneath us. Thank you for flying Air India.”
Well, actually, our pilot didn’t say that. But he could have. I don’t know if Jimi Hendrix was inspired by a similar situation when he wrote his classic ‘Purple Haze’, or if Prince was alluding to the same phenomenon in his mega-hit ballad ‘Purple Rain’.
But anyway, the truth is, Pune shrouds itself in a purple dome of ozone. Coming in from Goa’s coastal beaches, which are relatively pollution free – well, the air is clean, if not the ground – was quite a paradigm shift.
Looking down at the city as we approached the airport, Pune seemed shrouded in man-made mist. But a few minutes later, stepping out of the plane and taking a few cautious breaths, the air didn’t seem too bad. I could breathe okay and didn’t immediately start coughing, although I have to admit it was nice to ride to Koregaon Park in an air-conditioned car.
My taxi driver was late for another job, so he dropped me rather hastily in Lane Six where I was obliged to transfer to a rickshaw. This, I took as a gentle but firm reminder of the reality of daily life – from now on, I wouldn’t be cruising around Pune in AC limos.
Looking at the canopy of huge trees that make Koregaon Park beautiful, I noticed with disappointment that their leaves were covered with dust and dirt. “Of course,” I said to myself, with resignation, “This is what happens in the dry season… all the colours disappear under the dust.”
Then, something odd happened: it began to rain! It was almost as if nature heard my remark and felt offended. By the time I paid off the rickshaw driver and carried my suitcase up to my room, it was pouring down and soon the leaves of all the trees, shrubs and plants outside my window were gleaming and green. For the end of January, six months away from the monsoon, this was indeed a miracle.
Next morning, walking around the bloc to the resort’s main gate, the sun was shining, the air fresh and cool, the lanes damp and clean, although the street sweepers were doing their very best to create some reassuring clouds of dust by swishing at fallen leaves with their long-handled brooms.
My old friend Krishna Prem was on the gate, announcing my return with “Hey everybody, look who’s back from the beach!”
My pass was still valid, I bought a new sticker… in I went. It was only 9:30 am, but dance music was playing in the Multiversity Plaza, pulling me there to see crowds of people, all in maroon robes, boogying together and sorting themselves into groups:
Sudhir and Maneesha took 30 people into their workshop ‘Squeeze the Juice From Life’, Devendra and Anil took about 15 participants each into their groups, and Meera already had god-knows how many people in Buddha Grove in her painting training.
In short, the place was buzzing. Numbers had been down in December, leaving me wondering whether there would be a ‘high season’ this winter, but they bounced up in January… swings and roundabouts… highs and lows….
The resort, as many of us know, is surrounded by controversy, with legal struggles over trademarks, property transfers and all kinds of issues. Fortunately, these occur on another plane of existence. What I mean is: when you walk in the gate, you don’t see them. They remain invisible to those of us who wish to enjoy the meditative atmosphere, aesthetic surroundings and opportunity to meet friends.
And even though I’m determined to be an innocent bystander in the power struggles that threaten to swamp this place, I have to say that, for now, for this one brief shining moment, for this sunny morning in late January – judging by the happy crowd in the Plaza – the resort is alive, well and dancing.
Pune Diary 23: Forex dealings and migraines
“Rate is good for euro… Swiss franc also.…”
My forex dealer is consulting his smartphone. Whatever the rate, I will take what he offers. I really can’t be bothered to walk around all the dealers in Koregaon Park comparing prices.
I used to do that, when I was bonded in loyalty to the forex guy in Lane One, who cohabits a ramshackle, tent-like shop with a woman who sells robes, clothes, shoes and coconuts. His financial supplier never gave him good rates. I had to go to other dealers, find the best rate, go back to him, tell him the rate, wait for him to call his supplier and get approval…. Only then was he able to pay me the higher rate.
Eventually, I just started walking past him and after a few tries he stopped asking if I wanted to change money. The look of wounded betrayal on his face said it all. He knew I’d abandoned him.
Today’s deal is done. I have changed 1000 Swiss francs and 500 euro, getting 111,000 rupees in return, which, even in bundles of 1000-rupee notes, amounts to a pretty thick wad.
When I first came to India, back in ’76, there was no euro and I had no clue about the value of Swiss Francs. But I do recall getting 18 rupees to the pound sterling. Now I would get 80.
Coming out of this little shop, my jeans are stuffed with swollen envelopes of rupees. I feel nervous, like I’m a walking invitation for a mugging, but maybe my supplier has protection on this street because so far nothing has ever happened.
Nevertheless, stepping into a rickshaw feels good and in a couple of minutes I’m back at my apartment and unloading the first envelope: 20,000 in rent to my landlady for the month of February.
Changing into a maroon robe, I stuff the rest of the money into my pockets and walk along the backstreets of Koregaon Park feeling a little absurd…the envelopes give me wide, protruding hips, like a fat woman in an oversized nightie.
Again, I’m feeling uncomfortably like a mugger’s dream come true, but nothing happens, even though there are 250 million people who go to bed hungry every night in India and I’m carrying enough money to feed a poor family for five years. Such is the acceptance of wealth disparity in India.
I enter the resort’s back gate, making my way along a winding path to Buddha Grove, where a friend of mine from Denmark is participating in Meera’s painting training.
I see her immediately. She is lying prostrate on the ground, face down, arms outstretched, on top of a huge blank sheet of white art paper, as if in silent prayer. She desperately needs an additional 50,000 rupees to complete the training.
“Your prayers have been answered,” I whisper, gently slipping a fat envelope under her hand. Payback time is set for two weeks.
A few moments later, I’m in the Welcome Centre, buying a month-long resort pass for 24,000 INR – a big saving over the daily rate – and realize to my astonishment that within a few minutes almost all the money has gone. Just a few rupees left for coconuts, rice, dhal and cappuccino.
I’m not even sure I want to stay here a month, but I hate buying a daily sticker and somehow have a strong desire to feel I’m really here. An eternal tourist like me has to put his roots down somewhere, even if it’s only for a month.
All these financial goings on are way too much for my poor head, which soon develops a full-on migraine. I’m convinced I have a brain tumour but it may just be caffeine withdrawal or an overdose of peering into laptop screens. Time to go home and back to bed.
But the migraine just gets worse. Paracetamol doesn’t work and at its height the throbbing ache inside my skull makes it too painful to lie down, sit, or stand up… all options blocked and my head is splitting apart. In despair, I start weeping piteously, feeling extremely sorry for myself, like some five year-old whose mother just got run over by a truck… and force myself to throw up in the toilet.
Life in India is like this. Illnesses and upsets come with sudden ferocity, without warning. The status of your personal health and welfare barometer can fall from ‘okay’ to ‘fatal’ in minutes.
However, these two gestures, weeping and throwing up, bring some relief. At least I can lie down now… and yes… soon fall asleep. Ah, oblivion, how I love thee!
Waking up two hours later, pain free, I notice with pleasant surprise that my mind is completely blank, filled exclusively with white, fluffy, cotton wool – soft, clean and virgin.
I go to the toilet in a state of No Mind, then find myself wondering “So this is how Osho walked to the bathroom?” Amazing!
For the next two hours I watch my mind trying to regain control of my head and when it finally succeeds I reach for the laptop:
Pune Diary 24: Majic Show Baba
The magicians are having a hard time. At least, that’s what they tell me. Saturday evening on the back gate lane, behind the resort, and four of them are squatting by the roadside at the junction where the road to Osho Teerth Park begins.
This is a good spot for business. In earlier times, when sannyasins were more numerous, a smartly-dressed man stood here every day selling fruit from a trolley at outrageous prices, guessing correctly that Westerners would pay up rather than make the effort to go shopping.
I used to buy freshly sliced pineapple from him until one day I saw him emerging from the bushes while pulling up his trousers. With no wash basin in sight, I decided the health risk was too great and put the pineapple snacks on hold.
Nowadays, these magicians cater to a different clientele. It’s mainly families from India’s emerging middle class who come to visit the park on weekends, offering business opportunities for these craftsmen of illusion.
Each magician has his small cloth bag of tricks and two of them are holding a twig of leaves, the easiest way to catch people.
“Hello madam, hello sir, kindly smell this leaf…”
As you hold the twig, they ask you to think of the scent from your favourite flower, which usually turns out to be a rose or a lotus. Meanwhile, an invisible paste containing perfumes from five popular flowers has been smeared on your hand, without you even noticing.
Naturally, when you lean close to smell the leaves, you get a whiff. Presto! Pure magic and a seductive introduction to the main event.
“Now come sir, see magic show… come this side… sit down… just five minutes… very good show, sir!”
These days, they leave me alone, apart from a nodded greeting, which I take as some kind of respect, since they no longer regard me as a tourist, just part of the local scenery. But today one of them approaches me: “Sir, I had no food today, eating only fruit… business very bad….” He looks suitably sad, but not really hungry and certainly not thin.
Another one takes up the theme: “Please tell us our mistake, sir, what we have done wrong. To be without means to support ourselves…”
I smile at them good-naturedly and namaste in a friendly way, but my rupees stay in my pocket. Once, I made the mistake of paying them 200 rupees to teach me a trick and after that they never left me alone for months, offering to teach me an entire magic show for ridiculous sums of money. So much for guarding the secrets of their trade.
Two of them used to get money from me quite regularly, but both are gone. One was a very old man, fragile and thin as a rake, with a long white beard, who looked like a cousin of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s legendary leader in the war against the United States.
This old magician was adopted by several sannyasins and toward the end of his life got money from us just for showing up on the street. He was too frail to do magic.
The other was his nephew, a tall fellow with dark hair, big brown eyes and a mournful face who somehow managed to persuade me to give him 200 rupees every year during Diwali.
Both have departed for the Great Magic Show in the Sky.
Meanwhile, inside the resort, in the dining area, another show is under way. A black-faced, silver-coloured monkey is sitting in a tree by the waterfall. The crows are indignant and noisily protesting, cawing at him like crazy, because this is their territory. They virtually own the bamboo grove next to the waterfall and even succeed in driving off big hawks when they try to nest in a nearby tree.
Suddenly, the monkey jumps to the ground and, leaping from table to table in spectacular fashion – he’d easily win the long jump in the Olympics – is quickly on the other side of the dining area. His antics stop scores of dining sannyasins in mid-mouthful and quickly draw a crowd.
“No photography in the resort!” yells a voice, but the mobile phones are out and the cameras are clicking as maroon-robed humans track their distant cousin’s travels. I guess he’s hoping for a stray banana, so maybe my little snack is safe – it’s Saturday and that means chocolate brownies for tea in Meera Canteen.
Do monkeys eat brownies? I hope I’ll never find out.
PS By the way, just to clarify: I talk about two Meeras in these diaries. One is the resort’s canteen. The other is my friend, the Japanese artist. In case you’re wondering, the canteen isn’t named after my friend. Both are named after the Indian female saint, Meera, whose songs of devotion to Krishna are still popular and revered throughout India.
Pune Diary 25: Self portrait & Primal painting
I guess I’m a morning person. I like walking the lanes of Koregaon Park as the sun peeps over the mansions and its shafts of yellow light start filtering softly through the trees, creating pillars of light. The effect is enchanting and mystical. I almost expect Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise to step into one of them and utter his immortal line “Beam me up, Scotty.”
My aim is to arrive at the resort’s back gate around 8:00 am, looking forward to a breakfast of banana porridge, happy to be inside the magic bubble before the traffic gets serious.
Passing through the resort’s Plaza area, I see the hired staff are busy cleaning up from last night’s show when Meera, the Japanese painter, and her 35 group participants staged a colourful extravaganza – no other word for it – of dance and theatre and delight.
Meera’s shows always verge on the edge of chaos because they are barely rehearsed, but there’s such a spirit of fun and vitality among her group that nobody cares… least of all the audience.
It’s lovely to watch so many people dancing together and feel how bonded and carefree they’ve become during the 25 days of Meera’s painting training… pure delight.
The training is now over and Buddha Grove is surrounded by their creations, hanging in colourful splashes of colour from nylon ropes tied between the trees.
The ‘primal paintings’ are abstract and chaotic – bound to be so, because the main lesson Meera teaches in this section is to abandon form and structure in favour of spontaneous feeling and flow.
The ‘nature paintings’ are a million different shades of green, vividly portraying the dense foliage surrounding Buddha Grove, offering labyrinths of interwoven branches and leaves. Some are truly beautiful.
But the exhibit with most impact is the long row of self-portraits, standing on the marble floor of Buddha Grove, placed in a line around the old podium where Osho used to speak. These are austerely painted in black, white and grey. Their unsmiling, intense faces stare at you from the depths of their souls, showing how deeply the painters have been looking at themselves – not a single superficial smile to be seen.
Scary stuff. In fact, one of the teachers of a morning class in the ‘Grove felt compelled to turn the portraits around so they wouldn’t distract and disturb her participants, so magnetic and provocative is their power.
Meera, by the way, is also a walking pharmacy, always on the lookout for people like myself with colds, so she can administer her potions… “No, wait!” she says, as I walk by, sniffing into a tissue. “Vitamin C! Here, from the West… very good quality… and this… from Japan, very expensive, take one… you want noodles tonight?”
It is an awesome aspect of Meera’s energy and compassion that she can deliver hot noodles to your door on her scooter while taking care of a big painting training.
This time, though, I rescue myself with a neti pot… the ancient yogic art of pouring warm salt water into one nostril of your nose until it floods your sinuses and pours out the other nostril – you hold your head sideways for this, by the way.
It didn’t stop the cold, but performed the crucial function of keeping my nose clear and preventing mucus from getting down into my chest. No cough. So Evening Meeting is okay for this not-so-sick swami.
We gather in our white robes at nightfall, waiting patiently across the water from the auditorium. It’s one of my favourite moments of the day. Changing into white and leaving everything behind in my locker somehow signals a break from ordinary life, an invitation to drop it all and turn inward.
“Open!” says an authoritative voice behind us, where the security check is performed. Off we go, across the water, walking together along the narrow, spiritual catwalk towards the pyramid, one long flowing river of white.
A figure suddenly appears above us, in the doorway of the pyramid, at the top of the steps. “You can’t go in yet… there’s an audio problem.” Our procession halts, temporarily confused by conflicting commands.
But from behind, the authoritative voice from the security check shouts “Go! Go!”
In my experience, when faced with ‘stop’ and ‘go’ together, it’s usually more fun to go, so I walk up the steps and others follow. As we come into the auditorium, the guys on the mixing board look at us in surprise, the sound-check for the musicians is hastily finished and the huge mixer is rolled away across the marble floor.
No problem. The band begins to play, music is happening and we dance to shake off the day before sitting silently in meditation.
Tonight’s gem from Osho: “With a teacher you are taught… with a Master you are caught.”
He got that right.
These four diaries were written in January 2014.
Read previous 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.