Hanging out in Pune

On the Go

26-29 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries

These four excerpts were written in January 2014.
Read previous sections of The Pune Diaries

Pune Diary 26: Old Hangout

It’s not the same. Well, of course, it wouldn’t be. The old-style German Bakery disappeared four years ago, on February 13, 2010, when a terrorist bomb exploded, killing 17 people and injuring 60 more. It never came back. It never resurrected.

The new German Bakery is on the same site, but it’s a different creature. You enter through a metal detector and security check and come into a light, airy, middle-class coffee shop, with a white-painted fence surrounding the L-shaped layout, shielding it from the traffic outside.

There’s only one entrance now, not two – part of the security that was missing four years ago when they really needed it. The bakery sells coffee and chai, plus a host of cookies and cakes, some of which are reminiscent of bygone days.

But the whole vibe has changed. It’s no longer that crowded, chaotic mix of hippies, sannyasins, local hustlers and newly-arrived tourists… all rubbing shoulders, sharing wooden tables, sitting on stools, eating salads and veggie burgers, drinking fresh-squeezed juices and barley coffee, reading newspapers and consulting the Lonely Planet Guide to India.

The bomb that destroyed the bakery had been left in a backpack filled with RDX explosives under a table, planted there – so the police say – by the Indian mujahideen Islamic group, working with other terrorist organisations who instigated the 2008 attack against the Taj Hotel and other targets in Mumbai.

The bomb was either on a timer, or meant to be triggered by a signal from a mobile phone. Either way, it had been lying under the table for quite a long time, until around 7:15 pm, when customers pointed it out to the staff and a waiter grabbed hold of it and started to drag it out. Only then did the explosion happen.

So maybe there was a fault in the trigger mechanism, delaying the blast, which proved to be a lifesaver for sannyasins, many of whom had – by that time – left to go to the Evening Meeting or to attend a local concert by a well-known musician.

On that particular day, I was tired and had decided not to go to the Evening Meeting. So I was lying on my bed, in my room on Lane 2, when I heard it. The building shook. “That’s a bomb,” I thought. The feeling is unmistakeable. I reached for the phone and dialled the resort’s main gate.

“Was that you?” I asked, anxiously.

“No, further over, towards North Main Road,” the guard replied.

A few minutes later, a local man arrived at our bungalow on his bicycle, bringing news that a gas cylinder had exploded in the German Bakery’s kitchen.

“What nonsense,” I thought. No ordinary gas cylinder could make a sound like that. Sure enough, a little while later, the real story emerged: it was a bomb.

Later that same evening, the plaza in the resort was crowded with sannyasins and visitors. Somehow, we all felt the need to come together, connect with each other, feeling a shared, unspoken gratitude that we were safe.

Not everyone came. One Italian woman died in the blast and several Indian sannyasins were either dead or injured. Still, there was a feeling of relief – there could have been so many more casualties.

The main political aim of the perpetrators, to cause shock waves around the world and tarnish India’s reputation as a safe destination for foreigners, didn’t really work. There weren’t enough deaths to cause much of a ripple in the international media.

But we certainly noticed the fall-out in Koregaon Park: massive police security and tighter controls at the resort’s entrances, including airport-style scanning machines for bags. We also learned that both the bakery and the resort had been visited by David Headley, an American-Pakistani intelligence officer working for terrorist organisations, who had toured India compiling a list of ‘soft targets’.

For several years after the explosion, the bakery stood as a ruin, looking forlorn and desolate, while compensation claims were pursued and arguments dragged on between the owners and staff. Now, at last, it’s open again.

Today, for old time’s sake, I make a visit, but am prevented from taking video clips with my iphone. “No photography outside,” caution the security guards. My bag is inspected and I’m asked to leave my water bottle behind. Then I can walk through the metal detector and into the bakery.

The cookies and cakes look good, so buy myself a slice of apple pie – my old favourite – but have no feeling to stay. For better or worse, this part of my life, of many of our lives, is over. In a way, it’s no big deal. I never went there much, anyway, and the widening of North Main Road – conducted by Pune Corporation years earlier – had already damaged the original ambience.

But it was somehow comforting to have it there, like a cosy spot in my mind, reminding me I had a place to go when nothing else would satisfy me except a barley coffee and a slice of apple pie.

I’m not one for nostalgia. But I miss it.

Pune Diary 27: New Hangout

Having paid my respects to the passing of an era, I head down German Bakery Lane to the Yogi Tree Restaurant. This place also changed with the bakery blast. It used to be located under the Hotel Surya Villa, but the Pune police came under intense political pressure to enforce stricter regulations on all street-side cafés and restaurants, so for a while it shut down.

With both the bakery and the Yogi Tree gone, eating out in Koregaon Park became a dismal affair. Prems still served decent Indian food, but was largely taken over by young, trendy, middle class Puneites. Next to the resort, Dario’s Italian cuisine flourished, but it was a real restaurant – rapidly becoming fashionable with Pune’s nouveau riche – and didn’t really qualify as a casual hang out spot for sannyasins.

The Yogi Tree had been able to combine a relaxed atmosphere with great food, including brown rice, tofu steaks, fresh greens and other healthy stuff. It was a godsend when I was sick and served the best ginger-lemon-honey tea for miles around.

Slowly, as the iron grip of police regulations relaxed, an alternative site for the Yogi Tree opened up next door to the Surya Villa, in a wide, sunken space just off German Bakery Lane. The new site was outdoors, cool in the morning and evening, but blazing hot in the midday sun, discouraging customers until the managers finally understood the need for large sunshades over the tables.

Savita and Subhuti

This afternoon, I arrive to discover that my friend Savita has taken over half the restaurant to stage a launching party for her book about Osho, titled Encounters with an Inexplicable Man. It’s the end product of five long years of hard work, during which she interviewed over 40 people from 12 different countries to gather 95 personal stories about incidents with our favourite mystic.

It was Savita who inspired me to write my own book, My Dance with a Madman. When she asked me for a short anecdote to put in her book, I quickly wrote three and sent them to her. It was fun and easy. I’m a journalist by trade and can write short stories standing on my head, blindfolded and whistling Dixie – well, you know what I mean. It’s not difficult.

“Very nice,” said Savita, after reading them, “But I’m only going to use one.”

That didn’t feel right. I liked those stories and wanted people to read all three. Then I realized: if writing short anecdotes came so easily to me, why not just keep writing them and publish my own book?

I’d known, as soon as Osho died, that I wanted to write a book about my life with him, but for 20 years I’d hesitated, because I couldn’t think of a suitable format. A day-by-day chronology seemed boring, yet I had interesting tales to tell.

Now, suddenly, here was the key to unlock my treasure chest of memories: a book of short anecdotes, loosely tied together in some kind of chronological order, giving vivid snapshots of my life with ‘Big B’.

After two decades of waiting, a book of 60 anecdotes popped out of me in six months, just like an overdue baby. Thank you, Savita, for the inspiration.

The Yogi Tree is full of people. At one end of the restaurant, a pile of books stands on a table and two friends are busy selling while Savita sits at an adjoining table, signing copies.

My story got dropped by the way, because she’d collected far too many anecdotes and mine had already been published in my own book. But, to my surprise and delight, I see that I wrote the ‘Foreword’, a contribution which I’d entirely forgotten.

It begins: “What did Mary Magdalene really say to Jesus? What if Judas had written anecdotes about his years with his master…?”

You get the point. I’m saying that Savita’s book is important because all these personal recollections of moments with Osho offer a unique perspective on how he inter-acted with the world in all kinds of situations – like talking with an auto dealer in New Jersey, for example, or hypnotizing a dog (I kid you not).

The event is a great success. Lots of people show up, Savita is happy, many books are sold, the chai is free and the cheesecake is delicious. With a bit of luck, I’ll just make it back to the resort in time for the Evening Meeting.

Pune Diary 28: Are you still rebellious?

I’m sitting on a low wall, close to the two little lakes in front of Osho Auditorium, waiting in my white robe for the Evening Meeting. A studious-looking man of about 70, also in white, comes and sits on the wall beside me.

“You are Anand Sutubi?” he asks, quietly.

“Subhuti,” I correct him.

He smiles. “I just read your book, My Dance with a Madman – very inspiring,” he tells me.

“Thank you.”

There is a pause, then he asks me, in a thoughtful kind of way, “Tell me… are you still rebellious?”

Whoa. There’s a question I haven’t heard before, at least, not posed like that. It takes me by surprise and I have to think about it.

“Well… hmm… if rebelliousness is trying to move beyond my conditioning, then I guess what’s challenging me right now are my sexual attitudes,” I tell him.

Then I explain: how my body and my energy are perfectly content for nothing much to happen in the way of love affairs and love-making, while my mind insists that unless something does happen I’m losing my identity as a man.

Normally, at this point in life, a traditional sannyasin might, as Osho puts it, “turn his face towards the forest” and leave behind all worldly concerns, heading for a cave in the Himalayas.

Here in Pune, though, it’s rather different. There’s no escape from life’s challenges.

my young friends

It so happens that two friends of mine, both young Indian guys who married Western women and went to the ‘First World’ to seek fame and fortune, returned recently – both now single once more – and we’ve been hanging out together.

One is extremely good-looking, while the other has a funny, loveable way with women that seems irresistible. So I’m surrounded by a whirlwind of flirting, dating and sexual encounters, which is enjoyable and full of laughter and fun.

However, there’s a Catch 22 in this dance. It swirls around me, but it doesn’t involve me. The boys are dating. The girls are lovely. I’m included in the daytime games but not in the night-time pleasures.

That’s the challenge: to see, feel and touch this familiar space while understanding and accepting that it’s no longer my story. Romantic stirrings do occur, from time to time, but with long breaks in between – nothing like the full-on dating game that is unfolding around me.

My only romantic stirrings in recent weeks were triggered by a Russian woman who, fortunately or unfortunately, left for Moscow before anything could begin.

“Of course, you never know about tomorrow,” I add cautiously, as I explain the situation to the man beside me.

He listens attentively and I think I’m impressing him with my candid and profound confession, but it turns out he’s on a totally different track. “I mean rebelling against the system,” he informs me, and explains that he is a psychiatric nurse in Belgium, trying to bring new and more humanitarian ideas into his working life.

“Are you still rebellious in this way?” he persists.

“The system? I never really engage it,” I reply. “It’s something that supplies me with a credit card, a passport and a small pension… and that’s about it.”

And there we have to leave our conversation, as the white-robed people around us are given the green light and start to cross the waters, heading for the auditorium.

After the Evening Meeting and dinner, I wander into Buddha Grove where rows of meditation cushions have been set out for the Full Moon Meditation. Wisely, this is held a couple of days ahead of the actual full moon, since this allows the shining, silvery orb to be much higher in the sky than it would otherwise be.

The lights are turned off, musicians begin to play soft music from their perch on the podium, and the white marble floor glows with a silvery light, reflected from the sky above us. Maybe it’s just me, but the moonlight in India seems different than in other countries. It’s more mystical. It seems gentle, but over time it has a strength and penetrating power, so that when I close my eyes it’s as if the moon is shining inside me as well.

The night-time temperature now is just perfect for this kind of thing, not too cold and not too hot, although, as we all know, as the hot season approaches it’s going to get much, much warmer.

“Are you still rebellious?” The questions circles in my brain. Years ago, back in the 70s, I wore an orange suit to my job as a political reporter in the Houses of Parliament and made them call me ‘Anand Subhuti’.

Then I joined Osho’s circus and did battle with the mainstream by pumping out press releases about what he was saying – ‘The pill is the greatest invention since the bullock cart’ is one that will be forever imprinted on my mind.

But times change. These days, I don’t go out of my way to fight the mainstream. Instead, I focus on getting the mainstream out of my head. That’s an ongoing rebellion, for sure… and maybe it’s enough.

Pune Diary 29: Okay gecko, go!

I like geckos. It’s amusing to sit on a garden patio in Koregaon Park, on a warm summer’s night, and watch these little lizards clinging to the wall of a house, close to an outdoor lamp, catching insects as they fly around, attracted by the light.

Sometimes, too, you see geckos sitting on the globe of the lamp itself, silhouetted by white or yellow light, looking like some kind of artistic decoration.

But I don’t like geckos up close and personal. So, when I entered my room last night and switched on the light, I was annoyed to see a large, fat gecko squatting on the marble floor. For a moment, we locked eyeballs, staring at each other, then he quickly scooted under my bed.

gecko

Kneeling down and shining my flashlight into the darkness, I couldn’t see him, which probably meant he was hiding in the tiny gap between the bed and the wall, right behind my pillow. Hmm… don’t fancy trying to sleep with a gecko that close to my head.

Now, I’m a fairly tolerant guy and accept that in India you need to get along with all kinds of domesticated and undomesticated creatures. And, of course, if you live in a big room with a high ceiling you’re going to have geckos and there’s nothing you can do about it. And some people just love them.

But still, if I have a choice, I opt for a gecko-free environment. It’s not that they’re going to do me harm, although I did have one drop on my head once – he fell off the top of a door as I opened it. For a moment, we were both startled, then his razor-sharp claws scratched my skin as he scrambled over my head and neck, looking for a way off the human mountain onto which he’d fallen.

Those claws, by the way, are not for fighting. They need to be that sharp, so geckos can run upside down on ceilings, chasing insects. The tiny points of their nails can grip on almost nothing.

Still, that didn’t lessen the shock when the little wannabe-dragon fell off my door and onto me. I tried to brush him off my head with my hand, but then he jumped onto my hand and clung to it, until finally I was able to shake him loose, onto the floor, and he raced off.

That was years ago. Now I have to deal with this one. I pulled the bed away from the wall and sure enough, there he was, looking bright-eyed and innocent, frozen to the wall. A few threatening hand gestures got him moving and my intention was to drive him under the door and out into the hall, but instead he hid behind my book shelf. No use trying to get him out of there.

I gave up and went to bed, making sure my mosquito net was firmly tucked in all the way around. I slept long and uneventfully.

Next morning, as the sun rose, I slid out of bed and pulled back my curtains to greet the day. Suddenly, the gecko popped out from under the curtain rail, freezing motionless on the wall at head height, a few centimetres away from me.

For a long moment, we stared at each other, eyeball-to-eyeball.

Slowly, so as not to frighten him, I backed off, then walked to the balcony door and opened it. Then, picking up my electric, mosquito-killing tennis racket, I tried to shift him gently towards the exit. I wasn’t going to zap him, just herd him.

But he didn’t move, even though the racket was inches from his nose.

As a survival strategy, it was an impressive exercise in denial. What he was saying to me was, “Hey, what are you looking at? I’m not here.” But, of course, we both knew different.

I tapped the wall in front of him several times with the racket, coming closer and closer to his nose. Eventually, he got the message, turned around and scooted a few inches in the direction of the open door, before freezing again.

More tapping… more scooting… more tapping… more scooting… and then at last he curled his body around the door post and was gone.

Thank you. Enjoy the great outdoors. Lots of insects out there, buddy. No need to hurry back.

These four diaries were written in January 2014.
Read previous sections of ‘The Pune Diaries’

Image of gecko: istock

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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