Bureaucrats and Chai Wallahs – Enfields and Night Queens

On the Go

34-37 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries

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

Pune Diary 34: Freedom at midnight

“You know, Subhuti, my three-month visa expires at midnight on Thursday, but my flight is not until four-thirty on Friday morning, so I’ll just check in early, go through immigration and wait in the transit area. I’ll be fine.”

“You can’t check in that early.”

“Okay, so I’ll go through immigration control after midnight. I expect they’ll just waive me through… after all, it’s only a few hours.”

“They won’t let you go.”

“They have to! Surely, there is a period of grace… a few hours…?”

“Nope.”

“But what can they do?”

visa for India

“They’ll stop you. You’ll miss your flight. They’ll send you back to Pune to get a visa extension from the Foreigner’s Registration Branch at the Police Commissioner’s Office, who will make you pay a fine and may keep you waiting for weeks. So change your ticket and leave a day earlier.”

“But if I change my ticket it’s gonna cost me 100 euro!”

“What do you want? Pay another 100 euro, or get caught in the biggest bureaucratic nightmare you’ve had in your life?”

“Hmmmm….”

It’s not often I try to help people with their travel arrangements. It’s not a big thing on my ‘to do’ list, but when I see a friend heading into a messy conflict with Mumbai Airport’s immigration control I have to say “Whoa! Are you sure you wanna go there?”

It wasn’t always like this. In olden, golden days, immigration officials were more flexible creatures. I remember a story told by Mukta, Osho’s gardener, who back in the early 70s overstayed her visa by several months.

Still blissed out from her time with Osho, she glided up to two airport immigration officers in Mumbai, dressed in her orange robe and mala, and presented her passport.

They looked at it.

“You’ve overstayed,” they told her.

“Have I?”

“Yes, this is a serious matter. We can’t let you go.”

A beautiful, radiant smile lit up Mukta’s face as she contemplated more time with Osho.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll stay!”

They looked at each other, hurriedly stamped her passport and let her through.

As for Brits like myself, we didn’t even need a visa. With most Indians still looking nostalgically backwards at the glorious days of the Raj, we could come and go at our Imperial pleasure.

Not anymore. India has been traumatized by repeated terrorist attacks. Mumbai, especially, still shudders at the memory of the assault on the Taj Hotel in 2008. And one of the things that helps Indian authorities feel safer is to create lots and lots of regulations that are strictly enforced, especially concerning the movement of foreigners.

I remember, one time, approaching Mumbai airport’s immigration control, hoping to leave on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London. My five-year visa was still valid, but foreigners staying more than 180 days in India are required to register with the local police and this I’d been unable to do. Pune police had stopped registering tourists.

What I should have done – which many sannyasins were doing at that time – was take a quick return flight to Sri Lanka before the 180 days were up, then re-enter India on the same five-year visa with a new stamp.

But I got lazy and figured “What the hell, it’s only another two months… I’m leaving the country anyway… they’ll probably waive me through….”

I was hoping immigration control would be crowded, with lines of people waiting, so I could slip through in the busy crush. But when I got there, for the first time in 38 years of leaving India, the place was absolutely empty. All the control booths were manned with immigration officials, but not a tourist in sight – just me. Bummer.

They got me. They stopped me. An offer to pay an on-the-spot ‘fine’ – the closest I dared come to uttering the word ‘baksheesh’ – was dismissed with a curt ‘certainly not’. They sent me back to Pune where I struggled for 19 days to get exit clearance.

It was a nightmare. I got stuck with a power-tripping bureaucrat, while the man who could ‘okay’ my exit – unbeknown to me – was sitting in the next office. Eventually, I informed them all that I was a famous journalist from the UK who was going to write a story about the psychological torture of innocent tourists. I got the exit stamp within 24 hours – a miracle!

Never again. Now I happily apply for a six-month tourist visa, obey all the rules and keep my nose clean. No hassle, no problem.

When I’d finished telling this story to my friend, I looked at him and asked, “So, you still want to risk walking through immigration control after midnight?”

He smiled. “I’m going to the travel agent right now to change my ticket.”

Pune Diary 35: The real thing

Normally, in life, when you want the real thing, you pay more for it. Naturally. It makes sense. Substitutes are cheaper and usually not as good.

In India, however, there is one item, in huge public demand, which makes this economic law stand on its head. If you want the real thing, you pay less. Much less.

To illustrate my point, allow me to take you on a short guided tour of Koregaon Park:

You are strolling along German Bakery Lane, enjoying the morning sunshine, and feel like having a cup of masala chai. On impulse, you walk to The ‘O’ Hotel, pass through the security check at the entrance and proceed to the diner on the ground floor, where you order your desired beverage.

It’s not a bad drink, a bit like milky tea with a few spices, probably taken out of a packet in which everything was pre-mixed. For this refreshment, you find yourself paying Rs.155, or just less than two euro. By European standards, not a bad deal for a five-star hotel.

However, what you have just been drinking is not real masala chai; it is, at best, a very poor distant cousin.

Exiting The ‘O’ Hotel, you turn right on German Bakery Lane and within just a few metres find yourself standing at a street-side shack – nothing more than a table sitting under a small plastic roof by the side of the road.

Chai wallah with Subhuti

On the table, a kerosene pump-action stove is blazing away with a large aluminium kettle perched precariously on top.

“Chai please.”

Sanjay, the proprietor of this establishment, lifts the kettle off the stove and pours a thick, hot, brown liquid into a small plastic cup and gives it to you.

“How much?”

“Eight rupees.”

Here we have the real deal: a genuine cup of masala chai at a throwaway price.

This is the Indian working man’s espresso: an intense shot of sweet ‘n spicy black tea that will kick start the day and keep the body’s motor running through the morning.

It’s something everyone can afford and is sold on the streets of every city, town and village throughout India.

Sanjay not only serves those who come to his stall. He supplies all the shop owners and street vendors along German Bakery Lane, with deliveries twice a day: once in the morning around 10:30 am and once in the afternoon around 4:30 pm.

He knows all about the Osho Resort. He worked there as a young man, while Osho was still alive, helping in the kitchen, the store room and other areas. He can recite an impressive list of all the sannyasin managers he worked with over the years.

I ask him for the recipe of his brew and he willingly shares it: black tea powder, milk, sugar, ginger and cardamom.

Ordinary folks like you and me can buy tea for making chai in any of Koregaon Park’s general stores under the brand name ‘Red Label’. It doesn’t look like tea leaves – more like Nescafe, coming in the form of small dark-brown granules.

But, strictly speaking, this isn’t the real thing. Street vendors like Sanjay make their chai with tea powder purchased at the Maharashtra Tea Store, just off MG Road, where, once upon a time, sannyasins used to go and change dollars for rupees at black market rates.

This tea sells for Rs.250 per kilo and is, as the name suggests, almost a powder… tiny little flakes that hardly look like tea at all. Yet this is the stuff that keeps India moving. This is the fuel that runs a nation.

Other chai rates in Koregaon Park vary from Rs.110 in Dario’s to Rs.60 in Prems to Rs.55 in the Osho Resort. The Yogi Tree offers the most flexibility: a choice of Rs.30/50/80 depending on size.

Chai means ‘tea’ in Hindi and comes from the Chinese word ‘chá’, which, please note, is remarkably close to ‘chan’ the Chinese term for Zen. Both are efforts to keep awake.

Initiation: once, I was asked to make chai in the Himalayas for a guru and his disciples. After sweating hard in the kitchen, I produced the brew and handed the guru a cup. He sipped. He paused. He looked at me and said, “You make good chai.” YES!

Rebellion: once, in 1977, I attained brief but heroic status in the Pune ashram’s kitchen by defying Deeksha, the all-powerful Italian momma, and making a big can of no-sugar chai. Against all her dire predictions – “is-a not-a wanted by-a sannyasins” – it was popular and sold out.

Communion: back in the 70s, on an endless train journey through Central India, while half asleep at 3:00 in the morning, after the train had stopped in the middle of nowhere at some empty, god-forsaken station, I heard a deep, mournful, ghostly cry approaching slowly along the platform:

“Chai… chai… chai wallah….”

The sound seemed timeless, eternal, other-worldly. In that moment, I felt I was listening to the very soul of India.

Time for a cuppa?

Pune Diary 36: The scent of a woman

The perfume hits me while I’m still 20 metres away from the bush. It’s strong… so strong that it effectively interrupts my thoughts, which for any meditator must be an unexpected bonus. What I mean is: I cannot avoid noticing it. The scent envelopes me, demanding my full attention.

Girl sniffing on Night Queen

Osho once said, “Night Queen possess you, like a woman.”

He knew what he was talking about, at least, as far as this flower and its fragrance is concerned. About the wider implications of his statement, I think I’d better not go there.

Called Raat Raani by locals here in Maharashtra, it’s an evergreen, woody, ordinary-looking shrub that’s known in English as Night Queen or, more scientifically, as Night-Blooming Cestrum.

During the day, I pass the bush without even noticing it, as it stands anonymously near the front gate of the house in which I’m living. And since the tiny flowers are sheathed in green cases it’s not obvious during daylight hours that this innocuous-looking bush – standing not much taller than myself – is really a perfume bomb getting ready to explode.

It’s only after dark that Night Queen announces the all-pervading potency of its presence. And it’s only now, when the cold nights of the winter season have disappeared and given way to warm weather that the flowers really begin to bloom and release their fragrance.

When I leave the resort around 11:00 pm, walking along the back roads of Koregaon Park, engrossed in my thoughts, happy about the party I’ve just left, or anticipating the pleasure of sliding under my mosquito net, I suddenly find myself crossing the invisible boundary of Night Queen’s zone of influence.

Its perfume captures my full and immediate attention. “You cannot ignore me,” says Night Queen. “Stop. Stand still. Allow me to intoxicate you.”

I yield to its demand and later, when I go to sleep, the scent of its perfume is still in my nostrils. If I was living at the front of the house, I’d have a hard time sleeping with such an intense fragrance hanging in the air. It may be a feminine, queen-like bush, but, like all men, I have times when I need to say, “Beloved, I need space.”

I’ve always assumed that Night Queen is a deeply and naturally Indian phenomenon, because it blends so well with the hot season and all the smells and fragrances of this country. Yet, so I’m told, it comes from the West Indies and was brought here only a century ago, whereupon it quickly naturalized itself and spread all over Southern Asia.

I guess, like me, it was just waiting for someone to import it into its spiritual home.

Other signs of the approaching hot season are here: dry leaves falling like rain on the streets of Koregaon Park; less air pollution now that the night watchmen aren’t lighting fires to keep warm; dance meditations in Buddha Grove where the dancers seek out shadows cast by the trees, rather than standing in the sunshine.

As the heat increases, the koyal, or Indian cuckoo, gets noticeably louder and more active, with its rapid succession of cries: ‘Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!’ This morning, just before sunrise, a whole bunch of them were competing for my attention, along with train whistles, crows and the sound of the namaaz from a distant mosque.

As far as I was concerned the koyals won, because they were singing right outside my window.

Entomologists will note that the hot season also calls forth a bright pink beetle, stunningly day-glo in colour, which will insist on mating on road surfaces, with reckless disregard for traffic. There must be some who prefer mating in the bushes, or the species would be extinct.

Meanwhile, in the resort, Meera canteen has shut down and we all eat together in Zorba restaurant. Lots more people gather around the pool, but few actually swim – the water is still quite cool. Personally, I never put on my bathers here until April, when the temperature hits 38 or more, and this year that’ll be too late. I’ll be long gone….

Pune Diary 37: India’s favourite cult

Crystal has big plans. He’s renting motorbikes and setting up a tour.

Line-up wih Enfield bikes

“We start in Pune and head east to a town nobody’s heard of,” he tells me. “From then on, we’re off the highway and on the back roads. No trucks. We head on down to Hampi, then to Goa, chill at the beach for a few days, then back here – two weeks, all inclusive.”

He wants me to come. “I’ve been thinking of you,” he confides. “What if we take you along and you teach us the Enneagram at the stops? You know, mix in a little meditation and awareness as part of the package.”

It’s a tempting offer, but comes a little late – at least for this trip. They’re leaving in three days and I have a backlog of work for clients. Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, Crystal has lined up nine Royal Enfield motorbikes, mostly the classic Bullet 350cc model, but with a Thunderbird and other variations thrown in. He’s got guys flying in from Germany to take part in the tour, plus a skilled mechanic who’ll be riding with them.

Puffing on a beedi in the Plaza smoking temple, Crystal has come a long way since holding down a job as senior vice president in an investment corporation. He dropped out, discovered Osho, found himself a lovely girlfriend and has been riding Enfields for years. Now he wants to share his passion with others.

I understand his enthusiasm for this machine. It’s really the tour bike par excellence for India, with its wide, super-comfy seat, stable road holding capacity and reassuring ‘doom…doom…doom’ thumping sound of its engine as you cruise from town to town.

A few years back, I rode one of these monsters for 21 days through the Himalayas, with Ash and Deepesh, the Riding High Tours specialists.

Deepesh was a real cowboy. He could ride like the wind and once drove nonstop from Leh to Manali – usually a two or three day journey – just to take the sleeper bus to Delhi with a new girlfriend as she headed back to Holland. They’d met on the road in the mountains, leading Enfield tours in opposite directions. When they took their helmets off, it was love at first sight.

When I heard Deepesh was dead, I felt sure he’d flown off a mountain-side in Spiti Valley or Ladakh. Imagine my surprise when I learned he died from an asthma attack at his home in Brazil. I don’t know if they buried his motorbike along with him, but they should have.

Royal Enfield was a British motorbike firm that began production in 1901 and then, in the 1950s, set up a subsidiary company in Madras (now Chennai), mainly to supply the Indian Army with a sturdy machine for patrolling the country’s wild and endless borders.

The Army’s first request was for 800 Bullets, a huge order at the time. Since Pune continues to be an army town – headquarters of Southern Command – you still see green-painted Enfields driven by soldiers, chugging around the town’s Camp area.

In 1968, the parent company in England went out of business, but the subsidiary in Chennai thrived and gradually more and more people – Indians and tourists alike – came to love the bike’s power and style.

Now there are dozens of Enfield clubs throughout India and many tour operators regularly take visitors on extensive rides through all kinds of terrain. When I toured with Ash and Deepesh, we were riding mainly above 3000 metres and crossing passes at 5000 metres. The bikes were fine with everything they had to deal with, including ploughing through a freak snowstorm, fording rivers and passing army convoys on mountains.

I still remember, with a glow of pleasure, cruising with Ash and Deepesh into Leh, wearing my super-expensive Oakley goggles and acknowledging the admiring glances of ordinary tourists as we passed them in one long, throbbing line of motorbikes… the height of Enfield cool.

Royal Enfield is now the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production, with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time. Success is due to the bike’s ‘cult’ image, meaning that it’s become ‘the thing’ to ride one as part of ‘the Indian experience’. Exports to other countries are also booming.

Two weeks later, Crystal is back in Pune with a happy, suntanned crew of bikers, including several glamorous women who accompanied them. No accidents and no mechanical failures. He’s all fired up for doing it again next winter. Maybe I’ll go with him.

Not sure about the Enneagram mobile workshop, though. After all, how does a Seven ride an Enfield? Or a Four? Have to think about it….

 

These four diaries were written in spring 2014.
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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