38-40 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries
These three excerpts were written in February/March 2014.
Read previous sections of The Pune Diaries
Pune Diary 38: Tune of the Thali
There is no menu in this restaurant. They don’t ask you what you’d like to eat. You get what you’re given and that’s enough.
I like to get there about 12:50 pm, just before the rush.
It’s a five minute stroll from the resort’s back gate: walk to the end of Lane 2, risk life-threatening injuries by crossing North Main Road, enter Lane C, passing where the Ganesh temple used to be, ignore Buddha Paradise and steadily penetrate deeper and deeper into Rag Vilas… turn left, turn right… and there it is…
When you see it for the first time, you may think, “Hey, this isn’t a restaurant, it’s just a house!”
True enough. It’s a house – with a living room converted into a restaurant.
The décor is functional. The seating Spartan. You sit on the floor on long red plastic cushions, or on plastic chairs outside in a covered corner of the yard.
In spite of my advancing years and stiffening limbs, I can still manage to squeeze into a space on the floor, sitting in a semi-lotus position.
Other customers include ageing hippies who somehow forgot to leave Pune, devotees of Dolano, students of various yoga schools and an occasional local businessman. But mainly the clientele consists of sannyasins like me.
Three or four large cooking pots stand in a row on a side table. Their contents are freshly cooked, waiting for the lunchtime crowd.
Almost immediately, after sitting down, a round silver plate is set in front of me, which invariably contains: a silver bowl of dal, a smaller bowl of beans or some special kind of veg, and a bigger mix of subji – cooked mixed vegetables – served on the plate itself.
Indians take rice later, but Westerners like it with the main course, so my plate has a generous dollop of white rice as well.
Rotis come flying off the stove, where they are toasted over a naked flame, arriving all hot and puffy. There’s no space here for a roti oven, but the gas ring on the stove does a fair job of making this round-style traditional bread.
You can eat as much as you like. Personally, I never get beyond two helpings of everything, but, theoretically at least, you can go on… and on….
Overseeing the process are Nitin and Gita. They opened their restaurant about eight years ago, naming it ‘Raga’ – the Hindi word for ‘tune’ or ‘melody’ – and have been doing a fair trade ever since.
They have one offering: thali, a simple, standard meal that’s a central pillar of India’s cultural cuisine. When they started, Nitin and Gita charged 40 rupees per thali – extra, of course, for lassi, curd and chai – but now their price is 80 rupees, reflecting the increase in basic food costs over the years.
There are at least three more places offering thali in the surrounding area. All of them are okay and all about the same price, but I find them either too oily or too spicy for my taste. Raga’s plain and wholesome style hits the spot, for me and many others.
The word ‘thali’ is Hindi for ‘plate’, but it’s come to mean a special combo of rice, dal, roti and subji, plus a few optional extras like curd and pickle. Here at Raga, it’s pretty basic but in a fancy restaurant the number of bowls per plate increases dramatically.
For a five-star thali, there used to be nothing better than Mayur, up on East Street, close to MG Road, but, alas, the place has shut down. Mayur’s thali had at least five or six bowls of veg, plus dal and curd, and a dazzling range of desserts, including shrikhand – my all-time favourite.
In 1977, Haridas, one of Osho’s longtime sannyasins, invited me for my first-ever thali to the Dreamland Hotel, near Pune railway station, where they offered Gujarati-style food, plus dessert on Sundays. Thereafter, we went every Sunday lunchtime.
Thali every day would be boring, so I have a few non-thali options in Koregaon Park, including Yummy Yummy Potatoes – boiled potatoes drowned in an amazing tomatoey-creamy-herby sauce – offered at the Yogi Tree and a generous plateful of avocado salad at Dario’s.
Mostly, though, being a lazy guy, I eat in the resort. But it’s nice to know that, just along the back street, Nitin and Gita’s tuneful thalis are available any time I want.
By the way, Nitin also makes a fair lassi, whipping it up as you watch… sweet, plain, or with fruit. If I take that, too, then it becomes a sizeable meal and a stroll back to the resort is definitely needed to walk it off.
What’s that you say? Stop off at the Plaza café for cappuccino and brownies? Sure, why not….
Pune Diary 39: Kings of the Backstreets
He sits in the middle of the road, where two streets meet, expecting all the cars, motorbikes and bicycles to go around him. The strange thing is, they do! Indians have long been accustomed to the traffic hazard of local stray dogs sitting and lying in the road and usually give way to them.
Of course, this doesn’t happen on busy streets like North Main Road, but on the quieter side streets it’s a regular feature of urban life.
Every lane of Koregaon Park has its small pack of stray dogs, owned by nobody and living on hand-outs from compassionate locals, or, more reliably, from food garbage cast aside by restaurants and street food stalls.
However, the white dog that I’m passing by on Lane Two this morning isn’t your standard ‘kutta’ – the Hindi term for a street dog. He looks more like a cross-breed between a kutta and a house dog, which happens from time to time.
A normal kutta has the classic brown colouring and short hair of the original landrace dogs that have been living side-by-side with human beings in this part of the world for thousands of years.
Officially called the Indian Pariah Dog, or ‘Indog’, this is one of the oldest species in the world and has never been bred. It’s evolved through natural selection and has been studied scientifically, for example in National Geographic’s ‘Search for the Original Dog’.
It was the English who started calling these dogs ‘pariah’, sometime in the 19th century. It began in the city of Madras, where drummers from low caste communities were referred to in the Tamil language as ‘pariahs’.
Gradually, this term was extended to include all low-caste servants, then it mutated to become a condemnatory name for social outcasts, then was extended to include stray dogs.
So, that’s how these dogs got a bad name for themselves.
Generally speaking, they are not aggressive. I pass by them every day, when walking to the resort from my home, and they never give me any trouble. They’ve learned, over the centuries, that if they want to get along with mankind they need to keep a low profile.
In the slums, they get adopted by families and become good guard dogs, suspicious of strangers and friendly and protective with children.
One interesting character trait: being highly intelligent, they easily get bored and refuse to play repetitive games like ‘fetch stick’, which some domesticated breeds will do for hours. I like that. In my eyes, it gives pariah dogs a certain dignity.
It’s not all plain sailing, though. In a city of more than 5 million people like Pune, there are an estimated 40,000 stray dogs, with inevitable clashes between dogs and humans that result in about 35 bites per day.
Rabies is endemic in the dog population, so a bite can be serious. A couple of years ago, a rogue dog entered Koregaon Park on Lane 6 and bit 14 people in a single day. One person died from rabies and the rest had to take medication against it.
Usually, though, these dogs are far more interested in other dogs than humans. Fat, overweight house dogs being taken for walks on a leash make them particularly excited and provoke much barking, teeth baring and snarling.
For me, the biggest danger is that some of these dogs are really cute, some have genuine dignity and grace, and then it’s hard not to feed and pet them. But if I do, I’ll have a friend for life, waiting for me every morning as I leave my house, so I resist the temptation and just admire them from a distance.
Some are miserable and pathetic. One dog, obviously abandoned by its owner, tried every day to follow me – or anyone else who was passing – in the hope of finding a new home.
It never did. But I was heartened, coming back a year later, to see it had adjusted to street life and was no longer whimpering and whining as before.
One incident I vividly remember: walking along a dark street, late one night, I suddenly heard a low growl close behind me.
My body’s reaction was instantaneous: a shock of electricity up my spine, a dramatic increase in my heart rate and a knot of fear in my stomach. I’m bald, so my hair didn’t stand on end, but if it could have, it would have.
It was amazing: thousands of years of civilization disappeared in an instant. As far as my body was concerned I was again in the jungle, facing life-threatening danger from behind: all systems alert… fight or flight.
Intelligence prevailed: “There are no tigers in Pune,” I told myself, “So it must be a dog.”
I stopped, slowly turned around and made the classic gesture of reaching down to the road surface to pick up a rock. The rock wasn’t there, but the dog got the message. He ran.
Pune Diary 40: From Light to Darkness
Birth is thus
Death is thus
Verse or no verse
What is the fuss?
With this little poem, composed just before his death, we leave Ta Hui, the intellectual Zen Master. The Evening Meeting is over. In our white robes, we move slowly out of Osho Auditorium to the shoe racks, slip on our flip-flops, then shuffle quietly towards the exit, carrying our black discourse chairs with us.
As we emerge from the building, a nearly-full moon shines down brilliantly upon us and I have to stop to drink in the scene. I’m standing at the top of the stone stairs, resting my arms on the parapet, watching as two streams of white robes pass down the steps on either side of me, joining at the bottom and flowing in a single river across the walkway, between the lakes.
All these white robes are kinda glowing in the dark, as if illuminated by ultraviolet light, but, as people reach the other side, they disappear among the trees, vanishing into darkness. The scene is surreal, from a movie about Atlantis or some lost civilization.
I can forget, for a moment, that I’m surrounded by the chaos and madness of India’s eighth biggest city, growing at the mind-boggling rate of a million people every decade.
On a night like this, it’s tempting to stay outside, enjoying the moonlight. But I have other plans. After dinner, I meet in the Plaza with 20-30 people and we are led silently around the front of Krishna House and down into Chaitanya Chambers.
Memories cling to the walls here, calling to me as I descend the stairs. Here, I did Encounter with Teertha and Turiya. Here, I did Primal with Naresh, Geetesh and Purna. Here, I came face-to-face with fear and lived to tell the tale.
One memory makes me smile. My parents visited the ashram in ‘79 and my father, sitting in Vrindavan Canteen, listening each day to the cries and screams coming from underneath us, jokingly rechristened the underground group rooms ‘the chambers of correction’.
Actually, he got it wrong. We were learning how to be incorrect. But that’s another story.
Down here, in the chambers, claustrophobia is part of the package. I’ve been told there’s an escape hatch somewhere, in case fire blocks the exit, but I’ve never seen it.
We walk along the narrow, underground corridor to the end room, leave our shoes in the racks and step inside. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. We wear street clothes and can take bags in with us.
The floor is covered with black mattresses and we sit comfortably on black meditation chairs with black pillows for back support. Black, you will note, is the dominant colour. And it’s about to get a whole lot blacker.
The lights are slowly turned down and everything vanishes into darkness. The last light to be extinguished is an illuminated crystal. As it disappears, the room disappears, the people disappear… the world disappears.
This has to be the simplest meditation ever invented. You just sit, with your eyes open, looking into darkness. For a while, you go on staring out into nothing, because that’s our habit – that’s the way our energy usually goes, pouring out of our eyes as we continuously look at the world around us.
But slowly, the brain takes account of this new and unusual situation, and tells the eyes, “Hey guys, there’s really nothing to look at, so you can relax.”
Just to make sure, I look around the room – or, rather, where the room ought to be. It’s weird. It was here a moment ago. I was surrounded by people, sitting very close to me. I look in their direction, trying to see shapes and outlines in the darkness. Nothing. Nada. My environment is, as it’s supposed to be, totally black.
After a while, an energetic shift happens. Energy stops flowing out of the eyes and instead the darkness starts to flow in. It begins to feel like the darkness is inside me.
I remember Osho saying something about this: receive the darkness inside and take it home with you after the meditation. An interesting idea. It seems to happen by itself, anyway, without any decision on my part.
After 45 minutes, a gong announces the second and final stage of the meditation: lie down and feel as if the darkness is a womb. It’s nice to lie down, but hard to keep my eyes open. When my eyelids do close, I notice there’s no difference: open or closed, it’s the same darkness.
A final gong, the meditation is over and light returns to the room. Slowly, we get up, file out of the room, along the corridor, up the stairs and into the open. Yes, the world is still here, where we left it an hour ago.
I head for the Plaza. It’s an evening of romantic songs and Multiversity Plaza has been turned into a giant pink-lace boudoir. But I’m not staying, or looking for a partner. I already have a companion.
I’m going home with the darkness inside me.
These three diaries were written in February/March 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.