41-43 of Subhuti’s Pune Diaries
These three excerpts were written in March 2014.
Read previous sections of The Pune Diaries
Pune Diary 41: Samsara Maya Hai
It all happened so fast. I was sitting in the smoking temple, even though I don’t smoke, when this attractive young woman throws herself in my lap and demands a photo – even though we don’t take photos in the resort.
Naturally, I have to laugh, so it looks like we’re having a great time, even though we hardly know each other. Next thing I know, she’s uploading the photo – using her mobile, not even moving from my lap – and posting it on Facebook.
So, in seconds, the message goes out across the world that I’m one hot hombre at the ripe old age of 68, even though I haven’t made love in almost a year. In India, they have an ancient saying: Samsara maya hai… the world is an illusion.
Maybe it’s not the world that’s an illusion. Maybe it’s just Facebook. Anyway, the fact is, life continues to surprise me, which I guess is the way it should be.
Until recently, in the absence of any instinctive urges, I was getting used to the idea that my ‘machinery’ – as Osho calls it in his jokes – had retired from active duty and was moving into a permanent state of brahmacharya.
My body didn’t mind. My energy didn’t mind. “Ah yes,” they said. “Time to ease up on the testosterone, old chap. Relax. Kick back. Enjoy not being driven by your hormones.”
My mind did mind, but since sex is supposed to disappear around 42, I figured I’d already added an extra 26 years, so maybe it was time to act my age.
Shortly thereafter, however, I happened to meet an attractive visitor from Europe, about 50 years old, who told me she was suffering from tension in her head and shoulders.
“I know the feeling,” I said, sympathetically, as a chronic laptop user.
“Massage is too invasive,” she sighed.
“I’ll give you a cranio session,” I offered.
This was odd, since I have zero training in cranio. But experts have told me that 50 percent of cranio’s effect comes from sitting silently, with presence, meditating with the client. So I looked up a few cranio hand positions on YouTube and… hey, guess what? It worked.
“My neck feels much better,” she told me, as we had tea on my balcony afterwards.
Of course, this was a thinly-disguised ‘let’s-get-to-know-each-other’ strategy, but I was lazy and didn’t pursue it. So I was pleasantly surprised, a few days later, when my new friend said, “I’d like you to invite me to tea again.”
That afternoon, on my balcony, I commented, “You know, when an attractive woman invites herself to tea, there’s usually something more on going on. Is it true?”
She blushed and whispered “Yes.”
So that’s how my ten-month romance with celibacy came to an end. Of course, we both know this is an ‘in-the-moment’ affair. I’m leaving India in a week and she’s staying another five months. Such is the nature of meetings in Pune.
Samsara maya hai… The world may not be an illusion, but, like the sages say, its pleasures are fleeting.
Meanwhile, the young woman who jumped in my lap in the smoking temple is begging me to give her a guided tour of the resort. An unusual role for me, but why not?
We begin with Lao Tzu House and soon I realize she knows nothing. Well, of course, she just arrived, so why would she? She knows Osho’s active meditations and that’s about it.
Funny, she’s been given a room on the roof of Lao Tzu – something I would’ve died for, decades ago – and she has no idea what’s below her bed. She hasn’t even been to the Samadhi.
“The… what?” she asks, puzzled.
“Oh, sorry, I mean Chuang Tzu Auditorium,” I reply.
“You mean, the big black building, where we do Dynamic?”
“Er, no. Come with me.”
We walk down memory lane together, passing where the old Lao Tzu gate and guard hut used to be, along the side of the house, around by the Rolls Royce and into Osho’s garden.
Here, the ‘No Entry’ sign has been removed, so I feel free to show her Osho’s dining room, his bedroom, and then we tiptoe through the plants – “watch out for snakes” – and peer through the tinted glass into Chuang Tzu Auditorium. At this late hour in the afternoon, I know it’s empty.
“Up there…” I point to Lao Tzu’s upstairs group room. “That was an open balcony. Osho gave his first discourses there, in 1974, before this auditorium was built….”
It’s enjoyable, giving this tour, but a little surreal. I’m standing here, in this silent garden, with a charming young woman, on a sunny afternoon, telling stories about things that happened 40 years ago, before she was born.
Did they really happen? And, if she can meditate without knowing any of this, does any of it really matter?
Samsara maya hai…
Life moves swiftly. Memories fade. It all happened so fast.
Someday, not so far away, two people will be sitting in the Plaza smoking temple and one will ask the other, “You remember the guy who wrote that Pune diary… what was his name?”
Pune Diary 42: This house is not for sale
In any normal neighbourhood, when people want to sell their houses, they put up a ‘For Sale’ sign. You don’t expect people who don’t want to sell their houses to put up signs saying ‘Not For Sale’.
But Koregaon Park is no ordinary neighbourhood. It contains some of the most expensive real estate in India. Every wealthy industrialist and businessman wants to make a home here – and they’re willing to plunk down lots of cash for the privilege.
You never see a ‘For Sale’ sign. The deals are negotiated, the contracts signed and sealed before anyone knows what’s happened.
Lane 3 tells the story. Until recently, there was a big house at No. 73. It wasn’t particularly old and it wasn’t particularly beautiful. But it was a big solid bungalow and looked good for another hundred years.
Now there’s just a big hole in the ground – a very big hole. So big, one wonders if the new owner is going to build a bungalow, as Koregaon Park’s regulations allow, or whether this is going to be the first rule-breaking apartment complex to get inside the park.
Next door, is No. 74, once inhabited by Folli, an impeccably dressed Indian gentleman and long-time friend of the Osho Resort. He drove a vintage car, spoke upper-class English, hosted dinner parties for sannyasins and even rented out some of his rooms for workshops and groups.
Folli now lives in Mumbai, but his house remains the same, just repainted white by its new owners.
The next property, No. 75, is styled in the manner of an Italian villa. Recently, it disappeared behind newly-built, high walls – a sure sign that it is occupied, protected and definitely not on the market.
It is at No. 76 that we find a large sign announcing ‘This Property Belongs to Ms. Lia Dubash and is Not For Sale’. Clearly, Ms. Dubash is fed up with being harassed by hungry property speculators and wannabe Koregaon Park residents and wants it known, once and for all, that she is not selling up.
It’s easy to see why people think the property might be available. It looks like all the bungalows did, 30 or 40 years ago, before the real estate gold rush began. The walls are low, crumbling and badly maintained. The wrought iron gate is sagging on its hinges. The driveway is full of weeds. The house itself is half hidden behind untrimmed trees and bushes.
I don’t think anything has been done to this house since I first saw it in 1976. It’s a miracle it’s still standing. But Ms. Dubash, whoever she is and wherever she may be – in Dubai, Mumbai, or Los Angeles – isn’t willing to give it up, even though it’s probably worth a cool US $5 million.
Maybe she’s planning to retire here one day. Maybe she grew up here and keeps it for sentimental reasons. One thing’s for sure, sitting on this little goldmine and not selling, Ms. Dubash isn’t short of a few pennies.
Meanwhile, those frustrated Puneites, eagerly climbing the social ladder and desperate to be as close as possible to the park, have another option.
On North Main Road, just outside the boundary of the original four lanes of Koregaon Park, two massive towers are heading skywards, their billboards offering luxury apartments with flowery phrases:
‘Aria: the Status Icon, with Exclusive Sky Villas’.
‘Windermere: A Private Community of Uber-Luxurious, Ultra-Exclusive Apartments’.
No less than 12 storeys of apartments rise out of these construction sites. For a mere US $400,000, you can look down from your new apartment upon the Koregaon Park mansions that are so coveted.
For years, I lived at No. 121, a spacious mansion on Lane No. 4, where Vijay, the Maharani of Morvi, rented out a dozen-or-so rooms to sannyasins. Now, standing in her back yard, I crane my neck and look upward at the monster that has risen just beyond her retaining wall.
I used to stand here and look across open fields to Mogul Gardens. I used to think Mogul Gardens was big, but its three or four levels seem like villas for pygmies, compared to this giant.
All common sense says it’s crazy to build more apartment blocks on North Main Road, which is already choked with traffic. But such is the demand for housing in this part of town that no one is willing to stop the boom.
Meanwhile, as we drive along Lane No. 3, Shiva, my rickshaw wallah, recalls that at the age of nine he bicycled every day to No. 70 to deliver lunch tiffin to a sannyasin who lived in the old mansion.
Now, in its place, rises Poonawalla Mansion, complete with Greco-Roman columns and a Michelangelo-style dome, a massive statement of wealth by Cyrus S. Poonawalla, India’s 14th richest citizen and chairman of the Pune Turf Club.
In Koregaon Park, there’s only one property that defeats Poonawalla… and, oh yes, I’m going there for the Evening Meeting… “Back gate, please Shiva!”
Pune Diary 43: Time to go…
I like the synchronicity. It feels right that my last Pune diary in this series should be about a death celebration. It’s time to leave, to say goodbye.
The man who gives us the celebration is Swami Anand Manoharbharti, an elderly Indian sannyasin whose face seems familiar to me, although I didn’t know him personally.
A small podium, covered with purple cloth and scattered with rose petals and flowers, is created in Osho Auditorium. A live band kicks in and about 100 people are dancing and singing as the body is brought in on a bamboo stretcher, carried by half a dozen men.
I stand close to the body as it is gently lowered onto the podium. I feel the need to look death in the face, because somewhere, deep inside, I just don’t get it.
Even though my intellect tells me, rationally, logically, one day I’m going to die, it doesn’t really penetrate. How do I know? Because, if it did, all of my trivial worries, concerns and day-to-day mindfucks would evaporate like smoke before a hurricane.
We sing, we scatter rose petals on the body and after a few minutes the stretcher is lifted and carried out, on its way to the burning ghats.
But there’s a new twist to this familiar routine. At the bottom of the auditorium stairs, a rather handsome trolley, or cart, is waiting. Basically, it’s an upmarket version of those multipurpose, wooden carts on bicycle wheels that are pushed around the streets of every Indian city, piled with bananas, vegetables, scrap metal or anything else that can be bought or sold.
This one, however, cost Rs. 60,000 to make, complete with hydraulic suspension. That’s why it looks so elegant.
“These bodies are heavy and some of the guys who carry the stretchers are getting old,” explained one resort official, a veteran organiser of many death celebrations.
So the body is gently lowered onto the cart, then joins a group of drummers who strike up an infectious rhythm and soon the whole procession is moving off towards the ghats.
Once we’re out of the gate and on the street, the music, clapping and dancing really get going. Here’s one moment when we can all be as loud as we like, without bothering about the neighbours. In the face of death, all objections cease.
Ahead of the crowd, cone-shaped fireworks shoot jets of smoke, sparks and tiny balls of glowing light into the air. All the traffic on Lane No. 1 has to stop. Everything stops for death – that’s just the way it is.
I’m wondering what will happen when we hit North Main Road, but I needn’t worry. A couple of courageous, uniformed security guards from the resort stride out onto the road, blowing whistles and waving their arms. They look like cops, so all the cars stop.
The procession dances its way down German Bakery Lane, along the narrow street at the bottom and down to the ghats by the river.
Some well-meaning authority has spent a lot of money making the ghats look nice, freshly painted, with new roofs and good lighting. Pity, I liked it funky, the way it was before. The old India is disappearing and I cling to its memory in vain.
In one of the pits, the body is lowered onto a bed of wood and dried cow dung patties. The drummers keep up a lively beat and more wood is piled on top until the body disappears.
There is silence, as the musicians take a well-earned break. Someone taps me on the shoulder from behind.
“Do you want to sing?” a voice whispers. Someone remembers that, in the past, I was always singing with the drummers at the ghats.
“Only if you do,” I reply, so we count to three and launch into the theme song of every sannyasin burning that ever happened here:
“Walk into the holy fire… step into the holy flame…”
Soon the whole crowd is singing with us.
The drummers support us, softly at first, then, as we start clapping and speeding up the song, the beat gradually gets louder until – just in time, because we can’t sing this loudly for much longer – they take over again.
The funeral pyre is lit by relatives of the departing soul and soon it’s blazing fiercely, with flames shooting up towards the roof.
I’ve heard Osho say that one of the reasons why Hindus burn the body is to provide concrete evidence to the person who just died that he is, in fact, dead.
I guess it’s like this: the consciousness looks down upon the scene, sees the body disappearing in flames, and realises, “Holy shit, that’s me! I must be dead!”
It helps with the transition into the unknown, so they say.
The fire will burn for hours, but after another half-hour the drummers finish their gig with three shouts of ‘Osho!’ People start to leave, including me. I make my way home to take a shower and wash my clothes – as advised after being close to a burning body – and then return to the resort for a welcome cup of chai.
Tomorrow, I start packing. The day after that, I take a taxi to Mumbai and fly to Europe.
I notice that my mind is fondly assuming I’ll be back next winter; that the resort will still be here, that everything will continue according to the lifestyle I’ve been following for years now.
But none of it is certain.
Life, as Osho once told me, is under no obligation to fulfil my expectations.
What is real, right now, is ‘goodbye’.
So, goodbye Pune… and thank you.
These three diaries were written in 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.