Bhavan’s eulogy at his death celebration on 31st March 2016.
Sw Prem Ashoka
26.01.1941 – 20.03.2016
Searching around for a metaphor as I tried to piece together Ashoka’s life I couldn’t decide if it was like a jigsaw or a join-the-dot picture. It’s not that there are lost pieces of the jigsaw, it’s just that lots of pieces are in the safe keeping of other people who loved and knew Ashoka, people who I can’t identify and will never know. His shoebox of photos attests to that but, as you might expect, none are labeled! And there are many people who know a lot more about Ashoka’s early years than I do and it has been great to get their impressions in the last few days.
Maybe everyone’s life is a bit like a jigsaw but Ashoka’s essentially freed spirit lent itself to a nomadic and varied lifestyle. I don’t know all the bits because when Tig and I came properly in contact with Ashoka he was already in decline from Alzheimer’s disease. He hadn’t by any means lost his capacity to talk about his past, especially his more distant past, it’s just that I didn’t make notes and it was patchy and often repetitive.
Ashoka came to Australia from the UK as a 19-year-old in 1960. His great love was running. He had been a schoolboy champion and was drawn to Percy Cerutty (an Australian athletics coach) who was his first great teacher and stayed in Ashoka’s memory well into his decline. Talking to people recently who knew Ashoka some 15 years on Cerutty’s influence suddenly became obvious. For those of you who mightn’t know, Percy Cerutty coached Herb Elliott, who won Olympic gold medals and world records, and cracked the four-minute mile. He was undoubtedly one of the best coaches of the time and maybe of all time. His basic principle was called Stotan, which was a blend of, Stoic and Spartan and among his principles were:
- No consumption of alcohol
- No consumption of cigarettes
- No socializing after midnight
Ashoka was very Spartan and wore his dislike of cigarettes and smoking like a badge of honor, frequently making inappropriate comments in the hearing of smokers when the lid was lifted off his inhibitions.
Ashoka married in a double wedding in 1968. Robyn (his wife) wrote a beautiful tribute to their time together after they met at a Eureka Youth League conference in 1967. As the name suggests, it was an organization linked to progressive politics in Australia. Amongst Ashoka’s other interests at the time was politics –hence The Guardian newspaper always tucked under his arm. He was a card carrying communist and went to Russia sometime in the early 60s. He was nothing if not passionate in whatever he did.
Ashoka and Robyn lived together in a northern Perth suburb with their two children until the early 1970s when Ashoka began to realize that family life, which he believed he always wanted, was not suiting him. It was through Robyn’s encouragement that he went to see Jim Coventry (who we all know as Indivar), beginning his love affair with Osho and long association with Indivar who was his guide and mentor. He continued to see Robyn and her family over the years until that memory too began to fade.
Ashoka was in Pune 1 and 2 and the Ranch and is remembered as a member of the security team often on the front gate in Pune, as well as the popular job as postman in the days before email when everyone looked forward to letters. No doubt many other jobs as well. In between ashram life and his base in Fremantle lay the jigsaw pieces in other countries and in other relationships.
Ashoka was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2002. As the insidious process of attrition began, he continued to live his life with the same verve his earlier life was characterized by, albeit with increasing support systems in place.
He was given a new Homeswest (public housing) flat in Fremantle and continued to ride his bike far afield. There were a few incidents, however, the details of which we will never know. A flat tyre a long distance from home was the final straw for Ashoka, who although managing to find his way to us for a regular dinner date decided on his own accord that his riding days were over. He began walking with as much enthusiasm as he rode and became a familiar figure on the pedestrian paths between Fremantle and South Beach.
It was our intention with the help of a Care agency and a GPS device, to keep Ashoka living independently as long as possible. The GPS was erratic at best but worked on one memorable occasion when he had ‘wandered’ far afield. Tracking his movements on the computer some days later there was clearly a car involved. He got as far as Gateway Shopping Centre (about 14km away) and then appeared to catch a bus back to Fremantle. He got off about half way back and ended up on a bleak railway reserve in a deserted industrial area as dusk was rapidly descending. With the signals of the GPS to my computer I was able to direct the police to his whereabouts, which of course kept moving, but they finally got to him. What a sense of achievement and relief that was!
The escapade that finally forced him into permanent care was an argument with a moving train on a station a long way from home, after dark. Fortunately it caught only his elbow, but clearly the game was up. He was in care for the next six and a half years.
Ashoka lived life to its fullest. While the last few years were especially difficult as the decline continued, we can only speculate that it was his incredible will and Stotan discipline that kept him going for so long.