Fatima recalls her meetings with Laxmi who nudged her to take sannyas and later, to help write a book about her.
Evening was murky under the monsoon clouds in Mumbai when a slim, orange-clad figure folded her hands and beamed at me. “Ma Yoga Laxmi,” said the friend who had taken me to Woodland for Osho’s evening discourse. “This is Fatima, a well-known artist of Mumbai.”
“Ah! That is nice,” she smiled.
Cordial and affable she touched upon various subjects. Then asked about my residence which was always a thorn in my flesh. I was a nomad in Mumbai. Shifting rooms, chasing brokers, covering many shabby acres of the city. Laxmi, without me seeking favours offered graciously to help me out of my irritant.
“We have sannyasins staying in different parts of the city. Somebody is sure to come up with a suitable address for you.”
She asked more about me and offered to accommodate my work in their Newsletter if and when I chose to sketch Osho. In a few minutes she was summoned to Osho’s room. She left but her presence stayed with me. A presence that wafted gentleness and authenticity.
As it drew closer to the discourse, I found a place amongst the bunch of squatting sannyasins. In their splash of orange I smelled escape, I smelled sham. My ever critical and cynical mind was not prepared to spare Osho either. When he walked in I decided not to like him. He could be a charlatan like others of his ilk. Beguiling the westerners for worldly gains. After an unhurried, relaxed namaste to his flock he took a chair. I did not like any of that. But when he started to speak I was floored. Completely enraptured. Such insight, such depth, such compassion, such poetry. My heart devoured every word of his so eagerly. But my mind was on its guard, warning me against any gullibility that will clad me in an orange robe and dangle his mala around my neck.
Then followed years of wandering, painting, exhibiting, gaining fame and name. Outwardly a successful life but deep inside me I felt an abysmal vacuum. Extremely unhappy with what I had and miserably unaware of what I wanted. Life suddenly became meaningless and futile. I took to brooding and dreaming of something or someone who would lead me to eternal happiness. Then came the fateful day when I found Osho’s ‘The Ultimate Alchemy’ and started to read it. At first nonchalantly, then with interest, then with total engrossment. I gorged the awesome book to its last word, and started to pack my bag for Pune! Osho by then had left Mumbai for his ashram in Pune.
The friend who had introduced me to Ma Laxmi had entrusted me with a message to be delivered to her in person. When I sought audience with her, the reception desk was reluctant. It wanted me to jot my name down on its waiting list and check daily for my turn. I had hardly held the pen in my hand when the door opened, out came Laxmi’s secretary and asked the reception to send me in immediately! “Ma Laxmi wants to see her right away.”
The Ma seemed to have checked me through her glass door and recognised me.
I entered a room that felt empty except for my heavy, self-conscious presence. Seated in a chair too big for her size, Laxmi appeared frail, ethereal. Almost a non-presence. Her eyes had a subdued luminosity with a look intensely close and hazily distant. With preliminaries of the meeting over, I started to recite the message I had come to deliver. She held me in her eyes, steady, unrelenting, giving me a feeling that she was not listening to a word of what I was conveying. In the middle of a sentence her look grew more intense and she asked, “Why don’t you take sannyas!”
I could not find words to answer, so I kept mum. Her look softened a shade and she repeated, “Why don’t you take sannyas?”
Noting my incomprehension she went on to explain how necessary sannyas is to our lives and how we keep side-stepping it. Life after life.
“Your mind should go here,” she said pointing to her waste paper basket. “It is the mind that keeps us tied to the mundane and prevents us from reaching to higher levels of consciousness.”
She stopped for a few minutes, waiting, as if for her words to sink into my conditioned mind.
“Have you noticed the amount of effort we put into trivia? Like planning a trip, organising a party and such. And neglect our spiritual growth, the most important part of our life.”
She went on about how indispensable sannyas is to us. And how we shelve it for meaningless pursuits.
“Every life is an opportunity for us to grow in our consciousness and attain to nirvana, the ultimate truth. It is through sannyas alone that we reach to that state of being.”
At this point her assistant entered and reminded her of the other waiting visitors. I got up to leave. As I walked out I felt her eyes following me. Halfway out of the door I turned and looked at her.
“Take sannyas,” she said with a faint smile.
Now my ego, hitherto cowering, rose and rebelled. Who is she to order you into sannyas? Don’t you have a mind of your own, and a much stronger one than hers!
As in our last encounter, much of Laxmi stayed with me. Her crystalline eyes with their now present now absent look. Her mellow, flower-like presence. In spite of her gentle “Take sannyas” inserting itself into many introspective moments of my life, I resisted initiation for one whole year.
My life was now split between the exhilaration of Pune and disenchantment of Mumbai.
One day, back in the ashram, I noticed a change of guard. Laxmi had vacated her seat for Sheila. And had left the commune for good. But to me she was still present. Whenever I passed the main office I saw her petite frame in an oversized chair. I saw the limpid pools of her eyes. I heard her soft voice, “Take sannyas.”
Then finally dawned the day when I did take sannyas! Awaiting my turn in the verdant hush of Chuang Tzu auditorium, Laxmi rose in memory with her soft look and voice. She seemed to have seen and recognised the sannyasin in me the minute I had walked into her room. What my mind had then dismissed as a command now seemed a soft nudge of her love. Prodding me into the blissful world of sannyas. The me who walked out of Chuang Tzu with a mala around my neck and a sannyas certificate in hand was not the same who had entered it a few minutes back. It was the most important moment of my life in which Ma Laxmi was by my side.
After the heaven of a few months in Pune I had to return to Mumbai to work and earn my keep. A few years passed with no news of Laxmi. Then one day I heard she was afflicted with cancer which was rapidly eroding her frail body. I rang up a friend and asked if I could pay a visit. The friend declined and said Laxmi is not encouraging visitors.
Came summer with its warm, humid mornings. One such morning the phone rang and brought the surprise of my life. Ma Yoga Laxmi! She sounded a bit faint and tired. To my queries about her health she stayed evasive. The purpose of her call she explained was to ask if I would like to write down her life and experiences with Osho if she related them to me! I near screamed with joy.
“Of course I will Ma, give me a couple of days to get back to you.”
And those couple of days stretched to eternity and became the face of my misfortune. I could never phone her back. So caught was I in the mire of the daily grind that I had no time left for anything else. Laxmi was ticking constantly at the back of my mind. What memorable moments of bliss would she have revealed from her life with Osho! My book would have carried those gems across to followers and lovers of Osho the world over.
But that was not to be. I had deprived myself and others of that supreme bliss.
And one day the following year Ma Laxmi left her body. Never to return and relate her experiences with our beloved Master.
Fatima is a well known Indian artist with many solo and group shows to her credit and her work is represented in many Indian and international collections. Writing has always been her hobby. For a long time she ran a weekly column for the prestigious newspaper ‘The Indian Post’, and later for the tabloid ‘Mid-day’. She is the author of the book, ‘In Haleema’s Words’. Fatima lived in Pune for many years and resides now in Hyderabad. For more about Fatima’s life see her story in ‘Past the Point of No Return’. List of her articles in Osho News.
The Only Life: Osho, Laxmi and a Journey of the Heart – A most significant and comprehensive book about Laxmi’s life written by Rashid Maxwell has been published on December 11, 2017; reviewed by Bhagawati