In Osho’s sewing room

'My Story' by Gayan

With Gayan we move from Pune to Osho’s stopover at Chidvilas – nicknamed ‘The Castle’ – in New Jersey where she starts sewing the robes for him, and then on to Rajneeshpuram.


Gayan, when did you start sewing for Osho?

In Pune 1 it was Veena who did the sewing for Osho. She worked on the porch of the library and we became friends. She then left for the West, maybe just two weeks before Osho left India for America.

Veena had already prepared those long jackets for Osho (photo A), the ones he would wear in ‘the Castle’ in New Jersey. But he also needed hats for when he arrived in the States, for the cold. Nirvano asked me if I knew of somebody who could knit hats or if I knew how to knit them myself. I found an Indian lady with a knitting machine and had her make long round knitted strips. I then folded them and sewed them up. I made those simple black or white hats you must have seen on the photographs from New Jersey (photo B).

I made a few more small things for Osho – for example, something he could wear in the sauna. I had been very sick and was still recovering but was back in my room in Lao Tzu House and was happy to sew these small things. Osho had in fact suggested I go to Germany to recover my health.

Then came the day when he left for the USA. The few of us from his household that were staying behind were standing outside Osho’s room when he came out – smiling at us with his hands folded. He walked to the car – the bullet-proof ‘tank’ – in which he could lie down in the back for a safe journey to Mumbai airport. My heart felt very heavy with the parting of Osho and my dearest friends. Suddenly the house felt so empty – hardly anybody was there anymore. The library got packed up and soon I packed my own suitcase and my tamboura and flew off to Munich.

For about five weeks I lived on the farm in Germany, together with my daughter Hasya and all the friends there. Then someone from the Chidvilas Center – I do not remember who it was – called and asked me if I wanted to come to America. Of course I wanted to go! I only asked if I could bring Hasya with me. After checking back, she said that it was okay. My parents were great; they gave me money and I could buy our tickets to New York.

Nirvano and her boyfriend, Chin, came to pick us up at the airport. I remember so clearly sitting in the back with Hasya while driving to ‘the Castle’ where Osho and everyone was living. We chatted all the way because there was so much to catch up on and we were so happy to be together again.

At one point Nirvano turned round and said, “I hope you can do the sewing.” I looked back at her, astonished and speechless. She then added, “Yes, because Osho needs somebody to sew for him. Veena is not able to come at the moment, so I told Osho that you could sew.” She knew that I could sew because I had made those few things for him, and she also knew that I always made my own clothes. Nirvano had asked for me and Osho had agreed. So that’s how it came about and why I was called; I had thought that they needed me for cleaning or some other job like that!

What I also thought in that moment was: “It’s good that it was not my idea, that I didn’t put myself forward for the job. I know about Veena’s excellent sewing! I can just try to do my best and see how it goes.” I had never learned how to sew – everything I knew about sewing was from trying things out according to my own ideas of how things could be done.

Of course I was totally thrilled. When we arrived, I realized that I was the sewing department – there was nobody else! I was given a beautiful room just on top of Nirvano’s. It was quite spacious with a big bay window on one side. I immediately started setting up the sewing table in the bay window with the small travelling sewing machine, that was all that there was! Next to the door there was a big mattress for Hasya and me and that’s where we were going to live. There were also two more kids staying at the castle; one was Jivan Kavya’s son.

What a joy to see everybody again! The next day Nirvano took me to see our beloved Master and my new job started with Osho telling me that he needed some warmer clothes and wanted me to look for warmer fabric. So I looked for a driver, someone who knew New York and where to find fabric shops. Jayapal was finally found and he drove me to the Jewish quarters of New York City – I had never seen Orthodox Jews in my life! I liked to hear their accent, to see their locks and their clothes. The shops, almost warehouses, were huge, all full of cloth.

The shop owners and staff were very kind. I was allowed to take many samples from many fabrics, because Osho wanted to see the cloth and touch it; he had a good idea of what he wanted. He knew what was important for him and knew precisely what he wanted me to look for.

This was what I did in the beginning – it was quite a lot of hard work and after a while I got burnt out. As you know, Osho always wanted to have things done quickly. I had to first get the samples for Osho to check, then go back and purchase the whole length of the fabric and then finally sew the robe. It was too much for one person – and my liver was still weak. When I collapsed yet again I was allowed to have a short nap every day in the afternoon. But it was time to ask for another person to come and help.

Arpita was also there at the Castle. She was Osho’s shoemaker and had been busy making more shoes for Osho. At that time she had basically finished what she had been asked to do so she came to the sewing room. She knew how to sew and was also very precise in her work. On top of that, we were friends, so this arrangement worked for both of us very nicely. In the beginning she took over the shopping. And so now we were two in the sewing room!

Osho also wanted knitted items, like socks. I looked for a knitting machine and when we got it, I realized that I would not have the time to experiment and find out how to make it work – I had never used such a machine. So I asked Asheesh, who is an engineer by trade, if he could help me find out how to make this thing work. Even for him it was a bit complicated because that was not the kind of machine he had ever worked with, but he got into it and took over all knitting jobs – which expanded from socks to hats to robes. He enjoyed it very much – except when he got into a fight with the machine. When he voiced his difficulties once in front of Osho, Osho chuckled and said to him, “Machines are moody!”

But this did not make you lose your sewing job?

No, I certainly did not lose my sewing job because of Asheesh; there were so many things that needed to be done. We were very busy because we were trying out new fabrics, new designs like those long jackets, hats and socks (photo C). For me – and Arpita and Asheesh too – everything we did was a new and undiscovered territory – exciting!

As was the outer situation too! After the many years in India we were now in a castle (though connected to the Chidvilas Center). We were living with a relatively small group of sannyasins, there was American food and drink, a monastery next door with hostile monks and the Big Apple almost ‘just a block away’. It was also the time I fell in love with Nivedano, who was there because Osho wouldn’t do without ‘his’ musicians!

When I was still shopping, I had also looked for different hats in the Jewish quarters. Great old hat shops, narrow and long, with shelves from bottom to ceiling, long counters and some old owners who pulled out various hats. Hasya came with us one day – she enjoyed the shops and the people in the streets, but found the warehouses were rather boring. I bought a few hats I thought Osho might like and took them back with me. He then gave them away as presents and I got one too!

It was a very, very busy time; the sewing of one robe alone took at least two days, without counting the alterations that usually followed.

Gayan, Asheesh and Ashu
Gayan in Rajneeshpuram
Asheesh at the knitting machine
Prem Gayan
Nirvano with Osho

Now we were three in the sewing room – a great team. It was really nice, the three of us together. For me it was a beautiful time because we harmonized very well. For quite a while that was the arrangement – there and also in the beginning of the Ranch: Arpita, Asheesh and me.

Then in August, together with Shunyo, who did Osho’s laundry, we left for the Ranch a few days before Osho was due to arrive. This gave us just enough time to settle in the house and make sure that everything would be working when Osho arrived, especially Shunyo’s laundry. The sannyasins already at the Ranch had laid squares of turf for a lawn just a few hours before he arrived. Can you imagine?

In Osho’s compound there were two trailers. In the lower one there was Osho’s bedroom, his big sitting room and bathroom, and a walk-in wardrobe. Nirvano’s room was also in that trailer. Our trailer was a bit higher up. It had a sitting room like all the trailers had, our bedrooms – and one of these small rooms was the sewing room. It was so packed – with our tables, the knitting machine, the chairs and our wooden mannequin – that one could hardly move. Osho’s laundry and kitchen were next door. The two trailers were connected by an enclosed corridor that had windows on both sides.

In the first months on the Ranch it was again Arpita who went to look for fabrics, in Bend and in Portland. Nirvano and I once went to Madras and Redmond to check in the local fabric shops but it wasn’t a great success because these were very small towns! We also had sannyasins from Switzerland, Germany and Japan sending us fabric samples from which Osho could choose. In addition, there were always gifts for the Master arriving, among which were pieces of cloth.

When Prem Gayan arrived, Osho asked her to join us. He asked her to make his hats because she was really good with the crochet hook. So we squeezed another comfortable chair into the sewing room. And now we were four!

After months of construction work to build an attachment to Osho’s trailer, including the beautiful covered swimming pool, Osho moved to his new living quarters and offered us his old spacious bedroom as the new sewing room, and his walk-in wardrobe became our fabric room. It was a great move!

The robes had already changed from the plain white ‘Poona style’ garments with the additional long jackets we made for him at the Castle, to knitted white or grey robes with black/grey or black/white stripes (photos D1, D2, D3). Osho liked them because they were very comfortable, but soon they literally ‘grew’ into a problem because the knitted robes stretched, especially lengthwise, and didn’t retain their shape! After the day that Osho tripped over the hem, Nirvano pulled them all out from the wardrobe and they became history.

One day Osho saw Nirvano wearing a jacket he liked very much, in particular the sleeves. That was the beginning of a new design – it was the one with the big sleeves and the stretchy collar and cuffs (photos E1, E2). And for comfort and warmth they were all lined with velour. I guess that many of you who have received a robe from Osho as a present might have one in this style. I have seen a few hanging on the walls in my friends’ homes.

A special joy for me was when Osho came to our fabric room and together with Nirvano we pulled out the pieces of cloth and Osho put the combinations together: one fabric for the main body and a matching one for the sleeves (photos F1, F2). In the end the room looked like an Indian fabric shop with piles and piles everywhere, all of us squatting in between. Osho really knew his stuff – his father had had a cloth shop in Gadarwara – and I felt he enjoyed doing this, too.

Once the Ranch became more organized, we were asked to do our shopping through the purchasing department; it was great for small items, but very difficult when it came to fabrics.

The First Annual World Celebration turned out to be very beautiful with so many sannyasins arriving from far and wide – we must have numbered more than 10,000. The energy was amazing! The Festival lasted five days and we made a new robe for Osho for each day and two for the last day when he came to the Mandir a second time for the evening celebration.

From then on, around Guru Purnima in July, we had an Annual World Celebration. For the other three celebrations of the year – Enlightenment Day, Mahaparinirvana Day and the Birthday Celebration – we had a morning satsang and an evening darshan, which meant two new robes for that one day.

At one point Osho asked me to make some drawings for a new design, particularly for the upcoming summer celebration. I sat down and put down all the ideas I had in my head, including some crazy ones. Osho then chose several designs, also some looking quite theatrical, and asked me if I would like to go to San Francisco and Los Angeles with Nirvano and Hasya – the one from Hollywood, not my daughter – to buy the fabric. Hasya had already brought some exquisite cloth for my dancing dresses from L.A. No question! Yes!

The three of us went off together and I saw the most amazing fabric shops, particularly the ones in Chinatown: the silk velvets and brocades…! At one point, when I was looking at the price tags (as it was my habit) and drew in my breath, Hasya said to me, “Don’t look at the prices – get what you need!” That was something that stayed with me until today. I understood that when buying fabric for Osho it didn’t matter if it was cheap or expensive. Only the ‘right’ cloth mattered.

After we returned with all these beautiful fabrics, we started right away to sew up one robe after another. The design was also different; it had narrower sleeves. That’s why we needed a lot of time to experiment. When we got close to the start of the Annual World Celebration, Osho sent a message asking how far we had got and if he could try on the robes that were ready. All but two robes were finished and I took them to his room. With Nirvano he retreated into his bathroom and tried one and then the other, each time coming out to have a look in the big mirror in his bedroom where I was waiting. The image of one robe stayed with me and I can see it at any time in front of my eyes – it brings me to tears every time I think of it.

We had made a robe of dark blue silk velvet with inset peacock eye embroideries. We later called it the peacock robe (cut similar to photo G). It was very simple: the sleeves had a line of peacock eyes running from shoulder to cuff and at the back there was an inset, like an upside down V, that ended in a short train. It looked so beautiful on Osho – and the way he turned in front of the mirror to get a view of the train! And then there was the mandarin robe, made from dark green silk velvet with brocade sleeves and the typical mandarin collar. I felt so blessed and grateful to be there. I had the impression he enjoyed it too. So, off I went again with all the robes on my arm.

After a little while Nirvano came with a message: the robes were beautiful, but too theatrical, if we could change them into something more simple? Of course we could – some were easy to change and two or three could stay as they were, but what to do with the ‘peacock’ robe, the darshan robe?

Everybody got together, including Ashu who was working in the Lao Tzu editing department and living in ‘the House’, and brainstormed what to do about the big gap in the back – and we found a way. In the end it turned out to be one of my favourite darshan robes.

Because we had so much extra work to do, there was no time to sew a new dancing dress in time. I asked Osho if I could wear the one from the last celebration (which was my favourite) and he said yes.

One day Nirvano came with a hat, a gift to Osho from German Purna (Photo H). Osho liked the fluffy yarn the brim was made of and wanted us to find that yarn. We informed the shopping department and our fabric connections in Europe, because Purna thought the yarn was from Europe. Finally it was found in Florence, Italy, and we got samples of various colours. A big order was made and when it arrived, all new hats were to have the brim made out of this yarn – and Ashu was asked to knit the new hats.

When Osho had tried out a few of them, he felt the brim was not quite right and asked Veena to experiment a bit more, to make it lighter, maybe somehow more colourful also… By now Osho had called Veena back to join us, because with him talking again daily and us constantly trying out new robe designs, we did not have enough hands to do all the sewing and the knitting.

Veena was not very experienced in knitting but she tried out many ways to find a new design. I joined her in her efforts, as knitting was easy for me and together it was more fun. Late one evening she had made a funny design, but feeling it was not worth continuing with, threw it in the waste paper basket. Nirvano came by to have a look and a chat and saw the experiment in the basket, pulled it out, went to Osho’s room with it and came back with the message: try a version that is a bit longer! And that was how the new hat design was born (photos J1, J2)! This was the design he would be wearing from then on; it had three tiers instead of a full brim. Soon the knitting of the hats became my job, something I really enjoyed, and Veena could return to the sewing, which she really enjoyed.

At the same time the design of the robes evolved into a style with narrower sleeves and, out of an experiment by Arpita that Osho liked very much, we developed – as we called it – the ‘wings’. It had long side panels that accentuated the shoulders (photos K1, K2).

We had finally found the style Osho liked, because the robes, the hats, the socks and shoes stayed the same from then on. In America we had the colourful, at times glamorous and glitzy, style that fitted with the mentality of American society. When we moved back to Pune we received the message that from now on only dark colours should be used for the main body of the robe, because the dark background set off his long white beard so beautifully (photo L1, L2, L3).

Interview with Punya

In the next episode Gayan talks about her experience dancing around Osho during the Celebrations in the Mandir in Rajneespuram: Dancing and Celebrating

Read all parts of this interview: ‘My Story’ by Gayan

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