Playing the sarod for Osho

'My sarod and I' by Chinmaya

From Chinmaya’s diary entries (1989) about playing for Osho in Pune. (Part 1 of 2). “Like any tribe, ours shares gossip and news quickly it seems, because out of the blue I find myself invited to take part in all sorts of musical events!”

Chinmaya with sarod, 1989

Before I can begin with my diary entries (copious during my single periods, scratchy at best when there was someone to share my bed!) I should explain the situation for would-be musicians when I arrived. There were far more people wanting to play in Osho’s presence than opportunities to do so, and in the friendly jostling for opportunity to display one’s talents as a musician (and receive the public acclaim that often followed) an unspoken ranking of prestige emerged. Top was being part of Brazilian jazz/samba drummer Nivedano’s ‘Oshoba’ band, which Osho preferred as accompaniment to the energy-raising techniques he developed over the year preceding his death.

This riotous, percussion-based sound tracked Osho as he entered Buddha Hall and conducted both music and crowd with wild gestures of his arms and flaming eyes, and raised the temperature to a fever pitch to culminate in a crescendo of shouted “YA-HOO!”s (these were later amended to ‘OSHO!’s). Soft acoustic music, interspersed with periods of silence, followed as Osho sat and marked time with a gentle tapping of his hands. More Ya-hoo!’s preceded his prolonged namaste to us all as he left the Hall. Next in desirability was to take part in Milarepa’s musical experiments before and after video discourse was shown, on the nights when Osho was not well enough to leave his room.

Finally, meditation events, dance performances, concerts and theatre productions were occurring on a regular basis around the Commune, many of them requiring live music.

On this, only my second visit to the Ashram, I was naturally a nobody in such a ranking and furthermore, having been studying Indian classical music under Ustad Gurdev Singh in London for a mere four years, was a mere beginner as a sarod player.

Friday, 16th June 1989

Since arriving here ten days ago, I have been moping around unable to connect with anything or anybody, lost in feelings of rejection and self-blame. I flew in, desperate for respite after a love affair involving two gruelling months of deceptions and disappointments in Calcutta’s pre-monsoon heat. But of course I carried my demons here along with me. Today I finally forced myself to go to the Work as Meditation office and ask for a job. I made it clear that I wanted something cool and emotionally undemanding. “Well,” the girl there told me, “Accounts are looking for someone….” I start next week.

17th June

Yesterday I wrote to Osho: “Is it possible for the heart to be in a different place than the body? I feel like my heart is in Bengal with my lover, while here it feels like something is missing. Is it all just mind avoiding the here and now? What does it mean to miss someone?” Today his answer comes back typed on a little slip of paper: “Blessings. Now put all your energy into meditation. Through meditation you will become more and more rooted in yourself.” Durr, I remind myself, the Master never gives you the answer you’re wanting, just the one you’re needing…

18th June

Pulling myself together enough to decide to work seems to have changed something. Walking through the Ashram at lunch, I bump into Milarepa, who had noticed me practising on my sarod in quiet corners of the Ashram on my first visit last year. He not only recognizes me right away, he’s so pleased to see me again! I can hardly believe my ears when he asks me to play for video discourse tonight.

19th June

My first morning on the computer in Accounts, entering purchase invoices for four hours. I’m a bit surprised to be recognized as I walk in. Turns out that a couple of people noticed me playing in the band for last night’s music in Buddha Hall. As news spreads around the department, I become for a moment the centre of attention. Apparently we created something special last night, an Indian vibe that the Ashram has been missing for some time.

I’m astonished to hear them credit me and the sound of my sarod for this because simply playing a composition (in Raga Malkauns) that I had learned in London doesn’t feel like I did anything very special. Milarepa on guitar, a bassist, keyboardist and assorted percussionists surely did all the real work? Returning to my console, I reflect that actually I have only the vaguest idea what the rest of the band had been doing technically. Because performing anything except pure Hindustani classical is completely new territory to me. As is being congratulated for it!

21st June

I am sleeping badly, with all the heartbreak and shame of the past couple of months haunting my dreams. Doing vipassana meditation in Buddha Hall this morning, my head involuntarily bends to bury itself in my hands as awful scenes from those days in Calcutta appear in my mind’s eye. I struggle to bring myself back to the present, to that cool silent space of the here and now opening out…

On a more positive note, I have moved into a flat at the end of the low-rise settlement at Meera Nagar, surrounded by dry fields of harvested sugar cane and shared with a British sannyasin who assures me he won’t be disturbed by my music. From here I can pass via a visit to a family of English sannyasins who were my neighbours in Devon last year and whose two pre-teen children I feel very connected to. There’s a well nearby where I took them swimming earlier in the year, and from there it’s a short hop through quiet lanes to the back gate of the Ashram. A couple of acquaintances commented that I look ‘mischievous’ today as they passed me striding in through the gate. Feels like I am starting to really arrive at last. This is a far-out place!

23rd June

Samajo, a Japanese sannyasin, introduces me to his teacher, sarodist Shekhar Borkar, who lives just down the road from the Ashram and who is married to one of Osho’s nieces. He’s around my age, mainly self-taught and Samajo, who begun learning from him a few months ago, assures me he is a demanding, unconventional, yet patient teacher.

24th June

Like any tribe, ours shares gossip and news quickly it seems, because out of the blue I find myself invited to take part in all sorts of musical events! Milarepa invites me again for video discourse tomorrow (Osho has not been out for many days; a current joke is that since we started calling him by his new name he has in fact been ‘NOshow’!); Monday, I will start lessons with Shekhar; Wednesday, a group playing Middle Eastern music wants me to join them for Sufi Whirling; and somehow I have come to the attention of Sadhana, a long-time sannyasin and Inner Circle member (Osho has set up a group of twenty-one under this name to care for the practicalities of running the Commune). She has asked me to arrange a solo classical performance for myself in Buddha Hall. I’m wandering around bewildered at all this.

27th June

Yesterday my first lesson with Shekhar, who dazzles me with virtuosity and then with a simple look, challenges me to do the hard work needed to achieve such mastery. We agree on two lessons a week, and no point in coming if I haven’t practised in between. Today, after doing my first Bank Reconciliation, I used the lunch break alone in the office to run through some of what he had shown me. When my co-workers drifted back from lunch, nobody wanted me to stop, so it was a further hour before much Accounts Department work resumed!

28th June

With Sangit Sirus (Iranian setar and violin player), Prem Joshua (saxophonist and flautist and sometime member of Nivedano’s band) plus assorted drummers, playing at night for a Buddha Hall packed with whirling dervishes. I could let go completely in such accomplished musical company and surrounded by such inspiring figures in motion. For a couple of hours we weaved melodies and textures out of strings and air. In contrast, my playing in Milarepa’s band a couple of nights ago had been hesitant and insecure. I’m out of my depth when it comes to a chord-based accompaniment but Mila himself was all encouragement. How privileged I feel to sit with him and other ‘well-known’ musicians in our special place in the crowd, close to Osho’s podium, surrounded by our equipment. Rock star vibe I guess! I am still pinching myself that this is happening to me.

30th June

(Lying awake at night reflecting)

The empty man in robes
Of eloquence, spending his silence
Like a millionaire

Coming out from video discourse, grateful to my core for what Osho is creating here, I feel to stay close to him instead of heading home as usual to disturb Meera Nagar with my sarod practice. I park myself on the low wall just inside the front gate and wait without any particular expectation. Drawn towards me are a group of Indians, including some of my Accounts co-workers, and we talk music and have some fun with my limited Hindi. Amongst them is A, a pretty one. Oh how good it is to look into a woman’s face and find it attractive and receive its smile again!

5th July

My mind is all over the place. Weeping for lost love in Calcutta one moment, anxiously fantasizing about getting closer to A (who doesn’t speak more than a word or two of English and is probably not much more than half my age) next. Assorted female friends allow me to cry on their shoulders and give me (contradictory) advice.

11th July

A hushed and reverent group visit to Chang Tzu, Osho’s recently completed marble palace of a bedroom. Through its floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows we can see the jungle garden and huge marble waterfall (the astronomically-sized purchases for which I have been entering at Accounts the past weeks). He’s not moved in yet, but a chair sits in front of a 21st-century-looking Hi-fi system and it’s not difficult to visualize him sitting in it. I’m conscious that a simple wall separates me in this moment from whatever he is up to on the other side of it.

Gujarati stick dance rehearsal: A’s gesture, reaching out to touch my face so gently as I arrive; harmonium player Anand Prem’s hug; the Gujarati drummer boys’ enthusiastic welcome. Two hours spent running through ghazals, folk tunes and ragas in the company of hyped-up, juicy, laughing, arguing, sensual village celebrants. As I struggle to keep up with it all, I feel as if I’ve slipped into another parallel Ashram to the one beyond the room’s walls.

Chinmaya DunsterChinmaya was born in 1954 in England and started playing the classical guitar at 15. After taking sannyas in 1982 he took up playing the sarod. The Osho Commune in Pune provided him with the ground for musical experiments and, until today, he has 13 CDs released on New Earth Records and a further 4 on Malimba Records. – more about and by Chinmaya Dunster on Osho News.

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