Aubrey Menen, Hermann Hesse, Abraham Thomas Kovoor


New series, Osho and Kerala, by Tarpan: stories of boundless boundaries.

Ashtamudi, Kerala

Years ago, when I was reading chapter 23 of ‘Glimpses of a Golden Childhood’ for the first time, I noticed the spiritual significance of the word exhilaration. While speaking about his years living in Gadarwara, Osho said that perhaps Jesus had visited that village. Osho’s words were, “Just the idea that Jesus too had walked those streets was so exhilarating, was such an ecstasy. This is just by the way. I cannot prove it in any historical way, whether it is so or not. But if you ask me in confidence, I can whisper in your ear, ‘Yes, it is true. But please don’t ask me more….’”  I felt whoever is reading Osho’s words must experience similar exhilaration.

Exhilaration, it seems, is almost a re-living. Transcending the space-time boundaries, one enters into another dimension. Breaking the time capsule of memories, one is enjoying the freedom of the limitlessness of remembering. Like theoretical physicists talk about the wormhole connectivity of parallel universes, we slip into another dimension of the universe so suddenly through remembering. Remembrance takes one into the depths of the moment, unlike the memories which take one away from the moment.

I had another reason for my exhilaration: those were the days whenever I was travelling on the Mumbai-Pune highway I was trying to remember that Osho too had travelled on those roads.  Many times, whenever I was walking around the Cross Maidan and other places in Mumbai where Osho had conducted meditation events in the early days, an ethereal mood would overcome me.

Perhaps all places of pilgrimage emerged as places of exhilaration. The very ambience of the place and some incidents related to a deity, or to a master such as Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira, Zarathustra or Jesus, was enough to bring about a space-time transcendence. This is how such places developed over time into centres for pilgrims and worshippers.

Perhaps, that feeling of déjà vu when I entered Buddha Hall for the first time twenty years ago, wasn’t it the same as exhilaration? In spite of not seeing Osho alive, those unknown pulsations  which immediately transported me into a world altogether strange yet also known – was it just my imagination? Or just another mind game? I don’t think so.

When we realize or are reminded by the Masters that ‘all and everything’ in our life is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent, and we therefore understand this living phenomenon as ‘universe’ (physicists use the term ‘multiverse’ for an altogether different purpose), connecting with anything or anyone, in past, present or future, must be as simple as that of turning pages in a book we hold in our hands. Yet it seems there is a knack to it, and if this is so, anything can be the trigger – a fragrance, a moonlit patch of grass, a colour pattern, a certain tone of voice or a dense silence, an invoking shape…

Something that is not immediately connected can also herald a ‘connection beyond’- a name, a myth, a place, a person, maybe a particular date. That is how stories and mythology become the reason for inquisitiveness, or a channel of connectivity to the beyond. Once, that connectivity is established, those tales are left forgotten behind. It is fortunate that even though the mafia of priests and politicians tried hard to pollute the purity of these channels, these ‘exhilaration circuits’, they were not fully successful. Anyone can access these circuits anytime, depending on the intensity of longing they express.

With this as a background, it was merely out of a childlike curiosity that I started enquiring about Osho’s connection with the place where I was born and living – Kerala, the southernmost part of India. It all started when I heard Osho speak about Aubrey Menen. It has been said that it was he who had introduced Osho to the West. Aubrey Menen was widely known in Kerala as he had spent his final years in Thiruvananthapuram (previously Trivandrum) and also died there. When Osho mentioned his name, an unnecessary question which had persisted in me for the last many years – ‘why didn’t Osho visit Kerala?’ – vanished at once. And I said to myself, ‘Aha!’.

After researching in Osho’s discourses, I could make a long list of names, of the Keralites who Osho has spoken about. Some are legends, some are people who were Osho’s contemporaries. Besides, I also searched whether he had said anything about Kerala.

This was not done out of any patriotic prestige; this is just to remember how insignificant one’s physicality is; just to remember how illusory the space and time we are experiencing is.

Aubrey Menen

Aubrey Menen was born to an Irish mother and a Keralite father, Dr K. Narayana Menon. Originally, his name was Aubrey Menon, but apparently to distinguish himself from V.K. Krishna Menon, a famous nationalist and political diplomat of those days, he anglicized his name as Menen.

I remember, as soon as Aubrey Menen had returned to Kerala, one of his famous books, The Space Within the Heart had been translated into our language (Malayalam). This was sensational news because of the contents in regard to homosexuality. Being a good satirist (some called him ‘the wicked satirist’), Menen always carried an aura of controversy around him. His novel, The Ramayana, as told by Aubrey Menen (1954), was the first banned book of independent India.

Adding the strangeness to his life, it is said in the literary circle, the day he died (February 13, 1989), a lot of people were murdered and injured in Kashmir in the name of another book, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and the next day, it was banned in India.

According to Menen, when he met Osho in Mumbai, The Space Within the Heart was in Osho’s personal library and Osho had marked a few lines in the book with his special double dots. It is very clear from his book, The Mystics, that Menen was really impressed with Osho and his approach towards meditation. Menen had a wide range of experiences from Nazi rallies to John F. Kennedy, about many so-called masters to many crowd-pulling personalities. But, “the stillness produced by Rajneesh,” as he describes the experience, was totally new and touching for him. And that is why he chose Osho’s picture as the cover for the book.

In spite of being a journalist, a satirist and a novelist, Menen stands aside from the writers’ crowd; not because of any unique insight or any remarkable contribution, but because of his intellectual honesty (or what else is intelligence?), his sense of humour and sincere observation of the within and without.

Hermann Hesse

In many situations, Osho has emphasized that “Hermann Hesse is one of the Western minds who has come very close to the Eastern way of looking at things. Perhaps there is no other man of his quality who understands the East better.” ¹ And Hesse’s novel Siddhartha has got a place in the Books I Have Loved. Osho praises Hesse for a word he had coined – philo-sia – as a translation for the Indian word darshan.

Whoever going through Hesse’s works, especially Siddhartha, will be wondering about the Indian spiritual elements and ambience he had brought into. Osho has mentioned him as the one who had gone beyond enlightenment even. It is not accidental that he was enriched by such terms or insights. Hermann Hesse’s childhood was deeply connected with Thalassery – a municipality in the northern part of Kerala where his mother Marie was born; his grandfather, Rev. Dr Hermann Gundert was a missionary and Indologist who spent most of his life there.

Hermann Gundert had come to India, engaged with missionary work as part of the Basel Mission. He was a scholar in many Indian languages – Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam. When he settled in Thalassery, he had contributed immensely to the Malayalam language. One of the first Malayalam grammar reference books was written entirely by him, and so was the first Malayalam – English dictionary.

Hesse most likely spent only a short period in Kerala, as his grandfather became very ill and was forced to return to Germany. When Hesse was fifteen years old, his grandfather died and a large library of Indian scriptures and books was then fully available to him. Around WWI, Hesse made another trip to Kerala, North India and Burma, to re-discover his Indian roots. It is said that ten years after that journey, he wrote Siddhartha.

Wandering, book coverI have read only Siddhartha, Wandering, and a few short stories by Hesse. Reviews say that Demian and Steppenwolf also carry the very Indian vibes. In my experience, Wandering in particular has a flavour of Kerala; the images Hesse depicts by using a minimum of words and the passing thoughts he captures so silently, the geography, the green environment – all are very Keralite. When Wandering was translated into Malayalam by well-known philosopher, psychologist, author and poet Guru Nitya, he mentioned clearly in his foreword, that Hesse brings out the poetic impressions of his childhood spent in Thalassery.

Another track of his love affair with India was happening through Romain Rolland, who is also a  Nobel Prize winner. Romain Rolland had close contact with India and many Indian personalities, such as Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore, Narayana guru and others. Hesse had a very close friendship with him.

Nowadays, Thalassery is an important tourism spot connected with Gundert and Hesse. Many interactive projects are happening between Kerala and the German government in this regard. Hesse’s 125th birth anniversary turned into a big festive event, celebrated in Thalassery in November 2001.

Abraham Thomas Kovoor

Abraham Kovoor was born in Thiruvalla, Kerala in 1898. After working briefly as a lecturer in botany at C.M.S. College in Kerala, in 1928 he decided to move to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Kovoor taught botany at Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai for 15 years, and later at various other colleges; he retired in 1959 as a teacher at Thurstan College, Colombo. He also practiced hypnotherapy and applied psychology and was the founder of the Ceylon Rationalist Association. He died in 1978 in Colombo, Sir Lanka.

In 1976, Osho was asked a question about an article written by Kovoor in a magazine called The Weekly Current. Osho answered to this question in the series Ecstasy: The Forgotten Language, and a few months later in The First Principle. In both discourses Osho is really fiery, as is his way always.

Kovoor had called Osho crazy, an ignoramus, a fool, dangerous, a voyeur, a sexual pervert and absurd. Osho explains the real meaning of those words; the meaning they should have. He reminds Kovoor that all his meanings and ideas are just borrowed, which is not applicable to a man who calls himself ‘a rationalist’.

One of the major contradictions as a rationalist is Kovoor’s request to the Government of India to prevent Osho’s work. Osho points out that Kovoor is just a poor atheist who tries to make rationalism another religion. Showing the childishness of Kovoor’s concept of God, Osho says that he must be suffering from senile dementia!

Osho made a sharp observation about rationalists and atheists, namely, “From Charvak to Dr Kovoor, their whole history is the history of impotence. All that is beautiful has come out of the religious people, the theistic people.” ²

Gods Demons & Spirits, book coverLack of creativity makes the life of atheists utterly boring and dry. When I went through the Wiki page of Kovoor, the last sentence is really ludicrous. According to the site, there is one person considered to be his spiritual successor (even to a rationalist!) – Basava Premanand, founder of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations.

In 2008, one of Kovoor’s books, God, Demons & Spirits was in the Indian news again; having been translated into Punjabi, one politician imposed an “immediate ban” on that book.

God, demons and spirits… are they still worthy of a ban?

Follow Tarpan’s whole series on Osho News: Osho and Kerala

Quotes by Osho from
¹ The Transmission of the Lamp, Ch 4, Q 2
² Ecstasy: The Forgotten Language, Ch 8

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Dhyan Tarpan is a writer, translator and musician from Kerala.

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