The chair is empty

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Fatima’s tribute to Maitreya, from The Rajneesh Times.

The Chair is Empty

Swami Anand Maitreya used to rush to his chair soon after breakfast, scan the morning’s papers with an alacrity remarkable for his 71 years, and settle down to cleaning his desk of the morning’s correspondence or yesterday’s pending papers. He had always occupied a comer table in the office of The Rajneesh Times. “How do you manage the mosquitos?” I had asked once. “The mosquitos and I have signed a treaty against stinging each other,” quipped Maitreya.

He was ubiquitous in Rajneeshdham, loved by all, respected by all, quick in his childlike smile, ready with his subtle jokes. Overheard in the Mariam Canteen was his facetious request for tea. “Give me two cups. One for me to drink and one for my beard to get soaked with.”

Even when immersed in work (which he always was), he took time off for a humorous aside. On one of his brisk evening walks he had surprised me with the confession that he never meditated. “I don’t know what it is to meditate!”

Was it the innocence of the true meditator who could not tell himself apart from his meditation? Was it the totality of a realised one, whose very being is a meditation?

Swami Maitreya had an astonishing grasp of political events, trends, situations – both domestic and international. He was extremely well read with a keen intellect and sharp wit. But knowledge and erudition sat lightly upon him. He enjoyed speaking of the sunshine in the garden, of the lone bird on the swinging bough more so than about his close association with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Jai Prakash Narain, the crises in the Congress party, the future of Marxism and other such ponderables. His presence was not that of a cloud laden with rain, but that of a gentle breeze on a somnolent, summer’s morning.

His popularity was immense. Such a host of sannyasins came to see him, to touch his feet and seek his blessings during Gurupurnima celebrations, that it drove Swami Chaitanya Keerti to the jocular suggestion that Maitreya sit out for five days or at least leave his feet out in the verandah for his lovers to touch?!

Maitreya never posed a problem to anybody at any time, but his chair did to everybody all the time. We all wanted to be in it for as long as his absence would allow us. Visiting sannyasins were drawn to the chair like iron to a magnet. They would squeeze past Keerti’s chair, hop over the waste-basket, risk the abrasive angles of the obdurate teak desk, scrape against the wall, but make it they must, to the chair!

I remember having coaxed, debated and even annoyed people out of it. And once in the coveted seat, on its caressingly soft cushion, things became incredibly easy! – ideas crystallized, words deluged and writing became a flow of meditation. His spare table with papers and letters piled neatly on one side and a green reading lamp brooding over it somehow helped invoke the muse.

In spite of Keerti’s warning that the clipbox with its smooth copy paper was only for Maitreya’s use and that he was expected any minute, none could be deterred from lingering in the chair until the last available moment. Luckily for us Maitreyaji had a long, three hour lunch break, which meant three blissful hours in his chair. It was usually around four in the afternoon that he entered the office, greeting the regulars with a serene smile, and the newcomers with a beaming, warm “Kaise ho?” (How are you?) Once he was there we forgot about the chair and rejoiced in his unobtrusive presence.

And now the chair is empty for ever, like a word bereft of meaning, like an instrument devoid of music. But Maitreyaji lives. The flower is dead, but the fragrance remains. Nobody was as absent in his presence and as present in his absence as Swami Anand Maitreya.

Ma Prem Fatima

Anand Maitreya

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