An excerpt from Frank Arjava Petter’s new book, Still… Here and Now.
One day as I arrived for work, Neehar told me that I had a new job. The Ashram had a satellite area in Koregaon Park 70, which housed the Ashram clinic, the cheese factory and the sauna, besides being a residential area of Ashramites. Rashid had been asked to start a cheese factory, and for several months Neehar became my supervisor. The cheese factory created amazing cheese, delicious cheese cake and ice cream. A couple of the kids, Sarito and Geeten, used to visit me almost daily, making fun of my German accent and asking me, “Fraancck, kan you bai uss sum ais Kream pleeeze? I beck yuh doing zeess”. Whenever money was available, I just could not resist.
The front garden of this old villa was completely neglected, and it was going to be my job to turn this into a food-producing jewel. It took about a year to do that. Neehar took care of me very kindly, not only then in India, but more importantly later on as we worked together at the commune in Oregon. Being a good twenty years my senior, he became my mentor as well as my friend in many ways. He taught me not only more about gardening, but also about honesty and kindness and I could always ask him for advice about any question that I had.
I had several mentors. Neehar, Rashid and Mukta, as well as a few others, always treated and supported me with great love and respect, even though, like Neehar, they were more than twenty years older than me. In retrospect this taught me to treat all people alike: old or young, rich or poor, from whatever religion or nationality, famous or not. All people are the same to me and are treated with the same love and respect. In fact I treat animals and plants, rocks and pieces of wood, ceramics or plastic with the same love.
Almost every day I asked Mukta to give me some help with the new project. She always refused, and I know the reason for it now. She was testing my intention. Was I working to get something done, or was I working in the way of the Bodhisattva, doing things for their own sake? It took years to get the point.
Greek Mukta and the Garden Department
Mukta was her garden crew members’ spiritual mother. She took care of us in all ways. Some of the financially challenged were even helped with money. If you had asked her about any of the people that had worked with her over the years, she would be able to tell you where this person was now, what they did for a living and when they were planning to come back to the Ashram. The same was true later on at the Ranch in Oregon. She kept track by writing to all of us who were not present. I continue to keep all the letters that she wrote to me.
Since the gardens were producing so much food there was no way that Osho could eat it all. Besides feeding him and Vivek, his caretaker, and sometimes some of the people living at his house, the Lao Tzu House folks ate what we brought in. But we had a rather large growing area: Veggie Villas at the ashram, the garden in Koregaon Park Number 35, Koregaon Park Number 70 (my garden) and a new plot in Laxmi Villas where we only grew peas and exclusively for Osho. Osho loved sugar peas, coriander, sweet corn, strawberries, carrots, tomatoes and green peppers. One time, the Indian rats, which were bigger than the local cats (believe me – I saw them fight each other occasionally), were decimating the corn in my garden. Neehar and I were clear as to what to do. But some of the others were more peaceful, so finally my friend Vani asked Osho what to do. He answered, “Liberate them from their bodies with awareness.” We put the rat poison out in the garden the next day.
Because the produce was so much, and the people eating it were so few, we had a lot of surplus. Often times we donated that to the Ashram kitchen but then there were times when we just wanted to enjoy that gorgeous food for ourselves. One of my coworkers, Agneya, who had grown up on a Welsh farm, shared a beautiful hut with his partner Premrito at Number 35 Koregaon Park, one of our main veggie garden sites. It was there that many of the notorious Ashram gardeners’ parties took place. We’d eat the most incredible organic food known in India, drink Agneya’s undigestible ginger beer (sorry, my friend!) and laughed to abandon until deep into the night. You cannot imagine the fun we had.
Mukta also had her crazy side. One of the gardeners, a wealthy American named Pravasi who had been known in California for being one of the first LSD proponents and dealers, here in Pune was experimenting with hydroponically grown vegetables (which, thank god, Osho did not like) and had rented a big house on the way to the race track in Pune. When Mukta knew that he was not home, she’d suddenly say in her unforgettable voice and accent, “Guys, let’s go visit Pravasi” and off we’d go. The servant there, knowing that Mukta was his master’s boss, could not refuse her entry and when Pravasi returned he found his refrigerator raided, his champagne gone… but he took it with good humor. I never met anyone who could be angry with Mukta… she was just too adorable. She passed away in 2017 and is dearly missed.
The Ashram was the gossip capitol of the Universe, probably worse than a Greek village (and having lived in one for the last 12 years, I ought to know). Countless stories about anyone and everyone circulated in the Ashram concerning worldly as well as spiritual matters. Mukta, obviously, was not immune to that, but I have never heard a story about her that was in any way ethically compromising. The advantage and the problem of the Ashram as a mini-society was that one could very easily advance on the social ladder. Given that one had a will for power, one could become the coordinator of a department quite easily and quickly. This did not necessarily allow for the person in question to develop a proper work and spiritual ethic, with the result that some of the department heads were on unbearable ego trips. Mukta was one of the rare exceptions and she was a great role model for all of us who were privileged to work with her. Later on at the Ranch, I told her that I admired her for never doing anything unethical and she said, “There are certain things that one just does not do.” Just like that – I will always remember that.
Besides my vegetable garden, the villa at Number 70 had a gorgeous garden that was designed and taken care of by Natyam, a gifted photographer from Holland who later on became one of my closest friends. His brother Hendrikus, whom I met only briefly then, will emerge again in this story in the mid-1980s. Natyam’s buddy, Tanmaya from Australia, who guarded the place later, came up with the now well-known Australian Flower Essences. And then there was Prasadam, then called Hoshi, who was the guard on duty. When he became a Sannyasin, Osho told him that he was almost enlightened, which created havoc at the Ashram. Later on when the book with his darshan came out, those words that had definitely been spoken had been edited away. It is hard to believe that for the small mind and the big ego, even the master’s words are not inviolable.
One day, when I was still new on the job at Number 70, French Kavisho, who was taking care of the sauna at the time, was looking for a ride back to the Ashram when I came along on my red-hot Enfield motorcycle. I can still feel her hold onto me from behind and I knew that we were destined to spend time together one day. It took eternity, another three and a half years, until we met by chance in New Jersey, which will be mentioned later on. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and one of the three big loves of my life.
As I mentioned earlier I asked Mukta every day for help and she did not seem to have an ear for that at all. Of course, this was all part of the business of testing my limits. How far was I prepared to go? As far as I was concerned I was prepared to do anything that needed to be done. One day I realized that the job was done. I went to Neehar and told him that I had done what could be done, and that from now on all that was needed was proper maintenance. Sure enough the next time I saw Mukta she told me that from that day onwards, Amrit, an English friend, was going to be working with me. “But now I don’t need any help anymore,” I told her, to which she replied unwaveringly, “She’ll be there in the morning to help you.” What a madhouse the Ashram was. The point was not the work being done, but the destruction of the ego. Some of the more capable people, like Mukta, Rashid and Neehar, became instruments of Osho in helping this destruction get taken care of. Some of the not so capable ones let their own egos decide the course of action and that too sometimes had the same result for those who had to endure working with them. Luckily this cup passed me by.
Still… Here and Now
Growing Wings in Osho’s Garden
by Frank Arjava Petter
Independently published (October 20, 2022)
Available from Amazon
Review by Madhuri on Osho News