PLAYING FOR OSHO (Entries from my diaries 1989) Part 1
White Robe Brotherhood in Buddha Hall, Pune
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 experiments he developed over the year preceding his death. This riotous, percussion-based sound tracked him as he entered Buddha Hall, 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-hoos 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.
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 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.
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 ….
From what other world do these things come from? Fiddling around on a guitar in my hotel room this morning, a pattern of finger-pickings emerges. Words and a tune appear too. I scrabble to write them down. Some deep nostalgia for a childhood in rural England has been called forth with this song Charlie Girl, and with it long-overdue tears.
Pulling myself together enough to decide to work seems to have changed something. Walking through the Ashram at lunch, I bump into Milarepa. 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.
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 round the department, I become for a moment the center 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!
Nivedano and Milarepa in Buddha Hall
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 minds 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 sugarcane 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 I they passed me striding in through the gate. Feels like I am starting to really arrive at last. This is a far-out place!
Samajo, a Japanese sannyasin, introduces me to his teacher, sarodist Shekhar Borkhar, 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.
June 24th Saturday
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 want 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.
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 practiced 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!
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.
(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 after so long!
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) the next. Assorted female friends allow me to cry on their shoulders and give me (contradictory) advice.
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.
Gujurati stick dance rehearsal: A’s gesture, reaching out to touch my face so gently as I arrive; harmonium player Anand Prem’s hug; the Gujurati drummer boys’ enthusiastic welcomes. 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.
(From my roof at dawn on Guru Purnima🙂
‘Monsoon clouds towering,
A rainbow over the Western Ghats.
As the showers roll over low,
The sun’s bright light slants up
From somewhere over golden Bengal’.
I drag my focus away from the East and its regrets and take myself off to a disused office room in the Ashram and get drunk on playing for hours. I have definitely taken on Shekhar’s unspoken challenge. The muscles in my hands are hurting in places that other sarod teachers can’t reach!
Tonight is the first night that Osho has asked the whole Ashram to go to discourse dressed in white robes (last minute mad rush to buy these). White Robe Brotherhood, he is calling it.
Kirtan group, Pune 1989. L-R front: Anand prem, Priya, jagdish, Satya Vedant, Anuradha, Rupa, ? and Jai Prakash. Back: Lolita, Chinmaya, ? and Vairagya
Lolita (on flute) and I are the only non-Indians playing kirtan night in Buddha Hall. We are led by Sadhana, restrained and matronly, who organizes us all to a fine tee at rehearsal and then lets go gracefully at the actual event. She has to, because our group energy is so wild and tranced on the rhythms we are creating, and the mad jungle dance we are provoking in the crowds that ring us, that we are beyond any hope of control!
There is so much richness here! Everyone seems to like me, everyone wants to play music with me. When the sarod comes out, there’s always wonder, appreciation, delight. Food for my ego, for sure, but also such a joyful way of sharing! I’ve become a sort of celebrity for the Accounts Department, proud that one of their own is creating a stir around the Ashram. I get my computer work done as quickly as possible and then idly doodle coloured pictures on the spines of the Purchases files. One of my co-workers often has to spend evenings with me clearing up my numerous mistakes he’s noticed. Once we do this while skipping White Robe Brotherhood and video discourse (apart from Buddha Hall the whole Ashram is closed down for the period). But Accounts is in a prominent position on the main route through the campus from the front gate, and we are spotted. A shame-inducing reprimand follows as we are reminded how Osho himself insists that the whole Ashram meeting together at this time is the highlight of his work with us.
I introduce the video band to Raga Jog, its bluesy scale an immediate hit. The desire to be a really good player has overtaken me, so while other guys take girls home round here afterwards. I take music. Practice, trying to get up to speed on Shekhar’s material, ends at midnight with neighbours calling out to be allowed some sleep!
Another hearty Indian music night, joined by long-time sannyasins Anadi on dholak and Chaitanya Bharti on kanjira, as well as a wonderful teenage tabla player, Manish Vyas. It’s stunning how rapidly Sadhana has begun to defer to me, so that I‘m turning into the lynch pin of all this: the one who everyone looks to at the center, to choose the raga, taal (beat cycle) and style. Thunderous feedback from perspiration-drenched crowd at end.
I’m invited to share my music as part of an Introduction to Raga Singing group and choose to improvise around a Raga Bhairavi melody in dadra (6 beat rhythm). It occurs to me how, in remembering this tune despite only hearing it once or twice at Gurdev’s in London, I have proved myself to be a bit sharper than I usually credit myself for being!
I don’t exactly recognize myself these days. I can dance ecstatically to Western pop in Buddha Hall on Disco Night, then weep to Celtic songs by a female singer performing the next evening, and then retire to vivid, bizarre dreams. My emotional state seems to have reverted to that of a teenager! But quite a lot of the time I find myself just walking around smiling and winking randomly at people, feeling in a peak of health and energy. A far-out place indeed!
Jagdish, one of the Indian singers in the kirtan group, takes me for a palm reading in a tiny hidden-away zen-style gazebo that I’ve never noticed before. I’m hoping he’ll give me some solutions to my relationships issues but instead: “Dedicate yourself totally to music for three years,” he tells me. “Go to the top with it, bring meditation to it, be enlightened through it. It will be your path. And always play as if you are playing for Osho.”
To faraway Dhankawadi, a very traditional area, to the home of Shri Hari, a Marathi tabla player I met at Shekhar’s. He and I play to a group of moustachio-ed Marathi men, who take in my short performance with serious-looking expressions. I choose Raga Zilla Kafi in deepchandi (14 beat cycle), which I taught myself in London by copying a cassette recording of Amjad Ali Khan, and then a Raga Desh in kerwa, folk style, that I’m currently learning from Shekhar. As I finish, they break into staccato conversation with Shri Hari, most of which sounds like an argument is taking place. Must be just how Marathi sounds to our foreign ears though, because then they offer me smiles and nods of appreciation and their own traditional devotional songs. The utterly unpredictable melodic swoops of classical Indian vocals: would I ever be able to catch them? Like it’s population, the musical culture of this subcontinent is so vast, that one would need lifetimes to explore it comprehensively.
Osho conducting YA-HOOs
Home exhilarated immediately after the White Robe Brotherhood phenomenon (one of the rare days Osho has come out recently): cheers, wild wailing, arms flailing, crescendos of noise brought to abrupt halts. Returning like an addict to the intricate patterns, the closeness of the sound my sarod is producing to the silence he brings us to in Buddha Hall. I begin to experience how it’s the gaps between the notes that really matter, just as he emphasizes concerning the gaps between our thoughts, the gaps between his words and that gap after the YA-HOO.
A get-together with Indian sitar-player Pradeep, just arrived from Delhi. Although he is senior to me, both in age and in years as a player, he meticulously copies every detail of my playing of Amjad’s Zilla Kafi. The penny is starting to drop: much of the musical material I’ve gathered over these past four years is pure gold dust. But what to make of this feeling inside me – like when I’m diving deep into Raga Desh at my lessons with Shekhar, playing alongside him now, tricky gamuks and all – that I’m simply rediscovering things that I once knew? Past lives? I feel SO blessed!
Pradeep has asked me to help him host a series of three parties at his home. At tonight’s, the first, he introduces me to his guru, noted local sitarist Usmaan Khan, who plays us a sweet simple Raga Yaman. Inner Circle members Neelam and Tathagat are amongst his (all Indian) guests. They have seen me around, they tell me, and praise my playing. A desire to make my mark on prominent people like these bubbles up into my awareness. It is not a comfortable thought. I remind myself of Gurdev’s habitual gesture as he ends his concerts, lifting his sarod up before his face as the audience applauds, so that it is the instrument that receives the acclaim. All this is happening to me because my sarod has turned out to be a kind of key. Thus I put my concern aside and return to joking, laughing, serving drinks and chatting confidently about music in the company of this group of people I’ve never met before. And walk home late rather proud of myself.
DARSHAN. Osho’s car stops unexpectedly in the rain outside Buddha Hall, as he is driven back from his time with us at White Robe Brotherhood. It is just a few yards from where I am watching with many others, pressed up against the Hall’s mosquito netting. As the window winds down, chiseled in clarity through the evening raindrops, his face appears. I am overwhelmed by the sensation of a vast emptiness there in the place of personality. He is looking straight at me (although I acknowledge everyone around me probably felt this too). And as his presence burns me into the here and now, I hear a voice saying: “You are doing fine, just stay right with it”. The love I feel for him in that moment is so cool and grateful, it’s like no other love I’ve ever known. As the window winds up and the car moves on again, I awake to find my hand on my heart.
Coming home his message rings and rings: You are doing fine, just stay right with it! And I want to shout it from the rooftops: “I love him. I’ve seen him! He’s seen me!” Except, I understand, it’s not I and me, just seeing has happened. Seeing recognition, love, reassurance – whatever it was that passed from a face in a Rolls Royce, chiselled out of living raindrops, to a man pressed against a mosquito net, hand on heart.