PLAYING FOR OSHO 1989 Introduction
In June 1989 I arrived back at the Rajneesh Ashram (shortly afterwards to be renamed “Osho Commune International”) in Pune, India, fresh from a devastating love affair in Calcutta. Just like hundreds of others, I was nobody special. Apart from my sarod, I came encumbered with only an aversion to getting involved emotionally again (which would turn out to help me spend many hours every day practicing music). I certainly wasn’t telling myself any tales about future acclaim. Far from it! I was innocent of any ambition, beyond exploring to the best of my abilities the intricacies of Hindustani classical music and the fascinating textures of sound that this instrument could produce. And I was still more or less a beginner, having been studying under Ustad Gurdev Singh in London for a mere four years and having had no other formal training in music since a year of classical guitar lessons in my teens. I could not therefore in my wildest imaginings dream that, six months later, I would leave the Commune as a celebrated performer, having played for Osho himself, and with enough musical contacts in the West to spend the rest of the ‘90s collaborating to produce half a dozen world fusion CDs.
It is impossible for me to separate playing music for Osho from being with Osho. Broadly, being one of his neo-sannyasins means: first, participating in the many formal meditation techniques he established, almost all of which include original recorded music; second, listening to his teachings and discourses, which in his last years were given exclusively to gatherings of several thousand people in the Ashram/Commune’s Buddha Hall; and third, learning from the inevitable encounters resulting from working, meditating and living together in Pune or the other communities sannyasins had set up around the world. Being part of the Ashram/Commune in Osho’s physical presence meant that exploring human relationships (for me, as for many of us, romantic ones in particular) played an important role in transforming old patterns of thinking and feeling. Thus, parallel to my transmutation into a musician of repute throughout the year, I continued a journey deeper into the, often painful, lessons learned through falling in and out of love.
In what follows I spare the reader as many unnecessary details of these as I can (I paraphrase and refute Tolstoy: unhappy relationships are all much the same!) aiming to keep the focus on music and the path it opened up for me amidst the unique atmosphere of what Osho described as a ‘meeting place of friends’: his Commune.
I had first come to the place the previous autumn, when Osho had still been known as Bhagwan. My Bengali tabla-playing friend KP and I arrived from West Bengal on a second-class train ride across the breadth of India and took a rickshaw from Pune station. As we walked up the leafy lane leading to the Ashram, I remember vividly the sense of an immense pulsating energy up ahead. It was as if I giant dynamo was humming, a sound created by the collective intensity of several thousand devoted sannyasins. I’d been a sannyasin (‘fellow travellers’, as Bhagwan described us) myself for over six years at that point, but had only seen my Master in the flesh briefly in Bombay in 1986. I had no connections in the Pune Ashram, beyond a couple of contacts from my London life, who I knew were somewhere in the maelstrom I was about to enter.
There was music in that throbbing hum, that much I did know: wild, un-categorizable celebration music; deep and mysterious meditation music; and rather more conventional songs expressing gratitude to the Master and the experiences of sannyasin life. Over the years Bhagwan’s meditations, discourses and festivals had all included music that made it to London on every tape and video coming out of the Ashram. I was in awe of it and of those brilliant, distant beings who were actually creating and playing it in his presence.
The campus was much smaller physically in those days and its multifarious activities packed thousands of people from around the world into around an acre. Bhagwan himself lived in one secluded, wooded corner and emerged only to give discourse every evening in Buddha Hall, a huge canvas-roofed and open-sided structure where daily meditations and night-time events also took place. The rest of the space was given over to accommodation, construction workshops and media offices, canteens and kitchens, session and group therapy rooms, communal bathrooms and a sauna, the whole operation run by sannyasins as volunteers. As we entered its barely-contained chaos of laughing, loving and burning-the-candle-at-both-ends humanity, KP and I joined in the general feeling of having miraculously found ourselves at the very heart of the world. (As a friend would tell me later as she departed for her home in Boston: “How to explain to people out there that I’ve come from a place where I’m in love with five thousand people?”)
Conscious that our time together would be short, KP and I quickly settled into rooms outside the Ashram and then took to our sarod and tabla practice in a nearby guesthouse garden. There we were discovered and joined by two North American musicians attracted to Hindustani classical: Lolita, who had already had some lessons back home on bamboo flute; and Gopal, who was just discovering the ancient bowed instrument, dilruba. Meanwhile, inside the Ashram Music Department, well-established figures were producing the high-energy celebration music and devotional songs in the Western pop/rock tradition that we heard every evening before and after Bhagwan’s discourses.
After a week KP returned to Calcutta and I ventured to bring my sarod inside the Ashram gates, where I met a gentle Sikh tabla player and managed to find a quiet corner in a little garden near the main canteen to play with him whenever he could get free from his duties at bag check. Curious onlookers sometimes drifted by until one day late in the year, Milarepa, coordinator of the Music Department, overheard us and invited me to play for him and some of the other musicians in the diminutive music room – to me a holy of holies – in which all Ashram music was rehearsed. None of them had ever seen a sarod before and Milarepa was clearly impressed.
On 26th December Bhagwan dropped his bombshell in discourse. We had been calling him (and singing songs of love and gratitude to him) under that name for years. Suddenly here he was declaring that he found the word ugly, that it had all been a joke! I glanced over to where the musicians sat and wondered if they were hurriedly ditching their planned song to accompany our now title-less Master as he left the hall.
A couple of days after this, I made a quick trip to the UK to get a new Indian visa. Little did I know, when I flew back to Pune in January, that I would never live in Britain again. During the first half of the year, as Bhagwan was renamed Osho and then began his last series of discourses, I continued humbly practicing on my sarod in quiet corners of the campus; sharing what Gurdev had taught me in London with Lolita in her garden and with Gopal in his hidden-away rooftop room on top of one of the Ashram’s administrative buildings just outside the main campus. I had no inkling of the emotional dramas that awaited me as I headed off at the beginning of April on a visit to KP in Calcutta. Nor of the dramatic changes that would follow my return to Pune two months later, as my instrument turned into a kind of silver key, magically opening doors I would never even have dreamed of knocking on.