Pages Navigation Menu

Official Blog

How To Become a Hippy 1970-78

Posted by on 23 Feb 2018 in Creative Writings | 0 comments

In the autumn of 1970, at the age of fifteen I wrote this:

“Stephen Dunster, being of sound mind, doth hereby his future life, whatever it be worth, to the furthering of beauty, peace and love unto the far corners of the Earth.”

How did such a decision arise to become a hippy?

It was the zeitgeist of course. I was a typical English kid, brought up in rural Kent, reaching my teens in the mid-sixties. Top of the Pops on BBC television plus Radio Caroline at night subliminally introduced me to the fact that there was “Something in the Air”. I treasured the rare singles I could afford to buy – the Kinks and the Small Faces were my favourites. I remember my first amazed sight of the cover of Sargent Peppers at my best friend Charles’s house late in 1967 (the first album either of us had ever owned) and listening to it was – as for so many people – a revelation. I stayed up deep into the night the following year to hear the pre-release of the full White Album on pirate radio. As yet I had no conscious understanding of what I was imbibing; the music and lyrics were fascinating and lovable but I was far too immature to analyze them or their effect on me.

In 1969 I found myself drifting away from the rest of the rough and tumble group of kids from my class that I had been hanging out with – fishing, stealing sweets from shops, mock fights, illegal beers in a dingy but co-operative local pub – and being attracted towards some of the loners in my school. The thoughtful, shy, unpopular and even handicapped ones who weren’t good in groups, or at sport. Perhaps a loneliness in me resonated with theirs.

It seems now that this period was preparing me for what was to come. 1970 brought a cascade of events that would lead me to identify myself as a freak and to write that manifesto in the autumn.

Quite how Charles and I determined that we must try marijuana I don’t know. Nor how we obtained a pinch of uninspiring-looking leaves or found ourselves under a bridge in Maidstone in early spring. We smoked them with a sense of excited anticipation that was not, as far as I remember, crowned by any remarkable new sensations.

But as they say, if you remember the sixties then you weren’t there. The next thing I recall is camping with Charles and another friend at two pop festivals that spring at Plumpton racecourse in Sussex. Already we felt we were different – we quietly mocked the ‘straight’-looking campers beside us, even though with our school regulation haircuts I doubt if we looked any more like freaks than they did, despite our home tie-dyed T-shirts. Perhaps we’d finally obtained something worth smoking (some older hippies had rented a house on Cranbrook High Street and were supplying ‘quid deals’ of Lebanese hash) because hearing Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower’ repeatedly blasted from the speaker stacks sent me into ecstatic goosebumps. The Edgar Broughton Band provided the grunty R&B to help me release my inhibitions in mad dance, while Hawkwind replaced the cobwebs in my head with farout swirls. At the end of the first festival a guy was handing out headbands saying ‘Woodstock Peace and Love’. I’d never heard of it.

Falling in love (a deep crush would perhaps be a more accurate description from todays perspective) provoked a romantic introspection to accompany my solitary walks after school through the woods and fields behind our house. Naturally there was music to accompany me, with my head full of Forest, Roy Harper and Donovan. It was unexpressed, so shy was I, and unrequited. The girl was more interested in a fascinating new arrival into our little scene.

Mark was from London, that faraway (just an hour by train in reality) beacon of hip. He spent the week at some progressive school there where: “Man, can you believe his luck? They actually allow students to grow their hair long!”, and the weekends in Kent. Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell were his thing (hitherto far too American for my English parochial tastes). In short, he was sophisticated compared to us bumpkins, yet his warmth as a friend balanced his cool as a freak. Before long Charles and I were visiting him in London, where he introduced us to a Jewish crowd in Golders Green, whose parents would disappear off to California or Paris for days on end and leave them alone at home. Where they could naturally hold extravagant parties, at which I became the darling of the girls by spending much of my time helping in the kitchen. I’d never seen anything like it: the freedom, the big houses and big money, the vast record collections……

I’d wake on the floor or a couch early on a Sunday morning and hurry off in a daze to get back to Kent for a 9am start at my Sunday job as a lawnmower cum stable boy. This usually involved a suburban train ride to some outlying station near the main road and then a frantic hitchhike down the A21.

Finally school broke up for the summer holidays and we could turn our attention to being full-time freaks for a while. We scoured the neighbourhood on our bikes, exchanging records with friends, listening to them over and over again before reluctantly having to pass them back. King Crimson, Quatermass, Pretty Things, Soft Machine, Van Der Graaf Generator, Dr John, Fairport Convention, Dr Strangely Strange – we absorbed the whole eclectic bundle. Trips to London to obtain something to smoke (the pedestrian underpass at Notting Hill, the Chelsea Drug Store, Kensington Antique market) and pick up the latest freak magazines (Oz, IT) and Robert Crumb style comix, involved hitchhiking or risky ticketless rides on the train, sixteen shillings under-18 return being beyond our budget.

The Isle of Wight festival crowned the summer. But it wasn’t the headlining Hendrix, Emerson Lake and Palmer or the Who that I was waiting for. Alvin Lee’s Ten Years After was going to be my highlight (and I have to say, watching the film recently my judgment wasn’t far off!). Huddled amidst the vast crowds, far from the stage, I had no idea of the chaotic goings on up there or on the boundary fence. Incomprehensible announcements passed me by; my main pre-occupation was finding my way back to Charles and Mark after a trip to the toilets, the fastfood outlets or a search for hash. Bearings had to be carefully taken and hundreds of bodies crossed. At one point, completely lost, I gave up and plonked myself down at random. Chatting to the fellow beside me I learned he was from Oxford. “I’ve got a friend who moved there”, I told him and gave her name. “Oh I used to go out with her,” he replied. So small seemed the world suddenly, and how central we, the festival-goers, the Woodstock generation, were to it. Mark’s brother picked us up off the ferry in a van. Three sleepless nights had taken their toll on me: I lay in the back half asleep and hallucinating the whole way home.

Music remained the thread on which the next couple of years hung. Incredible String Band in a Leicester Square theatre – I’d never seen such exotic instruments before; Pink Floyd in an Art College student refectory in East London, dancing so close to the band and their psychedelic backdrop projections. My school gave us permission to invite bands to perform in our assembly hall. We had a few one hit wonders who I imagine have now vanished without much trace, one of which was shortly afterwards to surprise us: Genesis had released their first LP but we still got them for our standard budget of fifty quid, (plus buying them all a beer in the pub). It wouldn’t be long before I was bemusedly and greedily gobbling up their second, then their third……

“Love is our religion

Truth is our worship

Conscience is our guide

Peace is our shelter

Nature our companion

Beauty and perfection our law”

(written autumn 1971)

Hash, and the difficulties of obtaining it in a small town like Cranbrook, was a second thread. I simply craved the release it gave me from the routine of a dull boys only school, a sexually repressed culture and home and what in retrospect was probably the trauma of being fatherless since the age of seven in a society where my parents ugly divorce was a scandal. I used it to get high and commune with nature, bowling through the fields, my eyes full of gladness at the green beauty around me; I used it for my poetry of unrequited love, for the doodles and drawings that would overtake my attempts to get my homework done; for drowning myself in music though a pair of old aviators headphones that a technically minded friend managed to hook up to our family’s mono record player. And for freaking out at parties, head to the speakers, wildly shaking my tragically not-long-enough hair, my limbs twitching, anaerobic blood pumping through my frustrated veins. Hitchhiking one day I was picked up by a freak and invited him home to my attic hangout. He produced a twist of exquisite Moroccan and soon we were catalytic with cathartic laughter.

My mother bought me a fifteenth birthday present of a guitar (a nylon string that I managed to hang on to as a momento from those days until it mysteriously – it can have had no cash value at all – disappeared from my sister’s house as part of a burglary a year or two ago). I had no sense of myself as a musician, my sole previous experience being triangle player at primary school, and no confidence that I would be able to reproduce any of the sound that I was hearing on my favourite records. I took a few lessons in classical, the main result of which was learning to read music and a few lovely studies that until not so long ago my fingers still remembered how to play. My sister and her girlfriend joined me and a couple of others to form a band, which lasted just long enough to do one performance as opening act in our school hall. We covered a few folk songs, including a version of Bridgewater Fair that I wrote a simplistic new melody for, and I strummed until my fingers bled. Afterwards we got compliments from our new headmaster (a progressive type who had taken over from the deeply regressive type who had occupied the post for the previous quarter century or so) complaining that he couldn’t make any sense of what the main act (Comus I think it was) had played but that he’d really enjoyed us.

The thread of hippy culture also passed into me through comix. These – mostly American – alternative cartoon strips often contained scenes that would today be seen as verging on pornographic and introduced me to the anti-war, Vietnam-protesting, guru-spoofing wider world. I’d listened to Jefferson Airplane and CSNY expressing this stuff through their lyrics, but now I began to take note of a broader picture, that included Black Panthers, feminism and environmental activism. A card-carrying English flower child, I was soon repelled by the righteousness of it all, and by the time I left school in 1972 I left Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones in their opening albums and found my gaze turning towards the gentler pastures of English psychedelic/traditional folk.

Gradually books began to take their place beside music as central to my education. An exotic gay physics teacher in my last year of school introduced me to quantum theory and to the mystical ramblings of Pawals and Berger. Jorge Louis Borges ‘The Aleph’ and ‘Labyrinths’ became a bible to me; my first glimpse of the cover of Lord of the Rings lying on someone’s bed had me grabbing for it like it was the Messiah. And the East was gently hinting at its’ future presence in my life. [see 1972-1984 Journey to the East] One of my Jewish London friends gave me a tiny illustrated book containing snippets from Tagore and the Bhagavadgita. “Let me not hear facts, figures and logic. Fain would I hear lore, legend and magic” sang Donovan and I brought my dreary course in Philosophy and Theology at Nottingham University to an abrupt end after less than a year.

It was a new experience to find myself rootless: I’d left my family home and, although it provided a refuge when needed, it was replaced by squatting in London and harvest work on farms around Kent. These were places where people gathered who had no particular attachment to the flower-children era but who, like myself, had imbibed their own take on it all. Suddenly there was the struggle for survival as priority (not that I needed ever to feel hungry or truly homeless until I reached Pakistan in 1975). I got a job for the local Council in Hendon, North London helping some good old boys mow the parks and verges. I did the apple and hop harvests around Kent, living in huts and an old disused oast house and mixing with gypsies, hippies and traditional Eastenders. To please my mother I even managed to get a couple of real jobs. One was for Camden Council in a children’s home (unqualified, unvetted, at eighteen not much older than the oldest kids there – how different those times were compared to today!); another at a charity providing food and shelter for homeless ex-prisoners. One of these, an engaging alcoholic, I brought back to live in our squat in Baker Street, where he’d engage in boxing rounds with invisible opponents and grin with bemusement at our vegetarian cooking. He was off before long and probably back in the familiar comforts of prison where three meals a day and all decisions were provided free for him. Neither jobs lasted, I was too restless to stay anywhere long.

Me, sometime in the early ’70s

I finally lost my virginity early in 1974, embarrassingly late compared to my friends, but delightfully. One of my searches for something to satisfy my mothers desperate concern about my future career led me to Colonsay, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Here the ex-military and eccentric head of an organization sending volunteers to work in the Third World had his lair, where he’d put prospective candidates through tests of endurance. I recall nothing of these, spending as much of my free time as I could smoking pot in the heather overlooking the sea. Of the rest of the options on offer I had nothing but contempt but ‘Assistant to the Archbishop of Ovamboland’ took my fancy. I was told that it was unlikely that I would get the post as the currant occupant was thinking about staying on but I insisted on my choice. On the train back to Glasgow a wee slip of a girl who had been on the course sat opposite me. She’d noticed me off in the heather she remarked, suspecting what I’d been up to but too shy to approach me. Her parents were away, she told me and I could come and spend the night at her home if I wanted. Innocent as a dove, I jumped at the chance to get a free night’s lodging before taking the train back south the next day.

So it was that I found myself in a suburban house in Stirling, having a hot bath run for me. How we managed to both tumble into it fully clothed can be left to theorists of evolution and the central role of reproduction in evolutionary fitness. Before long we were both naked in front of an electric bar heater, exploring each other’s bodies with our hands and eyes in wonder. It was the first time I’d ever been with a naked woman (such were the constraints of a 1960s English upbringing) and the image of the golden light on her skin remains with me today. I was completely incapable of getting it in once we were in bed; it was hard but why wasn’t it fitting? So, tired out, we slept and when I woke in the morning we’d done it. I’d lost my virginity in my sleep.

Joy and I met up a few times over the next months for energetic sex and I tried to convince myself I was in love with her. But she was having none of it and left as planned with a girlfriend for the south of France that summer. Joy, thank you and bless you! I remember you with joy in my heart.

I took my disappointed self off in autumn for hop picking at Tibbs Court Farm, Brenchley, there to meet Paddy, an Irishman who introduced me to Van Morrison, James Brown and the delights of Soul, so refreshing after a long diet of rock and folk. And Liz, another Scot, who succumbed to my blandishments and – just seventeen – allowed me to become her partner. Harvest done, we searched for a place to live, trying a caravan in Scotland (she caught crabs and I a dose of love for the country that would last into the eighties), even briefly renting a bedsit in Nottingham, where I worked as a delivery lorryman’s assistant.

Quite how and why we cooked up a plan to go overland to India as soon as possible I have simply no idea. Whatever it’s source, it required saving for, so we took ourselves to our respective parental homes to eliminate rent and met up regularly over the winter at friends in Bradford. There was fabulous Pakistani curry there, and sleepless weekends lit by lavalamps but the hitching was tedious and I leaned to curse the long queues at the start of the M1. I did odd gardening jobs at my old Primary school, where my mother was secretary and worked as a plasterers help at a building site in my Secondary.

By early spring 1975 we decided we had enough (around $500 between us if I remember rightly, adequate for six months at around a dollar a day each). Despite her being still legally a minor, there were no objections from Liz’s doting parents to her disappearing off with a twenty year old for an indefinite length of time on an unknown route through Asia. Nor do I recall any tearful farewells either there or from my mother. We promised to pick up letters whenever possible at Post Restaunte in major cities and to write whenever we could. In late March we met up in London and set off. [see 1975 Hippy Trail]

Self portrait 1977

My identification as a hippy survived the arrival of punk and the New Wave the following year. I remember how shocked I was at friends cutting their hair and adopting a more urban dress code. My reaction was to retreat further into the countryside (but not so far further as to join the wave of people heading off to rainy Wales to attempt living off the land). Liz and I moved to Canterbury, where I took a room in a ramshackle old farmhouse with a group of run down freaks. Hash was no longer getting me high, late 70’s music was heading over my head, but a return to painting, which had been my sole success at school, became a temporary savior. I enrolled at Teacher Training College to please my mother, chose Art as my main subject and spent close to three years out in the fields and amongst dilapidated barns with canvas and drawing pads, attending College only when required to keep myself on the course.

By late 1978 even this was not enough. Liz and I had separated and, the excitement of exploring the countryside around the old farm was paling. Hippydom had meant a rejection of societal norms, now I was barely connected to any society to reject! We had been going to create a better world, now I was just another longhair surrounded by other drifters. My 1970 manifesto was still alive in me but I certainly wasn’t embodying it.

Life provided me with the perfect answer in the shape of Diana, a Canadian passing through UK on her way to Rajneesh’s ashram in India. She was utterly unlike anyone I’d come across before. Her suitcase was full of macrobiotic food and exotic natural supplements; she looked with disdain on my ragged wardrobe and had long given up on pot smoking. She had come from Nelson, BC where her friends were Vietnam draft-dodgers building their own houses on mountains and locals running successful wholefood businesses and organic farms. She was five years older than me, which felt to me an eternity at the time, confident and clear of her direction.

We fell in love immediately and passionately and when two weeks later she left for India I knew I had to follow her somehow. I couldn’t just abandon my studies again, so this meant attempting to vicariously experience her path by taking myself at weekends up the orange-painted staircase to Rajneesh’s Kalpataru Center in London’s Chalk Farm and trying out the meditations and groups that she would be doing in India. I felt like a total outsider amidst the orange-clad sannyasins who seemed vastly more mature than me but could nevertheless feel the resonance between these people and my original vision of beauty, peace and love.

Over the next couple of months Diana wrote to tell me that she had taken sannyas and become Ma Prem Dagdha, while via frustratingly interrupted international STD calls we re-affirmed our commitment to each other. She needed a break from the intensity of the Poona ashram, she told me and I wasn’t yet ready to face everything I was hearing about the place, so we made a hasty plan to meet in Delhi during my short Easter break from College. [see 1979 India]

Thus began my seamless morph from hippy to sannyasin. While waiting for a bus in a dingy chai shop in Pathankot, Punjab I made this drawing. Something beautiful had died; out of it something powerful was emerging.

Read More

GUS THE BUS Nov 2017- Jan 2018

Posted by on 17 Jan 2018 in travels/explorations | 0 comments

2017 Nov 21st
After a cursory inspection with Naveena and Koyal, I bought a 1968 Bedford Bus (NZ$23,000) fully converted to self contained home (kitchen with gas cooker, shower/toilet, woodburning stove, 12v fridge etc) which will just need hooking up to electrics and access to water. The moment I saw her (I’m guessing Gus is short for Augusta as vehicles, boats etc are female, aren’t they?) I was in love! I could swear she drove past me in the desert in Afghanistan in ’75, full of freaks headed for Kathmandu offering me a ride. I came home and taking a picture from the website advertising her sale drew this (Koyal added the rosette). Compare it to the photo of the end result (at bottom) and it seems that a vision came to me pretty much fully formed……

Today I also got a reply from my landlord saying we are welcome to put her at the bottom of the garden for the four months in which he wants to use the house. I’ve got a lovely hidden away spot lined up since ages in the hope of something like this. Staying in this garden that i have done so much to create over the past three years will be a joy. And he says we can store all our stuff in one room of the house, and move back in to it at the end of April if we haven’t bought anything by then!!!! It’s the perfect solution.

Nov 28th GUS the BUS
Driving Gus from Auckland’s North Shore to home here out on the Western fringe. Fortunately only an hours journey, as handling six and a half tons of 49 year old machinery with no 1st gear, and without a legal heavy vehicle driving license was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The initial hundred meters involved a steep hill start up to traffic lights with lots of traffic. Hairy…. I was trembling! By the time we hit the motorway I could enjoy myself a bit, and Mike, who was trailing us, told me later that we’d reached 100 kmph (Gus does miles and showed only 45 mph).
Mike guided us into the back garden – at one point we had one inch on one side and three inches on the other to spare between two trees. Reversing her up on blocks to level was a mission in itself, but finally we realized that we needed to remove the blocks, reverse her behind their positions and then roll her forward back onto them.

The moment Naveena, Koyal and I stepped into her we realized we had got ourselves something exceptional. Whoever had converted her had done so with taste and style (delicate pastel shades of cream on walls and matching furniture, fine hardwood kitchen surfaces) as well as with quality (powerful pump and gas water heater, two solid deep cycle batteries, lovely little latest model woodburner). We don’t have her history (the vendors had her less than a year and sold her with every last thing down to teaspoons on board) but whoever looked after her all these years did a good job too as she starts easily and the engine purrs sweetly. Roars sweetly I should say when it come to hills……


Naveena and Koyal drew these when we got back to the house after she was settled into position.


Dec 1st
Fabulous support from friends these days as we start to build a zula (Arabic word, meaning a comfy hang out space) as a lean-to living room. Everyone rocking up exactly as needed and making the job go fast and fun. A simple deck, bamboo uprights, light decking as rafters, which will bear a clear polypropline roof.

(L -R) Stephen Moller, Oliver Kraft and Robin Rawstorne with me and Naveena on the zula deck.

Taken from my to do list:
Add new shelf under sink 570X320; buy storage bins to go under sofa; buy bigger fridge – space available 990X460W X 610D; extend aluminium protection between stove and fridge 560X500H; sink draining board extension 606X372; two curtain rails 1190 for hanging our clothes; install extractor fan.
Order zula awning to fit deck 3160X2500 (; report to solar suppliers (Wave Inverters, Kelston) on what we will need to connect up the four 128W solar panels (donated by our friend Abheer), with our two current batteries.
Order compost toilet and construct shed for it, canvas available in 4500X2100 so dimensions 1450D, 800W with 100 each side of door.
Hook up and bury hose line from the house to splitter feeding both Gus and garden water storage barrels. Run electrics down from house.

Dec 4th
The zula turns out to be160mm too long to fit the only available decent awning which is exactly 3m. Yesterday we rebuilt and got our Balinese statue installed.
I have a list of about a hundred things still to do and am spending a LOT of time under Gus trying to figure out hose and electric connections. Oliver and I are also spending a LOT of time puzzling over complicated solar machinery. We have less than a month to go. In the middle of all this our washing machine up at the house has failed, so vast laundry piles up while we wait for a new one. And Pip our one-month-with-us kitten still isn’t reliable on the tray or cleaning his bum, and demands so much attention. In addition I’ve taken over responsibility for a dozen palm trees that badly need repotting from plastic carriers. Plus the weather is unrelentingly dry and the garden needs tons of watering if all my veggies are going to survive.
It’s 3am now, bit extreme compared to the usual time of 4am that I’ve been getting up and starting work the past week. Full moon boring down on this amazing rural garden. As soon as its light I’ll get in Gus and unscrew the old fridge and cupboard.

Dec 7th
Ross has given me free a load of old lumber that will be good for building the shed for toilet plus a session room for Naveena, to be built away from Gus in a hidden circle behind two apple trees. An Indian guy from Osho Friday meditations has promised me more. For the session room, our international design star school parent Robin Rawstorne sketched out a five-sided design for me in three minutes flat. I’ve decided to build it exclusively with bamboo that we have growing on the property. I’m now researching angles and lengths on the internet.
I’m also helping Steve on his section in Parau (300k looked like a cheap deal but it’s steep, boggy and he’s just found out it’s a special ecological zone, so chopping trees may be limited), putting up a shed. Which he, Desiree and two kids may well end up living in at this rate I reckon!

Dec 11th
Last week Suryo and I got the path to the toilet made (first half a job lot of pavers, second a bunch of free decking) the toilet shed built and drainage ditches filled with gravel dug along Gus’s sides. Steve, Oli and I got the roofing on the zula. Plus once we had removed that 160mm off the deck the awning (bit grey but what to do?) now fits perfectly.
The list of to-dos gets bigger all the time, but the last majors are now the electrics (getting expert advise on hooking up solar panels) plus the bamboo session room.
Every single morning I’m on TradeMe (our local ebay) and afterwards driving down to Mitre10, our local hardware store, where I’ve got really friendly with the staff who all know me by now. The amount of materials pouring onto this site is astounding.

Dec 14th
The amazing humming of thousands of wings from the hive at night as the bees dry out their honey.
Yesterday I created the bamboo door for the toilet; hooked up the hose system; planned out pentagon behind the apple trees with Oli. We just got the first cucumber from the greenhouse. Little Pip the kitten gets in the way of my chain sawing. He’s fearless!

Dec 16th
From my to do list:
Zula: paint entrance; slit bamboos as topping for its low sides; install vertical roofing piece for rain drips over Gus entrance; fix Buddha damaged during transport to site; Velcro canvas behind Buddha.
Gus: rainproof electrics box, drill hole to let mains in to interior, fix broken door lock, mosquito net door,
Buy: electrics extensions etc, hose ends and splitter, white Velcro small hinges for zula doors,
Call: solar supplier re batteries, find 12v electrician for advice

Dec 17th
From my to do list:
Build upper zula stable door using Perspex 100X770; ditto lower zula door in split bamboo 860X770; close gap between door and awning with vertical roofing 1980 X 210W (bottom) 240W (top); mosquito net triangular panel above door to curved bus roof;
Epoxy and paint front Gus roof; cut away tree branches extending over Gus; order more roof sheets; ask Pramod if he can prepare me a nice woodedn board 2000X160 as a shelf food storage in Gus; make bedside shelves (needs jigsaw); repair verandah back at the house; resize Pips food/bed box; test shower.
Buy: washers, bolts, screws, gas canister, 12v bedside lamp and switch, more hose connectors, 25m electric cable, brass hooks for cups.

Dec 19th
It’s been almost a month now. My typical day:
Up between 3.30 and 5. Finish by 6pm. Fueled on coffee, rollies and wonderful food that Naveena brings down.
Current status:
Solar hooked up last week, monitoring it regularly and seems to be working. Thank God for Oli’s brain on this stuff! Zula almost finished, just some mosquito-proofing, and getting the bamboo stable door stable. Outside compost toilet just needs 12v fan connected. New tap and washbasin appeared outside it yesterday. I didn’t even have it on the plans but it just happened once Naveena presented me with the idea of using a lovely wooden salad bowl she had handy. Water is coming from the kitchen sink, but I haven’t had the guts to try the shower yet and see if the gas kicks in to heat the water. Oli needs to complete 12v wiring to fridge and extractor. I need a chicken wire fence to keep Pip in to a controlled area of garden and away from the main house (the little bugger is on such a food trip! He’s at the house cats food like an addict and I don’t want him up there bothering the owners all the time once they move in).
MUST turn our attention to the five-sided bamboo space. Site is cleared but not leveled. Big bamboos need to be felled. Lucky Naveena’s nephew Nir and his friend just arrived from Israel. Let’s see how handy they are…

clearing site for pentagon

Then there’s moving all our stuff from the house to make way for Ron and Saray the owners. Only eleven days left…..

22nd Dec
After one and a half long days Oli and I have the pentagon up. Bit of bracing and fiddling with the rafters and we’ll be ready for the roof sheets tomorrow, Then Nir and his friend Beni can do some more floor leveling and extend the drainage ditch a little. Then canvas, cut out for windows and pebbles for path and we’re done. Still a couple of dozen jobs on Gus, zula etc but they’re mainly minor details.

me and Oli starting the pentagon

Even found time to take Nir and Beni over to Steves and do four hours on his section yesterday morning!

Koyal is reading like crazy. Naveena is serving food and drinks and keeping the ship going like the ezre khai (‘perfect woman’ or something like that in Hebrew) she is, plus packing stuff into boxes and looking for new curtains for Gus.
From my to do list;
secure zula door both open and shut; feed mains into Gus and pentagon; wet ground so Israeli boys can stir mud until floor is flat; buy pebbles for entrance and drainage.
get ready for Giselle, who is coming tomorrow to show us how to harvest honey, now urgent as the hive boxes are full to overflowing.
buy: hose extension, fixtures, roofing nails, tarp, tin snips, new shower head, angle grinder blades, chisel, shelf brackets, tent pegs, honey buckets, waterproofing spray

Dec 24th
Up before 3, clearing living room. Yesterday milestone day: 15kg of honey harvested; roof on the pentagon; first hot shower in Gus; all of us sleeping there well.
Bad vibes emanating: Ron and Saray suddenly email us with mysterious ‘decisions’ that are going to be communicated to us via Robyn the agent. She’s on holiday til 27th.
The list of jobs now extends urgently into fixing up and cleaning out the house, moving everything needed into a tidied-up Gus and the rest into the storage room.

1st Jan 2018
We moved in properly on 29th. It’s been the most exhausting yet creative process of my life. My nerves (and hands – cut to shreds) need a lot of rest now. Good that there’s only tickling about left to do.
It went to a hell with the owners. Suddenly we were dealing with Robyn the property manager demanding $350 A WEEK to live here. Ron silent and invisible. A charged meeting with her, at which she tried blackmail (“if you don’t sign then if you’re not out tomorrow by 5 you’re squatters and the police will remove you…”). I removed myself and let Naveena handle it, and she negotiated down to 240. Ron moved in next day (they even had the nerve to try to come in on 29th a day early!) and hasn’t been seen down here. I’m avoiding the house area totally except early morning to pick up last gardening stuff from compost area etc. What a spineless weasel! Ten days ago it as all ‘thanks mate’ and me playing guitar for his poetry reading at Titirangi library, including arranging a hand drum for him. Now he hasn’t got the guts to face us. Yesterday Robyn texted me to move the van off the driveway. So even such minor things have to go through her now!
Anyway here we are and so happy. Little Pip has settled in and is bringing Naveena so much joy. Koyal is a star and starting to be really keen on helping and doing things like making breakfast for herself.
Last tweaks on the hose system from house to bus, garden and toilet basin – water pressure is the issue and I’m upgrading to the best hose and fittings. Oli starring on electrics and finishing off the pentagon. I waterproofed the canvas yesterday, let’s see how it (and the whole site) handles the first heavy rain……
In the midst of these forty days it’s been SO dry. Garden needing heaps of water. Got Nir onto that and taught him some planting, compost making and general awareness of plants needs. He’s SO keen to learn because he wants to make a career out of medical cannabis back in Israel.
The whole project was fueled on all the friends rocking up to help. And on enhancement, tons of rollies and evening whisky and lemon. Naveena simply stars as hostess, but a woman’s work in never done and I’m doing my best to be supportive on the laundry and cleanup front. Koyal so understanding as she tries to get my attention and I just hurry on by going ‘yes Koylee’ and then not paying any attention to what she’s trying to tell/show me!
Final two days cleaning at the house culminated in a record breaking 2am start for me, taking rubbish and recycling up to the school to dispose of as our bins are full. Council picked this moment to re-introduce bins instead of the bags they brought in two years ago for rubbish. Luckily I hadn’t got them to take our old one away, just had to remove it from the rainwater harvesting system.

final day on the house verandah, relaxing with Mike and Oli

3rd Jan
Funny: I just heard that my father James died on Xmas day after his long period as a vegetable. And my old ‘friend’ Ron hasn’t even been down to visit us. There are echos here of the abandonment and disappointment I felt when James left when I was seven. Ron and his wife are like silent ghosts up there at the house. Last night I dreamed he was begging my forgiveness. James’s ghost?
Right pinky dupuytrons got worse. A crown fell out today. My hands are rough and scratched. Time for some fix ups.
4th Jan
Seems the ghosts have fangs. Just after writing last night I got an email from Robyn. We have 90 days notice to quit. Plus get our stuff out of storage room in house within a week. “Why?” Koyal asks. No answer!
Search for section/property intensifies. Must have Gus access, be flat and sunny and around Titirangi. Hen’s teeth indeed!
Big tropical storm coming today. NE with 125kmph gusts forecast. Let’s see how we stand up to it….hopefully we’re well sheltered here with trees and bamboo.

Gus interior, pretty much finished



Sat 7th Jan
Survived it. Minor drips. A fun drama at midnight as Naveena wakes me up hearing bangs and we go out into the rain to find the solar panels down and Koyal does cartwheels on the lawn while we put them back up. Loads of tweaking on Gus’s gutters, wedges to create a drip line where the zula roof joins the bus roof etc.
Now clearing all the wood and gardening stuff from the shed, trips to Storage King, Op Shops and the school to dump it all off.

Jan 10th
More drain on psychic resources getting the stuff in the storage room in the house repacked and down to Storage King. Mike the hero as usual. Anal Robyn with her lists of minor damage and missing items, trying to squeeze as much as she can out of us. I guess it will be goodbye to our $1650 bond when the time comes to leave.
Finally hit the beach after a month or so. Aaaahhh…

Read More

YOGA ON SACRED GROUND re-release 2018

Posted by on 11 Jan 2018 in Music | 0 comments

Yoga On Sacred Ground is a cornucopia of stories, both musical and human. First released in 2001 on New Earth Records, it was a pioneer of what has today become the well-populated genre of music for yoga.

I made this CD during 1999-2000, while living between a garden home in Maui, Hawai’i and a room in the Osho Meditation Resort, Pune, India, where I was co-ordinator of the Music Department. Here I am at my Roland 8-track in the kitchen that Shastro and I built on his land on the slopes of Mount Pele. He features on Track 5 ‘The Watcher’, his smooth bamboo flute playing gracefully floating above the edgy accordion, played by my bazanak, Zaheer. Bazanak is a Turkish word, meaning that we are married to two sisters. His Middle Eastern approach to the Indian scale I chose for this piece makes for a distinctive East-West fusion.

While this reflection on the CD will mostly focus on the people involved (without whom it would be but a pale shadow of itself) I must at this stage introduce one non-human character: the Yamaha QY70, a tiny but mighty aid to composing and recording in those pre- software-plugin-free-samples-on-internet days. Both synthesizer and sequencer, it enabled me to make my first experiments with drum loops and electronic effects on ‘Bhakti The Beloved’ a CD of Indian chants released on Shastro’s Malimba Records in 1999.

with Gerhard Fankhauser

It was one of these chants, ‘Hari Bol’, a traditional Krishna bhajan, that provided the basis for the extraordinary first track of Yoga On Sacred Ground. ‘Natrani’ (Queen of the `Dance) is perhaps my favourite of all the hundred plus pieces of music I’ve recorded over the past quarter century. The melody and Spanish lute playing on this track are by Gerhard Fankhauser, an Austrian I met on my first trip to Israel in 1999. Gerhard had spent years in India, attending bhajan recitals in temples, hanging out with sadhus and collecting traditional devotional tunes and lyrics.

Removing the vocals left ‘Hari Bol’ the perfect platform for the flute playing of Bikram Singh. Bikram hails from Manipur on the India/Myanmar frontier and has both Hindustani classical and Indian folk music steeped in his bones. I recorded him as a single ‘take’ in my room in Pune, allowing him to range free over the Raga Bhairavi scale. This he did with barely a pause for breath and with a sort of flawless impertinence that puts my struggles with my own instrument to shame. With a few edits to leave some space for wooden sound effects conjured up from the QY70, plus punchy drum loops and Manish Vyas’s marvelously deep-tuned tabla, the track achieved its breathtaking flow from muted entrance to grand finale.

Bikram Singh

Mention of Manish brings me instantly (and out of order) to Track 3 ‘Breathing Prana’ on which his brilliant tabla playing is so prominent. I recycled this piece from my CD ‘Lands of the Dawn’, which briefly saw the light of day on Nightingale Records in Germany in1996 and disappeared with the collapse of the label soon afterwards. Manish and I recorded the sarod and tabla for this live in a studio in Hamburg on his first trip to the West in 1994. Based, like so much of my music, on traditional raga (in this case Malkauns in Dadra or 6/8 time), this is essentially improvised performance music. Don Lax added his (very Western style) violin in Maui.

Returning to order, Track 2 ‘Gratitude’ features the rich voice of Delhi-based singer Bodhianand, singing in the Hindustani classical ‘taranana’ style, together with some sampled Irish bagpipes. In typical Chinmaya fashion it is also a recycle, an instrumental version of a Norwegian folksong ‘Nu Takk for Alt’ I wrote a new melody and chord structure for on a privately released ‘Nature’s Way’ collection of original songs in 1995.

Track 4 ‘On Sacred Ground’ is a treasure. As Music Dept co-ordinator in Pune I had access to old DAT tapes recorded live at the White Brotherhood meetings in Buddha Hall during the ‘90s. I stumbled upon this one with me playing sarod, Prasad (now famous as the bluesman Harry Manx) on slide guitar and a bassist (Satgyan?) improvising live for fifteen minutes. I transferred it to hard disk recorder, edited out a few minor flaws and stitched it back together again with the addition of some anonymous African mouth harp playing I found on an ancient cassette tape. The spontaneity of this unrehearsed performance captures the spirit of those Buddha Hall music days.

Prasad (Harry Manx)

Track 6 ‘Ha Tha (Sun Meets Moon)’ is essentially my solo sarod and guitar playing over a chord pattern I created for another of my unreleased songs ‘All Is Worship’ that used lyrics based on an anonymous tribute to Rumi.

The original album finished with track 7 ‘Purnima Namashkar’, featuring Atmo Sangeet Robertson, the main Osho Resort drummer during much of the ‘90s, on tabla tarang. This rare assembly of differently tuned tablas surrounded Sangeet in my tiny bedroom as he banged out patterns based on the scale of Raga Bhopali. I then added noted Pune sitarist Atul Keskar, improvising in the same raga, some supporting sine wave rhythms from the QY70 and swoops of a swarmandel (Indian autoharp). My partner Naveena plays tanpura.

Sangeet Robertson

For the re-release I suggested to Bhiikkhu at New Earth that we add a final bonus track. ‘Shivasana’. This is essentially a piece recorded by Amano Manish, featuring his slide guitar together with Japanese flautist Nityo. I simply edited it and added background string pads plus birdsong I recorded in Sikkhim in the Hilmalayas many years ago.

Amano Manish

A last thanks must go to Karunesh on Maui in the early days in which this CD has its roots. For his technical support in the complexities of DAT recorders, MIDI cabling and external synchronization, and for his skills in mixing and mastering which he leant me unstintingly.

Read More

Recording the CD ‘Natures Way’ 1995 Hamburg.

Posted by on 27 Jun 2017 in Music | 0 comments

(L-R) Henrik Gumoes, Sangit Om, Sadhu (with swarmandel), Chinmaya

The first four months of the year spent in Pune has seen more than half a dozen songs suddenly pop out of me as if from nowhere. My girlfriend, Sadhu, who has written the lyrics for three of them, untrained as she is, wants to try to sing them in the studio. I’m aiming to make a full CD of these songs (plus two more I wrote years ago) and hopefully work on adding to some instrumental recordings made last year. All in twenty-two days.

I’m back with my old producer friend, Sangit Om, who I’ve worked with before. Budget is tight as usual, so here’s some diary extracts that give a look at how things used to go back in the days when we had only reel-to-reel tape decks and clumsy digital ADAT 8 track recorders hooked up to underpowered computers. And when I was in the early stages of learning to be a professional.

17th – 28th May,

Day 1: As a guide track for each I play stereo guitars on ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Freedom Free’ and ‘Easy’s Right’ and a borrowed Stratocaster on ‘Nature’s Way’. My fingers ache afterwards. Sangit Om has done some basic computer drums to keep it all in rhythm and Sadhu sings a preliminary vocal line so we all know where we are.

Day 2: Cameroonian rasta Gro Ngolle puts groovy bass on ‘Easy’. I spend four grueling hours recording electric guitar on ‘Now Summer’s here Again’ and ‘Riversong’ (which turns out I have composed without knowing it in two different keys and three tempos, including 7/8 for a single bar) plus a second acoustic guitar track on ‘Summer’. My fingers are falling off and my head is spinning. It’s raining all day every day.

Day 3: More guitar on ‘Artists of the Heart’, ‘O Shyam’ and ‘Charlie Girl’. Then watching Sangit Om working hard all afternoon creating drums from machine for ‘Summer’. Fascinating to see how he works in all the breaks, rolls and even some deliberate ‘mistakes’ to make it sound human.

Day 4: finding it hard to sleep, I wake and go for a walk in the park at 4.30 am and suddenly hear an Arabic groove for ‘Artists’ echoing in my head. Sangit Om replicates it on a computer generated dhombak, which we then ‘humanize’ together. Next job is for him to play in some ‘pads’ (a sort of background stringy/organy glue, which will keep each song hanging together) on keyboard. I have spent hours detailing all the chords for this but now discover that my work is riddled with errors. He adds some hilarious rock ‘n roll piano on ‘Summer’. At the end of a long day I try to record the guitars again for ‘Easy’s Right’, which isn’t sounding right at all. Sadhu doesn’t like the feel; Sangit Om points out it has no breaks; I’m all wobble. We postpone.

Day 5: I’m flying today. Since weeks I’ve eaten no sugar, drank no milk or cream, stopped tea, coffee and chocolate, and prefer alcohol-free beer. And I love what I’m doing with music so much! I wake after a kind of ‘enlightenment’ dream, where I’m wheeling, spinning, dizzy, my whole body whirling. In a touch of fear, I call out to Osho and find myself suddenly back calm, clear and meditating in a room. Up at 7am walking and planning the swarmandel (Indian autoharp) for ‘Riversong’. Each chord change requires a re-tuning of this thirty-stringed instrument and at breakfast I plan it all out on paper. In the studio Sadhu plays it in with dedicated concentration while I frantically tune a second swarmandel ready for the next chord change. She gets such satisfaction from finally having a job to do! I replay ‘Freedom Free’ guitars, including some breaks this time. Sangit Om cagey about feedback, as he has to be professionally, but “I like it very, very much” escapes his lips as I replay the ‘Easy’s Right’ guitars in bossanova style. He also “loves, really likes” my demos for two new sarod-based instrumentals ‘Isles of the Blessed’ and ‘Castles in the Clouds’; I hope we can find the time to record them once we’ve finished this project.

Late afternoon, while Sadhu rehearses her vocals, I skip around the Kellerstrasse fields, hugging trees, transfixed by the light on the leaves, the colours in the sky, the cool breeze and bright sun.

Day 6: Heavy feeling today after a whole day getting the bass on. I go to commune with nature in the park afterwards and a dog viciously barks at me. Gro is such a professional and plays like a dream, but I have a headache from all those low notes and the project feels like a weight on my shoulders; resentful that a bassist gets DM700 for an ‘easy’ days work, and a suffering ego says ‘no-one ever paid me that kind of money for my playing boo-hoo…’

Days 7 & 8: Sadhu’s vocals. The same songs over and over and over again to get the best takes. She’s working hard!

Day 9: Pick up Rishi our drummer at train station, we gossip ‘til 2am and next morning he juices up ‘Easy’s Right’, transforms ‘Riversong’ into jazz and brings some Arabic patterns into ‘Artists’. Then S Om and I relax together, feeling so in tune, dream of climbing mountains together in Crete, gossiping about –what else? – music. Finally feedback: I tell him I’ve spent all my inheritance money already, within a year. “You’re a crazy guy, Chinmaya. But we need crazy guys like you making crazy music!” Sadhu sounds ‘a bit thin’ to his ears, and her inexperience and insecurity comes through in her voice. When I tell her, she has a panic attack, but laughs once I tell her how insecure I am too! She’s doing her best, we all are.

Day 10: Naman compliments Sadhu on her singing and then jazzes up ‘Freedom Free’ with flugelhorn and puts tasty trumpet on ‘Nature’s Way’. Then it’s time for Henrik Gumoes on percussion, doubling up Rishi’s drumming on the bossanova and Arabic and spicing up ‘Summer’, which still has only a computer drum loop. Then I look Sangit Om in the eyes to brace him for the next of my crazy ideas: a loop of rainstick percussion for ‘Freedom Free’. After 2 ½ hours of his concentrated work we have turned a basic recording of a rainstick being upturned into a cheeky little groove of tiny clicks.

Day 11: After some small finishing jobs, Sangit Om and I turn to making rough mixes for me to take away at the end of this first stage of recording. We end up doing it all twice because his tape deck is fucked.

29th June – 11th July, Hamburg

Driving seven and a half hours in traffic jams and hot weather back here from Amsterdam, full of tensions around the upcoming second stage recording and a lot of pressure on Sadhu to be ready to perform.

Day 12: I put sarod down for the ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’ instrumentals. Wobbles, technical snafus but Sangit Om and I finally get the computer drums sounding half decent on ‘Nature’s Way’. Sadhu roars into twin tracks of ‘Golden Forest’. Down to the car to listen to the rough mixes on a crappy car stereo (a vital perspective after hearing them only on high quality studio monitors) and we consider them ‘in the pot’.

Day 13 and 14: Friedmar Hitzer, our hot violinist goes wild on ‘Summer’, but struggles to play the simpler things like ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Castles’ and ‘Isles’. The raga Bhairavi scale on ‘Artists’ is a real challenge for him. Sadhu sings ‘O Shyam’, ‘Now Summer’s Here Again’ and ‘Charlie Girl’.

Day 16 and 17: Various mixes made, plus Henrik recorded on ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’. I’m panicking: I just can’t see how we can finish what’s left in the five days remaining….

Day 18: Crash! We’re struggling on harmony lines for ‘Artists’ and it’s a trigger for all the tension that’s been building up. I’m pushing Sangit Om more and more for help and he’s getting impatient, unwilling to cross his invisible boundary of actually composing the music for me (or maybe he doesn’t know what to do any more than we do!). Sadhu takes it personally and storms out of the recording for a walk. Another hit comes too: apart from ‘Summer’, Friedmar really has not done much of a job this year. We decide to leave his violin off ‘Artists’ and on Sadhu’s return get back with full concentration to her harmony vocals.

Day 19: Sadhu records ‘Nature’s Way’, the last recording we have to do for the project. Then Sangit Om announces he’s ‘lost’ the vocals for ‘Shyam’ somewhere on the hard disk. Sadhu has a crisis at the thought of having to re-sing this delicate and demanding piece. Finally it’s found. We can now turn our attention to the new sarod-based instrumentals, plus three others recorded last year. Sangit Om and I do a good old fashioned ‘hands on’ live mix of ‘Castles’, our four arms reaching past each other to tweak buttons, edge up sliders etc.

Day 20 and 21: My first ever guitar solo on ‘Isles’. Re-listening with Sangit Om to last year’s recording of ‘Edge of the Known World’ I discover with a shock that my sarod is flat, Friedmar misplayed the melody and the whole piece has no space in it at all! Only Naman as usual was on the ball. I hurridly replay sarod and we add some artificial breaks to Manish’s tabla. A new mix for last year’s ‘Kirwani’ further reveals that my sarod playing was not up to the mark at all.

Day 22: Replay sarod for ‘Kirwani (very stressed, especially on the solos) and add pads on ‘Edge’. Final mixes and it’s time to make CD masters of the two whole projects. Sangit Om is so generous, he counts no extra hours for his bill beyond his fixed eight per day. I love the guy, despite our wobble the other day! That night I dream that he and I are smoking pot together. He has long wild hair. We’re so stoned we are incoherent! I wake up next morning to a thunderstorm and a restless mind, realizing that no further improvements to the music are possible now, and that from now on I have to start thinking about how to sell it! We leave Hamburg with our two precious golden CD Masters in fierce heat. At 8pm, when we arrive in Holland it is still 34 degrees, and the night turns out to be 26 – the hottest this century.

Over the next five years I re-recorded the vocals on the ‘Nature’s Way’ songs project with two different singers before I found a label willing to take it. And that was merely the tiny music subsidiary of a big German New Age book publishing company. It sank there without trace (though I do have a single copy of the CD they released) and thereafter the songs sat on my shelf until last year, when I decided to gift them to whosoever might want to listen to them on Soundcloud.

The instrumentals had happier fortunes, starting life as tracks on the CDs ‘Lands of the Dawn’ and ‘Feng Shui Part 1’ on what turned out to be a rogue German label. When that collapsed they found their way to New Earth Records as part of my CDs ‘Celtic Ragas’ (1997) and ‘Sacred Temples of India’ (2002).

Read More

2010 Jhuni Benefit Concert and the German Bakery Bombing, Pune, India

Posted by on 11 May 2017 in Concerts, Creative Writings, Music | 0 comments

A bunch of people swear that they owe their lives to my performance. When that bomb exploded at 7.15pm on the 13th Feb 2010, I was just about to go on stage, while they were sitting in the audience, a comfortable half-kilometer from where they might well otherwise have been.

The German Bakery was a Koregaon Park institution. Just down the road from the Osho Commune, conveniently placed either for a quick cup of coffee before or after a meditation or therapy session, or alternatively for a leisurely and cheap meal plus gossip session in the company of the most eclectic collection of locals, travellers and spiritual seekers in India.

7.15pm was a popular time in the Bakery. The Commune’s gates had closed at 6.40 for the evening meditation, so if you weren’t attending that and you didn’t feel like staying home, you could join the crowd and take a chance on bumping into someone interesting.

Seventeen people died and a further 60 were injured that particular 7.15pm.

The German Bakery, Koregaon Park, in happier days

I’d passed by to buy a loaf of bread that afternoon, maneuvering past the usual crowd of touts, beggars and rickshaw drivers clustered outside the Bakery’s cheap bamboo walls. A quick ‘hi’ to a couple of friends who were passing the time of day with some young Indian students (tables were tiny and few, so you ended up sharing closely with strangers) and I was winging my way back to the concert venue for the set up.

The event was a benefit concert I’d arranged to raise funds for establishing solar lighting in the Himalayan village of Jhuni. The project was being implemented by friends who run a local NGO ‘Avani’, which brings electricity and livelihood opportunities to other remote villages in India’s Kumaon Hills. I’d formed a band and set up a video showings of the documentary about Avani that I’d recently completed and my ‘Smiles From Off the Road in India’ film starring the villagers of Jhuni. Plus Rashmi Bharti, Avani’s co-founder, was to give a talk and there was a big display of their textile products for sale. It was hosted in the lovely Koregaon Park garden of Sanskriti Lifestyle boutique run by wealthy locals who knew Rashmi well.

Dusk after a hectic day of arrangements; the band ready on stage; the mixed audience of Osho sannyasins and middle-class local Indians settled back in their chairs after a break following the film and Rashmi’s presentation. Suddenly we heard from afar an ominously deep and rumbling boom. Probably another gas cylinder exploding somewhere, we re-assured each other (a not uncommon accident in India). But just as we were about to play I noticed our hostess clutching her mobile and frantically signally to me. “There’s been a bomb at the German Bakery”, she whispered to me when I went down to her. “We don’t know more”.

A bomb? I cast a glance back at the band, ready and eager to play and then over the audience, looking calm and unruffled (it’s perhaps difficult in today’s wired world of Twitter etc, to imagine that just seven years ago, people didn’t expect to be checking their mobiles every few seconds!). I realized that my hostess and I were the only two people present who knew. ‘The Show Must Go On’ reverberated in my head and without further hesitation I got back on stage, picked up my sarod and gave the cue for the opening number.

To be honest I don’t remember much about the music we played, but I must pay tribute here to the other musicians, all good friends, who performed for free: Karunesh, Ramadhan, Bikram Singh, Avinash Jagtap and Amano Maneesh. The rest has all been erased from my memory by the vividness of the chaos that ensued an hour later once our set was over. We came off stage to find everyone now anxiously glued to their mobiles; and to hear the sirens ringing in the surrounding streets. We learned that there had been fatalities and heard rumours that Koregaon Park had been sealed off. Nobody knew if they could safely leave the venue; everyone milled around exchanging worried speculations.

Selfish considerations took priority in my mind. I was sure that my partner Naveena and our just-born daughter Koyal would be safely asleep at home in Goa and wouldn’t hear anything to make them worry until next morning. But my sister in England is an avid news-watcher and knew I was in Pune. I took myself into the darkness on the edge of the crowd and struggled to get a connection for what seemed like ages before hearing a voice from what felt like another planet.

Re-assurances complete I had another urgent responsibility to attend to: I had personally invited Jivan, an 86-year old lady friend, to the gig and arranged for Kristanand, a reliable rickshaw driver, to get her there and return to pick her up at the end. Where was she in the melee? Had Kris managed to get back to the venue to pick her up? As I searched the crowd, I noticed a few well-off Indians with their own cars beginning to drive off into the night, presumably trusting on luck to get them home; while most of the Osho sannyasins were taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity to do some more catching up. After all what more could any of us do? There was no sign of Jivan, and I couldn’t get a connection again on my phone to call Kris. In fact it wasn’t until when I finally got through to him the next day that I learned he had played a hero’s role. Somehow he had not only got his rickshaw through all the police road blocks to the venue, but by a long and fiendishly clever detour he’d got Jivan safely back to her home not far from the German Bakery itself!

As the night wore on more and more people drifted off to see where their legs might get them, needless to say there was none of the usual patrolling rickshaws to drive them. Rashmi, the band and I were the last to leave after clearing up. My car piled full of equipment, I crossed my fingers and set off into the midnight streets, eerily deserted and (as ever badly lit). The main roads were a mess of barriers and huddled groups of policemen; there was no other traffic so they paid me not the least attention when I skirted their roadblocks and drove the wrong way down the dual carriageway. I was also staying just off German bakery Lane, but knew better than to try to approach it via the Bakery end. In any case I was afraid of what I might see there.

The scene very early the next morning was the same, empty streets, grey fog and a sense of the day after doomsday hanging in the air. I had only one thing on my mind: to get back home to Naveena and Koyal as soon as possible. Giving the crime scene a wide berth again, I headed out of Pune on the expressway for the start of my nine-hour drive, Goa bound. My mind was churning: our safe little spiritual nook in India had been thrust into the world of terrorist atrocities. I knew it could never be the same again.

Over the next few weeks the calls and emails started coming in telling me variations on the same story: ‘You saved my life, man! I had been planning to go the Bakery as usual, but went to your gig instead…..’

The role of casualties ended up containing just three Osho sannyasin names. The rest were young Indian students, out for an evening in bohemian Koregaon Park; plus several of the unfailingly cheerful (and also mostly young) Nepali staff of the Bakery. Arrests took many years of investigations to achieve. Murky prosecutions of members of a group calling itself the Indian Mujahadeen followed. It was possible that the Osho Commune had been the intended target (David Headley, arrested in Canada a couple of years later, and charged with scouting targets for Al Qaeda, was found to have visited the Commune twice). There were also indications that the bomb was supposed to have been deposited at the Israeli Chabad House (a rescue center for flipped out Israeli travelers) just across the road from the Bakery.

They were details that would only really have significance as resolution for the innocent victims and their families. For the rest of us, used to innocently indulging in our spiritual getaways at the Commune, It was the end of an era. Checkposts were erected on the road outside the gates, manned by armed police, while the Commune’s ramshackle outer walls were replaced with four-meter high steel panels. The outside world had invaded our little haven and would not be going away. It was a rude awakening to a brash and dark new India that had in fact been mushrooming outside those walls for years.

For me it was that decision to get back on stage as if nothing had happened that has stayed with me. The show must go on. Spreading joy through music is a mission that may only incidentally counter extremism, prejudice and superstition, but it is the only tool I have.

Read More