I never expected to see myself as a film director; I never really planned to make a film. But then in the three and a half years after the Concert For India’s Environment at BVIEER in January 2004, a kind of organic growth took over and this simple musician found himself a film cameraman, interviewer, score composer, editor and graphics and web designer too!
Resting up in Goa after the gig, Naveena and I met up with Zeenat (Julienne Stretton) a well-known New Zealand TV documentary producer, who we had met previously at our home in New Zealand. She looked through our concert footage and sensed the possibility of a direction. Without her input at that stage, this film would probably be no more than an hour of concert footage mouldering on the shelves of each of the band members!
Redi Fort, Maharashtra
Filming in Redi Fort with Naveena
At her prompting, Svargo (one of the cameramen at the concert) and I headed off into nature to film. We began at Redi Fort, a moody ruin inhabited by monkeys, just over the Maharashtra border from north Goa. Back in Pune, while Zeenat interviewed Erach Bharucha about the situation of the environment in India, Svargo, Avesh (our other concert cameraman) and I took ourselves off into the Western Ghats. These dramatic hills are still patchily covered with dense forest (including devrais – sacred groves – protected and undisturbed treasurehouses of otherwise extinct vegetation) and provide the setting for some of BVIEER’s school outreach programmes.
Erach Bharucha in sacred grove, Maharashtra
The schoolchildren reading their poems about nature had been a vital part of the concert and Zeenat insisted that interviews with them would broaden the film’s message. We also added an interview with BVIEERs deputy director, Dr Shamita Patel, to make sure we had the woman’s perspective. I then realized that we’d better explain who we – the band – were and why we were doing all this, so I interviewed those of us still in Pune at the time.
Amrita Mulla schoolchild poet
Ravindra Verma schoolchild peot
In between all this, Svargo had been sitting me down and showing me Final Cut Pro. It’s a steep learning curve to begin editing film on such software, and without him I’d have been hopelessly lost. He, Zeenat and I produced the first part (‘A Sense of Wonder’) together and from then on I was mostly on my own.
In the following three years, I discovered a new love. Filming the nature and peoples of India. Every spare moment – and buck! – I had saw me back in India, out in the wilderness, patiently waiting to capture on video the elusive beings who live there. It took me to extraordinary corners of the vast Indian subcontinent, and introduced me to some the most hearty and charming people I know. I’ll never forget the three days I spent alone in the dry, windy waste of Rehakuri Blackbuck Sanctuary in Maharashtra, waiting for those splendid creatures to come within range of my cheap zoom lens. Or the steep forest looking out on distant Nanda Devi in the Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal, where with my feet slipping out from underneath me, I struggled to set up the tripod and film the local women high in the treetops, cutting fodder for their cows. I was lucky too to get some stunning dawn shots of birds on the Mula-Mutha river in Pune, a feat that would today, just ten years later, be impossible because of the vastly increased levels of pollution and the almost total disappearance of the river’s once abundant birdlife. A highlight was being among the tribal people of Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala, whose children quickly found me funny enough to overcome their shyness and give me some of the biggest beaming smiles I’ve ever encountered.
Blackbucks sparring, Rehakuri, Maharashastra
Woman cutting fodder, Kumaon hills, Uttarakhand
Mulla-Muthu river, Pune
Tribal girl, Perambikulam, Kerala
Every spare moment I say – but of course this film would not look as it does if that was true. On top of researching all the facts and information with which the film is loaded, downloading, logging and then editing all that footage had me up at all hours. And here I must again thank Svargo, who came over to our base in New Zealand from Australia on several occasions to help me through difficult patches with his Final Cut Pro expertise and sensitivity to editing; and Naveena, who continued her role as Artistic Director of the concert into the film and whose eye for beauty and detail is uncanny!
Another vital step in the overall shape of this film was the release on New Earth Records in 2005 of the live CD from the concert, ‘Fragrance of the East’. This was the opportunity I needed to remix the audio up to CD quality, and gave the film its first public exposure, in the form of three short Quicktime clips that I squeezed onto the CD. By late 2006 it dawned on me that I was only one more film shoot in India away from finishing, and immediately a sense of urgency took over. It was as if the film had a life of its own and was struggling to emerge from its long gestation and see the light of day! So I put ‘A Sense of Wonder’ up on YouTube and left. How exciting, three months later, to come back and find that thousands of people had watched it, and many had commented on it and rated it five stars!
Overdubbing for the CD
That trip to India didn’t quite do it: as filmmakers know, you can never have too much footage! Discerning viewers will notice half a dozen shots with a very un-Indian light interspersed throughout the film. I found these in New Zealand. In April 2007, with the editing finished, I gave the film a dedicated website where anyone who wanted to could download it for free (this was before it became easy to download direct from YouTube). And started offering it to film festivals. I made only one condition: it should not be used for commercial purposes – it had to be free. It was played at various festivals in India, Italy and Russia, and then the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona on 8th October 2008.
A word about equipment: I used a second-hand Sony DCR-TRV20 for all my shooting. With a single chip, it was even in those days barely prosumer quality and compared to today’s technology, a real dinosaur. I mention it because I often hear from filmmakers and composers the mantra that industry wants us all repeating as consumers: ‘I can’t manage without the latest equipment’. I hope my film is proof that we can find ways to get things done without spending lots of money! A word too about how ‘the latest’ can trip us up: I lost all the original footage in a hard disk crash (which explains the low resolution of these stills taken from the film). I had bought into Apple’s decision that Firewire was the wonderful future and then watched both my external Firewire drives crap out on me in the damp of monsoon Goa. Thus I now have only the low-res edits I uploaded to YouTube. (And we’ve not seen any more of Firewire the past few years, have we?)
THANK YOU again to all of you who gave yourselves to this project for no financial reward, just the sheer joy of being part of it. I have tried my best to honour you in the credits at the end of the film. If I missed you by name, forgive me; it is only because there have been so many of you!
And lastly, a word about sharing: I learned from my master Osho, that the spiritual law of sharing is very different from the economic one. In economics the more you give away the less you have. But with love and energy, the more you share, the more you get!
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.
Creating the “Concert for India’s Environment”, Pune, India. 3rd Jan 2004
Two Key Meetings
The concert was the result of two extraordinary meetings. The first, early in 2001, was with Dr Erach Bharucha, surgeon, photographer, author, environmentalist and Director of the Bhartiya Vidyapeeth Institute of Environmental Education and Research (BVIEER), on the far side of Pune. At the time I was searching for recordings of Indian birdsong to use as background to the music on a CD project, and was told that there was indeed a gentleman who had compiled such recordings living in Koregaon Park – in fact just around the corner from me. He opened the door to this stranger, heard my request and was, within a minute or two, hunting out his last remaining tape copy and pressing it into my hands. It turned out that not only had he been all over India recording birds, but was also a wonderful wildlife photographer. Once he started telling me some of the stories that went with getting his shots over the previous fifty years, I was hooked -here was also a master storyteller! From that moment on we were friends and I determined to do something for him in return for the tape. He took me to see his brand new, environmentally friendly auditorium that he had built at the Institute. I promised then and there that I would inaugurate it for him musically.
Dr Erach Bharucha
Over the following years, with his love for – and deep understanding of – the wilderness in India, Erach became my guide and mentor to India’s environmental issues. He took me to areas on the fringes of Pune city that were still wild, where leopards could be still heard – and occasionally seen – in patches of primeval forest. It was an India I had little idea of, and as he began to explain the many issues facing local people living in such areas, where his Institute was introducing environmental awareness into the local schools, I found myself wanting to do something for this India too. (Erach video interview)
I am lucky enough to have seen some of the most lovely places in India since I first came in 1975. But no-one who visits as often as I do can fail to notice the increasing destruction of the forests, the pollution of the rivers and beaches, the growth of slums, the carving up of the countryside in the name of ‘development’. Erach helped me to understand that educating the current generation of children and youth will be the vital key if this is ever going to turn around – after all there are so many of them for one thing! And naturally they have higher material expectations than their parents and grandparents. How on earth is India going to support them? If our planned concert and film could raise awareness about the work of the dozens of groups in India focused on environmental education -all desperately underfunded! – I’d be happy.
The opportunity came about thanks to the second meeting. This was with Paul McCartney, who, as a result of buying and falling in love with my CD ‘Celtic Ragas’, invited me to play a concert at his wedding in Ireland in 2002. (a story told elsewhere) I formed the Celtic Ragas Band especially for the occasion, and afterwards, back in Pune, suggested to Erach that we try to repeat the same concert at his as-yet-un-inaugurated auditorium. Central to the plan was to invite Sir Paul and as many other ‘notables’ as possible to help raise awareness for the cause of conservation in India.
So, in the autumn of 2003, we start planning an ambitious multimedia concert. In addition to the music, we want visuals, ambient background sounds, schoolkids reading their own poems about nature, and it should all be filmed and recorded for posterity….. I’ve never done such a thing before and soon find myself at the center of an Indian whirlwind!
First things first: the music. Only two members of the band that played the McCartney wedding are not in Pune: guitarist Jamie and accordionist Sadhu. I’m fortunate to have Adarsha and Dinesh (on keyboards) to hand to replace them. We start rehearsals right away; we have lots of new material since that previous performance. The next priority is to audition child poets; fortunately BVIEER is connected to a local primary school with a very enthusiastic teacher. Hiring equipment and crew for sound, projection, lighting and audio recording equipment, as always, has to be done early. I need to find an event manager, a stage manager and stage decorators; two film cameramen; plus someone to arrange transport (the venue is right across the highly polluted city of Pune from where we, and many of our other foreign guests are staying at the Osho Commune; we will require four full-sized buses to bring them over). South Indian food will be served by my Tamil friends Shiva and Shruti (Shruti has to double up on this and be guest singer on two songs). I need to cook up a Powerpoint presentation of Erach’s photos to be projected behind the band and publicity material to attract local bigwigs and people of influence. All this without a budget!
Erach and I soon realize that we will have to schedule an extra, matinee performance, so that his staff and students, and the parents and friends of the poets and important locals who won’t be able to make the evening performance, can all see the show for free. We will have to set everything up the day before and then be down to the Institute early on the day itself.
As the big day nears I’m issuing invitations, and printing and selling tickets around the Osho Commune. Volunteers have jumped in to fill all the roles and I have five wonderful children to perform their poems. Derek Julien, legendary Indian guitarist since the ‘70s, has agreed to mix for us. Avesh (Osho’s driver) and Svargo will bring their skills and pro cameras to film it. The visuals have been shaped to fit the music (and vice versa!) Adarsha and I have whipped up two delicate new instrumentals; Shruti brings two songs in Hindi on the theme of nature and the seasons; the rest of the music will be from my recently-released CD ‘Karma Circles’.
Then on the eve of the gig our Artistic Director, who was to have flown in from London, emails to tell us that his mother has just died and won’t be coming. My partner Naveena jumps in, takes herself off her role as tanpura player in the band and begins tackling the Mac computer controlling the projector and the ambient sounds that are to be central to the overall ambience of the concert.
The ‘Stage Set Up’ film gives something of the flavour of those weeks. The bags under my eyes are pretty obvious!
At the end of it all we had our two concerts: one free, by invitation to staff and students at BVIEER and parents and friends of the schoolkids; the second at a nominal charge (we didn’t break even – Erach and I split the loss) to our ticket holders (Paul, sadly, was not among them!).
The full team headed down to the Institute early. From then on I was constantly on my mobile, calling back to Koregaon Park. Had the buses that had been arranged confirmed their arrival outside the Commune ready to pick up our audience? (Answer: no. In fact they would turn up an hour late). Any sign of the truck with Shiva, Shruti and the catering? (Answer: never turned up at all. Rush hire of alternative meant that the food arrived three hours late). Where was our Mac technician who was supposed to help us set up the projection? (Answer: stuck in traffic). I felt proud of my band – relaxed enough to improvise a new piece of music (heard in the ‘Stage Set Up’ film) even while chaos swirled around them. Indian girls were hand stitching and ironing backdrops; potted plants were being heaved into place in front of painted panels; Naveena was fighting with the recalcitrant Mac; schoolkids were being rehearsed for the umpteenth time about their cues and entrances.
Of course I had to finally put it down and pick up my sarod to play the afternoon show. From the moment Erach’s stunning images began to cascade across the screen behind me and my recordings of forest birds and stream sounds (two years previously I had got up at 4 am to go up a mountain in Sikkhim to record these before any traffic sound erupted from the town below) hushed the audience I felt immersed in an ambience of awe at nature’s beauty, and a silence that comes from being touched inside. The music followed effortlessly. The kids were way more confident than they had been in rehearsals. As I watched them I realized that probably the most touching part of the whole experience for me had been getting to know them. India is in good hands if they are typical of the new generation!
By the evening show we were wildly overtime. Shiva was still frantically serving dosas to hungry customers, who had had to wait hours for their buses to actually depart, and then endure an hour of traffic pollution. They then had to put up with the usual Indian speech-making (Erach mercifully kept his to the point!) and ‘felicitating’ before the music could begin. On the edges of the packed auditorium I noted the overflow of uninvited guests arriving to perch themselves on stairways, in doorways and on every available bit of exposed floor (there’s no need to rent a crowd in India – one will always spontaneously form!). The last speechmaker left the stage. I looked around at the band: everyone smiling? Good! Finally we could play.
The camaraderie inside a good band is a joy to be part of. When I look at the film of the concert today, I see the smiles being exchanged between us and remember just how good it felt to be amongst such loving friends. We had all learned our trade in the Osho Commune: music wasn’t for expressing ego desires to be special, or prove oneself; it was to dissolve into. I remember looking out into the audience too: Erach in the first row, beaming; the rest of the team, finally sitting after their labours; Western Osho sannyasins jumbled up with ordinary local Indians of all ages, all rapt on the audio and visual sensations emanating from the stage. I remember too the long pauses after each number, the audience so stunned that for a long moment they forgot to clap (greater praise than any amount of applause!).
Watch the CONCERT FILM
My African band at the festival.
I was far too busy to keep a diary. So the memories jostle for space with others from the months leading up to the festival and from the year after, when I stayed coordinator into 2002. I’ll let them swirl and take their places as they wish, anchoring myself with glances at the weekly schedule sheets for the 40 days.
Week Two’s highlight was flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia; one of Osho’s favourite musicians and something of a devotee himself, having performed regularly in Buddha Hall since before Osho left his body in 1990. I gave myself a well-earned evening off to enjoy the concert, putting Manish Vyas (who as a fellow-Indian I judged more likely to establish rapport with such a famous artist) on the mix desk. Visiting artists of Hariprasad’s stature used to love playing to Buddha Hall audiences; unlike the typical Indian crowds at concerts in the city, with noisy kids, picnicking and general coming and going, they were guaranteed pindrop silence and rapt attention. At the dinner afterwards I asked him about the story Osho told of how as a child he was introduced to Hariprasad, describing him as a world-renowned authority on bamboo flute at the time. We all laughed when he told us that In reality Osho was seven years his elder!
As throughout the festival Osho’s favoured drummer Nivedano lead the live music for three White Robe Brotherhoods that week. Japanese Deekshant was the hero who mixed most of these. There would be up to twenty musicians on stage, Nivedano conducting the samba at the center of a crowd of percussionists, drummers and hangers-on. The noise coming off the ensemble completely overwhelmed the monitors and even the PA, while Nivedano himself, half deaf after a quarter of a century as a jazz drummer, required three dedicated monitors going at full blast beside him to hear what he was playing on his snare drum.
Nivedano leading the Oshoba band at White Robe Brotherhood
Here I’ll pay tribute to Brazilian singer and guitarist Bodhigita, who organized a band to play her music at an evening concert that week. (The schedule sheet shows they did seven rehearsals to prepare for it, a feat almost matched by Danish singer/songwriter Bindu who did six for his night concert that same week!). The finger-stretching chords coming effortlessly off every corner of the fretboard of her guitar, even while she sang, were completely unrecognizable to me, a guitarist of almost thirty years myself!
Another tribute is due that week to Manish Vyas, who on top of mixing for Hariprasad, organized live music both for an evening of Gujarati stick dance and for an hour-long live Mahamudra meditation, assembling and meticulously rehearsing the very best Indian musicians to perform. (I’m lucky that I got hold of a DAT copy of the meditation music, which I still play to this day). Once I start on Manish the memories flood in, amongst them his dazzling ‘India Trance’ band which played after midnight on New Years Eve and which he later recorded and released as a CD. Plus his joint concert with Prem Joshua (probably later in 2001 as Joshua was not present during the 40 days) with whom he had begun touring in the West, which combined exquisite musicianship with the dancey-est grooves imaginable. And his inspiring Sufi events with Palestinian singer Ma Prem Sarasa, which resulted in the CD ‘Sufi Splendour’.
Week Three included New Years Eve, with four bands playing, beginning with Surabhi’s Celtic band and followed by my own. Naveena managed to rush over from her bellydance performance in another corner of the Commune to join me on stage for midnight and then India Trance, followed by the Greeks, ably lead by Zaheer (my bazanak –a Turkish word meaning we are partners of two sisters) on accordion, took us into the wee hours.
Naveena (second from left) at her Bellydance performance on New Years Eve
Singers at the African gig on New Years Eve
Week Four I mixed for santoor-player Shivkumar Sharma and I must say that doing so for such a gentleman was the easiest job I’ve ever done. Shivkumar is a consummate ‘musicians musician’, to whom all bow in respect, yet he remains soft-spoken and beautifully mannered. I had little to do except enjoy the show!
Here I want to pay my loving respects to four musicians from the festival who can be seen in the Osho 2000 Musicians photo but who are no longer with us: Adarsha, who organized music for several meditation events during the Festival, was the most sensitive and tasteful guitarist I’ve ever met, with the rare talent of coming up with the simplest, yet most beautiful lines; Buddhen likewise rarely put himself to the forefront, but his guitar was always supportive and never jarred; Nirav used to play his soapbox bass with jam bands that would spontaneously form themselves in obscure corners of the Commune over the years entertaining passers-by with everything from jazz standards to devotional Osho songs; and Neera, who fronted many sannyasin bands over the years, and sung with me on my first ever CD in 1990 (‘Terra Incognita – No Goal But the Path’). Around the same time, she and I tried our hand, completely unsuccessfully, at busking at Sendlinger Tor in downtown Munich. Many of us remember you with gratitude, Beloveds!
Week Five is the perfect place to pay tribute to Satyam who, together with Scottish violinist Tanmayo, organised enough classically-minded musicians that week to play for Waltz Night. Sats was at the heart of the Osho Commune’s Music Department for much of the ‘90s, and continues to return to the role whenever she can to this day. No-one else has the organizational skills and knowledge of music theory to get a bunch of hippy sannyasins to play Strauss!
Week Six, the final, featured Okinawan folk-rock band Upanishad, with whom I’d spent such entertaining days back in 1999. They’d been coming regularly ever since, despite being busy as a chart-topping act in Japan. They joined Nivedano for a climactic final White Robe Brotherhood on the 19th Jan, Osho’s death anniversary, and then rocked the house with their fun-laden, foot-hopping Okinawan polka rhythms. As fellow sannyasins they were one of us, rather than visiting artists and Buddha Hall was a sea of happy celebrants.
Likewise Miten and Deva Premal (whose concert I mentioned in Week One), soon to be rebranded as Deva Premal and Miten. Miten and I go back a long way (I remember bumping into him and Deva on the streets of Nurnburg several years earlier, flat broke and looking for a record deal. I was able to point them in the direction of the nearby Nightingale Records and recommend them to the owner. The advances they got their paid for them to record their first CD with Deva Premal at the forefront – ‘The Essence’. The rest as they say is history!). I was on the mix desk for their concert and he and I exchanged our banter over the heads of the crowd. I love the way he always starts off playing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and then pretends he’s forgotten how to play the rest of it. Seen you do it a few times now, Miten…surely you’re just having us on?
At the Commune Front Gate 2000
Amidst the swirling memories others are crowding in that my schedule sheets tell me can’t have happened during the forty days of the Festival: Shubha Mudgal in concert, surely the finest female singer of her generation, included a rendition of a Kabir Bhajan that I managed to get a copy of on DAT and which still brings tears to my eyes today; Pandit Jasraj, who through no fault of his own –some strike in Bombay, or a jam on the ghat road to Pune – arrived a couple of hours late, tore into whoever was mixing (fortunately not me!), interrupted his performance to complain angrily about some poor Western woman in the front row who was sitting with her legs stretched out in front of her and hence – Indian insult – innocently pointing her feet at him, and then soared into dizzying heights of musical excellence; Rajan and Sajan Mishra, old friends of mine from my days as a sarod student in London, who sang for two and a half hours in Buddha Hall, and then continued deep into the night for a few of us in the room the Commune had given them to stay in.
It would be long-winded of me to mention by name the many other sannyasin musicians who contributed both to the Osho 2000 festival and to the years preceding and following it, when the Commune was an internationally recognized center of musical excellence (anyone interested can find the complete Schedule sheets here). Circumstances have reduced my own involvement there over the years since, such that I have become a short-term visitor, always happy to contribute to the Music Department, but finding it a shadow of what it was. I simply feel so lucky to have been an integral part of it in its heyday, and hope that by sharing of my experience of those days I stir happy memories in those who were there, as well as being of general interest to those who weren’t.
Exquisite singing drifted into my room this morning. Knocking on the door of the flat next door, I discover Pranati Mhatre (disciple of reputed classical singer Veena Shastrebudhe), on a visit from Bombay and doing her riyaaz. We hit it off immediately and I spent the rest of the morning rushing around the Ashram, single-handedly arranging a concert for her tonight. Plus buying maroon coloured robes, which are from now on to be worn during the day inside the Ashram.
Flat and depressed after a bad sleep, and with strained muscles from early morning Dynamic meditation, I avert my eyes from the naked female bodies in the shower before White Robe Brotherhood, filled with both fascination and repulsion from these so-different creatures.
Unaccountably unable to feel anything as Osho conducted the rest of Buddha Hall through catharsis, or do anything but daydream through the silent meditation in his presence. Afterwards I was told that tabla player Latif Ahmed Khan died in Delhi today. Sadness washed over me, remembering the connection I felt with him and his wonderful humour in UK last year when I was helping record him and Gurdev for an LP release.
Chinmaya and his sarod mentioned in our Ashram newspaper The Rajneesh Times!
It was my turn to be given a ‘front row’ seat (a privilege for full time workers and eminent visitors). Actually I was behind four rows of ‘bigwigs’, but still right in front of the podium. Osho’s huge eyes boring into us all and his clasped hands rising and falling to the beat; the wall of sound from the Oshoba band; the chaotic ascent to the repeated shouted “YA-HOO”s – after all this the sudden silences are like hammer blows to the thought processes. For one, blissful moment it is simply impossible to continue them.
New sign going up on front gate: OSHO COMMUNE INTERNATIONAL. Bye-bye Ashram then.
Shekhar shows his confidence in me by asking me to perform at his party next Saturday.
At the end of this afternoon’s kirtan practice (at which Sadhana had been confusing me by telling me to stop when I was playing, and then asking “why aren’t you playing?” whenever I stopped) a shock of black dreadlocks, a sweet smell and a curly Italian accent suddenly nestled up against me. Cute Manisa joined in the general laughter as Sadhana accused me of “not playing in the here and now”. An hour of romping and tickling later, I was on a hormone high, reconnected to a part of me that’s been sleeping for months. We made a date to connect after the theatre performance tonight (Neil Simon’s ‘Rumors’). She showed up alright, but looking distracted, and a mention of needing to spend time with her boyfriend sent me disappointed home alone.
September 4th Monday
Music Fair set up on the junctions of paths outside Krishna House, right outside our Accounts office. A chance for the Commune’s many musicians to strut their stuff more publicly. Such a beautiful tuning between Manish and me as we played, even though there’s an almost twenty-year age difference. Ecstatic feedback afterwards, I was flying around the Ashram, buzzed out – blissed in – on the energy of it. Accounts Department applauded when I showed up to work a while later.
On the coming Friday and Saturday mornings I’m invited by guitarist Vidroha Jamie to play for two live one-hour dance meditations. Kirtan group want me on the Friday night and it’s Shekhar’s party on the Saturday. Then Wednesday next week I’m booked for an evening Buddha Hall classical performance, dueting with Pradeep. The following weekend I’ll be one of the facilitators of an ‘Introduction to Indian Music’ group. As anyone while leading any meditation or group is required by Osho to wear a black robe (all these different coloured robes are getting confusing!) I’ll have to do so during the daytime while the group is on. But black robes endow the wearer with their own kind of status, associated with high-profile, overfull-of-themselves therapists, and what do I want with that kind of projection? It’s only a music group, I unsuccessfully protest.
A tentative little vision came to me today: Osho will use me to go out into the world with this music to spread his message. Hmm, I reflect. If so, I’ll do it without making a big fuss!
September 6th to 11th
(From my roof at midnight)
“I am flying high and fast
Although sometimes I look down and wobble
I feel like a meteor streaking
Across a sky full of friendly stars”
How to fall in love a dozen times in five days:
Japanese Okinawan folk/rock legend Upanishad and his band are on their yearly visit. Wednesday night they are in concert and I’m dancing away madly like everyone else when that bunch of Italian dreadlocks suddenly buries itself in my neck behind me. In a flash she launches herself up onto my shoulders and there she stays for ages, clutching my head and laughing away.
Next day at kirtan practice Sadhana has to send someone over to get Manisa to stop distracting me with her cuddles. Our group is joined by Akarasha, the band’s shamisen player. There’s an immediate ‘click’ between him and me, with each acknowledging the others exotic stringed instrument. I’m charmed by the way his typically inscrutable, expressionless face, focused rock-steady on the beat, suddenly looks up and breaks into a smile.
Friday, Jamie bases the live dance meditation he has organized around a theme of mine that pops out at rehearsal. After lunch I meet him in the street: “I love your goofy cartoon smile, Jamie”. His reply: “You bring it out in me, man!”
Saturday, I played Raga Desh at Shekhar’s party. Nervous of course, performing in front of my teacher and an audience who knows what’s what! Lots of mistakes: failing to hit the sum (vital first beat of the rhythm cycle); fluffing the fast jhalla at the end. Shekhar was very gracious about my efforts afterwards.
Upanishad (Shoukichi Kina) and band in Pune
So, all weekend spent hanging out with the Japanese band and its gaggle of juicy girl singers. Such heart and laughter, digging out remembered Japanese words and jokes from my time there eight years ago. Sunday night I went to join them at their Nehru Stadium gig in Pune city. Barely half an hour into their performance and just as I’m about to join them on stage, the curtain suddenly descends. Indian confusion, no explanations given, the concert is over. Leaving the venue to return to the Commune, packed into their minibus, they all shout “Chinmaya, you must squeeze in too!” Monday morning, their leaving day, Samajo and I present Akarasha with the new sarod he has bought, and which we have spent hours fixing up and restringing for him. After who knows how many hand clasps and hugs farewell, I’m in a rickshaw heading away from the Commune front gate, when he leaps after it to present me with a rose.
For the first solo part of Pradeep and my Buddha Hall performance, with a super-supportive Manish on tabla, I chose a composition in Raga Darbari Kannada I learned in London. An ambitious choice this, as it’s known as a ‘difficult’ raga, with many temptations to stray off into closely related ragas. For long moments I disappear completely into the music, so while playing there is only the sound and the sarod. I come out of it to find myself charged with energy yet at the same time drained, intensely satisfied yet somehow empty. I begin to feel the true confidence of a performer now.
Shekhar tells me: “I’m giving you all the secrets, you know?” He’s disillusioned with the Hindustani classical music scene in Pune and wants me to acknowledge how, unlike so many teachers, he’s not being stingy with sharing what he knows. Manisa has been ignoring me and has been nowhere near my bed for days, so for the past two evenings I’ve stayed home and practiced all evening so as be on top form for my next lesson with him.
Finally tonight I got to play for Osho with the Oshoba band! No rehearsal or preparation given; I just squeeze myself in next to a mike amidst the massed percussionists. Nivedano stays riveted on a tiny TV screen, which shows him a close-up of Osho’s face as we are lead through wild catharsis. He takes his every cue from that face, his arm shooting back to indicate I should play, then abruptly signalling stop, then play again…..I fall quickly into a daze. The drumming means I can anyway hardly hear a note I play; and my eyes are roaming uncontrollably from Osho’s face on the screen to his figure up front on the podium, to Nivedano’s waving arm and to my own fumbling hands on my sarod. After Osho leaves the HalI, I collapse into sleep during the video, vacant and hollowed out. Walking out before the video has finished, I bump straight into Manisa right outside the Hall, my heart skipping a beat before my mind even properly recognizes her. We do a split second dance a few yards apart before she veers away and, silent and calm inside, I too am moving on.
The flirting of the past few days with German R at Accounts, which has so much more grounded feel than all that airy nonsense with Manisa, may be turning into something deeper…….
Osho in his new bedroom at Chang Tzu
Osho moved back to his old bedroom a couple of weeks ago leaving the new Chang Tzu bedroom and luxurious marble bathroom for the Commune to use. I’ve barely felt like playing in the ten days since that night with the Oshoba band, so I welcome the invitation to participate there with Jamie in a neo-Zen energy group (led by Avirbhava, who Osho has titled as ‘high priestess’ – which will probably turn out to be one of his jokes). Jamie and I arrive to set up our gear before anyone else and so are alone there when I find myself suddenly under urgent pressure. Thus, apart from the man himself, I may be the first and last person ever to take a dump in Osho’s toilet, for when the group does start, it is made clear that the bathroom is out of bounds and we are all to use a toilet down the hallway!
I ask Neelam to send my “The Great Day” book (a utopian story I wrote and illustrated in coloured pencil in Devon last year) to Osho to look at. She pores over it carefully in her office before agreeing. Now I nervously await his comments.
Shekhar: his laughter and jokes, the trust with which he shares his musical discoveries with me, his delight when I (occasionally!) get things just right! Sometimes I’m with him for three hours for what is supposed to be a one-hour lesson.
This evening it was his home performance, a hearty gathering mainly for extended family and students. I played more confidently this time accompanied on tabla by his uncle Shashi (who famously played with Ravi Shankar in the ‘60s), a most easy-going old fella, and sharing the stage with singer Pranati. She and I will perform together in the Commune in three weeks time. Shekhar himself plays the finale, showing off all the dazzling musical inventions he has come up with over the years.
Osho’s response comes back on another little slip of paper. How blind could I have been! The disciple yearns for recognition and approval. The Master simply isn’t involved in such games. He sees straight to the heart of what’s missing. Unless humans learn to take responsibility, there’s going to be no instant saviour. My book goes back onto its dusty shelf!
Oct 1st to 3rd
How rich are my days!
In the past seventy-two hours I’ve: played sarod sound effects kabuki-style for a daytime butoh dance group and for their show last night; performed Raga Mishra Mand (plundered, with deepest respect, from Ali Akbar Khan’s outstanding LP recording) at the Music Fair; and done kirtan with the Indian group. I’ve also been planning future workshops, classes and programmes with Neelam and Sadhana. Plus found time for two lessons with Shekhar!
At Accounts I’m continuing my increasingly elaborate decorations on the spines of files with a series of cat pictures. I’m reminded that these files will disappear into vaults once the tax audit is done and are unlikely to be ever seen again. Somehow I don’t mind.
As I take my front seat tonight, the girl sitting next to me turns to me and asks: “You’re that magic musician, aren’t you?”
Now I can find a moment to write again. R had to leave for Germany just ten days after she and I started our love affair. Now I’m writing to tell her all about this amazing Meera show which has just opened.
It’s based on stories that Osho has told about the life of the enlightened female mystic Meera. Sadhana has composed the melodies and sings Meera’s poems, while I’m part of the band to accompany her. Thirty or so actors and dancers, a live monkey, plus the old snake charmer from the street outside the Commune, act out the stories. All of us are dressed up in traditional Rajasthani clothes of five hundred years ago. While the audience settles down before the show proper begins, Shri Hari and I are given the honour of entertaining them. It’s the event of year and will have a ten-day run. Commune bigwigs like Osho’s secretary Anando and spiritual therapist Kaveesha are all raving about it and Osho himself is sending out strong messages of support and blessing for it.
Including other events, I’m playing from four to seven hours every day now; it feels like I’m emptying into silence through music.
School of Creative Arts musicians, Pune 1989, L-R Back: Devamarg, Anupradha Front: Chinmaya, Sadhana, Kabir
Photo session in black robes for facilitating music groups as part of the new Creative Arts Department.
Tonight Osho asks us to replace our ‘YA-HOO!’s with ‘OSHO!’s and explains that it is a mantra, not a name that we are shouting. Interesting because I’d noticed last night how for our ‘Ya-hoos’, he had been all softness, not pushing us to the usual craziness. I’d wept and laughed simultaneously at the simple yet touching chord progression, the beauty of our gathering in white.
“Up in the hills on the edge of Pune at Katraj Ghat, with Sri Hari and Kabir. Kabir’s flute sounding across the silent grasslands into range upon range of mountains purple against the sunset; an ancient banyan on the way to the top, grown over a crumbling watchtower that must mark the old horse and cart track over the pass into the city. Apart from the Calcutta trip, it’s the first time I’ve left Pune in almost a year. It’s now been five weeks since R left. “Believe me my friend, my nights are spent in counting the stars” (Rumi)”.
From mid-October my diary ends with that one last isolated entry in November.
I remember that R arrived back in early December and we turned into a couple. On the 17th January 1990, Osho tottered out to be with us briefly in Buddha Hall for what turned out to be the last time. Two days later, she and I were making love at home around sunset when a rickshaw driver I had become friendly with shouted my name repeatedly from the street below. “Not now, Vijay!” I bellowed back. ‘Chinmaya-ji” he called, “You don’t understand. Your Osho has died!”
I feel so lucky that I was able to rush to Buddha Hall in time to be there when they brought his body in. And to spend half that night amidst the ecstatic singing and drumming at the burning ghats. The next day in the Commune was for all of us a day of quiet, stunned reflection. Shortly afterwards R and I left to see if there might be a future for us in Byron Bay, Australia.
There wasn’t; and it was Munich, Germany where we arrived in March 1990 to begin a new life. Serendipitously this was also the city that some of my closest musical connections of the past year also chose after Pune, notably Prem Joshua, Vidroha Jamie and founders of Tao Music (later renamed New Earth Records) Bhikkhu and Waduda. That summer I would make with them ‘Terra Incognita – No Goal But the Path’, my first of the long line of CDs I would record over the following years with friends and contacts made at the Osho Commune.
We were joined in Munich by others who I had not associated so closely with in my time in Pune, including Karunesh and Anugama, already well known then as pioneers of New Age music. Many of us used to play together on a Sunday morning at the flourishing Osho center in the city. Incredibly, I can count almost a dozen of us who went on from those informal Sunday sessions to establish themselves as recording artists during the next few years on sannyasin-run record labels. Today, names like Deva Premal and Prem Joshua still lead many genres in the ‘spiritual’ music scene worldwide. Thanks to my Good Ship sarod, I have been privileged to be counted amongst them as part of the miraculous explosion of creativity unleashed around the world by Osho’s sannyasins after he left his body.