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.
Music Department getting ready to play for White Robe Brotherhood 1999
April 1999 found me in Munich, en route from Maui to Pune, single and broke. I was there to to deal with unpaid tax (even though I hadn’t actually lived in Germany for the previous four years) to release myself from my German karma that had begun in 1990. And desperately trying to raise some money by finding a record company to take on two unreleased CDs: ‘Nature’s Way’, songs recorded with Ellika Hansen on vocals in Maui in 1997; and a vaguely Celtic flavoured instrumental album provisionally titled ‘Pagan Heart’ that I’d just finished recording in Maui.
Unexpected rescue came on the 1st of May in the form of an email from the Commune in Pune offering me the job of Coordinator of the Music Department. This would save me from the need to pay for entrance fee or accommodation because I’d be given a Workers entry pass and the job comes with a free room inside the campus. The offer was a huge honour for me and not something I could have anticipated. But as the outgoing coordinator explained to me “Well, you get on with everyone, and frankly right now there’s no-one else!’
So nine days later I arrived in India, carrying sarod, guitar, swarmandel, Roland HD recorder, Yamaha keyboard, grunty pre-amp, microphone, 110-220v voltage adaptor, blank ZIP discs, 40 of my CDs to sell, thick file of tax papers etc, It was a struggle, especially dealing with the U-Bahn system in Munich. In a daze I managed to lose my passport inside Munich airport after checking in. I realized I’d left it in a payphone booth and with only half an hour left before my flight was due to depart rushed like a madman to the Lost and Found. Thank God the Germans are so honest and efficient that it had been handed in so quickly. In my relief I hugged the astonished policeman who handed it over.
My flight landed at 11pm. By 4am I had made it through the twisted labyrinth of trucks jamming up the steep two-lane ‘highway’ through the Western Ghats and was in a hotel room next to the Commune. By 10am I was inside, being given my Workers pass and being shown the ropes.
It’s very hot and very ‘off season’. The Department currently has a just a couple of guitarists, a gaggle of singers, a single drummer (a rasta-haired Jamaican from London), a tabla player and me. I know it will fill up again in a month or two, once the temperatures cool down with the monsoon. So we all play pretty much every day, and I’m getting a chance to act the rock star on guitar, exploring a lot of African ideas I’ve chanced on over the years and never performed. In other words the job is cushy.
I’ve been given a room in Sanai, a Commune-owned building just down the lane from the front gate, with pink curtains, AC and a tiny balcony overhung by a vast banyan tree. I’ve set up my recording equipment there and am working at night on turning Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘Fern Hill’ into a song, and an English version of ‘Nu Takk For Alt’, a Norwegian song (composed by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson) I learned from the farmer’s wife one summer twenty-odd years ago, working on a farm above Hardangerfjord.
The Commune is supporting me with totality as I step into my new job. Shunyo (formerly one of Osho’s caretakers) calls me up off my guitar at the end of the Sannyas Celebration she has been conducting, and gives my third eye a cool blast of calming energy with her thumb. Even my ‘Commune Play’ (an extra duty outside of a worker’s regular job) is fun: lifeguard at the night swim in the pool!
Tonight I met Naveena (note: then going by her pre-sannyas name of Shahaf) at an Israeli shabbat get-together at a rented flat in ABC farms, just into the farmland that surrounds the Koregaon park suburb. I arrived in darkness on the back of a friend’s motorbike (he had to persuade me to come as I’ve never been attracted to these things) and heard a shy, heavily accented voice from inside a parked rickshaw, asking if we had any small change. I handed her over some coins and then followed her golden hair into the party. We made eyes across the room; I played Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ on a guitar in her direction and made sure she got a meaningful-looking ‘goodnight’ from me as I left.
When I got home I pulled a card from my deck for her. It was the Ace of Hearts. That night I dreamed I was flying gracefully with a blonde woman on my back, the two of us so in tune and marveling at it…..
30th May, Buddha Moon
I was on the lookout for Shahaf all morning, but it was she who found me, coming up to me in the lunch queue at the canteen and handing me a 20 Rupees Commune food voucher. So we ate lunch together and then spent the next seven hours together, ending up on a swing seat in the Smoking Temple, stroking each other’s hands under the full moon.
Shahaf’s sudden presence in my life means a lot right now because the first major trouble has been coming to a head in the Department. Before I arrived, N had been put on a Workers Pass, meaning free entry in return for six hours work per day. But his erratic moods mean that he’s fallen out with most of the department and nobody wants to play with him any more. I simply can’t justify renewing his pass, especially as these are limited in number and there are other hard-working musicians who need and deserve one. He’s furious. Sudheer my Inner Circle (Commune management team) rep and basically the guy I answer to, responds to my request for advice with a shrug and “The price of power, Chin!”
Today in the German Bakery N threatened to kill me if I don’t renew his Workers Pass. I don’t take it seriously of course, but it shows how unhinged he has become.
Shahaf left for Israel today, after just six weeks together. I distract myself by putting together a trancey live Nataraj meditation (45 minutes of dance) for the night event (thank God we have our long time drummer, Indian Sangeet, back and N has left!). And go to bed late after recording guitars for ‘Nu Takk For Alt’ and another song that’s come to me ‘All is Worship’ (based on an anonymous poem in tribute to Rumi). New Earth Records email me to say they are sending me $1000 advance because of some licensing deal. That’s a relief because I only have DM500 left in my pocket!
28th July Gurupurnima
Final night of a three-day festival. I got the whole Department up on stage for the White Robe Brotherhood. We started with a Hebrew song, then a Hindi one, then an African composition of mine and finished off with four-on-the-floor trance, Buddha Hall’s festival lights flashing, the place looking like great spaceship full of ecstatically dancing white-clad astronauts.
The evening event afterwards was Jasbir Jassi,and his bhangra band, which I mixed until almost midnight. Then I joined the VIP special Punjabi dinner at the exclusive and rarely-opened Basho restaurant beside the Commune pool.
Recording my voice on ‘Nu Takk’ and ‘Fernhill’ until 1 am. Then finally got a connection to Shahaf in Israel on the phone in my room. A relief to my insecurities, she has been out of touch so long….
The keyboard is wired up and I’m putting Hammond organ on another song of mine (note: ‘Sister Good’ never released) and editing the keyboard vibes Ranjana played for me on a new version of my ‘Now Summers Here Again’.
Played at a corporate event in the city which the Commune had decided we ought to oblige to keep in with the powers that be out there. We are joined by a gaudy Bombay rock singer called Gary. Three buxom Israeli girl singers from the Commune are our front team, plus we’ve a female bassist and a bunch of us boys on guitars, keys and sax. Corporate crowd didn’t know what to make of us at all.
My days are full of playing hot electric piano to juice up my song‘Easy’s Right’; mixing for visiting musicians; knocking off new versions of old Osho songs for WRB; rewiring the Buddha Hall PA system; inducting new musicians, mixers and equipment fixers; setting up a Music Dept newsletter for the web……
A general Commune clean up has been announced. My response:
“You help to make it happen, Osho’s dream
You paid your money, done the Primal Scream
You do the Kundalini at four-fifteen
Now there’s something new on
Something good to chew on,
It’s the Commune Clean’
So grab your bucket Swami, it won’t bite
Get your mop in hand Ma, don’t be shy
You’ll feel the kundalini start to rise ‘cos
Now there’s something new on…..
Lying awake wondering for the umpteenth time what to do about ‘Pagan Heart’, which has been turned down everywhere. Bhikkhu at NER didn’t even want to listen to it when I emailed him to tell him I had a follow up to my ‘Celtic Ragas’, (which they released two years ago). Seems the Celtic craze is already over. As the long night progresses it dawns on me that I should play to my strengths. Four years ago Nightingale Records took two of my CDs under Feng Shui concept, didn’t they? Maybe I should pass Pagan Heart off as a Feng Shui CD!? Now Bhikkhu is here, so I mentioned it when I met him outside the Commune bookshop this morning. His eyes lit up. ‘Yes, we are looking for a title like that.’ I rushed off to get him a copy, told him that it’s still a work in progress (somehow I’m going to have to flavor it a bit Chinese, aren’t I!) and within a few hours he’d played it to Waduda and they’d agreed. He even offered me the right to use sounds from a Tibetan chants album they once released.
I’ve come up with the title ‘Feng Shui: The Eightfold Path’.
After 83 days of waiting Shahaf is back. I went down to Bombay to meet her off the plane. A guy I bumped into in the street got me a free hotel room, and they gave me a free taxi ride to the airport. At 6am just as I arrived, out she came. We threw ourselves and our baggage, ticketless, into a moving train at Dadar and on reaching Pune slept next to each other for twelve hours.
22nd October Cambridge
Just three weeks together. Now another two weeks apart while I get a new visa and then I can head back to Pune to her, and to start preparations for the forty-day festival that’s been announced for the coming New Year’s celebrations.
Part 1: OVERVIEW AND FIRST WEEK
For forty days, from 11 Dec 1999 to 19 Jan 2000, as Coordinator of the Osho Commune’s Music Department in Pune, India, I took responsibility for organizing a hundred and nineteen live events. To say this was a challenge would be an understatement. In addition to the eighty or so Commune musicians who showed up to be part of this unique festival, I had to arrange for performances by high-profile visiting artists, including Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Vishnu Mohan Bhatt and Sivamani. Additional pressure resulted from a creaky PA system, a lot of clapped out instruments, and the fact that anything complicated that needed fixing had to be done outside the Commune walls – amidst the chaos of India.
Above is the first page of the schedule I created, covering the first week and showing twenty-four live music events in the Commune’s Buddha Hall. These consisted of morning meditations and celebrations (sometimes two the same morning); White Robe Brotherhood every evening; three visiting artists (Bombay rocker Gary Lawyer and his band, Sivamani and an Odissi dancer –this latter fortunately using recorded rather than live music); and two in-house bands (East-West Kirtan and Miten with Deva Premal) at night. Each event involved multiple musicians and a mixer, often with an assistant and occasionally someone in charge of recording. Our three rehearsal rooms (marked on the schedule as Rehearsal Room, Mirdad Cellar and – the tiny – Studio) were ever in demand and needed to be booked in advance to avoid squabbles. Plus our always-rushed stage set ups had to tiptoe around the three regular daily meditations and evening discourse that also took place in Buddha Hall, none of which could be tampered with or disturbed.
It was a roller coaster for me. I was new to the job and, while I’d been an occasional member of the department for ten years, I’d been very far from integral to it. Suddenly under me as Coordinator were many far more experienced musicians than myself. These included former coordinator Milarepa (who had first inducted me into the Department ten years before), and Osho’s own favourite drummer Nivedano, who had invited me to play for Osho in 1989 and was on his first visit back to the Commune in ten years. (As it turned out both graciously helped me to survive the nerve-wracking prospect!).
That first week I found time to play myself just twice, for two of Maneesha’s (famous as the person who used to read Osho the questions in discourse) morning meditation events. These she had compiled from dozens of meditation techniques that Osho had individually recommended to disciples over the years, developing them into fifteen different one-hour public meditations, each requiring live music. Plus I mixed three night events. The rest of the time I chased from one end of the Commune to the other, frantically searching for people, humping equipment, trying to squeeze as many eager musicians into the schedule as possible and soothing bruised egos. The schedules for the rest of the forty days look much the same. I barely slept for six weeks.
Today, contemplating even just that first week’s schedule, I understand how unique and unrepeatable those forty days were. The music we played: devotional songs at Sannyas Celebration, African dance music, Sufi Whirling, East-West fusion, Brazilian, soft meditative…… Such a range! Yet live music in Buddha Hall was far from the only show in town. There were jam bands happening on the pathways, Japanese dance performances in the Pyramids courtyard, theatre productions, martial arts displays……(I would occasionally pass by, but never had time to stop). The tenth anniversary of Osho’s passing, combined with the general brooha about the dawn of a new millennium, brought out an explosion of creativity and a crowd that has never been seen since at the Commune. How lucky I feel to have been at the heart of it! On New Years Eve I was rocking with my chosen band as the clock turned twelve (a perk of the job of course!). Below me from the stage, under the flashing lights poised on Buddha Hall’s domed roof, I looked out over a sea of wildly dancing, ecstatic faces. Goosebumps crept over me together with the feeling that in that moment I was at the very center of Existence, a part of a huge spaceship beaming out positive, joyful energy to the far corners of the world.
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.
White Robe Brotherhood in Buddha Hall, Pune
Before I can begin with my diary entries (copious during my single periods, scratchy at best when there was someone to share my bed!) I should explain the situation for would-be musicians when I arrived. There were far more people wanting to play in Osho’s presence than opportunities to do so, and in the friendly jostling for opportunity to display one’s talents as a musician (and receive the public acclaim that often followed) an unspoken ranking of prestige emerged. Top was being part of Brazilian jazz/samba drummer Nivedano’s ‘Oshoba’ band, which Osho preferred as accompaniment to the energy-raising experiments he developed over the year preceding his death. This riotous, percussion-based sound tracked him as he entered Buddha Hall, conducted both music and crowd with wild gestures of his arms and flaming eyes, and raised the temperature to a fever pitch to culminate in a crescendo of shouted “YA-HOO!”s (these were later amended to ‘OSHO!’s). Soft acoustic music, interspersed with periods of silence, followed as Osho sat and marked time with a gentle tapping of his hands. More Ya-hoos preceded his prolonged namaste to us all as he left the Hall.
Next in desirability was to take part in Milarepa’s musical experiments before and after video discourse was shown, on the nights when Osho was not well enough to leave his room.
Finally, meditation events, dance performances, concerts and theatre productions were occurring on a regular basis around the Commune, many of them requiring live music.
Friday 16th June 1989
Since arriving here ten days ago, I have been moping around unable to connect with anything or anybody, lost in feelings of rejection and self-blame. I flew in, desperate for respite after two gruelling months of deceptions and disappointments in Calcutta’s pre-monsoon heat. But of course I carried my demons here along with me. Today I finally forced myself to go to the Work as Meditation office and ask for a job. I made it clear that I wanted something cool and emotionally undemanding. “Well,” the girl there told me, “Accounts are looking for someone….” I start next week.
Yesterday I wrote to Osho: “Is it possible for the heart to be in a different place than the body? I feel like my heart is in Bengal with my lover while here, it feels like something is missing. Is it all just mind avoiding the here and now? What does it mean to miss someone?” Today his answer comes back typed on a little slip of paper: “Blessings. Now put all your energy into meditation. Through meditation you will become more and more rooted in yourself”. Durr, I remind myself, the Master never gives you the answer you’re wanting, just the one you’re needing ….
From what other world do these things come from? Fiddling around on a guitar in my hotel room this morning, a pattern of finger-pickings emerges. Words and a tune appear too. I scrabble to write them down. Some deep nostalgia for a childhood in rural England has been called forth with this song Charlie Girl, and with it long-overdue tears.
Pulling myself together enough to decide to work seems to have changed something. Walking through the Ashram at lunch, I bump into Milarepa. He not only recognizes me right away, he’s so pleased to see me again! I can hardly believe my ears when he asks me to play for video discourse tonight.
My first morning on the computer in Accounts, entering purchase invoices for four hours. I’m a bit surprised to be recognized as I walk in. Turns out that a couple of people noticed me playing in the band for last night’s music in Buddha Hall. As news spreads round the department, I become for a moment the center of attention. Apparently we created something special last night, an Indian vibe that the Ashram has been missing for some time. I’m astonished to hear them credit me and the sound of my sarod for this because simply playing a composition (in Raga Malkauns) that I had learned in London doesn’t feel like I did anything very special. Milarepa on guitar, a bassist, keyboardist and assorted percussionists surely did all the real work? Returning to my console, I reflect that actually I have only the vaguest idea what the rest of the band had been doing technically. Because performing anything except pure Hindustani classical is completely new territory to me. As is being congratulated for it!
Nivedano and Milarepa in Buddha Hall
I am sleeping badly, with all the heartbreak and shame of the past couple of months haunting my dreams. Doing vipassana meditation in Buddha Hall this morning, my head involuntarily bends to bury itself in my hands as awful scenes from those days in Calcutta appear in my minds eye. I struggle to bring myself back to the present to that cool silent space of the here and now opening out………
On a more positive note, I have moved into a flat at the end of the low-rise settlement at Meera Nagar, surrounded by dry fields of harvested sugarcane and shared with a British sannyasin who assures me he won’t be disturbed by my music. From here I can pass via a visit to a family of English sannyasins who were my neighbours in Devon last year and whose two pre-teen children I feel very connected to. There’s a well nearby where I took them swimming earlier in the year, and from there it’s a short hop through quiet lanes to the back gate of the Ashram. A couple of acquaintances commented that I look ‘mischievous’ today as I they passed me striding in through the gate. Feels like I am starting to really arrive at last. This is a far-out place!
Samajo, a Japanese sannyasin, introduces me to his teacher, sarodist Shekhar Borkhar, who lives just down the road from the Ashram and who is married to one of Osho’s nieces. He’s around my age, mainly self-taught and Samajo, who begun learning from him a few months ago, assures me he is a demanding, unconventional, yet patient teacher.
June 24th Saturday
Like any tribe, ours shares gossip and news quickly it seems, because out of the blue I find myself invited to take part in all sorts of musical events! Milarepa invites me again for video discourse tomorrow (Osho has not been out for many days; a current joke is that since we started calling him by his new name he has in fact been ‘NOshow’!); Monday, I will start lessons with Shekhar; Wednesday, a group playing Middle Eastern music want me to join them for Sufi Whirling; and somehow I have come to the attention of Sadhana, a long-time sannyasin and Inner Circle member (Osho has set up a group of twenty-one under this name to care for the practicalities of running the Commune). She has asked me to arrange a solo classical performance for myself in Buddha Hall. I’m wandering around bewildered at all this.
Yesterday my first lesson with Shekhar, who dazzles me with virtuosity and then with a simple look, challenges me to do the hard work needed to achieve such mastery. We agree on two lessons a week, and no point in coming if I haven’t practiced in between. Today, after doing my first Bank Reconciliation, I used the lunch break alone in the office to run through some of what he had shown me. When my co-workers drifted back from lunch, nobody wanted me to stop, so it was a further hour before much Accounts Department work resumed!
With Sangit Sirus (Iranian setar and violin player), Prem Joshua (saxophonist and flautist and sometime member of Nivedano’s band) plus assorted drummers, playing at night for a Buddha Hall packed with whirling dervishes. I could let go completely in such accomplished musical company and surrounded by such inspiring figures in motion. For a couple of hours we weaved melodies and textures out of strings and air. In contrast my playing in Milarepa’s band a couple of nights ago had been hesitant and insecure. I’m out of my depth when it comes to a chord-based accompaniment but Mila himself was all encouragement. How privileged I feel to sit with him and other ‘well-known’ musicians in our special place in the crowd, close to Osho’s podium, surrounded by our equipment. Rock star vibe I guess! I am still pinching myself that this is happening to me.
(Lying awake at night reflecting)
“The empty man in robes
Of eloquence, spending his silence
Like a millionaire
Coming out from video discourse, grateful to my core for what Osho is creating here, I feel to stay close to him instead of heading home as usual to disturb Meera Nagar with my sarod practice. I park myself on the low wall just inside the front gate and wait without any particular expectation. Drawn towards me are a group of Indians, including some of my Accounts co-workers, and we talk music and have some fun with my limited Hindi. Amongst them is A, a pretty one. Oh how good it is to look into a woman’s face and find it attractive and receive its smile again after so long!
My mind is all over the place. Weeping for lost love in Calcutta one moment, anxiously fantasizing about getting closer to A (who doesn’t speak more than a word or two of English and is probably not much more than half my age) the next. Assorted female friends allow me to cry on their shoulders and give me (contradictory) advice.
A hushed and reverent group visit to Chang Tzu, Osho’s recently completed marble palace of a bedroom. Through its floor to ceiling plate glass windows we can see the jungle garden and huge marble waterfall (the astronomically-sized purchases for which I have been entering at Accounts the past weeks). He’s not moved in yet, but a chair sits in front of a 21st century-looking Hi-fi system and it’s not difficult to visualize him sitting in it. I’m conscious that a simple wall separates me in this moment from whatever he is up to on the other side of it.
Gujurati stick dance rehearsal: A’s gesture, reaching out to touch my face so gently as I arrive; harmonium player Anand Prem’s hug; the Gujurati drummer boys’ enthusiastic welcomes. Two hours spent running through ghazals, folk tunes and ragas in the company of hyped-up, juicy, laughing, arguing, sensual village celebrants. As I struggle to keep up with it all, I feel as if I’ve slipped into another parallel Ashram to the one beyond the room’s walls.
(From my roof at dawn on Guru Purnima🙂
‘Monsoon clouds towering,
A rainbow over the Western Ghats.
As the showers roll over low,
The sun’s bright light slants up
From somewhere over golden Bengal’.
I drag my focus away from the East and its regrets and take myself off to a disused office room in the Ashram and get drunk on playing for hours. I have definitely taken on Shekhar’s unspoken challenge. The muscles in my hands are hurting in places that other sarod teachers can’t reach!
Tonight is the first night that Osho has asked the whole Ashram to go to discourse dressed in white robes (last minute mad rush to buy these). White Robe Brotherhood, he is calling it.
Kirtan group, Pune 1989. L-R front: Anand prem, Priya, jagdish, Satya Vedant, Anuradha, Rupa, ? and Jai Prakash. Back: Lolita, Chinmaya, ? and Vairagya
Lolita (on flute) and I are the only non-Indians playing kirtan night in Buddha Hall. We are led by Sadhana, restrained and matronly, who organizes us all to a fine tee at rehearsal and then lets go gracefully at the actual event. She has to, because our group energy is so wild and tranced on the rhythms we are creating, and the mad jungle dance we are provoking in the crowds that ring us, that we are beyond any hope of control!
There is so much richness here! Everyone seems to like me, everyone wants to play music with me. When the sarod comes out, there’s always wonder, appreciation, delight. Food for my ego, for sure, but also such a joyful way of sharing! I’ve become a sort of celebrity for the Accounts Department, proud that one of their own is creating a stir around the Ashram. I get my computer work done as quickly as possible and then idly doodle coloured pictures on the spines of the Purchases files. One of my co-workers often has to spend evenings with me clearing up my numerous mistakes he’s noticed. Once we do this while skipping White Robe Brotherhood and video discourse (apart from Buddha Hall the whole Ashram is closed down for the period). But Accounts is in a prominent position on the main route through the campus from the front gate, and we are spotted. A shame-inducing reprimand follows as we are reminded how Osho himself insists that the whole Ashram meeting together at this time is the highlight of his work with us.
I introduce the video band to Raga Jog, its bluesy scale an immediate hit. The desire to be a really good player has overtaken me, so while other guys take girls home round here afterwards. I take music. Practice, trying to get up to speed on Shekhar’s material, ends at midnight with neighbours calling out to be allowed some sleep!
Another hearty Indian music night, joined by long-time sannyasins Anadi on dholak and Chaitanya Bharti on kanjira, as well as a wonderful teenage tabla player, Manish Vyas. It’s stunning how rapidly Sadhana has begun to defer to me, so that I‘m turning into the lynch pin of all this: the one who everyone looks to at the center, to choose the raga, taal (beat cycle) and style. Thunderous feedback from perspiration-drenched crowd at end.
I’m invited to share my music as part of an Introduction to Raga Singing group and choose to improvise around a Raga Bhairavi melody in dadra (6 beat rhythm). It occurs to me how, in remembering this tune despite only hearing it once or twice at Gurdev’s in London, I have proved myself to be a bit sharper than I usually credit myself for being!
I don’t exactly recognize myself these days. I can dance ecstatically to Western pop in Buddha Hall on Disco Night, then weep to Celtic songs by a female singer performing the next evening, and then retire to vivid, bizarre dreams. My emotional state seems to have reverted to that of a teenager! But quite a lot of the time I find myself just walking around smiling and winking randomly at people, feeling in a peak of health and energy. A far-out place indeed!
Jagdish, one of the Indian singers in the kirtan group, takes me for a palm reading in a tiny hidden-away zen-style gazebo that I’ve never noticed before. I’m hoping he’ll give me some solutions to my relationships issues but instead: “Dedicate yourself totally to music for three years,” he tells me. “Go to the top with it, bring meditation to it, be enlightened through it. It will be your path. And always play as if you are playing for Osho.”
To faraway Dhankawadi, a very traditional area, to the home of Shri Hari, a Marathi tabla player I met at Shekhar’s. He and I play to a group of moustachio-ed Marathi men, who take in my short performance with serious-looking expressions. I choose Raga Zilla Kafi in deepchandi (14 beat cycle), which I taught myself in London by copying a cassette recording of Amjad Ali Khan, and then a Raga Desh in kerwa, folk style, that I’m currently learning from Shekhar. As I finish, they break into staccato conversation with Shri Hari, most of which sounds like an argument is taking place. Must be just how Marathi sounds to our foreign ears though, because then they offer me smiles and nods of appreciation and their own traditional devotional songs. The utterly unpredictable melodic swoops of classical Indian vocals: would I ever be able to catch them? Like it’s population, the musical culture of this subcontinent is so vast, that one would need lifetimes to explore it comprehensively.
Osho conducting YA-HOOs
Home exhilarated immediately after the White Robe Brotherhood phenomenon (one of the rare days Osho has come out recently): cheers, wild wailing, arms flailing, crescendos of noise brought to abrupt halts. Returning like an addict to the intricate patterns, the closeness of the sound my sarod is producing to the silence he brings us to in Buddha Hall. I begin to experience how it’s the gaps between the notes that really matter, just as he emphasizes concerning the gaps between our thoughts, the gaps between his words and that gap after the YA-HOO.
A get-together with Indian sitar-player Pradeep, just arrived from Delhi. Although he is senior to me, both in age and in years as a player, he meticulously copies every detail of my playing of Amjad’s Zilla Kafi. The penny is starting to drop: much of the musical material I’ve gathered over these past four years is pure gold dust. But what to make of this feeling inside me – like when I’m diving deep into Raga Desh at my lessons with Shekhar, playing alongside him now, tricky gamuks and all – that I’m simply rediscovering things that I once knew? Past lives? I feel SO blessed!
Pradeep has asked me to help him host a series of three parties at his home. At tonight’s, the first, he introduces me to his guru, noted local sitarist Usmaan Khan, who plays us a sweet simple Raga Yaman. Inner Circle members Neelam and Tathagat are amongst his (all Indian) guests. They have seen me around, they tell me, and praise my playing. A desire to make my mark on prominent people like these bubbles up into my awareness. It is not a comfortable thought. I remind myself of Gurdev’s habitual gesture as he ends his concerts, lifting his sarod up before his face as the audience applauds, so that it is the instrument that receives the acclaim. All this is happening to me because my sarod has turned out to be a kind of key. Thus I put my concern aside and return to joking, laughing, serving drinks and chatting confidently about music in the company of this group of people I’ve never met before. And walk home late rather proud of myself.
DARSHAN. Osho’s car stops unexpectedly in the rain outside Buddha Hall, as he is driven back from his time with us at White Robe Brotherhood. It is just a few yards from where I am watching with many others, pressed up against the Hall’s mosquito netting. As the window winds down, chiseled in clarity through the evening raindrops, his face appears. I am overwhelmed by the sensation of a vast emptiness there in the place of personality. He is looking straight at me (although I acknowledge everyone around me probably felt this too). And as his presence burns me into the here and now, I hear a voice saying: “You are doing fine, just stay right with it”. The love I feel for him in that moment is so cool and grateful, it’s like no other love I’ve ever known. As the window winds up and the car moves on again, I awake to find my hand on my heart.
Coming home his message rings and rings: You are doing fine, just stay right with it! And I want to shout it from the rooftops: “I love him. I’ve seen him! He’s seen me!” Except, I understand, it’s not I and me, just seeing has happened. Seeing recognition, love, reassurance – whatever it was that passed from a face in a Rolls Royce, chiselled out of living raindrops, to a man pressed against a mosquito net, hand on heart.
In June 1989 I arrived back at the Rajneesh Ashram (shortly afterwards to be renamed “Osho Commune International”) in Pune, India, fresh from a devastating love affair in Calcutta. Just like hundreds of others, I was nobody special. Apart from my sarod, I came encumbered with only an aversion to getting involved emotionally again (which would turn out to help me spend many hours every day practicing music). I certainly wasn’t telling myself any tales about future acclaim. Far from it! I was innocent of any ambition, beyond exploring to the best of my abilities the intricacies of Hindustani classical music and the fascinating textures of sound that this instrument could produce. And I was still more or less a beginner, having been studying under Ustad Gurdev Singh in London for a mere four years and having had no other formal training in music since a year of classical guitar lessons in my teens. I could not therefore in my wildest imaginings dream that, six months later, I would leave the Commune as a celebrated performer, having played for Osho himself, and with enough musical contacts in the West to spend the rest of the ‘90s collaborating to produce half a dozen world fusion CDs.
It is impossible for me to separate playing music for Osho from being with Osho. Broadly, being one of his neo-sannyasins means: first, participating in the many formal meditation techniques he established, almost all of which include original recorded music; second, listening to his teachings and discourses, which in his last years were given exclusively to gatherings of several thousand people in the Ashram/Commune’s Buddha Hall; and third, learning from the inevitable encounters resulting from working, meditating and living together in Pune or the other communities sannyasins had set up around the world. Being part of the Ashram/Commune in Osho’s physical presence meant that exploring human relationships (for me, as for many of us, romantic ones in particular) played an important role in transforming old patterns of thinking and feeling. Thus, parallel to my transmutation into a musician of repute throughout the year, I continued a journey deeper into the, often painful, lessons learned through falling in and out of love.
In what follows I spare the reader as many unnecessary details of these as I can (I paraphrase and refute Tolstoy: unhappy relationships are all much the same!) aiming to keep the focus on music and the path it opened up for me amidst the unique atmosphere of what Osho described as a ‘meeting place of friends’: his Commune.
I had first come to the place the previous autumn, when Osho had still been known as Bhagwan. My Bengali tabla-playing friend KP and I arrived from West Bengal on a second-class train ride across the breadth of India and took a rickshaw from Pune station. As we walked up the leafy lane leading to the Ashram, I remember vividly the sense of an immense pulsating energy up ahead. It was as if I giant dynamo was humming, a sound created by the collective intensity of several thousand devoted sannyasins. I’d been a sannyasin (‘fellow travellers’, as Bhagwan described us) myself for over six years at that point, but had only seen my Master in the flesh briefly in Bombay in 1986. I had no connections in the Pune Ashram, beyond a couple of contacts from my London life, who I knew were somewhere in the maelstrom I was about to enter.
There was music in that throbbing hum, that much I did know: wild, un-categorizable celebration music; deep and mysterious meditation music; and rather more conventional songs expressing gratitude to the Master and the experiences of sannyasin life. Over the years Bhagwan’s meditations, discourses and festivals had all included music that made it to London on every tape and video coming out of the Ashram. I was in awe of it and of those brilliant, distant beings who were actually creating and playing it in his presence.
The campus was much smaller physically in those days and its multifarious activities packed thousands of people from around the world into around an acre. Bhagwan himself lived in one secluded, wooded corner and emerged only to give discourse every evening in Buddha Hall, a huge canvas-roofed and open-sided structure where daily meditations and night-time events also took place. The rest of the space was given over to accommodation, construction workshops and media offices, canteens and kitchens, session and group therapy rooms, communal bathrooms and a sauna, the whole operation run by sannyasins as volunteers. As we entered its barely-contained chaos of laughing, loving and burning-the-candle-at-both-ends humanity, KP and I joined in the general feeling of having miraculously found ourselves at the very heart of the world. (As a friend would tell me later as she departed for her home in Boston: “How to explain to people out there that I’ve come from a place where I’m in love with five thousand people?”)
KP and me Pune 1988
Conscious that our time together would be short, KP and I quickly settled into rooms outside the Ashram and then took to our sarod and tabla practice in a nearby guesthouse garden. There we were discovered and joined by two North American musicians attracted to Hindustani classical: Lolita, who had already had some lessons back home on bamboo flute; and Gopal, who was just discovering the ancient bowed instrument, dilruba. Meanwhile, inside the Ashram Music Department, well-established figures were producing the high-energy celebration music and devotional songs in the Western pop/rock tradition that we heard every evening before and after Bhagwan’s discourses.
After a week KP returned to Calcutta and I ventured to bring my sarod inside the Ashram gates, where I met a gentle Sikh tabla player and managed to find a quiet corner in a little garden near the main canteen to play with him whenever he could get free from his duties at bag check. Curious onlookers sometimes drifted by until one day late in the year, Milarepa, coordinator of the Music Department, overheard us and invited me to play for him and some of the other musicians in the diminutive music room – to me a holy of holies – in which all Ashram music was rehearsed. None of them had ever seen a sarod before and Milarepa was clearly impressed.
On 26th December Bhagwan dropped his bombshell in discourse. We had been calling him (and singing songs of love and gratitude to him) under that name for years. Suddenly here he was declaring that he found the word ugly, that it had all been a joke! I glanced over to where the musicians sat and wondered if they were hurriedly ditching their planned song to accompany our now title-less Master as he left the hall.
A couple of days after this, I made a quick trip to the UK to get a new Indian visa. Little did I know, when I flew back to Pune in January, that I would never live in Britain again. During the first half of the year, as Bhagwan was renamed Osho and then began his last series of discourses, I continued humbly practicing on my sarod in quiet corners of the campus; sharing what Gurdev had taught me in London with Lolita in her garden and with Gopal in his hidden-away rooftop room on top of one of the Ashram’s administrative buildings just outside the main campus. I had no inkling of the emotional dramas that awaited me as I headed off at the beginning of April on a visit to KP in Calcutta. Nor of the dramatic changes that would follow my return to Pune two months later, as my instrument turned into a kind of silver key, magically opening doors I would never even have dreamed of knocking on.