Aug 21st Shamari Hotel, Kabul, Afghanistan
Left Pakistan yesterday, after spending the morning in Peshawar and finding a nice chauda shawl to compete with J-Ps. Hopped on a crowded bus for Landi Kotal, not knowing quite why I was in such a hurry to leave the country. By lunchtime I was in town eating rather expensive dhal and chapattis at Rs2. But with all these dollars in my pocket I no longer need to care about spending these miniscule sums, do I? Off to Torkham border crossing on the back of a tiny truck that crawled through the passes. An Austrian guy and I walked across the no-mans land between the two countries and made it through into Afghanistan much quicker than the intercontinental coach that passed us as we walked. Of course it also had to negotiate the crossover between driving on the left in Pak and the right in Afghan.
The paperwork was a total confusion and I started to worry about making it as far as Kabul by evening. Changed Rs250 at 1 to 5 Afghanis (later offered 1 to 6 on black market in Kabul) then sat in a minibus waiting to take off. It never did, so I cadged a lift in a Landrover with more Austrians and by 9pm was here.
The menu at the Cable Hogue restaurant freaked me out! Used to dhal and subjee on a budget in Pakistan, I ordered pumpkin stuffed with brown rice and then apple pie with custard. It was not as good as the menu promised. Boy, one could blow a lot of money here in Kabul! Everything you want is available and all the Westerners are busy consuming. (Pretty much all I remember from Kabul on the way out is chocolate cake in the German Bakery with JJ Cale on the turntable, plus my first glimpse of a dead body being carried to the graveyard for burial).
I don’t see much point in staying on here, disillusioned and hyper-critical of my fellow travellers as I am. They’re all either eating or smoking hash (horrible memories of the early morning coughing from a group of German chillum smokers in a guest house in Kandahar on the way here). And the talk is all of where they have been or where they are going. In other words they are as lost as me. But what am I hoping to find by rushing home?
J-P is an exception; I just bumped into him here today as he sat with some hip-looking tourists. But his protestations of how he’s not interested in eating are accompanied by a sour face; he doesn’t look like he’s getting much delight from anything. I invited him up here to my hotel; let’s see if he comes.
I know it’s only my own weakness that keeps me hooked on these consumer/security places. Part of me says ‘head for the hills!’ Yet I remember that the hills are inside me, and in a funny way I’m already in their lonely places, surrounded as I am by things I don’t care about. All that’s left is the strong urge to push home quickly (run away?). The thought of moving at least gives me something to occupy myself with.
‘Moving, moving, moving
Ever moving on
Keeping it together
By keeping moving on’
Liz’s image looms large when I think of being back: a companion, someone to care about. I’m sick of feeding myself and worrying about myself. What a fool! When I was with her I wanted to be alone (‘head for the hills’: the shameful memory of Peshawar on the way here – which would be laughable if it hadn’t been potentially so dangerous – when, stoned out of my head, I left Liz in the hotel room in the middle of the night and started walking north out of the city; to be rescued by a kindly gent who insisted on accompanying me back to the safety of the hotel) and now I’m alone I want her. And do I head back to an image of her, or the girl herself?
My unhinged mind also occupies itself with worrying about whether I should do some business of the way back? I don’t mean hash oil up the arse, but I could invest sixty dollars or so on some sheepskin coats and stuff and make some money for when I get home. A weird part of me resists: I want to come back with nothing and look for a new life! But that would inevitably mean relying on Mother for some time…..I visualize myself arriving back, aimless as usual, and having to go through the usual proddings and promptings to get something together. Why can’t I get something together? How long will I have to spend in this state of ‘don’t know’ that has lasted for years, and in which I wandered Kabul today, needing nothing and having no reason to be here at all.
Monday 24th, New Behzad Hotel, Herat So chai becomes ‘chey’ and loses it’s milk, and sugar is substituted with sugar sweets on the side, but at two Afghanis a pot what a deal it is!
Herat 1967 (generic photo)
Letter from my mother to Post Restaunte, Kabul: Granny died. So glad to hear I got my money.
Spent Friday and Saturday overeating on expensive foods, ice cream and cakes in Kabul, where I forked out 500 Afghanis on an unusual blue sheepskin coat (rather too small for me actually but determined to have it for its colour) and a load of perfume that I promptly managed to lose. Was able to say goodbye to Dana, secretive as ever with her business dealings, but one of the few people I genuinely liked out here. Bye-bye with J-P a complete anti-climax, like we were strangers to each other to the last.
Left on the 5am Sunday morning bus, the hours rolling by until it stopped for the night in the desert some miles from Herat and I slept, wrapped up in my chauda, on the roof under unlimited stars and a waning moon, feeling ‘this is more like it!’
Three more hours this morning and I’m back in this hotel, scene of many discussions between Liz and me on the way out. Herat is a far-out town and I wander again all over it, with some qualms about leaving tomorrow. But staying might mean another pointless day over-consuming and lying lonely in this tiny room so I tell myself I will be back soon and will leave the East for Iran tomorrow……
(Later) Sleep eludes me after i have consumed almost a whole melon so on we go:
The fruit out here is the one thing I’ve found that’s better than Europe. The rest of the food is poor quality and I’m beginning to look a bit thin around the bones. Then there’s vast expanses of mountain desert but no solitude to speak of, with every green spot knee-deep in humans. You’ve got more chance of escaping company on the edge of London on the North Downs than you have taking a walk out of Herat. In fact these vast, sun-scorched regions have little to attract compared with a misty walk through an English woodland. And how do they survive here without the sea bringing femininity and moderation?
Visions of a cozy little room with fire and oaken beams, stereo playing gently, hot cooking smells coming up from below. Except that’s exactly what Liz and I had in Nottingham (Ok, the fire was electric) and look at the dissatisfaction I felt there! Remind me not to look over my shoulder at Pakistan once I’m back, and see it all as golden…..
(Hours of cursing lack of ability to sleep later): I’m a child who gets frustrated and angry when things don’t work out according to his ideas. I have only to drop the idea of sleep, together with my visions of a lovely plate of steaming rice and butter in Iran tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll get what I need. ‘That’s faith’, J-P would have said. Could I find a grain somewhere?
Yesterday three hours to the border, five to go through (Shah’s border control makes you walk past grisly exhibits of captured drugs and drug smugglers) and then four more on a bus to Meshad, in company with a bunch of Italians, one of who, with a big grin, unwrapped a small chunk of charas he had brought through. Found a room, grabbed yoghurt and cake and crashed out.
Today after a satisfying breakfast of big Iranian naan and white cheese, I’m given a tip that takes me to this campsite with a swimming pool, beside which I lie after an exhausting morning going round and round the city in circles for no obvious reason. Lost my temper completely for no real reason and caught myself walking furiously, blind and cursing. Still, after much of the usual indecisiveness, my train ticket is booked for 6pm. Lovely lunch of rice, kebab and a huge hunk of butter, all for a dollar. Around me lie large, leisured Germans; how lucky I was to hang out with a very different sort of people in Madyan!
The locals are friendly and want to connect, but without the hassling on the streets, and unlike Afghanistan we foreigners appear to get charged the same prices for things as they do! I remember the breakfast diners on the way out, each with a head of a sheep swimming in soup on his plate. Was it some kind of special festival day?
Friday 29th, Turkey/Iran border
Well now I’m well and truly fucked. Piss bright orange, stomach pains and white liquid shit. All began when I ate a chicken meal I didn’t need in the dining car of the train, in company with such a nice young Iranian. Sleeping (cold) in the corridor, I woke with terrible indigestion, plucked up courage and made myself spew, and out it all came. Then in the toilet I understood what my piss colour was telling me: yes, hep.
The desert rolled by endlessly as morning came, until Teheran, where I booked an expensive bus ticket for Erzerum. Spent hours looking for a hotel room, having turned down a perfectly good offer at 80 Rials (just over a dollar) because I thought it was too expensive, only to find that average prices are at least 120 this time around! Hung around at the Abir Kabir, full like everywhere else, and eventually took myself off to sleep in the park. Friendly wandering homosexual accosted me, but was easily shouted off.
Nice to wake up in leafy green, but poor sleep and stomach painful. Hung around in Amir all day, reading John Robinson’s ‘Honest to God’. Joined by the lags from the Heart-Meshad bus, we left at 6pm and now I’ve just got over the border, had a snack and a coke and am feeling much worse.
Early Sept, Tropical Diseases Hospital, Istanbul
Here I am on my third day of what they are telling me will be the two weeks I will have to stay before they will let me out.
Shared a room in Erzerum with old Madyan connection French-Canadian Luke, and together we took the 24-hour bus ride here, me surviving on Coke, the only thing I could stomach without throwing up. Mount Ararat on the horizon, the non-stop whirl of movement evoking memories of the journey out, where Liz and I kept accelerating in the hope that we would crash into some peace somewhere.
Complete meltdown on arrival, I spend fruitless hours going from one hospital to another. Left my beloved chauda in a taxi and broke down in tears at its loss. Concerned local put me in another taxi and pointed the driver here, where I arrived hoping that the morning would see me on a flight home via the British Consul. But I’m too infectious for that of course.
Four days later
Seventh day in and it feels like years. Doctor says only three days more (good old Swati hep, not so mean after all!). Every meal the same: thin, thin soup with lentils and some bits of meat floating in it; bland pasta on the side; and dessert of stewed apricots or raisins. Always cold and supplied with lots of white bread. I live for breakfast, a treat with white cheese, olives and HOT CHAI!
Heidi (my mother’s old school chum, who has lived on the Bosphorus this past quarter century, with her distinguished Turkish husband who knew Ataturk personally), brought me toothpaste, soap, stewed apple, apricot jam, the Grapes of Wrath and a trashy novel which I devoured at one sitting yesterday.
One bemused observation: does hot water really come straight out of taps in Europe? I haven’t experienced such a thing in so many months!
Tomorrow it’s gonna end: the crazy guy who keeps us all awake at nights with his screaming; the friendly Turkish doctors without a word of English who give me injections in my bum; the gaggle of yellow patients wandering the corridors (I’ve hardly changed colour at all); the little walks I take in the grounds amidst lemon trees and pines. I’ve finsished all my books and now I know it’s almost on me, I’m doubly restless, impatient and on edge. I spend time worrying about the plane home –is it really worth the ninety quid or so I’ll have to borrow from Mother? And more time anticipating the next meal, which is pretty silly because it’s always disappointingly the same when it does…..
Then suddenly: fuck me. He’s let me out today!
I must have flown (I remember having to pay Heidi back for the fare) and then taken the train to Staplehurst, and hitchhiked to Cranbrook. I recall walking the last couple of miles from Golford crossroads, weary from my hepatitis, but so happy to be back amidst cool, familiar Kentish fields and woods.
All clear from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in East London. Priority to get back into contact, and hopefully relationship, with Liz, last seen boarding a bus in Madyan, NWFP, Pakistan on her solo return home.
Dreamy image of our hut in Madyan, NWFP.
“Life’s no joke, wondering where to go
All by yourself up the valley
Life’s a glue of what I’m about to do
All by myself up the valley
There’s lots of other types all juggling their hypes
All by themselves up the valley”
En-route to Madyan town, Swat valley, North-West Frontier Province, Early July 1975
From ‘Pindi to Peshawar it is four hours on a comfortable train, with a buffet car in which you can sit alone at a table and watch dry pre-monsoon Pakistan roll by outside the window. On arrival, the horse-drawn tongas take you down from the railway station to the old city, past garish hoardings advertising movies and batteries. They squeeze between the overloaded trucks that block the thoroughfares and belch black gases into your face from beneath their gaudily painted rear ends. The bus station, in the narrow streets behind the bazaar, is thronged with dilapidated vehicles and boys bawling their bus’s destinations and hustling passengers on board to beat the competition.
From here there is a fast minibus service to Mingora, Swat’s capital. It costs a little more than the State buses but it will not stop for man or god. If you take it you are spared the frequent, lurching halts where, after unloading goat and sacks of corn from the roof (where he has been sharing their windy perch) peasant, together with chaudar-clad woman, black from crown to toe (who to exit must fight the length of the jammed interior from the wired-off woman’s section at the back) makes off into an apparently empty wilderness.
Take it! For you will soon have to experience the latter for two wrenching hours on the climb up from Mingora to Madyan, and will have plenty of time then to experience the identikit thoroughfares of the half dozen indistinguishable villages that lie between them. You will see plenty then of the rows of drab shops, selling gritty wheat and shrivelled raisins in baskets, displaying fly-blown meat and cans of Chinese cooking oil and kerosene. Assuming you managed to claim a window seat, you can peer then to your hearts content through the windows that are permanently jammed open, into the dark recesses of identical smoky teashops, with their cauldrons of whitish chai and glass-fronted stands protecting dusty, ancient sweets.
You will soon be tired enough of the deafening rattle of loose window glass, of the hectic, senseless, horn-filled rush between stops. But at least you will be able to thank heaven, and the Pakistani Government, that the fine, paved road has recently been completed all the way to Baharain, the next village after your destination of Madyan, before it grinds into a mountain track. You do not, yet, have to travel further into those regions beyond, where you may be required to help your fellow-passengers in clearing a rock-fall from the road before you can proceed, or glimpse a shattered bus at the foot of a precipice on a particularly unlucky hairpin bend.
So then, because you have sold your blood (fifty rupees a pint) and have therefore for the first time in two months cash in your pocket, you will lean back relatively comfortably as your minibus takes the climb up the Malakand Pass quickly, passing the lumbering giants who left Peshawar an hour before you. The driver will shout raucous encouragement to the small boy who gives the tickets, as he clambers out of the window of the rollicking vehicle to take money from the roof riders. Outside jagged rocks dance in the baked air, all traces of vegetation cooked to dust in the kiln of this climate; while above you crumbling towers on the fired cliff tops guard, empty-eyed, their desolate panoramas.
You will take this chance to enter a dreamy state and consider Alexander and his Macedonians, who passed this way, four thousand fighting miles from the home few of them would ever see again. Or imagine, on the old foot trail winding wearily through the shimmering boulders below the modern road, a camel train laden with goods destined for the Silk Road further north. You can see it in your mind’s eye as they sweat the hours and weeks away while you whistle past in a rush of wind and dust. The bones of the British are not even that fortunate: they lie unmoving under the ruined watchtowers that were once theirs. At the top of the pass there is a fort with a cemetery; a well-preserved monument on a grassy bank records the names of the otherwise-forgotten regiments who defended this outpost in the chaotic days of the North West Frontier, and whose members died like flies from sickness and the bullets of the locals.
Malakand Tribal Agency is next up, indicated by a warning notice not to stop or leave the road at night. The road will pass briefly through this zone where Pakistani Government writ is very thin on the ground, your misdemeanors would be judged by tribal custom, not Civil Court, and it is doubtful whether bearing a British passport would cut much mustard in any disagreement. Until finally your musings are cut short as the road flattens out, greenery appears and breathtakingly, the Swat River is before you. It meanders through emerald fields, lush with ripening wheat, as the distant hills on the far bank perform exquisite changes of silhouette against a brilliant sky. They say it is as beautiful as Kashmir and that Padmasambhava, who brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet and who was born here, ate his heart out on the barren plateau, pining for his lost homeland.
But this is not Fodor’s guide and my awakening is accompanied by the familiar anxieties that four of these trips between city and village have not assuaged. Neither the Peshawar branch of Grindlays Bank, to which I entrusted my two last half-burnt Fifty US Dollar Thomas Cooke travellers cheques, nor their head office in Rawalpindi, have any news at all about when the damaged cheques might be validated or funds reimbursed. They have been forwarded to London, where they were issued, or to New York because they are denominated in US currency, or might be anywhere in between. They are certainly not present and payable to this skin-and-bone foreigner who shows up every couple of weeks to be sent away disappointed and who is in consequence utterly penniless in a country of mostly penniless people.
Familiar stomach cramps appear as I transfer to the local bus heading up the valley to Madyan. Normally I’d ride the roof here, and look blank and smile when the ticket collector clambers up with his hand out. This time I’m inside with a ticket and half the passengers craning their heads to fix me with long uncomprehending stares. And this is what is starting to strike me as odd about the whole Hippy Trail circus of which I am part: there is no connection between us and the locals except trade. I am an alien dropped into this land; an alien who rent rooms from them, buys their hash, hangs out in their chai shops and will disappear again once an Indian visa is granted, foreign exchange transfer comes through, or dreams of a better destination ahead turn imperative.
Disembarkation at the fag-end of Madyan’s bazaar, a rubbish-strewn yard surrounded by mechanics hammering away behind piles of old tires. A quick shame-filled glance over my shoulder at the patch of green that indicates the town cemetery where, shortly after I first arrived and ignorant that the trees shaded anything of significance, I began to take an urgent piss; to be interrupted by angry shouts and stones whizzing past my cheeks. A rude awakening to the fact that about this very traditional and conservative Muslim society, remote from modern influence until quite recently, I know absolutely nothing.
I walk north up through the bazaar parallel to the Swat river booming unseen below on my left, temporarily forgetting about the pocket full of blood money and thus on automatic to check the chai shops for friends or acquaintances who might buy me a meal. At the junction where the tandoori baker fishes flat breads out of his beehive-shaped oven, I leave the main drag to turn right, parallel now to the Chail stream coming in from the east. “Home” beckons as I cross through the apricot orchard and down onto the stream’s floodplain and make the short hop over the narrow log that spans one of its many braids.
I am one of five living here in a half-roofed cowshed amidst boulders and scrub willows: J-P, mid-thirties Frenchman, my mentor and disciple; French Sacuntala, who stretches her long limbs out every morning for extended yoga practice and whose cool self-assuredness is both a barrier and a come-on to me; Pedro, grizzled, avuncular Uruguayan, always smiling and filling a chillum; and Francisco, Spanish bhakti, clad in immaculate white, chanting by the stream. Together with Danish sisters Dana and Nonnie who sleep elsewhere but pass by often to join in the cooking and to mother me a bit, this makes up a little tribe. They’re all older than me, much more travelled, and all into food this lot: porridge every morning, chais and chapattis and subjees on the boil all day. So I eat and eat, am still hungry and in the morning it all comes pouring out……
“My vows were to sensations
Novelty, food, despair
Drugs, frantic company: deceptions
To keep me clothed when I was bare.”
Time to backtrack and see how all this came about. I pad out my memories with extracts from the sparse and half-garbled jottings of narrative, fantasy and doodles that form my diaries from the time.
Penniless in Pakistan is the sequel to part 1 of my diary which takes me from London to the Turkey/Iran border, in company of my Scottish girlfriend Liz; a two-month journey by hitchhike, bus and train along the famous ‘hippy trail’. The diary stops on our headlong rush through Iran, and through a few increasingly hash-filled days in Afghanistan. A desperate hope that there must be something more fulfilling than our experience of the hassle-choked path beaten by so many travellers during the ten years previously, keeps us moving on into Pakistan and up into what is rumoured to be the idyllic valley of Swat.
As to how it was possible to live without money for so long, the following prices give a picture of just how cheap it was in the East in those days. At 25 Pakistani Rupees to the pound sterling, one rupee would buy you a quarter kilo of lamb, a kilo of tomatoes or a packet of twenty cigarettes. Seventy-five paisa bought a big pot of yoghurt in Nowshera, while ninety paid for yellow split pea dhal and two fresh tandoori naan in a Madyan restaurant. Basic rooms were renting at US$4, or two pounds, per month.
15th May, Madyan
Liz and I arrived in here a couple of days ago, worn out from the road, stressed out from the unrelenting pawing of sex-starved local males, disorientated from the breakdown in our relationship that two months of constant movement through Europe, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan has provoked. It was supposed to be the mountain haven that would give us respite and recuperation time. Instead it was just more of the same. She left today in utter disillusionment. Despite the fact that she’s still two months short of eighteen, I let her; accompanying her down to Mingora on the local bus, helping her find her seat on the express bus for Peshawar, crying with her, but letting her start alone on the five thousand miles back to Scotland.
I just am not ready to abandon what we started yet, so I come back, hollow-hearted, and wander aimlessly through the banana groves beside the Chail, wondering where I will sleep tonight. I can’t face a hotel room, the company of other foreigners or the loneliness of a single bed. A jaunty and bearded figure appears suddenly coming towards me on the path is and for no obvious reason we stop to talk. Next thing I know I’m invited to stay at his place by the river.
“Daybreak, the clear sky
Thrills with birdsong
Cockcrow into morningtide”
J-P likes to sermonize me as we sit beside our outdoor fire and wait for the food to cook, or watch the impressive rush of the Chail stream that runs just behind our hut. It’s an earnest mix of Christianity and Eastern philosophy that goes right past me however much I try to follow. Our friendship is based on our unspoken agreement that in inviting me to live here he has rescued me, and that he therefore has the right to rescue me from ignorance too. Fair enough, I suppose. I guess for me he’s a father figure and I’m certainly aware that without his intervention I would never have found myself living in such a spot and with such an interesting crowd. Pedro hasn’t enough English to do more than smile indulgently on all this and pass the chillum.
We sleep, wrapped up in blankets, outside by the fire. Placed as we are on a kind of island, surrounded by the rush from the main course and the trickle from the log-bridged braid stream, and with the great boom of the Swat River in the distance, we are immersed in water sounds. I hear great symphonies as I lie stoned under the stars at night, and amongst them this song:
“Don’t be alarmed, your life is charmed.
Don’t be afraid, what wasn’t born can’t be destroyed”
Insecure, confused and lonely as I am, it is a comfort to me.
Sacuntala and I pass a day up in the pine forests, high above the town. She is a window into a different kind of traveller than the ones I have met so far on the road. She seems somehow more worldly than them, which is paradoxical, because she’s the one with a guru! She rarely smokes charas, for a start, and although a big eater, hardly ever talks about food. I ask her about the name she’s been given in India, and that uncovers another layer of paradox. It’s original in the Mahabharata is an ideal, long-suffering wife, devoted to her Lord and master and destined for rescue by Him at his leisure. But the Sacuntala who tells me this with a mischievous smile doesn’t act in the least overawed by the four men she’s living with here!
The town is full of other ‘freaks’ scattered in rented rooms and old farm buildings like ours. Amongst them is Palestinian Ahmed, rumoured to be on the run after dropping out from the PLO, whose shouts of “Arabi falafel!’ ring out from his upstairs window whenever he has fried up a batch for sale; and Dragan, a massive Yugoslavian, who breasted the chest-high Chail stream behind our hut for a bet, a feat that everyone had figured was impossible; and a wild-haired Italian with no name who, bearing only a staff and a tiny shoulder bag, can be seen striding into the bazaar from the forests into which he disappears for days on end. A mysterious American, who everyone assumes is either ex- or even current CIA, runs a big ranch with horses on the other side of the Swat and holds parties for exclusive guests.
The Government Hash Shop sits on the main street, displaying tired-looking wares of varying colours. None of us would dream of shopping there at Rs 2 -7 per tola (eight to twenty-eight UK pence per 12 grams). That’s for regular travellers (one of whom I would be but for burnt cheques and J-P), who take rooms in the town’s hotels and soon move on. Mysterious goings-on around our hut, and suspicious-sounding flights to Europe, ensure that we have a ready supply of far better quality.
I walk the hillside paths above the Chail, back into the rural hinterland beyond any roads or tourist presence. They track stone-sided leats and flumes carrying water from upstream and distributing it to tiny plots of wheat and barley. The farms are high-walled and shaded by giant walnut trees. Curious children peek out from branches or wall to watch me pass. None of them have a single word of English and all are too shy to interact with me.
25th May FULL MOON
Party at the house of Kenji, Japanese ocarina player and Goa habitué, with his stories of full moon beach parties, hard drugs and black magic. There’s a huge chocolate cake and I gorge. Weird sensations start to come over me while walking back through the darkness of the town with J-P and I realize that the thing had been absolutely loaded with hash. We come to the log bridge in front of our hut; I skip over as usual but turning am surprised to see J-P on his hands and knees on the far side. I go back over to find him gibbering with fear at the sight of the couple of meters width of water that he has crossed without difficulty a hundred times before. I pull him to his feet and help him across, where he collapses again at my feet. ‘You saved me,” he moans, fixing me with enormous eyes. “You are Jesus, the Saviour, the Messiah…..”. We prop ourselves, unspeaking, against the wall of our hut for hours, the full moon rising above the mountain tops blazing down on us like a laser. I hold him like a mother holding a baby, soothing him as he recovers from whatever epiphany he has just been through, while slowly trying to piece together the pieces of my own reason, fearing that it might be shattered forever.
“Rolling and joking one day with some Frenchies
Up on the top of the Nigar Hotel
Talking of wonderful places to go
Chitral and Kasar Devi, Nepal and Ceylon
Wherever you aren’t, it’s a pure paragon!”
I seat myself under a tree beside the Chail stream and tell myself that I will not move from this spot. All will be admissible here; so that every sensation, every thought, merely occurs until the experiencer becomes the experienced. I don’t even remember how I came upon such an idea; is it a half-digested nugget from ‘Be Here Now’ or some other spiritual guidebook that I have thumbed through back in England?
So here I am writing soon afterwards and what did this earnest would-be Buddha experience? Chaga! Bowel trouble mainly. It didn’t take me long before I was forced from the spot after all.
So down to Rawalpindi it is, lugging my partly-burned travellers cheques from bank to bank, remembering that surreal moment in Herat when I turned over in half sleep towards the bedside table where I had casually tossed the contents of my pouch; to find a lighted candle had tipped over and was slowly beginning its destruction. At the British High Commission in Islamabad some nameless servant of the State was languishing away behind his desk. “Consular Office” the local employee who ushered me in to the crowded room whispered in an awed voice into my ear. The Consul was telling an ex-Hong Kong policeman who had been wounded in service in 1941 that his X-rays were out of date and he would have to be re-examined. His wife rang while he was talking and he lowered his tones and mentioned needing the car on Saturday. Then there were applications for someone-or-others cousin to be allowed to visit UK. It came to me and passed me and I was walking back through the plate glass and aluminium, out of the air-conditioning and into the blast of midday sun. I was suddenly very clear that I didn’t want to be flown out of the East just yet and was glad to find a rickshaw to return me to reality.
So I have no money, apart from twenty-five rupees that an American lawyer pressed into my hand last night after hearing my story. I’d bumped into him in the foyer of the Intercontinental and he’d treated me to a drink at the hotel bar. Feeling pretty pissed, I made it as far as some shrubbery in the forecourt garden and unrolled my sleeping bag for the night right there.
Yesterday and today I ate nothing solid, which did wonders for my belly. So this evening I treated myself to a posh nosh of chicken curry and haven’t felt stronger in ages.
J-Ps and my relationship is starting to feel complicated, wobbling between warmth and cool distance; I’m disillusioned with his preaching about love and God, perhaps because of my growing suspicion that in trying to convince me of the error of my unspiritual attitudes, he’s actually lecturing himself. He’s uniformly kind and friendly with others and welcomes all comers to the cooking fire at our place, but with me his eyes occasionally fire up with what looks like quickly-supressed anger. He and Francisco share long conversations in French which seem to be far more easy-going than most of ours.
20th June, Madyan
Just back from four days walking to Kalam (2070m) and the Ushu valley. Fourteen-odd miles a day, and all on a couple of chapattis and some ladies fingers, not forgetting several chais. The locals, rough and tough in reflection of the physique of the lands they live in, found me as a tourist without money, most unbelievable. But they freely gave me enough to keep me going.
Pushing along those rock-hewn roads, the murky river boiling and thrashing beside me, tall, desiccated hills rising all around, snowy peaks tipping into view above – so often I just wasn’t there (just as I’m not here now?). Mind projecting ahead to food or chai in the next village; or mentally fumbling with figures of the number of miles to go, or gone; worrying about where to put my sleeping bag down for the night. When I was alone, as approaching Madidan in remote Ushu – I was lonely; when in company, as in the Khalid Hotel in Kalam, with its floor-full of Anglo-Saxons smoking and ordering omelette and chips – I was irritated.
But my body got what it needed: the exercise stretching calf muscles; the regular breathing of clean air as I puff up yet another steep incline; above all perhaps an empty stomach, which meant I could get up fresh every morning and walk seven or eight miles even before the first cup of chai. It wasn’t difficult to obey my body’s needs rather than my mind’s desires on those mornings. But the gloomy forests of the Ushu valley, the approaching snow-clad mountains and the increasing sharp cold of the mornings forced my retreat, so I headed back down, taking the bus thirteen of those long miles. Back to find on a Government Tourist map “ Don’t travel at night…especially between Bahrain and Kalam…” Back to dhal, falafel and chapatti, apricot compote and yoghurt, tons of glucose supplement….Yes, you guessed it – I was back on the shits again this morning!
So why do I come back? I have to reconsider my over-hasty judgements of those fellows in the Khalid, because the answer is: to people! J-P and Sacuntala are so genuinely pleased to see me again and I feel ashamed to realize that while I have been focused on others to satisfy my egocentric need for security (not to mention food!) their unearned appreciation and friendship has been given generously to me. With a rush of emotion I see how this then is what it means to grow spiritually: to be open minded like a child in every situation and accept that whatever I thought I knew before, no longer automatically holds for now. That I am not very successful in clearing away the mental trash of what was and what will be from the Now, is the point at which the search for true religion begins.
I am invited for dinner at the home of a local teacher who I met in the bazaar. His questions about what I am doing here meet with my garbled answers (as if I knew!) so in puzzlement he soon turns to proudly educating me a bit about where we are.
His sketched geography sets my head whirling. It is possible to jeep and trek further on from Kalam (where I took the Ushu river fork) along the Utrot river. After a long curve south to avoid the glaciers of Kohistan, part of the Hindu Kush range, and then north again, I would join a road that eventually ends up in Chitral. There I could visit the Kalash, a small tribe of polytheistic people of Dardic stock in their remote valleys on the Afghan border. Then I could head east and hit the Karakorum Highway in Gilgit. This is nearing completion, he assures me, and would soon allow me to cross by a 4,693-meter pass into Chinese Tibet. Up in those regions they speak a curious language isolate called Burushaski, unrelated to any other language on Earth. Just one of more than sixty languages of Pakistan, he tells me proudly. His wife, relatively modern and educated, is the first local woman I have even seen outside a burka, let alone talked to since I arrived in Madyan. She won’t sit to eat with us, but joins us after serving ours and clearing away. Turns out they both went to college in Punjab in the plains, which is what makes them different.
Letter from Mother, with the news that my travellers cheques have been forwarded on from London to New York for validation. She encloses five pounds in cash, which miraculously survives the journey. Liz has written to her from Istanbul, she relates, having hitched there from Teheran together with an Aussie girl.
Early July Rawalpini
‘Pindi’s heat glares down. I bum a fag, having given all mine to the three lorrymen who dropped me here. Dana gave them to me, expensive Western ones from the duty-free on her flight from Copenhagen. She’s spending hundreds of dollars back and forth to Europe and here’s me trying to change ten Yugoslav Dinars into some nice viable rupees to live on. I’d felt sick from smoking too many of them anyway.
July 12th Madyan
Pedro, Francisco and Sacuntala leave for Kabul. A depressing emptiness is left in their place, with J-P and I now here alone. There is this constant nagging sense that he wants something more from me that is never articulated. It occasionally crosses my mind that he might dream of moving our relationship onto a physical level but he never gives any hint of that. Simply a more enthusiastic endorsement of his spiritual guidance perhaps? Or more motherly soothing a la post-epiphany under the full moon? Could it really be that he hopes for a further revelation of my messiah-hood? So much remains unsaid between us. Wrapped up in our sleeping bags outside the hut last evening, we get caught in a terrible storm and struggle, soaked through, along the river track to Dana and Nonnie’s house for rescue. With them he is as usual in his mature and confident exterior pose, but I get glimpses through it to the troubled soul within.
Or are they just glimpses into my own? I’m feeling utterly dissatisfied with everything. I’m unable to find the will, the energy or the light to break out of my food trip, which takes the form of constant mental preoccupation with what I’ve eaten, or am about to eat, or long to eat. I’ve made two trips to Peshawar within a few days, trying and failing to say goodbye to Madyan, being pulled back to this place of comfort but not joy. So, prepared to consider all possibilities (even the recurrent ‘back to Europe?’) I find myself directionless here once again.
Jul 23rd on train Peshawar to Rawalpindi
Hoping yet again for good news re money in ‘Pindi.
Yesterday some locals stop in a car as I walk towards the hospital to sell blood. ‘Come to Kohat and join the circus!” they shout. We speed a couple of hours over the hills via a peek at the gun shops of Dara Adamkhel. I spend the night in a gypsy encampment on a shrivelled grass maidan in the town. But despite being the celebrated foreigner and fed juicy tidbits etc, I feel insecure and the next morning I ride the roof of the bus back to the familiarity of Peshawar.
The idea of heading back to Madyan is no longer very attractive. I wonder what J-P is up to back there with the newly-shaven face and kurta-pyjamas he suddenly presented himself in the day I left? My 3 months visa-free in Pak is running out soon and the only thing pulling me ‘onwards to India’ is the idea of better food. Not much of a reason to go, is it?
In Jan’s in Peshawar eating baked fish in a/c. Seen scrawled on a hotel room wall: “If the truth were known, it would not be me that knew it”.
New Moon August 10th, Madyan
The khana house beside the Rainbow hotel, scene of so many chais, parathas and yoghurts. I’m preparing once again to leave this little town, this time finally. Of the many people I have met and been fed by here in their hidden-away places dotted throughout the landscape, apart from Dana and Nonnie, who are anyway out of the country right now, I feel to say goodbye to none. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, I just don’t have any cheer to share.
I sit with J-P on the roof of our hut and he asks me to return to Europe with him. Does he want me to be his disciple, does he want to be mine? Does he need my presence for his sanity since his revelation that full moon night? But I have locked that whole experience away in a place marked ‘unexplainable’ (together with an uncanny feeling that that searing white moonlight burned away some nameless and age-old dross in me) and I can’t ask any of this. I just say ‘no’ to him and he turns away from me in despondency.
The wise man perhaps leaves only a very small hole when he sinks through the pavement and out of sight. Poor mad me: I leave a gaping hole and much pain for those who love me….
Following some chaotic scene about contested hotel rooms, and J-P fighting with the police, I find myself walking towards a line of hills with him as darkness falls. I know we have been here before. The scenery is odd, a pattern as if seen from directly above. Other shadowy figures are on the road too. Up in the sky to the left we notice a formation of birds – birds that are like golden points of light. A feeling grows on me like an awesome portent that they are in fact UFOs. They move rapidly overhead and dissolve into a huge silver disc filling half the sky. Around me there are gasps and cries of wonder and fear. The disc grows smaller and becomes a painted face. I grip J-Ps arm in horror as it begins to morph from one contorted cartoon feature into another, all showing pain and grief. I understand that that the face is a caricature of my own.
Later that same night I hear voices in another dream. They tell me I have something wrong with my testes and will never be able to have children. It seems very real.
The only other drawing I created on the whole trip. A doodle done in a hotel room in Peshawar.
My next diary entry is August 21st from Kabul, Afghanistan, recording that I had left Pakistan the day before. I have no memory of my last ten days in the country, except that I bought a chawdar (shawl) that held a lot of meaning for me as a souvenir.
2017 Nov 21st
After a cursory inspection with Naveena and Koyal, I bought a 1968 Bedford Bus (NZ$23,000) fully converted to self contained home (kitchen with gas cooker, shower/toilet, woodburning stove, 12v fridge etc) which will just need hooking up to electrics and access to water. The moment I saw her (I’m guessing Gus is short for Augusta as vehicles, boats etc are female, aren’t they?) I was in love! I could swear she drove past me in the desert in Afghanistan in ’75, full of freaks headed for Kathmandu offering me a ride. I came home and taking a picture from the website advertising her sale drew this (Koyal added the rosette). Compare it to the photo of the end result (at bottom) and it seems that a vision came to me pretty much fully formed……
Today I also got a reply from my landlord saying we are welcome to put her at the bottom of the garden for the four months in which he wants to use the house. I’ve got a lovely hidden away spot lined up since ages in the hope of something like this. Staying in this garden that i have done so much to create over the past three years will be a joy. And he says we can store all our stuff in one room of the house, and move back in to it at the end of April if we haven’t bought anything by then!!!! It’s the perfect solution.
Nov 28th GUS the BUS
Driving Gus from Auckland’s North Shore to home here out on the Western fringe. Fortunately only an hours journey, as handling six and a half tons of 49 year old machinery with no 1st gear, and without a legal heavy vehicle driving license was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The initial hundred meters involved a steep hill start up to traffic lights with lots of traffic. Hairy…. I was trembling! By the time we hit the motorway I could enjoy myself a bit, and Mike, who was trailing us, told me later that we’d reached 100 kmph (Gus does miles and showed only 45 mph).
Mike guided us into the back garden – at one point we had one inch on one side and three inches on the other to spare between two trees. Reversing her up on blocks to level was a mission in itself, but finally we realized that we needed to remove the blocks, reverse her behind their positions and then roll her forward back onto them.
The moment Naveena, Koyal and I stepped into her we realized we had got ourselves something exceptional. Whoever had converted her had done so with taste and style (delicate pastel shades of cream on walls and matching furniture, fine hardwood kitchen surfaces) as well as with quality (powerful pump and gas water heater, two solid deep cycle batteries, lovely little latest model woodburner). We don’t have her history (the vendors had her less than a year and sold her with every last thing down to teaspoons on board) but whoever looked after her all these years did a good job too as she starts easily and the engine purrs sweetly. Roars sweetly I should say when it come to hills……
Naveena and Koyal drew these when we got back to the house after she was settled into position.
Fabulous support from friends these days as we start to build a zula (Arabic word, meaning a comfy hang out space) as a lean-to living room. Everyone rocking up exactly as needed and making the job go fast and fun. A simple deck, bamboo uprights, light decking as rafters, which will bear a clear polypropline roof.
(L -R) Stephen Moller, Oliver Kraft and Robin Rawstorne with me and Naveena on the zula deck.
Taken from my to do list:
Add new shelf under sink 570X320; buy storage bins to go under sofa; buy bigger fridge – space available 990X460W X 610D; extend aluminium protection between stove and fridge 560X500H; sink draining board extension 606X372; two curtain rails 1190 for hanging our clothes; install extractor fan.
Order zula awning to fit deck 3160X2500 (intense.co.nz); report to solar suppliers (Wave Inverters, Kelston) on what we will need to connect up the four 128W solar panels (donated by our friend Abheer), with our two current batteries.
Order compost toilet and construct shed for it, canvas available in 4500X2100 so dimensions 1450D, 800W with 100 each side of door.
Hook up and bury hose line from the house to splitter feeding both Gus and garden water storage barrels. Run electrics down from house.
The zula turns out to be160mm too long to fit the only available decent awning which is exactly 3m. Yesterday we rebuilt and got our Balinese statue installed.
I have a list of about a hundred things still to do and am spending a LOT of time under Gus trying to figure out hose and electric connections. Oliver and I are also spending a LOT of time puzzling over complicated solar machinery. We have less than a month to go. In the middle of all this our washing machine up at the house has failed, so vast laundry piles up while we wait for a new one. And Pip our one-month-with-us kitten still isn’t reliable on the tray or cleaning his bum, and demands so much attention. In addition I’ve taken over responsibility for a dozen palm trees that badly need repotting from plastic carriers. Plus the weather is unrelentingly dry and the garden needs tons of watering if all my veggies are going to survive.
It’s 3am now, bit extreme compared to the usual time of 4am that I’ve been getting up and starting work the past week. Full moon boring down on this amazing rural garden. As soon as its light I’ll get in Gus and unscrew the old fridge and cupboard.
Ross has given me free a load of old lumber that will be good for building the shed for toilet plus a session room for Naveena, to be built away from Gus in a hidden circle behind two apple trees. An Indian guy from Osho Friday meditations has promised me more. For the session room, our international design star school parent Robin Rawstorne sketched out a five-sided design for me in three minutes flat. I’ve decided to build it exclusively with bamboo that we have growing on the property. I’m now researching angles and lengths on the internet.
I’m also helping Steve on his section in Parau (300k looked like a cheap deal but it’s steep, boggy and he’s just found out it’s a special ecological zone, so chopping trees may be limited), putting up a shed. Which he, Desiree and two kids may well end up living in at this rate I reckon!
Last week Suryo and I got the path to the toilet made (first half a job lot of pavers, second a bunch of free decking) the toilet shed built and drainage ditches filled with gravel dug along Gus’s sides. Steve, Oli and I got the roofing on the zula. Plus once we had removed that 160mm off the deck the awning (bit grey but what to do?) now fits perfectly.
The list of to-dos gets bigger all the time, but the last majors are now the electrics (getting expert advise on hooking up solar panels) plus the bamboo session room.
Every single morning I’m on TradeMe (our local ebay) and afterwards driving down to Mitre10, our local hardware store, where I’ve got really friendly with the staff who all know me by now. The amount of materials pouring onto this site is astounding.
The amazing humming of thousands of wings from the hive at night as the bees dry out their honey.
Yesterday I created the bamboo door for the toilet; hooked up the hose system; planned out pentagon behind the apple trees with Oli. We just got the first cucumber from the greenhouse. Little Pip the kitten gets in the way of my chain sawing. He’s fearless!
From my to do list:
Zula: paint entrance; slit bamboos as topping for its low sides; install vertical roofing piece for rain drips over Gus entrance; fix Buddha damaged during transport to site; Velcro canvas behind Buddha.
Gus: rainproof electrics box, drill hole to let mains in to interior, fix broken door lock, mosquito net door,
Buy: electrics extensions etc, hose ends and splitter, white Velcro small hinges for zula doors,
Call: solar supplier re batteries, find 12v electrician for advice
From my to do list:
Build upper zula stable door using Perspex 100X770; ditto lower zula door in split bamboo 860X770; close gap between door and awning with vertical roofing 1980 X 210W (bottom) 240W (top); mosquito net triangular panel above door to curved bus roof;
Epoxy and paint front Gus roof; cut away tree branches extending over Gus; order more roof sheets; ask Pramod if he can prepare me a nice woodedn board 2000X160 as a shelf food storage in Gus; make bedside shelves (needs jigsaw); repair verandah back at the house; resize Pips food/bed box; test shower.
Buy: washers, bolts, screws, gas canister, 12v bedside lamp and switch, more hose connectors, 25m electric cable, brass hooks for cups.
It’s been almost a month now. My typical day:
Up between 3.30 and 5. Finish by 6pm. Fueled on coffee, rollies and wonderful food that Naveena brings down.
Solar hooked up last week, monitoring it regularly and seems to be working. Thank God for Oli’s brain on this stuff! Zula almost finished, just some mosquito-proofing, and getting the bamboo stable door stable. Outside compost toilet just needs 12v fan connected. New tap and washbasin appeared outside it yesterday. I didn’t even have it on the plans but it just happened once Naveena presented me with the idea of using a lovely wooden salad bowl she had handy. Water is coming from the kitchen sink, but I haven’t had the guts to try the shower yet and see if the gas kicks in to heat the water. Oli needs to complete 12v wiring to fridge and extractor. I need a chicken wire fence to keep Pip in to a controlled area of garden and away from the main house (the little bugger is on such a food trip! He’s at the house cats food like an addict and I don’t want him up there bothering the owners all the time once they move in).
MUST turn our attention to the five-sided bamboo space. Site is cleared but not leveled. Big bamboos need to be felled. Lucky Naveena’s nephew Nir and his friend just arrived from Israel. Let’s see how handy they are…
clearing site for pentagon
Then there’s moving all our stuff from the house to make way for Ron and Saray the owners. Only eleven days left…..
After one and a half long days Oli and I have the pentagon up. Bit of bracing and fiddling with the rafters and we’ll be ready for the roof sheets tomorrow, Then Nir and his friend Beni can do some more floor leveling and extend the drainage ditch a little. Then canvas, cut out for windows and pebbles for path and we’re done. Still a couple of dozen jobs on Gus, zula etc but they’re mainly minor details.
me and Oli starting the pentagon
Even found time to take Nir and Beni over to Steves and do four hours on his section yesterday morning!
Koyal is reading like crazy. Naveena is serving food and drinks and keeping the ship going like the ezre khai (‘perfect woman’ or something like that in Hebrew) she is, plus packing stuff into boxes and looking for new curtains for Gus.
From my to do list;
secure zula door both open and shut; feed mains into Gus and pentagon; wet ground so Israeli boys can stir mud until floor is flat; buy pebbles for entrance and drainage.
get ready for Giselle, who is coming tomorrow to show us how to harvest honey, now urgent as the hive boxes are full to overflowing.
buy: hose extension, fixtures, roofing nails, tarp, tin snips, new shower head, angle grinder blades, chisel, shelf brackets, tent pegs, honey buckets, waterproofing spray
Up before 3, clearing living room. Yesterday milestone day: 15kg of honey harvested; roof on the pentagon; first hot shower in Gus; all of us sleeping there well.
Bad vibes emanating: Ron and Saray suddenly email us with mysterious ‘decisions’ that are going to be communicated to us via Robyn the agent. She’s on holiday til 27th.
The list of jobs now extends urgently into fixing up and cleaning out the house, moving everything needed into a tidied-up Gus and the rest into the storage room.
1st Jan 2018
We moved in properly on 29th. It’s been the most exhausting yet creative process of my life. My nerves (and hands – cut to shreds) need a lot of rest now. Good that there’s only tickling about left to do.
It went to a hell with the owners. Suddenly we were dealing with Robyn the property manager demanding $350 A WEEK to live here. Ron silent and invisible. A charged meeting with her, at which she tried blackmail (“if you don’t sign then if you’re not out tomorrow by 5 you’re squatters and the police will remove you…”). I removed myself and let Naveena handle it, and she negotiated down to 240. Ron moved in next day (they even had the nerve to try to come in on 29th a day early!) and hasn’t been seen down here. I’m avoiding the house area totally except early morning to pick up last gardening stuff from compost area etc. What a spineless weasel! Ten days ago it as all ‘thanks mate’ and me playing guitar for his poetry reading at Titirangi library, including arranging a hand drum for him. Now he hasn’t got the guts to face us. Yesterday Robyn texted me to move the van off the driveway. So even such minor things have to go through her now!
Anyway here we are and so happy. Little Pip has settled in and is bringing Naveena so much joy. Koyal is a star and starting to be really keen on helping and doing things like making breakfast for herself.
Last tweaks on the hose system from house to bus, garden and toilet basin – water pressure is the issue and I’m upgrading to the best hose and fittings. Oli starring on electrics and finishing off the pentagon. I waterproofed the canvas yesterday, let’s see how it (and the whole site) handles the first heavy rain……
In the midst of these forty days it’s been SO dry. Garden needing heaps of water. Got Nir onto that and taught him some planting, compost making and general awareness of plants needs. He’s SO keen to learn because he wants to make a career out of medical cannabis back in Israel.
The whole project was fueled on all the friends rocking up to help. And on enhancement, tons of rollies and evening whisky and lemon. Naveena simply stars as hostess, but a woman’s work in never done and I’m doing my best to be supportive on the laundry and cleanup front. Koyal so understanding as she tries to get my attention and I just hurry on by going ‘yes Koylee’ and then not paying any attention to what she’s trying to tell/show me!
Final two days cleaning at the house culminated in a record breaking 2am start for me, taking rubbish and recycling up to the school to dispose of as our bins are full. Council picked this moment to re-introduce bins instead of the bags they brought in two years ago for rubbish. Luckily I hadn’t got them to take our old one away, just had to remove it from the rainwater harvesting system.
final day on the house verandah, relaxing with Mike and Oli
Funny: I just heard that my father James died on Xmas day after his long period as a vegetable. And my old ‘friend’ Ron hasn’t even been down to visit us. There are echos here of the abandonment and disappointment I felt when James left when I was seven. Ron and his wife are like silent ghosts up there at the house. Last night I dreamed he was begging my forgiveness. James’s ghost?
Right pinky dupuytrons got worse. A crown fell out today. My hands are rough and scratched. Time for some fix ups.
Seems the ghosts have fangs. Just after writing last night I got an email from Robyn. We have 90 days notice to quit. Plus get our stuff out of storage room in house within a week. “Why?” Koyal asks. No answer!
Search for section/property intensifies. Must have Gus access, be flat and sunny and around Titirangi. Hen’s teeth indeed!
Big tropical storm coming today. NE with 125kmph gusts forecast. Let’s see how we stand up to it….hopefully we’re well sheltered here with trees and bamboo.
Gus interior, pretty much finished
Sat 7th Jan
Survived it. Minor drips. A fun drama at midnight as Naveena wakes me up hearing bangs and we go out into the rain to find the solar panels down and Koyal does cartwheels on the lawn while we put them back up. Loads of tweaking on Gus’s gutters, wedges to create a drip line where the zula roof joins the bus roof etc.
Now clearing all the wood and gardening stuff from the shed, trips to Storage King, Op Shops and the school to dump it all off.
More drain on psychic resources getting the stuff in the storage room in the house repacked and down to Storage King. Mike the hero as usual. Anal Robyn with her lists of minor damage and missing items, trying to squeeze as much as she can out of us. I guess it will be goodbye to our $1650 bond when the time comes to leave.
Finally hit the beach after a month or so. Aaaahhh…
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.
With Sadhu in Gujarat, 1995
DELHI November 1994,
My Dutch partner Sadhu and I are travelling from Pune to see the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas. I am bearing with me a precious new sarod belonging to my teacher, Shekhar Borkar, which needs some adjustments from the instrument’s maker in Delhi. To ensure this happens as smoothly as possible, I have arranged to get help from the family of my previous teacher, Gurdev Singh, who live in Delhi. But with Gurdev himself in London, we will be relying on his teenage son Ladi to make sure the job gets done. It’s Sadhu’s (in her mid-twenties) first experience of India outside Osho’s Pune ashram.
Nizamuddin Station, Delhi outskirts. Our New Delhi-bound Punjab Mail has made an unscheduled stop here for what has by now turned into 45 minutes. The fact is we shouldn’t be on this train in the first place. Ladi must by now be waiting as planned at New Delhi Station, to greet us off the Kerala Express. This train we had impulsively abandoned a couple of hours ago when, stuck at some station and unable to stand any more information-less waiting for it to proceed, we had jumped aboard this more promising-looking Punjab Mail just as it was about to pull out. Now, leaving Sadhu on board, and fearful that she and our gear might at any moment depart without me, I dash around fruitlessly trying to find a phone to ring Ladi’s home to warn him of the change of plan. I’m also trying to buy a cigarette to calm my nerves, but it seems they are not sold in railway stations. I rejoin Sadhu back in our compartment just in time for us to watch the Kerala Express cruise slowly by outside the window without stopping……
So we make our own way by taxi to Gurdev’s flat in Rajouri Gardens, a quiet(ish) residential district. His wife, Gurmeet is delighted to see us, keeps taking my hand and pinching Sadhu’s cheek (“NICE girlfriend, Chinmaya, SWEET”). Ladi, who had given up waiting for us at New Delhi station, is in the living room practicing sarod like a MANIAC, as if on speed. His grandmother lies around on the sofa grinning toothlessly and shooting questions in Punjabi at us. Addressing Sadhu via Gurmeet’s translation and my limited Hindi: “Do you make nice chapatti for him in London?” I fail to explain to her that at home, one day I make chapatti and one day she does, because it is simply impossible to get such an unlikely concept across. Here I am always served my food first, with Sadhu expected to eat after I’ve finished, the family looking baffled as I insist she eat with me. Breakfast is a big pile of very spicy gobi parathas, which we are pushed to eat in quantity. To have breakfast scorching your mouth is a totally new experience for Sadhu.
Gurmeet takes us shopping in the local bazaar. Guru Nanak’s birthday celebrations are approaching, so lights, decorations, loud bangs and everywhere people dressed in their colourful best, bustling with excited energy. As the three of us plus our purchases pile into a cycle rickshaw for the ride home I realize we haven’t seen another white face all morning. That afternoon Sadhu appears in the living room wearing her newly-bought kameez (knee-length top) but without the salwar (trousers) innocently viewing it as a kind of dress. At the sight of her and her legs bare below the knee Ladi has a laughing fit. A while later while we are in the bathroom the door accidentally swings open just as he is passing by. What he makes of his brief glimpse of Sadhu naked I don’t know, but his sarod practice afterwards is even more deafening than usual.
The next day we head downtown by auto rickshaw through the pollution. I am trying to make the driver and the various pedestrians we stop to ask understand that we want to go to Buddha Jayanti Park, which I remember from my first visit to Delhi fifteen years ago. My pronunciation must be terrible because all I get are blank looks: “Underground car park?” I make a Buddha meditation pose: “Aah! Puja, you’re wanting temple!” No no NO! Once there, it’s all a big disappointment compared to my golden memories and we are bugged by desolate-looking men. Finally a worried-looking guard shouting in Hindi about “Goonwallahs” (ruffians) runs after us as we head off into a quieter-looking area. We take our cue and leave.
Back home a pundit comes to visit and read palms. Sadhu has a powerful mind and love of culture, I am exploring my creativity. Ladi keeps interfering with questions about marriage and children. The pundit scrutinizes our hands a bit closer. Sadhu will not have children, while I will have two sons and two daughters. We will both do marriage next year….. Who knows how much trust to put in Ladi’s translation? Perhaps he’s hoping to marry her himself?
We are taken to a Namdhari gathering (a vegetarian Sikh sub-sect with a lineage of living gurus into which Gurdev and his family were born) presided over by his Holiness Sat-guruji Maharaj, a sweet-smiling old fellow. It’s a medieval-looking scene, muted pastel-coloured clothing, peppery beards and bright while turbans, with men and women sitting separately on the floor. Since I’m a man, and lacking a turban, I’ve been given a handkerchief to balance on top of my head. It’s also a chaos of noisy kids, scratchy loudspeakers, microphone cables, money offerings, and men strolling with affected nonchalance up to the bigwigs up on their podium and bowing obsequiously. All this occurs during what Ladi describes to me as the ‘meditation’. Afterwards there’s a fine kirtan band, which includes avuncular Harbhajan Singh, who I know well from my London days with Gurdev. It all ends with a 5.30pm ‘lunch’, served on leaf thalis.
Afterwards Harbhajan and I brave the pollution (at night you can’t see more than a few meters in front of your eyes on most roads) to go to a hidden-away backstreet instrument maker he knows. I pick up two dilrubas ordered by friends in Pune, plus a new swarmandel (autoharp) for myself and manage to juggle all three while perched precariously on the back of his scooter.
Back home Ladi, who had taken charge of Shekhar’s precious sarod, is assuring me all will be taken care of. But I still see it hanging around the flat. Gurmeet, who is leaving for London in two days, is stressed. I calm her down by playing to her gently on Ladi’s sarod and then Sadhu and I lounge around with her on her bed. She tells me she has the same birthday and year as me (I think more to re-affirm our connection than to reflect any truth –I know Gurdev, who is like her a village kid, hasn’t a clue what his real birthday is and just has a guess for a date written on his passport). We are interrupted by a visit from an idiotic neighbor demanding answers to his loud questions about children, marriage and the details of the price of endless items in London. Ladi, wanting attention like a child himself, butts in all the time, so we gratefully let him answer for us as much as we can. The family’s Hindu servant and her son (who are basically treated as part of the family and only go back to their own home to sleep at night) seat themselves with their backs to a wall and watch the scene with obvious incomprehension and enjoyment. Old granny (who although she looks ninety turns out to be just mid-sixties) smiles toothlessly upon us all. That evening we are taken for dinner to Gurmeet’s sister’s house where a complicated family photo session with us exotic gauras (‘whities’) occupies most of the evening as well as what seems to be most of the neighbourhood.
The next morning cocky Ladi muscles in to his connections at the front of the formidable queue at New Delhi station and gets us AC class tickets for Dehradun in under five minutes. That evening we take a taxi back to the station and sit on a suspiciously empty platform waiting for the Dehradun Express, listening to distorted announcements of trains running five and a half hours late and so on. At 10.10 (it’s now forty-five minutes after our train was due to depart) I show our tickets to a guard. “Aree! But this train goes from Old Delhi station….” We make a panicked rickshaw ride through appalling pollution, weaving in and out of jammed traffic and run onto the platform to find it empty, our train long gone. I study our tickets more closely. It seems we wanted the ‘Mussouri Express going to Dehradun’, not the ‘Dehradun Express’.
“Let’s find a train to anywhere out of this hell-hole,” I cry and miraculously there is the Kathgodam Express sitting ready to depart in fifteen minutes. Without tickets or reservation the best we can be given is 2nd Class Sleeper but we grab two berths (dirty, with hard seats and lots of coming and going from hawkers, beggars and late arrivals) and thus we trundle out of Delhi, heading for the mountains.
Sign at Corbett National Park
(Our trip outside Delhi is covered in ‘1982 India North’)
Back to Delhi on a seven-hour bus ride from Ramnagar; basically an ear-shattering ordeal of loud, distorted Hindi film music. And so a day that begins in the pristine wilderness of Corbett National Park and Tiger Reserve ends (after two hours in a taxi and seven in the bus) with us stuck for one more on a bicycle rickshaw, swamped by Guru Nanak birthday crowds half a kilometer from home. We give up, shoulder our voluminous baggage and set off past firecrackers, sword-dancers, bhangra-revellers, through a press of people so tight that we have to use main force to pass.
On arrival I find Ladi being utterly vague about what is going on, Gurdev has to be called in London to get anything moving on Shekhar’s sarod front. And it’s only two days until we leave!
We head off next morning to try to get tickets for the ‘Ramayana on Wheels’ performance. Not a seat to be had either for baksheesh or Ladi’s wheedling. We figure we might as well try once more and struggle through the early evening traffic back to the venue just fifteen minutes before the opening. A woman is selling three tickets she can’t useI And what a tamasha it turns out to be! A half kilometer-long stage has been constructed in a huge open space, with us audience proceeding past it in railway carriages. Brilliant music by Amjad Ali Khan, but kitschy sets, amateur acting and laughable Hindi movie script. And the portrayal of women!! Either boring like Sita or wicked/spiteful/lustful ballbreakers……
But oh how we laughed! First of all at the aged taxi driver (and his broken down 1956 Ambassador) who drove us there at a bone crunching crawl, frustrating all our anxious pleadings to hurry. Then, at the ticket collector’s helplessness, as we brazenly hustle in a ticketless Sikh boy who has somehow attached himself to us. It all got a bit hysterical. Ladi to me in a whisper as Ravanna is promising Sita he will move the stars in their courses for her: “Just get me a taxi that runs for once…”
Ladi turns up with the precious sarod as we are preparing to leave the house to catch our train back to Pune. I’ve never seen such a sight before: its wood has been varnished so thickly it looks like it has been painted brown! I start to get a worried rumble in my belly just looking at it, Shekhar is not going to be happy……But Ladi is delighted with himself and promising to visit us in Pune, Holland, wherever we are to be found. I’m meanwhile wondering if he switched it.