India My Love

Illustrated by a small incident from the late Nineties in Pune.

Tribal woman photographed by Dr Erach Bharucha in the Eighties.

The scene is a walled compound on the outskirts of the city of Pune. Here the farms beyond the suburb of Koregaon Park, where I am living as part of the Osho Commune International, are being turned into a vast construction site for five-star hotels and tower blocks.

It is evening and inside the little compound a party is in progress, celebrating the opening of a swanky glass and concrete office for a Western design company opening up an Indian branch. Attending are expats, wealthy Indians and a handful of Osho disciples including myself, helping themselves to copious snacks and soft drinks.

The gates of the compound have been kept open and look out on to a building site. As I leave the building for a breath of fresh air, I see a crescent of people out there, quietly watching the proceedings. There are adults and children, all poor, the women in the typical worn saris of labourers and maids, the children mostly barefoot, the men thin and tired-looking. I have seen them everywhere as the city expands; they are migrant construction workers, recruited from poverty-stricken rural India, housed in huts around the building sites, human muscle who will spend their whole lives moving from one place of work to the next.

An impulse grabs me and seizing a plate of cake and a couple of bottles of coke from an overloaded table in the building, I take myself through those gates. A first child hesitates as I offer her the plate. “Le lo” (‘take’) I tell her in Hindi. A shy smile and suddenly there are several hands reaching out. It’s all very gentle and respectful as I move down the line, the recipient of much gratitude and humour from adults and children alike.

Now comes the point where to this day I say ‘India My Love’ from deep in my heart. At the end of the line, partially hidden behind one of the gateposts are two women. The plate is almost empty now as I present it to them. The first giggles as she accepts a piece. The second smiles mischievously as, with deft fingers, she plucks a wedge of cake from the plate and pushes it between my astonished lips.

It is a moment of cosmic hilarity when suddenly there are no barriers between two human souls.  Thinking of it now it reminds me of the one time I experienced Osho looking into my eyes. A moment when, against all logic, Existence is understood to be like a loving mother in its care for all its constituents.

I went back at her invitation to view her sleeping baby; sat in her one room shack for a few moments while she told me of her husband who had a better job at another site a couple of hours away on the far side of the city and would even now be pedaling his way home on his bicycle.

Over the following weeks I always thought I would find a moment to return, maybe meet her husband, see the baby awake. When I eventually tried I found the dusty lanes around the site had changed their configuration and I had no idea where I was. Hard labour was going on all around me: women bearing stacks of bricks on their heads; half-naked children scrabbling on heaps of sand; men in loincloths feeding concrete mixers. Nobody had time for more than a glance at a sentimental foreigner and somehow my heart wasn’t in the search. Light and inconsequential as a feather, that profound moment was now the past.

Still I wonder if she remembers it as I do?

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