Village below Mahalbeshwar
Village below Mahalbeshwar
Oct 20th. Mahalbeshwar (Mb) is on a plateau at 4000ft. and is delightfully cool. [Yesterday on my first day in Goa I took five showers!]. It took an effort to get to Mb – two trains, a taxi and a bus up the hill plus continual asking which way and when? I arrive after dark finding myself in a main street, busy with Indian tourists out for a stroll, buying ‘chikki’, locally-made candy with nuts. It is off-season and hotels are 60% discounted. Watching a movie in Hindi, alone in my room, self-doubt creeps in. What the hell am I doing here? No answer. I need to give meaning to my experience and I’m not finding it. “And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
The next morning, “A new day and I will face it, bravely, with all my heart.” I wander round hearing the offers of the taxi drivers and going with my gut feeling choose a man of about 50 with a short white beard, soft-spoken. Off we go for a three-hour guided tour, $6.00. His name is Aziz and he is a Muslim, does not drink or do drugs. He used to work at the Austrian consulate in Mumbai and went to Europe for a year with them as a cook. He drives me around the plateau in his three-wheeled motor rickshaw and guides me around Old Mb. There are ancient temples here.
The main one has a pool with channels bringing in water from the sources of seven major rivers. They are joined here into one channel which runs along the back of a stone bull, Shiva’s vehicle Nandi, and falls into the pool. As I go to take a picture a beautiful young Indian woman in western dress is standing there. I go ahead and snap and am betrayed by the automatic flash. Then Aziz wants to take my photo by the bull so down I go. The girl is still there so I say to her, “Now you are a model!” She laughs and flash, Aziz takes the picture.
He takes me to the ‘points’, lookouts at the precipitous edge of the plateau. There is cloud swirling around and I only glimpse paddy fields and villages surrounded by the forested lower slopes of the plateau. Havens of peace and tranquility in an ocean of endless waves of humanity. Aziz tells me, however, that they all have satellite TV, sowing the seeds of discontent and change. They will all have seen Hollywood movies where everyone is rich and will now know they are poor. Aziz tells me that he is content in his semi-retirement, living on the family strawberry farm, his three children going to the local Muslim school. His contentment is beyond me.
Back in town for lunch I accidentally meet the same girl and her boyfriend in a cafe. I show them the photo I took of her and she wants me to email it to her. I sit with them and we talk. They both work in call centres in Mumbai, she in an English one, he in an American one. They have different accents. She is Jenny/Pavitra age 23 and he is Angelo/Farhan, age 22. I show them photos of my girls. They both live with their parents, his Muslim, hers Hindu and they are here for three days without their parents knowledge. I comment on how they are stepping away from tradition and into western ways. They are making their own choices, which cut across tradition, just by being with one-another. They are living with abundance, she making more than he (around $330 a month).
We part company and I take myself for a walk around the back streets. I come across an old church that seems abandoned (almost 60 years since the British left town). Looking in through an open window I see the pews still intact. (Later Aziz told me there are still a few Christians here who keep it going.) Then it rains cats and dogs for an hour or so and I retreat to my hotel.
After dark I creep out again with umbrella in hand, eat dinner then wander up the muddy street with all its brightly-lit tourist stores. Who should I meet but my young friends again. “You must be bored wandering around by yourself,” she says, “Do you want to join us shopping?” She is doing the shopping. He and I are watching. I wonder aloud if the difference is genetic or cultural. We are in a chikka store. She is buying fudge and chikka for a dozen presents, packets and boxes tied with white ribbons. I ask, “How many people do you live with?” Five, but she is buying for friends at work and she is buying for Farhan! In all this I feel very-much included, part of the family – an easy, joking hanging out, communing with equals in the way I do with friends and family back home. We wander down the street eating bits of strawberry and chocolate fudge she has brought. She is complaining because her stretch flared jeans are covered in red mud at the bottom. They drop me at my hotel and I give them both a hug, promising to call them when I pass through Mumbai on the way home.
The next day I reconnect with Aziz for another three-hour tour of the local wonders. Later I catch the bus back down the hill. It starts off half-empty but then fills up on the edge of town. I am jammed between two men, one of whom seems to be the village idiot. Short and dark, around 50, he is dressed in dirty white cotton with a white ‘Nehru’ cap on his head. He thinks that if he keeps repeating things to me in Hindi that I must get it eventually. Eventually the boy facing us translates, “Where is your wife?” “In Canada.” He continues on speaking in Hindi, grinning and gesturing. He reminds me of Eric Idle in Monty Python, “A nod’s as good as good as a wink to a blind man, eh, eh, know what I mean, know what I mean??” My guess is that he is trying to get me to admit that I’m gay, since I evidence no wife.
Relieved when he gets off, I settle in to enjoy the picturesque bus ride as we pass through the villages and paddy fields I had spied from above. Being jammed in this increasingly hot bus I feel like I am experiencing the real India.
Osho’s Ashram: the content
Oct. 14th. 24hrs later and I am back in the deck chair by the pool. It is dark green and three men with bald heads are swimming: billiard balls. I have been to three events in the auditorium. Now I have a sense of the internal form. The roof of the auditorium is in the form of a square pyramid supported at each corner by a massive pillar. Outside it is smooth black marble. Inside the floor of polished green marble tiles is the size of half a football field.
For the evening meeting, the main event, everyone must wear a white robe (I bought a used one the night before and washed it by hand). A certain atmosphere is created when there are about 300 people, all in white robes under a pyramid ceiling shimmering with coloured lights. Celestial is the best descriptor I can think of: God and his angels meeting in Heaven, except that, here, God is not embodied.
When I arrive there is music and everyone is dancing – some wildly, some sedately. This is the first of the ‘meditations’ this evening. In this and the other sessions (one 6:00 to 7:00am!) there is shaking , yelling, speaking gibberish, rapid breathing, jumping, silent sitting and watching a video of Osho speaking. These things I generally appreciate, recognizing that their intent is to relax tensions, build energy and facilitate self-awareness. In the video Osho mentions the eclectic sources of his methodology, says he does not believe in withdrawing from the world to seek enlightenment, tells the tragic story of Wilhelm Reich and acknowledged his indebtedness to him. ‘Zorba the Buddha’ characterizes his attitude, simultaneously seeking the serenity of the Buddha and the passion for life of Zorba.
I relate to Osho as a self-directed spiritual eclectic. I have to acknowledge that he knew a lot but he had the temerity to set himself above Jesus and the Buddha. As Reich before him, however, he also came to a tragic end for the same transgression: flaunting taboos and powerful vested interests in promoting healthy sexuality as the source of life-energy. (Reich was one of the inner circle of psychotherapists around Freud. He described himself as a sexologist. He wrote that repression of human sexuality was life-denying and existed because it served the interests of church and state control. He developed and practiced methods of ‘healing’ which led to his imprisonment in the US for practicing medicine without a license. He died in prison, alone and ostracized.)
I keep seeing old guys with long white beards and caps walking by: Osho clones?
11:00am. A beige marble plaza 200ft. long surrounded by trees and stands of huge bamboo, leaves continually fluttering down. Recorded dance music. Fifty people, ages 17 to 70, dancing across the whole, each one separately, no eye contact.
In participation my spirits rise. This is experiential learning, direct to the body, which makes sense to me. It will do me no harm and may even do me some good. The only thing is that, even if it does me good, how will I ever know? I still do not agree with Osho’s vision of Utopia as a gated community but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate some of his other offerings.
I have made friends with a woman from Brazil (not really close) who danced with me on our introductory morning. Otherwise, typically, I don’t find it easy to connect with the other participants. Is it because I’m so introverted? I guess I would meet people if I took one of the various meditation workshops but they are way over my budget and I’m not that committed.
Soap in your ear!
Oct 16th. Back by the pool in Club Med. This morning I was feeling lonely and full of aches and pains – the remainder of my cold probably. Then I went to the laughter ‘meditation’. 1/2 hr. of laughter, 1/4 hr. of dance celebration, 1/4 hr. of silence lying face down on the marble. We were told no tickling, no clowning only laughter from the inside, OK to look at one-another. I began by faking it then started getting into it. But the thing was that I started to feel connected just from the glancing eye-contact. With one guy in particular who held eye-contact I had the feeling of seeing through the mask to the soul, to some sort of unity. It also reminded me that I have been starved of eye contact in this ashram – everybody is busy looking inward. It’s far from the open, sexy place of my anticipation.
this busy street when a scruffy young guy I’m passing says, “Soap in your ear!” “What?” “Soap in your ear.” Without thinking I reach for my ear but in a flash he’s right there sticking his finger in my ear! I recoil, backing away. He quickly shows me a little metal rod with ear wax on the end of it. He stuck that in my ear!? No, it’s bullshit, I had the doctor clean my ears just before I left. I start moving away faster but he is following saying, “Wait, wait, not finished.” and showing me a pair of tweezers with a bit of cotton wool in them. “Get away, go, go!!” It didn’t seem funny at the time but the next morning. Ha! Add that to the list of scams to watch out for – he was teaching me to stay alert.
Oct 13th. I am sitting on a reclining beach chair beside the swimming pool. It is in the shape of an ‘S’ and ‘Olympic-size’. On this side is a restaurant serving only organic vegetarian food. I have a latte and a chocolate croissant! On the other three sides are huge exotic trees reaching out over the pool. The walkway around the pool is black slate. I can see about a dozen people, all wearing maroon robes or maroon bathing suits (mandatory). I bought a robe yesterday, used, for $3. (A friendly worker advised me that I could obtain such, cheaper, outside the gate on the street.) It has holes burnt in it when the previous owner smoked ganga (marijuana). There is a big gong across the pool from me.
Osho is the current name for Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh an Indian Guru who died in 1990. Highly controversial, critical of establishment values, revered by many, reviled by many, he described himself as the rich man’s guru. He once owned ninety Rolls-Royces, gifts from admirers. The Ashram he had built in Pune, near Mumbai, is a modern Xanadu of ‘stately pleasure domes’ in exotic gardens. It is now run as a ‘meditation resort’ by former followers.
An association that comes up for me, now, as I type this in a little Internet cafe is from less than two weeks ago. I was sitting with Agi on the balcony of the Sandbar Restaurant, Granville Island, Vancouver. We could see False Creek, full of yachts and on the far side green-glass towers of apartments, each with a fancy penthouse atop. My comment (Was it cynical?) was “This is a fascist vision of paradise.” Everything was luxurious, clean and well-run. Everybody was clean. The only poor people were in service roles and they too were clean! Some of the washrooms here are done out in marble (executive washrooms?). The great unwashed do not enter here. It is a gated community, a little piece of the dream of western civilization, transposed. In some ways all of Canada is a gated community: the main way of gaining entry, there too, is to have large amounts of money. But Canada is separated from the unwashed by oceans. Here there is just a wall. For those who stay in the accommodation here ($50 a night) the illusion must be complete. I go back and forth to my $6 room in the real world. I remember Winston Smith venturing into the slums in Nineteen Eighty Four, finding rough and crude people but full of vitality.
Still fresh, the memory of the serenity I felt in the alleyways of the fishing community in Mumbai. (And the words of Scott Peck – “True community is inclusive as opposed to exclusive.”) Yet all this is about my reaction to the form of this place and my perception of the dissonance between the form and the content. I don’t think I have a problem with the content or with the people delivering it. I do contrast the form here with the Zen monastery I visited with Paul in Japan years ago. That was also very beautiful but neither grandiose nor exclusive. If we are all one, from whence arises this exclusivity?
So my challenge in being here: to be in it but not of it. To wear the robe on the outside but not on the inside. I am here because I like to dance and the notion of dance-meditation makes perfect sense to me. I know that I can most-easily get out of my head when I dance. Apart from all the words and the beauty of this place, dance meditation seems to have been Osho’s main contribution.
I step outside and walk to the main street of this suburb. I sit on the edge of the raised sidewalk and talk to the woman who sold me the red robe yesterday. She is about my age and has a certain beauty still. She shows me what she is chewing: betel nut. Her teeth are all red-stained from it. She chews tobacco too and some other thing, all mildly psycho-active I’m sure.
I’m looking for a cheaper Internet cafe and ask the tout who brought me to my hotel. We sit on the edge of the sidewalk and talk about what is real and what is not. He seems to think there are two good things in the ashram: dance and available women. Yes, well there is a fantasy about western women that I’ve come across before. We agree that it is best to let them approach us. He says I should get my hair cut!
I am still asking, every few yards, for Internet when a grey bearded man, sitting on the sidewalk, says he has a message for me. I sit down again and he reads my palm, does some numerology and tells my fortune. I will live to 85, have a lover called Sandra and be happy. A good performance, deadpan, and I give him 30 cents. He asks for $3.00. I tell him that if I had agreed ahead of time I might have paid that. He shakes my hand.
I wait five minutes to cross the street. It is jam-packed with cars, buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws, scooters and motorcycles with no lanes. It feels death-defying to walk across. This is the intensity of India, like an ants’ nest, crowds of people moving in every direction, all available to pass the time of day. Yes, they would like to make some money but, if not, it’s OK.
Oct 10th. Dear Colin, When you come to Mumbai watch out for the touts (pimps, pushers). They will get you anything, anything! Sometimes they are aggressive and stick like glue if your first ‘No!’ is not firm enough. It is an opportunity to practice having good boundaries. The sidewalks are crowded with men selling balloons, sunglasses, knick-knacks, clothes who will all want your attention. The streets are jammed with traffic hooting and polluting.
What with the heat and humidity, plus jet-lag, I was finding it tiring to keep on saying “No!” I escaped into the museum where it cost $9 for foreigners and 30c for locals. Delightful shade in a beautiful old colonial building. The centre of it was a high dome over a courtyard with three stories of balconies echoing with chattering voices, the occasional gem discovered amongst endless glass cases of porcelain and ceremonial swords.
I walk to India Gate, monument to British colonial pride recalling the Arc de Triomph, then wander south on the esplanade by the ocean. After 15 minutes the esplanade ends where boys are playing cricket in the street.
Going straight, I enter a very narrow, covered, winding alley with doors and ladders into tiny houses. I keep going and come out into a narrow street with no traffic and head towards the water. It, too, is crowded but by the people who live here. They are friendly and unintrusive. It seems to be a fishing community: there are lots of boats out of the water and men repairing nets. I realize that I feel relief from the constant need to protect myself and feel perfectly safe here. This is why I came to India, to experience my heart opening with a sense of wonder. This street is people’s living room and I am welcome in it! When I take a photo of some boys playing on a boat I am suddenly surrounded by boys wanting me to take their picture. When I oblige they are happy.
Having returned to my hotel, showered and eaten dinner it is already dark. I return to the urban village and enter another narrow alleyway. [An earwig is wandering around this grimy keyboard.] There are small storefronts selling spices and grains. As I delve deeper the way is blocked by a crowd. They are drumming and clapping, gathered round a shrine with a statue of a goddess. I stay and join in the clapping. Two lovely young women in colourful saris smile when I can’t keep my feet still. A young man is making an offering of coconut and fruit to the image of the goddess lit by an Aladin-style oil lamp. Her name is Durgha, I am told by the boy next to me. He gives me a Puja (blessing) by dabbing red powder on my forehead (symbolizing the inward-looking third eye).
I wander on through a warren of alleys pausing again where there is loud music and a group of children dancing and clashing sticks. I take a movie clip with my new digital camera, thus catching the music too, plus the the obligatory group portrait of urchins. Wandering on I pass through a street filled with people laying out bed-rolls, brushing their teeth and making ready for the night. I feel concerned about intruding but nobody pays me any heed. I wonder whether these people have no other place to sleep or whether their tiny houses are too hot and stuffy to sleep in.
Back in my hotel by 10:00pm. the grinning porter tells me he can get anything for me. Anything! A few minutes later, having stripped, I answer a knock and find a pretty young woman who smiles apologizes and moves on. Then the grinning porter is back offering to bring another girl for me, “just as pretty”. No! No more knocking! I have trouble sleeping. Fantasies running. I’m all alone in a strange city and I haven’t been close to a woman for six months. All this in my first day…
The famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead characterized it this way (Culture and Commitment, 1970). Tradition is a one-way flow of information from the older generation to the younger generation: Old —–> Young In Samoa Mead observed a smooth transmission of traditional culture whereas, in America, she saw what she called ‘the generation gap’ – teenagers rebelling and rejecting the cultural transmission. She thought that this was because circumstances had changed as a result of industrialization (eg. women having independent income). The culture being handed down was perceived by the younger generation as being out of date, old fashioned, an unwelcome imposition. She suggested that, in order to make sense of their world the young started a dialogue with one-another: Young <—–> Young. She speculated that when this dialoguing generation became parents they would dialogue with their children: Old <—–> Young This would then have created a new form of culture, much better at adapting to changing circumstances than traditional culture: Old<—->Old, Old<—->Young, Young<—->Young.
Mead’s focus, as mine in these essays, was more on the process of tradition than its specific content, how culture is passed on to succeeding generations more than what is passed on. For example I reflect on the effects of the violence, inherent in enculturating children, regardless of whether the culture is European or Asian. Viewed from the perspective of dialogue, tradition is a monologue by the older generation. Traditional parents and teachers do not listen to the younger generation, are not open to feedback from them. (My father snapped, “Don’t answer back!”) This seems to have been the case in all the major civilizations, all hierarchical societies. Violence against children is only just beginning to be outlawed in the World. With Scandinavian countries leading the way, it is now illegal to hit one’s own children in 26 out of 232 countries (most laws introduced in the last decade).
In The Decline of Tradition I interweave stories of encounters with people on my travels in South Asia with reflections on the process and content of Indian tradition and on traditional process in general. I look at what must be common to all traditions in hierarchical societies: in effect the oppression and conditioning of the next generation. I reflect on the origins of tradition in oral, indigenous, non-hierarchical tribes and explore the possibilities of the formation of new types of culture as tradition declines everywhere. While this throws the World into chaos, is a culture of dialogue arising as an evolutionary resolution to global problems generated by industrial technology?