When the shadows come back to light

The world of Osho has gone through a few crises over the last decades, but the one unfolding right now reaches deeper than any other.

Within less than two months, snowballing at increasing speed, accusations of sexual abuses against senior and respected members of the Osho community are made public almost daily. Women are coming forward and telling their stories of being raped in Osho’s communes when they were children or young teenagers. The whole story is all over social media, and journalists ready to have another go at Osho will have the ease of their lives collecting information; they will undoubtedly decry him and his work once again.

Before I continue, allow me a few words about myself. I arrived in Pune in January 1993, 3 years after Osho left his body. I never met him alive, and I was never in “Pune One” or on “the Ranch”, where kids were around. When I arrived in Pune, there were no children in the Commune and teenagers were only allowed in for 2 hours a day. I indeed found it strange, but I accepted the explanation that “meditation isn’t for children.” With hindsight, I understand that if kids were not allowed, it was because of the abuses of the past which were carefully put under the carpet. I remember Osho’s remarks on monasteries not allowing women. “What kind of people are afraid to see women?” he commented “are they monsters or what?” Today I see that Osho’s Commune in the ’90s did not allow children into their premises because too many of them had been abused sexually in the ’80s. In Osho’s own garden, monsters were still around, and ghastly shadows had never been faced. I certainly felt uncomfortable with the “dirty old men” in the Commune who seemed to jump on young women as soon as they entered the gate. Unfortunately, many of those are still around.

A respected sannyasin who has been with Osho since the early ’80s told me a while ago, “Nirav, I only give workshops so I can get young women into my bed.”

I certainly noticed how therapists, famous bodyworkers, people with a name misused their fame and power to get sex. But all in all, Pune 2, as it was then called, was a safe and thriving place where I had the best time of my life for over ten years.

I am often asked if I ever regret having missed Osho physically. The answer is no. I have always been aware that true spiritual seekers are a rare species and that being around a master won’t help you wake up if waking up is not what you are after.

Back to here and now. Two months ago, I was informed that a well-known physiotherapist was asked to leave a prominent Osho Center where he was resident, because of alleged “repeated sexual misconduct”. Not only that, but from all the places in the world where he could have gone to try and resettle, he chose the little village in Corfu where I live.

I inquired deeper and soon found out that there was probably more at play here than met the eye- and for him to be asked to leave his home of residence, something serious must have happened. I became convinced that a major cover-up was taking place. I privately informed the local community because I feared for the safety of the hundreds of vulnerable young women who come here. My warning was met with, “Thanks for informing us, we will keep an eye on him, but there is no need to stir things.”

I remember the wrenching feeling in my belly. I knew that all kinds of institutions had the old habit of protecting repeated predatory sexual behaviour. Was that same old dirty game happening around Osho also? How deep was the rabbit hole?

Two days later, a young woman who lives in this village accused a well-known musician of raping her here five years back. That was the very first public exposure and the first tsunami in this community. The ripples of that first and courageous exposure went deep and large, and a few weeks later, other women started to speak and relate their stories of abuse.

As I write today, more and more Osho Sannyasins are being accused of rape and sexual abuse when they were with Osho in the ’80s. Under pressure, most of them are admitting their crimes and are trying to apologize.        Many more confessed that they had “relationships”, some of them for months or even years, with 12 or 13 old year girls, but feel that it was okay because those were willing relationships. It seems that some old folks will need more time to review what is “normal”. Consensual sex with a minor is never consensual. NEVER! It isn’t sex either- it is rape with a minor. And so, having a relationship with a 12-year-old when you are in your 30’s doesn’t make it okay. On the contrary.

I have spent the most significant chunk of my life looking inside, trying to uncover my shadows, and before writing this piece, I wanted to find out why I am getting so involved in this happening right now. I planned to end this article with something like, “this isn’t about them only; it is about you and me too!” I took time to reflect on the darker sides of my personality, to look at how I have at times been emotionally abusive in intimate relationships; I discovered that indeed on a deeper level of my psyche, I too have hated women for holding power over me and that a deep-seated urge to take revenge in passive-aggressive ways is there in the background. I feel grateful that I have come across the work on time and largely succeeded to live a life where I keep those shadows in front of me instead of letting them run the show from the depths of my unconscious. Fortunately, I never raped anyone, I never had sex with an underage woman, and I never had the slightest drive to experiment with any of that- and all in all, this unfolding had nothing to do with me!

So, where does this leave us?

The scandal in the world of Osho that is slowly coming to the surface today has been buried for over 40 years. What we see as I write those words is only the very tip of the iceberg. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, only one in about eight children who is sexually abused reports it. Secondly, only very rarely does someone abuse children sexually only once. Finally, there are many reasons why victims do not come forward, and there is plenty of literature about it. Still, when it took 40 years for the first victim to gather the courage to speak up and name one perpetrator, how many more crimes did this one-person commit? How many more children were abused? And how many more pedophiles managed to get away?

You do not need a PhD in mathematics to understand the enormity we are dealing with here.

Not all, but many of the people with Osho during the old days had at least one toe in the pot. Some were predators themselves, some saw but looked the other way, some knew but chose to stay silent. Most are accomplices in different degrees, and many are shaking right now.

In the village where I live, where one of its resident has recently been accused (and he has publicly admitted) of raping and deflowering a woman in Osho’s Commune when she was 12 years old, the impatience and discomfort with what is happening now are tangible. Dozens of Osho sannyasins have chosen to retire here, and the majority stands behind their old buddy; they can’t wait to get to “business as usual” and feel it is time for those stories to disappear. Enough is enough.

“I am done listening to more of that,” said someone the other day. “I worked so hard at the Ranch, and I wasn’t around children. I had no idea this was happening; I am in total shock,” said another, and then to add, “well, we all knew, but, well, it was accepted.”

Another friend living here told me recently, “When I worked on the Ranch, I remember hearing therapists having sex in the next room. I always knew something was wrong, but I never said anything.”

Or, as I heard yesterday, “I know many of them who had teeny girlfriends, sometimes even younger. They are my friends, and I will always stand by them. It was a different time. It was okay then. I don’t even read those reports. Past is past. I don’t want to hear about it anymore”.

It appears that those who were vital in keeping the lid on decades of sexual abuse within the Osho community now feel that a few weeks of airtime is enough.

Why does it seem so difficult for Sannyasins to acknowledge and recognize the criminal activities happening in their own garden?

Why so much resistance to open up their own can of worms?

To the question of why I am getting so involved, I reply that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I can’t stay silent.

As I mentioned above, I was not present in Pune 1 nor on the Ranch when most of those crimes happened, but I have been involved with Osho Sannyasins for the last 28 years. I know that all isn’t black or white and that there are many nuances to this story (which mainstream journalists will undoubtedly bypass). I was in three long-term relationships with women who became Osho disciple before reaching their teens. Although all of them carry their share of trauma from those days, they are all beautiful women living a deep and balanced life. I never felt that they had anything to envy from the repressed Christian conditioning I grew up with. Many of them still carry deep gratitude for Osho and remember their childhood as a beautiful and extraordinary time. Yes, most of them were sexually overexposed. Most of them did suffer from feeling abandoned in the Osho’s Boarding school. Many feel that they started their sex life far too early, often with men too old. One of them had a direct experience with one of those predators (who was later tortured and murdered, apparently by angry parents). She was 9 when he tried to abuse her. Still, she luckily had a strong sense of healthy boundaries at her young age and found the strength necessary to stand her ground and keep him at arm’s length.

But not all children and young teenagers had that strength, and not all were that lucky. As people started to speak up, this friend just found out that this man who tried to abuse her when she was 9 had violently raped (and deflowered) another 13-year-old girl in Pune 1.

Another woman who was raped by the headmaster of an Osho School when she was 11 related publicly on social media recently: “Today, many of us face issues of anxiety, addiction, mental illnesses, behavioural disorders, shut down, isolation, we’ve had some who have tried to commit suicide and some who have been institutionalised. We are still facing your actions everyday. And if it wasn’t for the bond we have with each other over the years, many of us might not be here.”

I do have a personal connection with Osho, which I will not discuss here. All I can say is that my identity as an Osho sannyasin has been shaken to the roots, to the point where I don’t know my name anymore. There are people and groups I have associated with for years, primarily out of habit and need to belong, and with whom I do NOT want to be associated any longer. I am facing my loss, my disillusion, another night of the soul. I welcome these pains and sorrows with an open heart. I have gone through a few dark nights in the past, and I always came out the other side more alive and more awake.

I hope that this exposing goes all the way, and I urge everyone to support the courageous steps taken by the victims.

This unfolding can have different outcomes. I am not Madame Soleil, but if the cover-up continues or if Osho was involved, it could well be the ultimate downfall of Osho’s legacy.

I hope that this rabbit hole will be followed until its very bottom. Until every child abuser in this community has been exposed and made accountable. Until every enabler has been made answerable. Until the King himself stands naked.

Then, and only then, may Osho have achieved in just a few decades what the Christian church hasn’t started to tackle in 2000 years.

Nirav

Meeting Ramesh Balsekar , part 1

In 2007 I was still in Pune. My golden years at the Osho Ashram were slowly history. The place was changing fast, turning into a more sterile, expensive and very controlled resort where more and more friends were being banned. But there I was still, living a few months a year, hanging out by the pool, meeting friends, dancing and meditating. Every day I would take my painting bag in and settle on a flat marble spot in the midst of plants behind the Buddha hall, and paint trees. The place that was so throbbing with life for so many years was still beautiful in more than one way.

One day during lunchtime, as I walked around the rather busy swimming pool carefully stepping between and over people, my eyes fell on a towel laying there by itself; on it was a lady’s bag, a pair of sunglasses, and…  a little book. I can’t remember the sequence of thoughts going through my mind nor the order in which they appeared, but that little book caught my attention. Almost 15 years have passed since that moment, but I still see the white towel and the way it was positioned, the green sandals neatly placed next to it, the sunrays shining through the leaves and onto the marble tiles; I still feel the atmosphere around the pool, I still sense those 3 girls on the left busy chitchatting and that swami further along meditating with his eyes closed; I still see myself, bare feet, bending in spite of me towards the little book. I still remember the glossy blue and purple cover, and just two words as a title. “WHO CARES!?” by Ramesh S. Balsekar.

I had heard of Ramesh and I knew that he lived in Mumbai giving talks every day in his flat, but I had never paid much attention. Since I had discovered Osho and his teachings and his incredibly juicy commune, my life was filled with groups, therapy, meditation, bodywork, creativity, women, parties and what not. Certainly I had never felt the need to go and look somewhere else for another Guru.

Let me zoom back and narrow the focus to what was happening inside me in that moment. There was a definite sense of inescapability, of having stumbled upon something far bigger than my will and far more mysterious than anything I could try and make sense of. My eyes falling upon that little book was like falling into an abyss I knew nothing about but had no way to avoid. I could feel the resistance; I could feel the excitement too.

Ramesh had just entered my life. By the pool of Osho’s commune. Just like that.

As I left the book where it was and made my way to the changing room, I felt profoundly shaken and confused. I wondered who was the woman with the green sandals who had just unsettled me with two simple words on a book cover. WHO CARES!?

Four days later at 5.35, I was sitting in the Deccan Queen Express train to Mumbai. I had taken a little backpack with me and was hoping to make it on time to Ramesh’s flat where at 10.30 every morning he talks to a small gathering of seekers.

I had finally met Kira, the owner of the little book by the pool, and she had generously shared her fervent passion for Ramesh’s teaching. She had been sitting with him for a year, she said, and it had changed her life. She only came to Pune once in a while to chill out by the pool and meet friends, and she was back in Mumbai already. Mumbai sounded like hell to me, and unlike the Pune Commune you were on your own there, having to stay at expensive hotels in the middle of a polluted Megapolis with nothing much to do during the day. Yes, Ramesh spoke every single morning, but for many of his devotees, especially the western ones, that was the sole reason of living there.

In contrast, my life in Pune usually started at six am with the dynamic meditation and ended around midnight after the party. In between was a full and rich and juicy regimen of more meditations, group settings, friends and lovers, plenty of dance and silence and … even pool time.

What was I doing in this train, with no other plan than sit with an unknown Guru for a couple hours?

Kira had done everything possible to get me to come to Mumbai; she had even mentioned a spare bed in her room that I could have if I wanted to stay. Apparently it was a great little den just 5 minutes’ walk from Ramesh’s flat. She had also mentioned that I would be allowed to sit right in front of Ramesh on my first visit, as was the custom; I could ask any question and it was an opportunity I should not miss, she had insisted.

I indeed had a burning question, at least I thought so, and it was about making decisions- but we’ll get to this later.

The train was on time, smoothly rolling through the Deccan plateau and descending towards Mumbai. The sun had risen already and the sky in this early February was slowly absorbing the shades of red and orange into a warm, rich and thick atmosphere so characteristic of India.

Mumbai’s Central is one of the oldest station in India, and my train reached right on schedule, something that had never happened in my many years on Indian Railways. I remember shrugging my head a few times in amazement before getting down and swiftly finding my way to the taxi stand. The station was packed, but there was a sense of ease and order in the chaos. I could feel existence conspiring to bring me to Ramesh.

I was hoping to get a smooth ride and be dropped right in front of Ramesh’s residence before everybody walks up to his flat and sits in his living room. I was on time. I jumped into the first taxi I saw; the driver, an elegant tall Muslim in a white robe, apparently knew the area and I instantly trusted him and didn’t bother bargaining the price. I felt unusually relaxed and in the flow.

I didn’t know much about Ramesh, except that he was a disciple of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and had had a long career as the director of Bank of India; he was now 90 and still talking every day to small gatherings in his living room, people as diverse as Mumbai businessmen, seasoned meditators who had spent decades with other masters such as Osho, or Leonard Cohen who regularly came all the way from California to sit with his Guru for a couple of weeks.

Abdul confidently stopped his car. “We arrived Sir, 106 rupees Sir”.  It seemed such a cheap ride and I had not encountered a taxi using his meter and actually charging what it indicated in a long time. I told Abdul to keep the change, thanked him for his beautiful drive and made my way towards a small gathering of about 20 people waiting a few meters away.

There was Kira! She had immediately spotted me as I came out of the taxi and was walking towards me with a beaming smile. “Good morning Nirav, I knew you would make it. Come, you are right on time. The door will open in just 5 minutes and we can walk up. Try and sit in front, I can push you a little if you are shy…” She laughed and gave me a hearty hug. She was a little exuberant, but sweet and very caring. I wondered if she had a crush on me and was planning to get me to her little place after the meeting, I wasn’t sure, but I felt it would be fine with me if that was the case.

The door suddenly opened. Kira took me by the hand, pulled me into the lift, and up we went until it jolted to a halt outside Ramesh’s apartment. Kira pointed to the shoe shelf where I placed my little bag pack and my shoes, and we entered a large bright room furnished with ornately carved tables covered with photographs of Ramesh and his family, vases of flowers and a beautiful bronze carriage clock. On the walls were pictures of Nisargadatta and Ramana, and quotes by Ramesh carved on wooden plaques. “All there is is Consciousness and Consciousness is all there is” declared one. “It is not an action; it is a happening” said another.

On the other side of the room was a hammock, where a woman was swinging with such a look of delight on her face. Behind, across the window, stunning views onto the Arabian Sea. Below, the sounds of horns and temples and people- daily life in Mumbai!

I took a seat on a cushion in the middle of the living room, next to Kira.  My heart was beating strong. I was about to meet Ramesh.

A frail but powerful looking little man dressed in a white kurta pajama entered, his hands together in Namaste. He looked around acknowledging everyone as old friends and took a seat in a rocking chair at a corner of the room.

Ramesh Balsekar had an unpretentious air of calm authority and a spellbinding presence. He closed his eyes.

We were about 25 people in the living room, someone on a chair, a few on the sofa, a young woman was lying on a mat, and most of us were sitting on cushions, all different in size, colors and materials. An incense was burning. The window was open. Soft Indian music was playing. I had no idea what I was doing here nor what had pulled me here really and I probably entered a no mind space.

I was sitting there in the middle of the room, with my question secretly stored somewhere in my mind. The atmosphere was unlike what I was used to in Osho’s Ashram in Pune. Unlike anything I knew. It was certainly alive, exotic, throbbing.

I looked around. Everyone seemed so peaceful, at home with Ramesh. I could feel Kira’s warm and subtle scent on my left. I turned my head and looked at her. Her eyes were closed. She looked beautiful.

The music stopped and Ramesh opened his eyes.

“Good morning. Are there new people here today? Someone here for the first time who would like to sit in front and ask a question?”

Indeed, two rows ahead of me, right at Ramesh’s feet were two unoccupied cushions.

There was a moment of silence, and then a lady stood up behind me and proceeded to the front.

“Good, good”, said Ramesh, “anybody else wants to come?”

I could feel my heart beating stronger. I could also feel Kira next to me; I didn’t know her that well, but from what I sensed she was well able to nudge me or even say out loud “Yes, here is my friend Nirav, his first time, and he has an important question, he is just a little shy!”

But no, Kira didn’t nudge me in the ribs, and no she didn’t open her mouth. Instead there was a long silence. A silence I suddenly interrupted by unexpectedly standing up, and in spite of me, or so it seemed, I walked the two steps to the front and sat at the right of the lady.

“Very good” said Ramesh. “What is your name?” he asked, addressing me.

I told him my name, that I was French, and that I had been living at Osho’s Commune in Pune since many years. I told him that I had by chance stumbled upon one of his book and met Kira by the swimming pool in Pune last weekend, and that it had affected me and triggered a sequence of events that brought me here. I had taken the first train this morning but had no idea what I was doing here. I added that I felt nervous and happy and that indeed I had a question.”

Ramesh listened carefully. He asked me to repeat my name, and made sure he understood every word I said. I felt showered by an immense presence and lightheartedness. I felt fully seen and received as I am.

As I sat there at his feet, wondering what this was all about, I could feel my heart opening. I felt a definite melting and dissolving. Was it grace? Was it love?

I must have disappeared for a moment, because Ramesh was now speaking to Helena, the lady next to me – and I had missed her question. Ramesh was talking, developing his concept, slowly, with intensity and a delightful confidence. I was enthralled; his every word resonated with a deep knowing inside and I could sense my whole system relaxing, elated to hear what I knew so well but had never seen explained this clearly.

Ramesh talked, basically summarizing his concept and going through the essential points. It was all very simple after all.

The basic concept of Ramesh’s teaching is that “All there is, is Consciousness; all actions are happenings – the functioning of the Primal Energy and not the doing by anyone. Events happen, deeds are done, but there is no individual doer thereof.”

“What is the Ultimate Understanding?” Ramesh asked, and answered it by saying, “That there is no one to understand anything.”

As I sat there motionless, like a sponge, absorbing a concept so far out yet too straightforward and minimal for me to grasp, I sensed my ideas about the ways I lived my spiritual life run around like a lion in a cage; I sensed a whole lot of confusion around what seeking is about. For 20 years I had spent hours every day meditating in some way or other; I had loved and enjoyed my life with Osho tremendously, I had gone deep into my psyche, experienced a space beyond it and had had a fair amount of spiritual experiences, satori and mini awakenings. I had come to the conclusion that those experiences where glimpses of enlightenment, like seeing through the window of my mind into the full sky. I was convinced that if I was living identified with this body mind, what I had experienced was the beyond unaltered. I certainly had noticed that those experiences never lasted more than a few moments, a few days at the most, that they always happened uncalled for and in unexpected places, and that trying to create a situation for them to re-appear was a sure way to disillusion and suffering.

As those thought were running through my mind, Ramesh continued speaking to Helena, who right at that moment asked him about meditation practices.

“What you are trying to find is what you already are. Enlightenment is total emptiness of mind. There is nothing you can do to get it. Any effort you make can only be an obstruction to it”, said Ramesh.

He went on to suggest a simple investigation one could do if inclined, so that an intellectual concept about non-doership becomes the personal truth.

“Take a few minutes in the evening” he said, “look back at your day and investigate one action that you are convinced is your action. Dissect that action thoroughly and honestly, look into how it started and find out if you really did it”. “And every single action thereafter that you investigate, you will come to the same conclusion. Some happening over which I had no control led to an action. How can I call it my action?”

That was certainly a puzzling proposition, but one that directly entered my system and found a place in my heart. Right here on the cushion at Ramesh’s feet. Of course I didn’t know it then, but what I just heard Ramesh describe would become my main practice and for years afterwards that specific investigation would run inside like an undercurrent- and every single time it showed the same result: I was not the doer of any action, not even that one. Actions happen through this body mind organism. There is no doer whatsoever. Until one day I realized that the understanding had settled without any doubt and that the inquiry had dropped by itself.

But back on the cushion in Ramesh ‘s living room. I certainly had entered a space where making sense of time wasn’t easy; it seemed that at least an hour had passed, maybe much more, and that this morning session was soon going to end. And Ramesh was still speaking, elaborating his concept while answering Helena’s questions. I was certainly in awe listening to Ramesh and sitting close to him on my cushion. I caught myself wondering if he had forgotten me and if there would be anytime left this morning for me and my burning question. I sensed that he was coming to a conclusion, and I felt my heart beating stronger again. My turn was obviously going to come.

Just then Ramesh stopped, looked at his watch and said “well that was a long morning”, and then turning to me, he asked “So, Nirav, do you still have a question after this? If you do, please ask”.

I was taken by surprise. Indeed, although he had been addressing Helena for almost two hours, he had unmistakably been talking to me. I felt that he had done it on purpose, almost mischievously. There had been a direct transmission. Obviously I had been showered with all there is to know and all I needed to hear in this moment, and there was nothing more to expect, nothing more to ask. I realized that I had opened myself entirely, in spite of me. I was ready. Ready for this. Like a fruit falls or a flower blooms just when it does.

“Well Ramesh, thank you for all you just shared, but I am not sure I have a question anymore”, I said.

Ramesh laughed and added “Indeed, indeed. I saw you drinking the teaching. I actually was talking to you”.

I didn’t want to miss any chance though. I came here with a question after all, and it had been burning since a while; so I continued shyly, feeling slightly awkward “I had a question about making decisions” I said, “Once I take a decision I never look back and move forward with it freely, but my problem is when I am faced with different choices and have to decide, I can go into tremendous confusion.”

I felt instant relief letting this one out of my system.

Ramesh nodded his head, looked deep into my eyes, and said “Making decisions? I see. Just toss a coin!”

He then looked around the room, acknowledging everyone and closed his eyes.

I closed mine also.

Toss a coin?

Ramesh sung with us a couple songs from the Vedas, greeted everyone again and retired to his quarters with a beaming smile on his face. In the corridor, 20 books or so signed with his name were available. I put “Confusion no more” and “Let life flow” in my bag, found my shoes and walked down the stairs. 

What a morning, I thought! Immediately seeing that the thought had arisen out of the blue from a place and at a time completely remote from my will…well …not my thought after all!

Kira was following me closely. Our hands and eyes met, some thinking arouse in my mind, her mouth opened and a few words came out of it. I could see that nothing at all happening here was mine, nor hers.

“Let’s go and eat something” she said.

“Okay, good idea I am hungry” I replied.

I noticed my rumbling stomach and the feeling of hunger inside. I noticed how all those sensations had nothing to do with my will, nor had the subsequent thought of eating something.

There was no effort of analyzing, no particular mind exercise. There was simply a seeing taking place in the midst of thoughts, feelings and actions. The impact of seeing that I wasn’t the Doer was an extreme shift inside, and certainly, at that time at least, I could make no sense of it.

A few minutes later I was sitting in a little restaurant across the road with Kira on my right and a few people from the Ramesh’s gathering around the table. Kira seemed to know everyone.

I ordered a masala dosa and a coffee. I was immersed in the now like I had not been in a long time, and Ramesh’s invitation to investigate what I called my actions and my thoughts was running already, in spite of me. And the conclusion was every single time crystal clear. 

It was good to eat. I had woken up early this morning in Pune and I had not had any breakfast.

Kira was very present and cheerful, and she offered to show me a few places in Mumbai this afternoon. She wasn’t pushy but she made herself available.

I was going with the flow, ready to catch a bus or train back to Pune in the evening if my Mumbai adventure felt complete, but I was also open to take on Kira’s invitation to stay with her and visit Ramesh again tomorrow morning. 

Since we mysteriously connected by the swimming pool a few days ago, our journey had continued to magically unfold- and I was not about to prevent it. How could I?

What happened during the next two weeks was a sequence of events, an unfolding of feelings, thoughts and actions that produced what I can only refer to as the unfolding of life. On the outside nothing had changed. Thoughts were appearing, actions were being taken, food was being ordered and eaten, decisions were being made…life was being lived. But inside, since that first morning in Ramesh’s living room, nothing was the same anymore.

That simple investigation Ramesh had suggested Helena to do for a few minutes every evening had found a place inside my system and was running even in my sleep it seemed. It had taken me by surprise and it was happening in spite of me.

There was no effort from my side in meditating or analyzing or understanding. There was an effortless seeing taking place, as if a veil had lifted.

Nothing was still. Everything was in constant movement, inside and outside. Every cell in my body but also everything on the outside was going somewhere and doing something. Existence looked like a cosmic chaos going by laws beyond comprehension and creating an ever-fluctuating extraordinary magnificence.

“I need to use the bathroom” said Kira, “and then we can either go straight to Colaba for a walk, or we can first pass by my room if you want to leave your bag and have a shower. What do you think?”

“Yes, let’s go straight to Colaba for a walk, my bag is small and I can take it with me.” I replied.

Kira gave me a smile of approbation, put her purse around her shoulder and made her way to the bathroom, greeting a couple sitting on a table behind us. The waiter looked at me. I made a sign for him to bring the bill. He immediately walked over. A few words came out of my mouth to which he relied “Yes Sir”. He then moved away. I assumed he was fetching the bill.

As all those movements happened, I could clearly see that a sensation in Kira’s bladder must have urged her to the bathroom, and that every word she had spoken had appeared in spite of her. I could clearly see that a physical feeling of needing a walk and fresh air had prompted my answer.

The waiter appeared with the bill. My left hand retrieved some notes from my pocket. The money was given to him. His head nodded sideways. Excitement was happening at a table nearby. A taxi came to a sudden halt on the opposite side of the road and tires screeched lightly. Kira’s body came out of the bathroom. I noticed a smile on her face. A few sentences were exchanged between us which stimulated my hand to reach hers. Our two hands meeting sparked a new set of feelings and thoughts, and that in turn caused our bodies to stand up and walk out of the restaurant.

Thousands of thought forms, feelings and sensations, actions and deeds ceaselessly shaped every moment, one after the next, without a gap in between…

It was astonishing to witness such a rich, complex and essentially unfathomable unfolding of which this body/mind organism called Nirav was part of. It was a relief to suddenly be able to see the scene from a distance, see the moves without being overly involved.

Understanding and seeing without a doubt that actions are happenings and not something done by someone, is what actually contributes to and helps us in discovering the state of equanimity and peace which we most ardently seek.

As Ramesh puts it, “A simple examination of one’s personal experience will reveal that what usually disrupts the peace and harmony in life is a thought about something we think we – or someone else – should or shouldn’t have done. Hence, a massive load of guilt and shame for oneself, or hatred and malice for the other, is perpetuated. Without a lot of arduous effort – work, discipline, sacrifice, sadhana – without outside assistance, but simply by investigating one’s own experience, it is possible to get relief from this bondage.”

Indeed, and as bizarre as it seemed, that investigation was right now effortlessly taking place like an undercurrent, and seeing was naturally occurring. It was all so simple. So startlingly simple.

The space I was in that morning and during the days that followed was similar to the mini awakenings I had experienced many times in the course of my life, particularly in Pune after intense inquiry groups like Satori, a 7 days’ process where we use Koans like “Who is in?”, “What is love?” or “What is freedom?” to peel the layers of personally and reach a place beyond the bondage of identification. I had participated in many such inquiry practices and loved those glimpses of the beyond, that sometimes lasted a moment, sometimes a few days, but always disappeared.

I also had had those glimpses outside structures especially designed to provoke them; and yes those glimpses had occasionally appeared out of the blue in places as unexpected as a coffee shop in a busy market or the underground subway of a big city.

I was not sure at that point if those previous experiences and what was happening now outside Ramesh’s flat was the same or not, but one thing was essentially different. In the past, no matter the circumstances, I had never had any clue how I got there. I had never understood the process. I had never been able to come back to that space by myself. Those moments out of the ultimate bondage appeared and disappeared outside my understanding.

Today it was clear and obvious that the investigation Ramesh had suggested worked. And it worked instantly.

The afternoon unfolded as if nothing had happened. Kira and I had a beautiful smooth connection, and moving around Mumbai was fun. I had flown into Mumbai many times in the last 20 years, but it was always to head straight to Pune where I had my life. Mumbai was new and exciting.

I had a longing to see the sea and breathe some fresh air, and Kira took me to Colaba, one of the peninsula at the southern tip of Mumbai. We got a taxi to drop us at Gateway of India, a tall arch built in the 1920s. We then strolled along the promenade pass high-end fashion boutiques and walked into the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel; we sat in its colonial sea-facing lounge where we had a tea, a rest, and a lengthy use of their amazing bathrooms. As the sun started setting and the sky turned red we went for another walk along the see front. It was such a delight to watch the birds and smell the ocean.

Kira was a great guide, and she enjoyed showing me around. She suggested we go to the Causeway, an area walking distance away, lined with decades-old cafes, hip modern restaurants and outdoor stalls selling handcrafted souvenirs.

I said “Yes sure”, and off we went.

The Causeway was flooded by locals and foreigners alike, and it was as wild and busy and colorful as any Indian market. But there was a distinct unique flavor I was not used to, something mellow. When I asked Kira about it she simply said “Yes, this is Mumbai, I love it”. We laughed. We were enjoying the flow, the energy, the delight of being.

I wasn’t very talkative, and strangely enough we didn’t discuss what had transpired this morning at Ramesh’s nor what was happening now.

I had met Kira for an hour at the most in Pune, and then for another three minutes this morning before entering Ramesh’s flat. We didn’t know each other really and it was awesome to meet now, in that space, without any reference to a past. Something major had happened to me with Ramesh, and I had no idea if Kira was aware of it, if she also was in this same space; or maybe she always was there, or maybe she had never had a glimpse of it. I looked at her. We smiled. I had no idea and I didn’t care.

The way she moved, the way she talked, the smile on her face and the delicate scent she secreted…I seemed to like it all. There was a definite chemistry between us, unique and strong, obvious yet subtle. And right now that chemistry had brought us to spend a lovely afternoon in Colaba. What was next?

It was now 9 pm. As we stopped at a little side café to eat something, I wondered what my options were for tonight. Did I feel to go back home, or would I prefer to stay here overnight? Did I feel like meeting Ramesh tomorrow morning again? I talked about it with Kira. It was up to me she said, there certainly were buses to Pune leaving every 30 minutes or so, all night long, for the 4 hours trip. Alternatively, I could stay at her place, she said, it was just a room, but rather spacious with a comfortable couch where I could sleep. I don’t know why, but she added that she had a boyfriend, right now in Canada, and that she stopped flirting around when he was away and she was committed. So I could relax, she added laughing, she was not about to sexually seduce me. I also had a girlfriend, and I noticed all kinds of thoughts and feelings pop up and raise their voices, many of them conflicting with each other. What a scene in there, I remember thinking. Anyway, she laughed and I laughed, not too sure why, but it felt good this way. It felt right to talk about this now. I noticed how sharing openly brought us even closer and how relaxation deepened.

I could feel both options at play inside, and I was familiar with the confusion of having to decide. Going back to Pune tonight had definite advantages; I would sleep in my own bed, would be back by the pool, my friends and my paintings in the morning and I had plenty of things to look forward to. My meeting with Ramesh had been amazing, so had been my day with Kira, but wasn’t it all enough and complete? What more could I expect from another day in Mumbai? Also, Kira was certainly sweet and attractive, but a romance didn’t feel in the cards for a few obvious reasons. On the other hand, staying here would…..

Here I was again, weighing up pros and cons and hopelessly trying to see clear and speed up the decision-making process. I must have looked rather desperate, because Kira pulled out a coin from her purse and put it in my hand, laughing, “Why don’t you toss a coin?” she asked.

“Toss a coin!?”

We were still sitting at a table outside a busy eatery where we had shared a delicious paneer tikka masala and a couple nans. We were ready to leave and the question was, do I follow Kira to her room about an hour’s drive from here, or do I head to the central station and catch a bus to Pune.

I was utterly confused with no clue where I would be in an hour. At the same time, it felt an important decision to take and letting a coin decide for me sounded outrageous. But wasn’t I right now facing one of the biggest challenge in my life and my burning question? Didn’t I come to Mumbai specially to ask Ramesh about this? Indeed, I did. And in three words he had answered me.

“Here is a one-rupee coin” repeated Kira mischievously, “why don’t you toss it and see what happens?”

I took the coin and was about to throw it on the table, but she stopped me. “Wait! First you need to ask a clear question. I can see that you never tossed a coin, did you? So what is your question? And this is head and this is tail…”

I looked into her eyes, looked at the coin, and said: “head up I go to Pune. Tail up I come with you”.

I suddenly was eager to test Ramesh and see if he had answered my burning question with the wisdom I would expect from a sage.

I shook the coin in my closed hands and let it fall on the table.

“Head up!” said Kira.

I looked at the coin closely. Indeed. Tail was up and Pune was the answer.

I imagined myself saying good bye to Kira, getting into a taxi, heading to the station and sitting in a night bus to Pune. I sensed my stomach shrinking.

Everything was suddenly clear. Crystal clear. There was no decision issue anymore. I stood up. Kira’s eyes widened, she looked baffled.

“It’s amazing, amazing! I just can’t make sense of it! Ramesh is a magician!” I was suddenly euphoric. It was such a relief to have all this mind confusion replaced with clarity and ease. Just like that. With the toss of a coin.

“Forget about Pune. I come with you” I said, “let’s go”.

It was getting late, the roads were empty, and the taxi ride to Kira’s place took less than half an hour. I felt tired but high, happy, at ease, and in the flow. The only glitch in the smooth unfolding of existence today had been resolved in two minutes with the flip of a coin, and that too had appeared as part of a bigger plan.

(part 2 coming soon)

The day I landed in Kathmandu with 12 dollars in my pocket!

We were in 1989 and I don’t know if credit cards existed then, but I had surely never seen one. Mobile phones and internet were not yet invented and I felt free in a way I certainly don’t feel today.

In the midst of my hippy life, I used to make quick money selling jewelry on the streets in the south of France, and then, after a month or so, I would make my way back to India where I would spend a year, sometimes two. Those days the cheapest way was to travel overland to Greece, often spending time on paradisiac beaches in the south of Crete, and fly east from Athens. I remember arriving in the Greek capital after an overnight ferry trip, and checking out the cheapest travel agents near Monastiraki; I always had 2 basic requirements: the ticket needed to be a real deal, and the flight had to be soon, preferably tonight or tomorrow. And considering that planning in advance was against my philosophy, I didn’t have a visa to anywhere, so the flight needed to land in a country not requiring one. That’s how for a few years, Nepal, which delivered 30 days’ visas on arrival, became my base. That was plenty of time to apply for a 6 months’ Indian visa, go trekking for 3 weeks, collect my passport and travel overland to Varanasi.

Now, although I am a survivor in many ways, I never ventured too far in the forbidden side of life. I certainly played with my limits and stretched many rules, but I always had a clear sense of where the red line laid. On the hippy trail you hear many crazy stories, but one was recurrent and sounded easy. Buy travelers checks, declare them stolen, get new ones, and sell the old ones on the black market in Katmandu for half its value. Easy. I had heard that story so many times, although I can’t recall someone who actually did it himself.

So, when on a Friday afternoon I walked out of “Alex travels” in Athens with a one-way ticket to Katmandu for the next day, I decided to give it a try.

I had 2900 dollars, all changed in Travelers checks already; those were all my saving which were supposed to last me for at least one year in Asia.

I headed to the American Express office, went straight to the counter and explained that someone had just grabbed my bag and stolen all my money. “I see” said the lady behind the desk “do you have the receipts with the serial numbers?” “Yes I do” I replied, happy that everything seemed to be going as planned.

I handed over the numbers and she went behind a door, came back, and declared “Ok, the declaration of lost is done. Please go to the police station, get a certificate of theft, and come back on Monday for an interview.”

“An interview? For what? Can’t you just issue me new traveler checks now? I have a flight to Nepal tomorrow.”

“Sorry Sir, it is not possible, come back tomorrow morning and we will do the necessary.”

As I walked out of the office I didn’t like what was happening. I had not really understood why I had to come back and why she had not issued new checks here and then as I had expected. Something wasn’t smooth and I certainly didn’t feel like going to the Police. I already regretted my move and started to chicken out.

I decided that I would go back the next morning to the AmEx office with my traveler’s checks and tell them that they suddenly reappeared. It may sound strange and I may feel stupid, but who cared? I had a flight to Nepal in the evening and I was not about to get into trouble now.

The next morning at ten, I entered the AmEx office, went to the counter and explained my situation to a different lady. “I lost my travelers checks yesterday and came to get new ones issued, but I was asked to come back today. Meanwhile I found them, so all is fine, I just wanted to inform you.” I handed my new found checks to the rather unfriendly woman across the counter, “here they are. 2900 Dollars.”

I expected her to say “thank you for informing us, have a nice trip”, but instead she grabbed the bundle of checks, looked at them, and without even counting them, she teared them all into small pieces and threw them in the bin.

Now, I still see myself standing there, completely shocked and stupefied. Those checks were perfectly fine, they were mine and all I had.

I must have looked rather astonished, and she explained “those checks were cancelled yesterday and they can’t be used anymore. We need to issue new ones”.

Ah sure, indeed that made sense. I took a deep breath of relief and just stood there, somehow waiting for her to issue the new ones.

“How long is it going to take?” I asked impatiently. I wanted to get out of there and I hoped it wouldn’t take half an hour to issue my new traveler checks. I felt pissed off getting myself into such trouble.

“It will take about 10 days.”

I Jumped. “You mean 10 minutes?”

“About 10 days, maybe more” she replied nonchalantly, “you first need to talk to a representative in the main London office and only she can allow the re issue. Today the office is closed, tomorrow is Sunday, Monday is a bank holiday. On Tuesday you can call. Her name is MS Trubung and here is her number. Oh, and you can call collect. “

That’s how I walked out of the AmEx Office in Athens, a name and a phone number written on a piece of paper. I counted my money. 12 dollars and just enough Drachmas in coins to get me through the day and into the airport.

Yes, that’s how I landed in Kathmandu a couple of days later after a long journey via Moscow and Bangladesh. I remember exchanging my 2 dollars with a sweet Nepali man on the plane and taking a local bus from the airport to a cheap little den on Freak Street that I knew well and where I wouldn’t need to pay any advance on the room. I changed my 10-dollar bill at the very best rate on the black market, contemplated the 286 Nepali rupees I got for it and figured out that I could walk everywhere, pay my rent when leaving and have 3 rupees a day at the most to eat. That wasn’t much but I was survivor after all and I knew Kathmandu well enough to find my way. I quickly read the couple of books I had brought with me and sold them to the “exchange, buy and sell bookshop” in Thamel, a fancier part of town where straight tourists stayed, and got some extra cash. I found a little Thali place where I could eat lunch everyday with the locals and pay later. On Durbar Square I befriended a beautiful sadhu with dreadlocks far longer than mine who not only gave me free chai but also shared his dope.

I went to the AmEx Office every day. The way to call the mysterious all powerful woman in London who had the fate of my life in her hands, was through the little STS/ISD booth next to the office- but for that the phone needed to be in working order, the timing with London needed to fit, there had to be electricity in that part of Katmandu at that moment and of course MS Trubung had to be available and willing to talk with me. The whole procedure took 17 days, until one morning she finally gave the green light and M. Deepesh issued me 2900 dollars.

Amazingly, that day I still had over 100 rupees in my pocket. I had learned a lot in those two and half weeks, not only new skills in surviving but also and foremost, this experience had taught me to be in the moment and appreciate every small thing as a divine gift. I had learned to look deeper into people’s eyes.

Nepalese are among the poorest people in the world, yet they are outstandingly cheerful and smiley; they radiate an inner peace and contentment rather rare in our modern world, and it is always striking and remarkable to arrive from the west and see so many individuals deeply connected with their heart and the nature and the gods.

Those days in Katmandu taught me a lot about the simplicity of living, and what it actually means and takes to be truly happy. Many essential questions grew roots inside myself and would ignite an inquiry process still alive today.

That story showed me once again that no matter the ordeal, there is a gift in every situation, and that the most precious and life changing opportunities can be very well disguised.

magical journeys on Indian trains, part 7

Commuters struggle to enter a train at Noli Railway Station in Uttar Pradesh

A month or so later, in the late 80’s,  it is Opium that found its way into my life for a very last goodbye.

After a short stay in Calcutta, I had decided to travel to Europe overland. I had packed my bag and waived everyone goodbye.

I had crisscrossed the country a few times already on Indian trains, usually on reserved 3Tier second class compartments, where I had a berth for myself and a minimum of comfort. But today, it is the unreserved general section I am boarding, non-reserved, non-AC, with no sleeping berths and not even seats as such. Tickets are very cheap, and those compartments are usually crowded with the poorer part of the population, but the price is not always the criteria for ending up here. When a train is really full, and there is no way to get a reservation even with baksheesh or connections, this 3rd class section can be the only way to go- and that’s what had happened this time for me.

I am in the Howrah station on the other side of Calcutta, boarding the legendary Jammu-Tawi Express. It is one of the most extended train trips you can undertake in this country; over 2000 km in the distance, and 2 days and 2 nights if all goes on schedule, which, in those days at least, never happened. I am undoubtedly apprehensive, and to be honest, I am not at all excited about it. But I have no choice as I was not ready to postpone my trip for another few weeks.

The crowd is dense and eclectic, but the chaos has something reassuring here. It is part of normality, and there are an underlying harmony and mellowness in it. Disorder in India is a very unique notion that includes a sense of freedom, of free-flow; it is incredibly earthy yet disconcerting by its whirling liveliness.

I make my way through the crowd. Howrah station at rush hour must be one of the most densely populated places on earth. People are everywhere, going this way, coming from that way, looking for their platform among dozens, searching for their compartment in trains that seem to stretch forever. And then there are all those waiting, all those sleeping on the floor, at every possible corner. In the middle of the way are people sitting or lying down, while thousands of others are rushing past them.  Many seem to just live there, most are begging. All age groups are here. Mothers are breastfeeding their newborn, kids are running around, and some old people who may not be that old, but whose life spent on the street has taken its toll. Families are sitting in clusters with all their possessions. My eyes lock with a little girl’s eyes; she is maybe 8, sitting there with her parents, looking around. Time stops for a moment as I stare into a life too vibrant to make sense of. That child is obviously undernourished and sleeping on the streets since her birth. And yet, there is a quality of presence, a light, and openness in those eyes. I can see the divine, I can see life throbbing and love shinning. She smiles. I keep moving with the crowd. I will never see her again, never know her story, never understand what that smile was about; and yet in that short meeting, the divine had transpired.

I get into the very last carriage, and I find a spot on a bench. I sigh in relief. I had dreaded an over-packed compartment where I would have to stand or sit on the floor for what is probably going to be a 3 days’ journey. I stash my backpack in a corner under the wooden plank we are sitting on. People keep pouring in, and we are already 6 sitting on what is a bench for 4. “I better keep my seat” I think, already wondering how I am going to go to the bathroom without losing my precious spot.

This time before departure is always the most stressful, and only with the first jerk of the train moving will the tension ease.

Here we are, the siren is finally announcing the imminent departure, and I can feel a subtle jolting. There are 17 different types of horns or whistles blown in the Indian Railways, each one having its own meaning, but this long, high-pitched one is perhaps the most relieving of all.

We are now slowly moving westward, and I am squeezed between 2 Bengali men, both on their way to Kashmir. There is a family with 3 little kids sharing our bench, and opposite, we have a mixed crowd including an older lady accompanied by her son. She is wearing an oversized pair of very thick glasses, tied around her head with a rubber band. She looks ancient and frail, and it feels almost painful to see her sitting on a wooden plank for such a long journey. I wonder where they are going, what their story is.

Life in this compartment is a rawer and even more human version of what I was used to in 2nd class, it is more crowded and less comfortable. But the most dreaded scenario had not happened. I do have a seat.

There is a lot of commotion around, and people are moving in all directions; most of them still looking for a spot to sit.

Indian trains are extraordinarily rich, especially in the poorest part where I find myself now. There is so much stimulus on the senses from different angles at any given time, so many impressions on the nervous system. It is an ongoing festival of sounds and colours and vibrations. It is often gut-wrenching to see humanity in such a raw and primal state, but there always comes a moment where relaxation happens, and all looks simple and part of a more significant happening. I am slowly relaxing into myself, letting the movement of the train and the passing rice fields be part of the landscape. We are now entering a little station. More people will come in, trying to squeeze wherever possible. Chai Wallahs will go around and sell tea in small clay cups meant to be thrown out after use. Our train now comes to a full stop. I better keep my seat. From peanuts to sodas to samosas to newspapers, anything can be purchased through the bars of the window without leaving your place. I look outside. There is a large clock hanging there above the platform- it is now 11.20.

“We only left one hour ago,” I think to myself. I quickly figure out that I may still be here in 2 or 3 days, and I don’t feel about counting how many hours that adds to.

“Cha Cha Cha!!! “A little boy, hardly 10, manages to place his big aluminium teapot on the floor between all the legs, feet and sandals. My 2 neighbours get a cup and look satisfied. At 50 paisa it is ok, and I also get one. I have a money belt on, where I keep my cash and passport, but I also have a little purse with coins and small change. I haven’t used it for a while, and it is in my backpack, right there under the seat. It should be easily within reach in one of the side pockets. Without leaving my seat, I bend down, open the zip, and feel around a bit, until I suddenly touch something I had forgotten. My eyes must have lit up. Yes, now I remember, it is another cotton purse where I used to keep my grass. I know that I don’t have grass with me, but what I now remember and feel through the bag is really unexpected and exciting. It is a rather good piece of Opium that I had almost thrown away in Varanasi. But instead of discarding it, I had put it in that little purse and forgotten it.

Now our train is leaving again, and I inconspicuously hold that little piece in my hand, assessing the situation and wondering what to do with it.

At other times I maybe have discreetly rolled it into a small joint and smoked it at the door of the compartment while half hanging outside watching the Indian countryside. But here I don’t feel to leave my seat for too long. We are still well within West Bengal, and the journey has basically just started.

I carefully divide the piece into 2, put one half in my pocket and, casually passing my hand over my face, I swallow the other half.

Slowly, almost unperceivably, as the train keeps rolling and life keeps unfolding according to a cosmic law I don’t dream of understanding, the sense of time changes. It stretches, stops, and starts again according to new principles. Villages come and go outside of the window; platforms appear and then make way for more fields and more outstanding nature. Sellers enter the compartment with their goods and leave unnoticed. Little kids sweep the floor and then come back to collect a few paisas. Food is served, and eaten. People look at each other, and eyes stare into the mystery of other human beings.

As I look up, I notice that it’s dark. Night must have fallen already, and I have a little shrug of surprise. It is all very noisy and alive, the kids are running around, and life is in full swing in carriage number 29. I am now part of this little group of approximately 20 people, most of us squeezed on the 2 wooden benches, and  a few sitting or lying on the floor. It’s an excellent time to ask Ravi, my neighbour, to keep my seat 5 minutes while I go to the bathroom. I have been pretty quiet and with myself, but I had connected with Ravi and impressed him with the fluency of my Bengali. The trip to the bathroom is memorable; it is filthier than I have ever seen, and apparently, the water supplies run out. People are sleeping everywhere on the floor.

I stand by the carriage door, hold myself to the bars and swing outside. The air is warm, and the train is now smoothly zooming through the night. I feel one with the wind.

I come back. My seat is taken. I realise that my neighbours had just spread slightly in my absence, closing the little gap meant for my buttocks. They all come closer to each other again, and I sit down. “Was I away more than 5 minutes?” I wonder,” could it be that I stood there by the door for hours?” I have no idea, but I do notice the lightening of the sky outside and the orange shade over the green of the fields.

Breakfast is served. A very long stop at a Station. Lunch. Another toilet break. I doze and fall asleep, maybe. Another day passes, or two I can’t tell. I eat the second and very last bit of that sticky black paste, and time slows further. Another night. Another day.

Suddenly there is an unusual movement in the carriage. People are getting ready. I ask Ravi. “We are arriving in Jammu soon. Last stop” he says. I scratch my eyes. 2 or 3 days have passed just like that, and I am now at the feet of the mighty Himalayas, off to Srinagar and then Pahalgam where I want to see Jesus’s grave.

I soon find myself in a rickshaw in search of a guest house to finally lie down and sleep. It has been the most extra ordinary journey ever in this country. The longest yet the shortest. The most uncomfortable yet the easiest and most relaxing.

My story with Opium ended here in Jammu, and I never touched that black latex again.

Magical encounters on Indian trains and buses, part 1 Manali to Delhi

For many years Manali was my second home after Pune. There in the Himalayas, I had found the spectacular Nature I so much loved, and also a community of like-minded friends with whom I could meditate daily.

The way up to Manali was a 16-hour bus ride from Delhi, and in the early days that was often a 24-hour trip as those buses had the infamous habit of breaking down at least once on the way.

For about a decade, I made the return trip once or twice a year, first on local buses, then on deluxe tourist coaches where the seats would recline, and later finally on the Volvo buses. Those would not only recline but were also more reliable and comfortable, although with experience I found out that the more modern suspensions would make me prone to motion sickness. After a few horrendous trips, however, where I would struggle with nausea for hours, starring at the road, wide awake in the middle of the night, I unexpectedly discovered that popping a quarter of a Valium would not only make me snooze but also cancel the motion sickness.

In more recent years, I would book 2 seats for myself, which meant that I would not take the risk of sitting next to an oversized smelly person. I would have a sense of privacy and some space to spread. Once past with the guilt, it was a great option and well worth the extra money.

One day, after a few months in the Himalayas, it was finally time to travel back to Delhi, and I found myself at the main bus stand in Manali village, ready for the long trip down to the megalopolis.

Making sure that my luggage was securely stored in the hold underneath the bus was always a bit stressful, but all looked good, and I climbed into the bus.

This time I had bought only one seat. When I had booked the ticket in the office some two weeks before, I had been told that buses were not very full at this time of year and I had decided to take the risk and save the money. I am very sensitive to space, and having someone sitting next to me for 16 hours is no small deal. I was very confident that the seat next to mine would be unoccupied and that I would be able to spread out without having to pay for it.

I recall those very long moments sitting by the window, in the 4th row on the right and side, watching people arrive, give their luggage to the boy who would store it underneath, and slowly, one by one, walk into the bus and look for their seat. The bus was gradually filling up, but so far no one had claimed the seat next to mine. I painfully held my breath.

With only one concern and one thing in my mind, I hardly noticed when an unusually gorgeous woman got out of a rickshaw, and with a beautiful relaxed smile gave her backpack to the storage boy and walked in. A couple of smelly looking locals had just passed by and to my relief made their way to the back of the bus.

A soft voice reached my ears “I think I am sitting next to you”. I literally jumped on my seat, quickly glanced at that figure about to sit next to me, starred at the window, and closed my eyes. I must have looked as upset as if the world was about to end. Indeed, what I had hoped was to be a 16-hour journey by myself, with a bit of privacy and space, had just with those few words turned into a hellish trip with someone right in my space. Sharing a rattling armrest with a stranger for a long evening, a full night and a whole morning, through the windy Himalayan roads, the horns, the fumes and the crazy Indian traffic was an experience I had promised myself never to have again.

Why hadn’t I bought two seats? I felt terrible, stupid, and really pissed off.

It is now just after 4 pm, it is a crisp November afternoon, and our bus slowly leaves the Manali bus stand on time. If all goes well we should reach our destination by nine the next morning.

The first part of the journey is rather uneventful as we move down along the Beas River towards Kullu. The road is busy at this time, and I am glued to my window. This part of the trip always brings up many memories and emotions; maybe because it is the very start of a long journey, perhaps because I just love those mountains so much, but the real reason is probably that every separation wrenches my belly somehow.

I try to relax. The woman next to me is tranquil actually; she is reading a book, which is something I find weird and I could never do on those winding mountain roads. I am pissed off still. Thoughts of spreading, of stretching my legs sideways, of putting my little bag on the seat next to mine and kind of resting on it, keep running through my head faster than monkeys would. But no, there won’t be any of that this time and my pillow is squashed underneath my seat. Not even space for my pillow, unbelievable! What an idiot I was, trying to save a few rupees. I could easily give her a nasty look, I am pretty good at that, but no, she won’t even get that. I ignore her… Well, I try.

We get through Kullu as the sun is setting.

The next day at noon, wrapped in a colourful Tibetan wool blanket, which has for wool only the name, we are zooming through the busy streets of Delhi. “We” meaning me and my next seat neighbour of the night, whose name I haven’t yet asked and about whom I know nothing but the inner fragrance. How our bodies had filled each other without actually touching, without exchanging a word nor really making eye contact is a mystery I can’t explain. All I know is that slowly and almost imperceptibly, hour after hour, a connection had happened and our body warmth had hooked with each other. Energy it is called!… Until that moment around midnight when suddenly, unexpectedly but unavoidably, as the bus was rolling down through the night she had taken my hand and gently squeezed it.

The bus was asleep, but there on seats numbered 7 and 8 a magical dance was taking place, hands were so softly playing with each other, and powerful waves were shooting along my spine. Was it just energy, was it love, was it past life, was it plain sexuality, hormones, lust? Those questions were hovering over me. This was so enjoyable, so exciting and yet so incomprehensible.

Hours had gone by until all of a sudden just before 5 am, we heard a big noise at the very front and the bus precipitously stopped by the side of the road.

After about an hour of confusion during which the two drivers and the staff were assessing the situation, it was announced that our bus was broken.

The sun was now rising as we all got out to see what the situation was and where we were.

I had not slept all night and was in a bubble of energy with a person I had not truly seen nor heard the voice of. I stumbled outside and looked around. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields. We had obviously left the high mountains behind and taken a shortcut, and we were not yet on the long last stretch of highway to Delhi. Indians were discussing the options, and I quickly understood that our bus would indeed not start again today; something significant in the motor had given way, apparently the central belt.

I was completely blank, in the moment yet somewhere else, floating somehow.

The sun was now rising through the cold misty morning, and we were stranded, about 25 of us; mostly Indians including two young couples coming back from their Manali Honeymoon, a few elderly Tibetans, and a handful of foreigners, including me and… huh, well, my next seat neighbour. Here she is, coming out of the bus, a red woollen hat on. She looks stunning. For the first time, our eyes meet. No word is spoken. Again a tingle goes through my back, my heart feels bottomless. She walks softly towards me and just stands there. We actually all stand there. I guess most of us are in shock. I inquire. Delhi is at least 5 more hours’ drive, and we just need to hop on anything that is going in that direction.

The woman is right here next to me, and I suddenly feel awkward. Should I take her hand? Should I ask her name, or where she is from or where she is going? Nothing comes out of my mouth; it all seems so stupid, so irrelevant. Taking her hand here is also not an option. I just stand there, still, looking at the scene, everyone gathering their luggage and trying to figure out what to do next.

I am about to ask her something, ready to get surprised at what sounds will come out of my mouth, but just then there is a scratching noise. A bus has just stopped in front of ours. Some people rush to have a look, but most come back. It is a local bus on the way to Delhi, it will stop everywhere and take a long, a very long time, and the seats are plain wooden. The conductor hanging at the door calls towards us “Delhi, Delhi, Delhi…” I hesitate a moment, and then I suddenly feel the impulse to leave right now with whatever vehicle is first. I scream back “Wait, I come”. I put my pack on my back and start running towards the local bus. I stop midway, look back at the beautiful woman I just spent the night with, and for the first time speak to her “I am going on that bus. Do you want to come?” I don’t even know if she understands what I say and I have no clue where exactly she is heading. She could say yes, she could say no, but one thing is sure: in less than 20 seconds that local bus will be speeding off towards the highway to New Delhi and I will be on it!

“I am coming with you,” she says with soft self-confidence. I grab her bag, and we both run towards the bus and hop on it.

Now, this is a different kind of a bus than the luxury Volvo Tourist Coach we just spent the night in. The seats are wooden benches, three by two, windows don’t close, and it is indeed a very local crowd.

The bus is hardly full, and we manage to squeeze onto a larger wooden bench on the right-hand side somewhere in the middle. We keep our backpacks in the front near the driver; I will need to keep an eye on them, but at this point, life seems to be conspiring in my favour with an excellent plan, and I am in the mood to relax and to trust. I sit by the window which isn’t, in fact, a window; a cold misty wind is blowing in this early hour, but luckily I have my big blanket with me, and I wrap myself in it.

I look around at the crowd gathered here; we are the only foreigners and the only ones from our broken bus. Did I make the wrong choice? Should I have waited for a better, faster, more comfortable option? I don’t care. I feel my companion’s warmth, detect her smell, her inner fragrance. She had said “I come with you”, with such assurance. What is transpiring between us can’t be named. Energy is a word I always avoid whenever possible and too big a word for this. Love? How could this be love? I don’t yet know her name, have not looked into her eyes properly, have not exchanged a sentence, and I don’t even know where on planet Earth she lives and what she does… No! It is something else, something that rarely happens, but yes, something that India seems to be a breeding ground for. Magical encounters!

Time is passing, and our bus is now on the highway, speeding along. An older lady dressed in a gorgeous bright green and yellow Sari has just come in with a huge basket on her head filled with cucumbers. It looks so heavy. She puts it down in the corridor and sits next to us. My neighbour squeezes closer to me and makes space for the lady. We are now three on this bench. I look around, and again for a moment, our eyes meet. And merge. And melt into a bottomless space. The thought of saying something appears, but no, this is not an option. She reaches under my blanket and takes my hand. She is hot, burning hot. The squeeze is powerful, yet so incredibly soft. I close my eyes and do what I do best. Feel. And feel. By now, my shawl is covering us both in a way that looks casual and fitting the scene. We are melting into each other, our legs and hips are touching, our hands are locked. This magical dance that had started in the night is continuing. The seats are now hard and stiff, the night has given way to the morning sun, and a crowd of haggard-looking locals has replaced tourists and Tibetans. But this dance continues.

Just before noon and twenty hours after leaving Manali we are finally arriving in the imposing Kashmere Gate in Delhi, the largest and oldest such Interstate Bus Terminal in India. The same woman who had made me jump up in my seat and triggered a massive wave of anger and discomfort was now sharing my shawl and holding my hand.

Now what? Time to say something. A massive crowd of Indians is gathering, dozens of taxi and rickshaw drivers are pushing their way into the bus before it stops and before we can get out, everyone wanting to grab our bags and get us into their vehicle.

I manage a “where are you from? What’s your name? What are your plans for today? I am in Delhi for 3 days and have quite a lot of work to do; I will go to Paharganj and get a room there. ”

The bus is now coming to a full stop, and there is commotion again. That was just too many questions, and she can’t answer them all. “I have a flight back to Madrid in the middle of the night. I was planning to go directly to the airport and wait there. But I come with you.”

Oh! I had planned to work today, and I am on a tight schedule as I usually do in 3 days what I should need a week to do. This is the price I am used to paying for spending as little time as possible in Delhi, an excellent deal considering that working under pressure is something I enjoy. Now doing my work in only 2 days seems a crazy stretch. I try to think. I like challenges, but this feels impossible. “I am quite busy today” I reply, “but you can come with me, we can leave our luggage in my room and go out, do our own things, and then meet again for dinner before you leave for the airport. I know Pargarganj well and will show you around. ”

“Yes. I come with you” was her only reply.

I feel almost ridiculous to have told her all that. What does she care about my business, after all?

We jump into a rickshaw with our backpacks, wrap ourselves in my colourful Tibetan wool blanket, and zoom through the busy streets of Delhi towards Paharganj. Delhi is such an overload for the senses, such a mind-blowing festival of sounds, smells and colours, that not a word is spoken between us. I am flowing with the moment, this woman by my side, feeling so many feelings, and letting go into the chaos of this Incredible India I so much love and so much hate all at once.

Less than an hour later we finally arrive in the middle of Paharganj Main Bazaar where for 15 years I have produced and bought clothing for my wholesale business. Paharganj market starts across from the central, imposing New Delhi railways station. It is an impressive concentration of affordable hotels, lodges, restaurants, Dhabas and a wide variety of shops catering to domestic travellers, foreign tourists and business people, especially backpackers and low-budget travellers like myself. I know this bustling and unbelievably alive area like my pocket and had once figured out that put together I must have spent almost a year of my life on that street! Hare Krishna Guesthouse is one of my favourite budget places, and that’s where I get the Rickshaw to drop us.

It is now 2pm, and I have not had anything to eat since we had stopped for dinner in a small place somewhere on the winding mountain road between Kullu and Mandi. One over-spiced Dhal and two chapattis are all I had eaten, and I am now starving.

As we get out of the rickshaw, I quickly go over the day’s planned schedule. I have missed two appointments this morning, especially an important one with my very first supplier, Deepak, to look at new products and to check, collect and pack hundreds of dresses. Checking through the production before buying and sending it, is an unavoidable and extremely time-consuming part of doing business in India. At 2.30 I am supposed to meet Ravi in one of his Godown, a huge storage place the size of a building, in a back alley five minutes from here, where I will need a few hours to go through the 3000 scarves he has waiting for me, and choose the best 500, one by one. Then, before 7 pm, I will need to have the first five parcels packed and delivered to Santosh, my trusted man of many years. The next 2 days are equally full, and squeezing into tomorrow the tasks that I should have done this morning is a daunting solution. I do need to get moving.

I have done this Delhi gig dozen of times, I love the buzz, the craziness of it and the pressure I put myself in. I love it because I know it only lasts three days. I had a few times been delayed the way I am now, and I always managed to do what I had to do. But arriving in front of Hare Krishna Guest House wrapped in a shawl with a stranger is something I had never considered in my wildest dreams.

Why had I offered to come here with her? Why had I put myself in such an impossible situation? As I give the rickshaw driver a hundred- rupee note I go through the situation at the speed of light, trying to figure out a plan B, knowing that there is none, knowing that there is no Why either. This is plainly about letting go into the here and now, flowing with the new and the unknown, facing a challenge and remembering that situations like this one have happened before and are what a life worth living is made of.

One delightful part of Hare Krishna Guesthouse is the open restaurant on the ground floor near the reception, where before checking in, we can sit and have something to eat. I have it all sorted already. We will have a chai and food, I will get a single room where we will drop our luggage, and we will immediately go out again. On my way to Ravi, where I will arrive a bit late, I will show this lady a couple of places where she can hang out this afternoon, and we will make an appointment for 8 pm back here, so we can then have a relaxing dinner somewhere nearby before she leaves to the airport. I suddenly feel delighted to have sorted this mess somehow.

“Keep the change,” I say to our driver as I take my backpack and head the few meters to the entrance of Hare Krishna Guest House. The woman follows me. She seems so at ease, trusting, and appreciative. I feel her support and understanding; I sense her delight in this mysterious happening.

“I suggest we sit here and have something to eat,” I say. “Yes, great idea” she replies. The restaurant is spacious, and we sit at a big table on an ancient-looking shabby marron fake leather couch. A light-hearted Krishna song is playing, and it feels good to finally sit on something cushioned!

I am about to quickly explain the situation and the plan for today when our eyes meet and lock into each other. Time stops for a moment, a long moment until we are interrupted by the boy who checks to see what we want to eat.

“Order?” he asks. There is no answer. Our eyes are softly entering each other, there is nothing to say, and there is nowhere to go. The boy must have looked puzzled but leaves us alone. He is probably used to the eccentricity of foreign backpackers.

As I sit there facing this mysterious woman, I can feel my energy move down to my heart and my genitals. I can feel the fire burning through this body. All the plans I had made in my little head just a moment ago are disappearing like a train speeding off into the distance. I am suddenly left empty- and full at the same time. This connection feels so unknown, yet so intimate.

We just sit there across from each other for what seems an eternity. I recall the bus stand in Manali last night as I was so desperately hoping to be left alone. I remember her “I think I am sitting next to you” and how angry that made me. And then this long, very long journey through the night, the connection that had happened out of some kind of bizarre fairy-tale. And here we are now.

The boy comes again, reminding my stomach that I need to eat. “I’ll have your special breakfast,” I say.” Sorry sir, breakfast is finished!” I look up at the big purple clock on the wall in front of me, it is indeed 2.15 pm. “I will have a chai and your special Thali then”.  The boy seems pleased with my order. “And you Madam?” “Same for me” she replies.

I notice that it is getting late and that Ravi will already be waiting for me. My mind is busy again with the necessary schedule for today.

“I need to get moving very soon” I start, “with all this delay I am behind schedule, and I have to work this afternoon. I am running a wholesale business, and this just can’t be postponed”. She nods. “I suggest we keep our luggage in my room upstairs and meet later for dinner” I continue. “What time is your flight?”

She looks at ease, relaxed and trustful, and her smile is gorgeously open. Her flight is in the middle of the night, and I quickly figure out that she needs a taxi from here at 10 pm.

Our thalis are arriving. The food looks decent and generous. Rice, 3 chapattis, a good-looking dahl and 2 little bowls of curries, one with paneer. The salad I won’t touch, but the Kheer I will try. We eat in silence. I sip my chai while eating, a strange habit I got into in Calcutta years ago. Luckily it came unsweetened.

We look at each other. The urge to come closer is becoming more intense, maybe because of the food which is activating my blood flow, I don’t know. It feels good to eat. I want to squeeze her, to feel everything, to melt, to explore, to dive and disappear. Most of my long term relationships started with a connection far less intense than this one, I catch myself wondering. Where will this go? What if we like each other? What if everything else we discover is as awesome, magical and intimate as this? How often does such a meeting happen in a lifetime?

I notice the chattering in my mind, the warmth in my heart and the fire burning through my body. I feel a bottomless space opening up inside.

It is now time to get moving. I excuse myself and go and check at Reception. There is only one room left; it is a small room without a window, but with an attached bathroom. I usually would want to look at it first, but now there is no time for those kinds of details. I take it. “Yes, I am alone, single. No, she won’t stay here; she is a friend. Only keeping her luggage in my room for a few hours. Can you book a taxi to the airport for 10 pm? Ok, good. Please send the boy to bring our luggage up”. “Yes, Sir”. I quickly fill in the page in their entry book with my passport details, and up we go to the third floor; the marble stairs are incredibly steep, and the boy leads the way.

I am now standing in front of room 305. It has obviously just been cleaned; the fan is running at full speed, and the marble floor is still wet. There is a small TV in front of a single bed, blasting some Hindi music. I get the boy to turn it off, I peep into the bathroom, which is basic but looks in working order. The room is indeed small and windowless, which is somewhat typical in this part of the city and not a bad idea considering the noise and pollution outside. I have had better rooms in this Guesthouse, but this will do for two nights.

It is now 3 pm, and if we go out now, I will still make it. I just need a few minutes to fill up my little backpack with the necessary paperwork, use the bathroom quickly and change my T-shirt.

I give the boy a 10 rupees note and close the door behind him as he leaves.

I look around. It is not a pretty room, that’s the least I can notice. Forget about romance. We just stand there. I have not lain flat since I got up from my bed in upper Manali two and a half days ago, and I wonder how tired I truly am. Getting moving and out of here as quickly as possible is the only sensible thing to do right now. “What’s your name?” I inquire. It sounds so weird, asking her name now, here, squeezed between this crappy little bed, our luggage on the floor, the bathroom and the door. We have shared more intimacy, it seems to me, than many couples have in fifty years of marriage, and we know each other’s fragrance at a depth few ever reach in a lifetime. We have experienced the essence of that stuff called love; we have looked, even if for a brief moment only, into the abyss of the other’s eyes. We have felt the bottomless call of our own hearts. “Maria,” she says softly. “Maria?” I must have looked surprised because she smiles back and comes closer. “And your name? “My name is Nirav” I reply, “it is a long story.” We exchange a few formalities, all of which sounds deadly boring and irrelevant. We don’t have time anyway for any of that. We need to go out and mix with the buzzing and colourful life of the market below. A full-on afternoon is waiting outside.

We both catch and stop our unnecessary chattering at the exact same moment. We simultaneously make a half-step forward, still gazing into each other, until that momentum pulls us where, like magnets, we hook into a single field of energy, become glued as one, and finally hug each other.

During all those hours spent together the idea of hugging, Maria had hardly crossed my mind, and I never entertained a picture of how it could be.

In the community where I lived for many years, hugging was part of life. It is an art I had become very good at. A meaningful hug requires the ability to be grounded and fully present, in the body and in the heart, to feel and stay connected inside, to remain alert, open and sensitive, and to say yes to whatever appears. It is the art of moving in and down.

That first hug with Maria in this rather hideous windowless room is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Hugging Maria sends electric waves spinning through my whole body. I feel myself bursting open; I sense an infinite number of connections coming together inside. It is so extraordinary. At some point, my appreciation of time switches off as we let go into a dance of energy beyond our doing. A dance beyond time and space, a dance of two energies melting into what is called lovemaking.

We surrender to the momentum. Maria is so utterly and completely present and connected within herself.

We let go into the timeless, into that space beyond the mind, flirting with that which never dies. We relinquish ourselves into this opportunity to taste the unknowable in the very most beautiful way I know. Everything around us disappears. Time becomes synonymous with here and now.

We are lying on the bed, naked, entangled in each other when a loud and awful sound echoes in the room. The phone is ringing! I laboriously grab the handle. “Good evening Sir, your taxi is waiting.”

Maria and I look at each other, speechless and stupefied. Taxi? Now? How could this be?

It was about 3 pm when we entered this room and yes, I remember ordering a taxi but for 10 pm tonight! Maria reaches to her bag and pulls out her watch. “Nirav, it is ten past ten. I will need to go.”

I rub my eyes, not able to fathom what had been happening. This windowless room has let the sun set and the night take over without warning.

Maria gets up without a word, takes a quick shower, and dresses while I sit on the bed, completely stunned. We look into each other’s eyes and hug for the last time. I then take her backpack, which is still unopened on the floor, and off we walk down the stairs.

The taxi driver come rushing towards us, puts the luggage in the back of his little green Maruti, and already he is ready to go. “Very late Madam, let’s hurry”. I open the left door at the back of the car, and Maria gets in. I reluctantly close the door behind her. I can feel Maria’s heart screaming in the silence of the space we had shared.

She goes with the flow and leaves through the night. I never hear from her again.

Leaving New Delhi in times of inner emergency

Less than three weeks ago, after an amazing two months in India, I found myself in Rishikesh. For a long time, I had dismissed the pandemic that was to come and also didn’t anticipate the fear that would take over the whole world. But since a few days already, the fear of being stuck in India without medical, without food, sick and dying was creeping into my system. Anxiety set in. Shocking world news were appearing at an increasingly fast rate. India had first cancelled all the visas so no foreigner could come in, and then countries one by one were closing their borders; more and more flights were being cancelled, and as I finally just bought a ticket to go to Denmark I received a message that the country just ordered national lock-down and that the community where I was going had to close. Shock set in. Words like “national lock-down” were so foreign to me that I struggled to understand what it meant.
I had two clear options: either stay in India or go back to France. A choice between having my soul or my body nourished. A choice between feeling safe or feeling alive and thriving. A choice between isolation or the magic and incredible richness of human connections that were still happening for me in Rishikesh at this point.
Although my friends in France and Europe sent me the same clear message to stay in India and that life in France was far worse, my gut feeling was clear. Taking care of my nervous system, of my anxiety, of my inner child was a priority – and going back to France was the only option that would make me relax right now.
It took me two days to act on this and to follow my guts- and I almost waited too long. A fight between my male and my female, between my rational and my intuitive parts, was taking place in my inner world. Luckily I have learned to listen to those two, to have them talk and listen to each other, and to give my feminine side the space she needs. Not doing so always had a price I am not ready to pay anymore!
One night at 2.30, I woke up with cold sweat. I turned on my phone. Breaking news affecting me was appearing a few times during the day and night at this point. The French President had just finished his talk to the Nation and announced national lock-down from tomorrow noon!
More cold sweat. What did that mean?
I turned on my laptop and checked for flights. There was one leaving Delhi tonight and arriving in Paris the next morning at seven after a stop in Dubai. 230 euros! I hesitated. That meant packing, organizing a taxi to Delhi for the 7 hours journey. That also meant organizing how to get to my hometown 250 km away in Normandy once I land in Paris. Would I spend hours at the airport? Would I be quarantined? What did it all mean? I usually take a train, and in an emergency, I ask my Dad to come and pick me up (which happened twice only during my long crazy Indian life). I check online. The 16 trains to my hometown are cancelled from now on, and no one is allowed to drive.
Anxiety gives place to panic. I get my credit card, but I remember that I lost my French sim and that buying a ticket would require entering the security code sent to that now unreachable number. I am fucked. And arriving in Paris without a working phone sounds even freakier. Kiosks to buy a temporary one would be closed. I am upset at myself for losing that little thing, and yesterday I spent 2 hours checking every piece of luggage in my room and had come to the conclusion that it’s lost for good. I do have another credit card, but there again, I usually need my French number to verify. But sometimes not. Okay, I try. I walk up and down the room. I have not slept in 2 days, and my heart is beating loud. I see that I am freaked out. And yet I have to act. It is quiet; the monkeys are still asleep. It is now 3 am. I tap myself on the face, yes, here I am. I look at the screen on my laptop and review the flight details. Leaving tonight! Should I or should I not? Will I manage to bring myself to Delhi?
I review the basics involved. I am so foggy. But I have to act. Now. So many details involved. It is just too much. My intuition is that there is a 30 % chance that this flight will go, 70 % that it will be cancelled. I am already thinking of that option and what it would mean, being stuck in Delhi, finding a place to stay, being on my own. But 30 % is a good chance. I watch my fingers entering the details. I look for my passport and enter the numbers. I review the screen again, struggling to keep my eyes open. Yes, it is a flight from Delhi to Paris, arriving tomorrow. I double-check if the month and year are right. They are. Then the Credit card numbers. Now I just need to push Enter. Probably it won’t go through. But maybe it will.
I get up, I am in the most unconformable state I know. Will I make it? I mean, will I die here? I get back to the laptop, and my finger just pushes “Enter”. I hold whatever is left of my breath.
“Your transaction is successful. Have a nice flight.”
I scratch my eyes. A mix of delight and more panic looming. It is now 3.45.
I lie down. Theoretically, it would make sense to sleep for a few hours. I will need to be strong, and I have a long, long unknown journey ahead.
Sleeping is a good idea, but an opinion only.
At 8 am, I am in a state of complete panic. Now I have a ticket, but still so much to organize. I need help!
I remember the breaking news in the middle of the night, and the French presidents saying that flights from abroad would be interrupted from now on and that stranded French Nationals should contact their nearest consulate to organize their return.
Calling the French embassy in Delhi is something I did once in my life, and just the idea brings up a tidal wave of memories, of traumas, of an incredible life journey that continues to this day.
It is early, but I dial the number. I imagine the switchboard saturated with calls, and I expect an answering machine. But to my surprise, a soft voice answers, and a lady on the other end asks for my name, my situation, my phone number. I feel taken care of. I explain what I just did, a flight tonight, no phone when I arrive in Paris, no train, how will I get home, I am in a panic, exhausted, have not slept in 2 days, I am freaked out. I burst in tears. She listens, reassures me, tells me about her situation that she is from Bordeaux and also will face the same issue at some point when she goes back if she does. No one knows. I did the right thing she assures me, and that flight I just booked will likely go she checks, if not I should call her back. She looks at options with me and assures me that once in Paris I will relax and I will find a solution. I am amazed that she stays with me on the line for so long, holding my hand somehow. Half an hour passes. Aren’t there thousands other people wanting to talk to her for support? Do I sound that freaked out?
As we are about to part, I say “You know, last time I called the Embassy in Delhi it was in 1989, and you know what? You saved my life! I have been doing overtime since then. “
Now let me go back some 30 years.
It is 18.15 on the corner of the Paharganj main Bazar just opposite the imposing New Delhi Train Station. It is rush hour, and the market is buzzing with millions of people. In less than 30 minutes, my train will depart and take me to the City of Agra, just a few hours away from here. My pack on my back and my drum around one shoulder. I am waiting while my friend is collecting some pictures from the photo shop.
As I am looking over the crowd gathered there, here she comes, smiling. Yeah! The pictures are ready! As I try and ask if the pictures look good, something feels weird, really, really weird!
Only half of my mouth is moving. I am suddenly paralyzed on one side of the body!
Here, in the midst of the New Delhi’s madness, stoned, with all my possessions in a little backpack, and a train in now 25 minutes! This is absolutely surreal!
We were in December 1989, and I was not travelling alone anymore. I had met Shelley 2 months before on the southernmost point of Crete where I was living naked under a Tree. We had fallen in love, and she was now following me on my well-known hippie trail around India. We had just walked around the Annapurna Sanctuary for four weeks in Nepal and were now going to zoom around India for six months. But first I was going to show her the magnificent Taj Mahal!
How stoned, unconscious and fearing nothing we must have been that evening is still beyond my imagination. I clearly just had a major incident in my brain-possibly a stroke.
But we made it to the station and got into our train! I was stubborn, and changing plans was against my philosophy. The train ride was intense. We were both 23, we had long dreadlocks, we looked wild, and we were wild! With only half my body moving the other passengers thought that I was completely drunk. The train was packed, but somehow someone gave me a berth, and I could lie down.
We arrived in Agra late that evening, and after the usual struggle with rickshaw drivers, we finally managed to find a cheap guest house.
Two weeks later we were still in Agra. I was now lying on the bed of a local hospital, under the drip. I had been misdiagnosed since days, no one knew what my problem was, and all the antibiotics I was taking didn’t help at all. I had just spent 24 hours in Coma a few days back, and my condition was obviously severe and getting worse. But somehow we didn’t realize and trusted that life would take care. We were doing our thing and were moving along.
The Agra hospital had certainly no intention to have a foreigner die on their premises, and so before sunset, they brought me to the Agra train station and put a little paper in my pocket where was scribbled “Apollo Hospital Delhi.”
The train to Delhi took forever, but finally at 2 am we got a rickshaw to drop us in India’s largest hospital with our dirty backpacks. By then, I surely looked sick and like a skeleton, but the emergency room seemed like hell, filled with blood and screams and people looking far more impressive than I did. Someone’s head had a hole in it. Someone’s leg was on a table next to his stretcher. A doctor finally had a quick look at me and told me that I was okay. He gave me another antibiotic pill, and off we were again on the streets of Delhi.
It was now 3 am on a Sunday, and this was going to be my last day in this body.
After a few hours’ sleep, we are waking up somewhere in Carol Bag in a much fancier hotel than I was used to. There is carpet on the floor. We got scammed by the rickshaw driver as we left the hospital in the middle of the night. But this is all irrelevant at this point.
It is around 8 am, and Shelley goes down to the reception and calls the French Embassy. It is early, and it is Sunday, and yet she can smell that this is very soon all over for me.
Less than an hour later a young French doctor arrives in the embassy’s car. He is shocked. I have been in this condition for more than two weeks, without a diagnosis and proper treatment. This is the first time that someone looks at me since I became suddenly paralyzed on the street. He takes his time, and I feel hope and trust again. I am in good hands. We will do tests he explains, but first, he has to guess right and act now. Results would come too late.
His first hunch is that I am suffering from Infectious Mononucleosis and that an Oedema had developed in my brain, explaining the Coma and the paralysis. He is right, and this will save my life. I look so unlike anything he ever saw that he also suspects that I could have at least Aids and another tropical disease as well, but luckily he will be wrong on that one. He injects me with a good dose of cortisone, pays the hotel bill, gets us into his little car and off we are through the busy streets of Delhi to the reputable East-West clinic.
I am given a room there, and my girlfriend can stay with me. It will take a week to get all the tests done and get the pressure in my brain down to a point where travelling by air can be an option.
Finally, one evening at around 7 pm, the van from the embassy arrives at the clinic and four officials from the French embassy knock on the door. They have organized tickets to Paris, and we are leaving now on a direct Air France flight. There is a chance that my brain doesn’t cope with the flight and so the doctor has to sit next to me.
And so on a freezing morning just before Christmas 1989 I landed in Paris, walked through the airport corridors with my doctor on one side and Shelley on the other, got picked up by my Dad, and was brought straight through Normandy to the emergency room of my hometown Hospital. That same afternoon, on the 18th floor, I slid into the tunnel of an MRI scanner.
This chapter of my life isn’t easy to write, because as exciting and interesting as it may sound, I do need to omit the juiciest parts.
I was 23 at the time, and I just had my first significant encounter with death. I came very close. Most significantly, it marked the end of my hippy life as I had intensely known it. I never touched drugs again, and I instead would soon discover meditation. Out of this, I would soon meet Osho and be absolutely ready and open for what He was about to propose.
As I left the hospital on Christmas 1989, I was prescribed a year of convalescence; but instead, after six days at home with my parents, I bought a ticket to western Africa. I would spend the next two years living naked in caves on the Island of Gomera and in Senegal. Life was easy, wild, and completely in touch with nature. I had a beautiful girlfriend, and we then moved on slowly all the way to New Zealand.
What had happened in Delhi had shaken me to the core. What was I after? What was I running from? What did I long for? I was aware that I was now doing extra time, that another chance was given, and that sooner or later death could take me back, and this time keep me.
Those years travelling in the wild were a time of convalescence; indeed, a time of chilling out and of transition. Those were golden days, recklessly living a freedom somehow long gone, and I was getting ready for a new adventure, an inner one this time. I was getting ready to open up, to feel, and to say Yes and slowly but surely tap into a source of infinite possibilities.

Meditation

For almost 30 years MEDITATION has certainly been the one word running continuously through my daily life. Combined I must have spent a few years “in meditation”. Satori groups, meditation retreats, 10 days Vipassana courses, 5 and 7 weeks retreats in complete silence and isolation, and the daily routine of at least 3 hours of different meditation techniques. Meeting Osho I discovered active meditations. His famous “dynamic meditation” became my favourite one, and for years I woke up at 5.30 every morning to be in the hall ready to breathe, jump, cathart, dance and fall into the centre of the cyclone in utter silence. Dynamic meditation was a simple formula for a great day ahead.

After 20 years in Pune following that incredible and juicy regimen I one morning found myself in Mumbai at the feet of Ramesh Balsekar. He told me something I had never heard before and that would change my life forever. There was according to Him no need to meditate, but if you felt to, just taking a few minutes in the evening looking back at your day and investigating one event that you obviously did was enough. “Dissect that event and find out if you REALLY did it”. That was a puzzling proposition, but that investigation again and again, every single time showed the same result: I was not the doer of any action, not even that one. Actions happen through this body mind organism. There is no doer whatsoever.

For years afterwards that specific investigation did run inside like an undercurrent until one day I realized that the understanding had settled without any doubt and that the inquiry had dropped by itself.

Today I would simply say that Meditation is remembrance. Remembering who I am. Osho’s last word is SAMASATI. So is Buddha’s. “Remember who you are”.

Meditation techniques are a way to bring that remembrance to the light. Meeting Osho has been the greatest blessing in my life and meditating in His garden under his guidance was fun, juicy and the gap between the outer and the inner was bridged every single time.

I still enjoy sitting in silence with closed eyes. I still enjoy active meditations. In the same way I enjoy cooking, painting, walking, making love, having a talk with a friend. Whenever I remember who I am I am in meditation.

Most of the time I am in my centre, connected, present and enjoying the play of life. Sometimes I am identified with this body mind organism and believe I am the doer of those actions and thoughts and emotions. Now I know the way, I know the space, I know the knack. I could say that I know who I am…and yet I do go astray once in a while, and I am okay with it. The idea that staying in my centre is a greater thing, deeper and more holy is also falling apart. In fact all the ideas of who I am and who I should be are all falling apart. Something is happening which is beyond all my ideas, beyond any doing, beyond any description, and that something looks more and more like nothing.

I have been a spiritual seeker since as long as I remember. Finding out who I am was the single most important drive inside. Meditation was the motor, the main tool.

Today as the seeker is dying and the seeking is giving way to something beyond doing, meditation is also changing. I don’t quite understand what is happening and I am okay with it. Trying to understand is not important. Accepting the new unfolding is clearly all I need to let go into.

This new happening isn’t always comfortable. I often feel pregnant with something I don’t comprehend, something I can’t push nor do anything about, something that by nature I absolutely cannot name.

I am washing some dishes in the communal kitchen this morning and my friend asks me if I could write something on meditation, and I go “yes, of course”. I know that words will come in spite of me and that whatever comes will be perfect. There is complete trust. And here I am and words are flowing. Meditation is presence, meditation is spontaneity, meditation is life running through this organism called “Nirav”, through this laptop and through the birds singing in the garden. Meditation is love, meditation is freedom, meditation is easy…as easy as the wind moving through the autumn leaves.

Meditation is no mind, meditation is openness, meditation is all there is.

Meditation is remembrance.

Samasati.

 

 

When I lost my balance

Nirav shares a recent event in his life where he had to overcome an unexpected challenge and find his way back to the present. A help was this quote, “Be the person who breaks the cycle. Vow to be better than what broke you – to heal instead of becoming bitter, so you can act from your heart, not your pain.”

full article on :

When I lost my balance

Luckily the Devil is well alive

Watching Notre Dame engulfed in flames was shocking and I certainly was deeply affected.
Less than 24 hours later, as over a billion dollar had already been donated by individuals, and as the French President announced on TV that the bells of ND would ring again in 5 years, I entered another state of shock.
How could the burning of such a monument bring so much passion and empathy and cash, when the 12th century city of Aleppo, World Heritage in Syria, almost completely destroyed under American bombing 5 years ago, has hardly started reconstruction because the first million dollar has not yet arrived!
Why hundreds of other historical sites over the world, from Afganisthan to Lebanon, as ancient and monumental as the Paris Cathedral, are facing such indifference? Why the world mobilise on unprecedented scale when 9 people are killed by a terrorist in Paris, New York or London, but the genocide of an entire population in the Middle East or the starvation of millions in Africa are not enough to even make it to the headline?
I visited Notre Dame a few years ago for the last time, and I certainly remember the outrageous beauty of it. But I also remember how sad I felt seeing those millions of tourists flocking in with their cameras, most of them not remotely connected with what this place essentially has to offer.
As I tried to make abstraction of the blood that thousands of women shed as they were burned alive in that Cathedral, as I struggled to forget the tortures and unimaginable suffering that took place there under the umbrella of the Catholic Church, I walked away with a churning stomach.
Last night again, the archbishop of ND de Paris was life on TV at prime time, and in between a few tears he had the guts to ask “ We trust in God, but I don’t understand why this happened to us, and why now”.
Again I chuckled. What about the millions of kids victim of sexual abuse and whose lives have been destroyed? What about the extraordinary cover up on the paedophilia ring in the Catholic Church? What about Lyon’s Archbishop Philippe Barbarin, who was found guilty by a French court earlier this month, but whose resignation was refused by Pope Francis?
What about this planet, the only Cathedral we have, and the unprecedented crises it is facing? As the global scientific community is warning of a 40 % chance of human extinction before the end of this century, and that the number one issue facing planet earth today is overpopulation, the Catholic Church goes on demonising even condoms…
Pope Francis made it clear last month that the Church is not responsible for the sexual abuses, and obviously for this fire also he won’t feel responsible.
Luckily the Devil is well alive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And …
Every cathedral will burn and be rebuilt, and then one day be gone forever.
Every living being will go through birth and the challenges of life, through diseases and accidents, will pick himself up, stand again, and then one day be gone forever.
Every planet, every galaxy, every black hole will go through the same process, in its own way, its own timing.
As cruel as it may seem
Impermanence is the nature of all
Remembering this is the only freedom

Tribute to Meera, part 1

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Few people have influenced the course of my life the way Meera did. 

As I look up and around right now, I see my walls full of amazing paintings, filled with leaves and trees and mysteries; filled with the taste of the unknowable. So much beauty and love and movement and silence in every stroke, so much depth, so much of the divine shining through. How I became the painter that I am today is a story that started in 2000 in Osho’s commune in Pune, India.

I was a bodyworker then. I was working in the Commune giving individual sessions, and I had spent basically every day of the last decade in bodywork and therapy trainings. Meera was a unique character in the commune, she was obviously full of Osho and she was around every winter leading her creativity workshops and trainings. I had often stopped by to watch her incredible demos in the Multiversity Plaza, and I had been to many of her exhibitions which she organized every year at the end of the season.  But really painting was never my thing and to be honest I had never held a paint brush!

One day in November 2000, Meera was about to start her yearly two and half months painting training in Pune, and one of her participant had requested a French translator. I was finding myself in a gap then; I was going through a heartbreak and was getting tired of giving so many sessions. I was still very involved in the commune but sensed a wind of change. I approached Meera and we had a little chat. She explained that she never takes someone on the staff who hasn’t first participated in at least one of her groups, and that maybe I could do that. I replied that I had never painted and was not that interested, and clearly if I seemed to have unlimited money for heavy therapy and inquiry groups, I was not ready to spend a cent on something like a creativity workshop.

I remember that moment when she paused and looked so deeply into my eyes that time simply stopped. It seemed that she was seeing something I had no clue about, something like a hidden diamond I could not even dream of considering. I had often experienced this feeling of being seen so deeply and so totally, but right now it was something different. Meera was looking at something beyond my depths, something beyond everything I think I am, contemplating a potential I had no mean to comprehend.

Meera took my hand and broke the silence:  “Wao… yes, come and join, this participant will only do the first part, it lasts two weeks, and it is Primal Painting! You will like it. Come. I will make an exception.”

We never talked again about this very first meeting. So much had transpired, so much had been said, and yet…all what remained was a mystery that left me deeply shaken.

 

( part 2 …)