I have always had a romantic vision of Pune – scenic, polite people, few good colleges. I had heard of the Rajneesh Ashram there, which when it came up shook the Indian middle class morality, because Rajneesh propagated free sex. It was a place no decent parents would have his son or daughter seen. I had heard the ashram was thronged with hippies, Hollywood stars and rich bankers from Wall Street on a philosophical quest to the meaning of life. Like the forbidden fruit, at the back of my mind I always wanted to savour the place.
I remember a dialogue of Rajneesh Osho: “If Jesus could walk across the ocean, why can’t the pope walk across a swimming pool.” It was not something I had read, it was something told to me by my uncle, whose avid reading habit did not rub down on to many of us until late. Throughout my adolescent consciousness that statement stood out in memory for the sheer humour I saw in it. It was not the most enlightening of statements, but the strange fascination for Osho began then.
So when my friend Laxmi, who we were visiting in our ‘tourist run’ of India, asked me over the phone if we wanted to do a tour of the ashram as she had to book in advance, I looked at the website and decided a three-night stay at the infamous Osho Ashram could well offer me some interesting insights into the place.
They now call it the Osho Meditation Resort and at Koregaon Park, Pune’s posh suburb is spread the resort which houses open air workshops on different meditations and well being, cafes, meditation centres and health spas. Plenty of greenery and very clean, there is no way you will fall ill eating here as even the fruits sold in the cafe are not to be picked by hand but by the use of a tong. Even the drinking water areas have special instructions which say you cannot touch the top of your bottle to the tap. The rooms, says an India Today report, flaunted at the reception, will give any five-star hotel a complex, something I quite endorse. Cleanliness here is next to Godlinesss.
On our arrival, we were met at the gate by a bunch of foreigners – all volunteers I later learnt. International students especially from Europe come to the ashram for a course on meditation and render free services towards the upkeep of the resort. I looked at the whole place and if anything, I realised Rajneesh was a man with great business acumen. Everything has been designed in such a way that western tourists get sucked into the spirituality that India has to offer. After a mandatory AIDS test, we were given a welcome session, an introductory session into activities of the ashram, of which meditations occupy 90 percent of it. Meditation programmes begin at 6 am and wind up with the evening meditation session at 7:30 pm which is the day’s highlight.
Robes of saffron and white colour mark your membership to the ashram. We had to buy the same from the ashram boutique and we found out later from smart backpackers that there were cheaper ones down the road. I asked one of the volunteers why we had to wear the maroon robes during the day and the white one for the evening meditation, and I was told it was for a uniform flow of energy. Surprisingly, we quite liked wearing the robes, it made us feel cooler in the warm climes of Pune.
The meditation sessions - Kundalini, Dynamic and Tibetan to name a few – were all unique but it was not something I was drawn to instantly, nor did I make it a point to attend it each day unlike the other avid tourists who were either on yoga vacation or spiritual search. There was nothing sleazy about the place. It was a rip off, alright like any other tourist destination. A bottle of water was sold for Rs 50 inside. There were parties late at night everyday at the resort where everyone let their hair down and danced and drank the night away. An Indian MBA graduate from Mumbai I met told me he hadn’t told his family he was at the ashram lest they had a heart attack! We both agreed the ashram’s reputation was damaged to a point.
If there was anything I was not impressed with the Osho Ashram, it was Rajneesh’s sermon every evening and wondered how in his thick north Indian accent, he could mesmerise the world with his lame speeches. They laughed at his silly jokes, danced and meditated in absolute silence chanting his name at the end.
Till today, Indians have no idea what the Osho Ashram is all about. As Laxmi’s mother-in-law asked me, “Why do you want to go there?” To her, the ashram represented all things sinful. Even Indians living abroad give you a funny smile and a look (as if you were secretly back from a strip tease) when you admit having visited the Osho Ashram. Ignorance does ignite big tales and assumptions!