Friday, December 5, 2008

Leaving the commune, or The Ash-Scram

The Captain offers Slappy Frankenstein
aficionados his post-commune
adventures, in 3 EZ installments.


I’d been in India five months and the spiritual cracks had been scraped, patched, sanded and painted. It was time to head west. Even master Osho said you have to go back out into the marketplace eventually and see how you do with your new, improved self. And I wanted a bath.

My first phone call in five months was to book the return trip of my plane ticket back to New York, and the first flight was in 24 hours.

I wandered around the Ashram and said goodbye to different friends, teachers and ex-lovers like Premartha, Sushumna, John Anando Masta, Marga Uti, Rohi, Shivan, The Spanish Guy, the Prince and the Pervert. I fished my smashed Western clothes out of the bottom of my duffel bag and left my mattress on the kitchen floor where I’d found it. I counted my scant cash and did what meditators do best---waited.

A nationwide rickshaw strike was going into effect the next day, imperiling my ride to the airport. I was directed to Nanu, who ran the Ashram “brown” market where Westerners could change money for better rates, rent bicycles and arrange other transactions.

“No problem, Baba, I am going to the airport myself, and you can come with me,” he said.

After my final night on a Poona floor and last breakfast of mangoes and papaya, I stopped by Nanu’s hut at 8 A.M. to confirm our 4:30 trip.

“4:30, Baba,” he said.

I showed up with two bags and a guitar at 4:30 with my girlfriend Valeria, who would see me off.

“I cannot go, Baba,” Nanu said. “There is a nationwide rickshaw strike.”

Blue Diamond had a coach that was leaving for the airport in 15 minutes, he advised.

Valeria grabbed one of my bags and ran with me the quarter mile to the stop. The bus was full when it showed up because of the strike, but there is no such thing in India as a train, bus or car that can’t squeeze in one more person, so Valeria pushed on my behind like she was jamming a vacuum cleaner into a closet and when I was more in than out of the bus, the driver set off with the door ajar. Valeria ran alongside the bus, waving, the prized tigers-eye necklace I’d given her bouncing on her chest. I held up the good luck electric yo-yo she’d given me and waved back as she receded into the distance, clomping through the Indian muck up above her ankles.

As I felt the bus wheels lurch violently over the deep divots of mud mixed with cow dung that were typical of the country’s roads, it seemed as though India and the ashram were giving me one final spiritual shake as if to say "Don't fall asleep out there in the world, baba."

I took a dented plane to Mumbai, checked into a cheap hotel and walked the filthy, shitty, packed streets, wanting to fill, fill, fill my being with the flavor of the ancient country in my last moments there. When the traffic fumes and the smell got too much, I found my way back to the hotel, ordered a last bowl of Dal and watched Indian MTV until midnight. At 5 AM, Air India whisked me out of their country, and the door to the East officially closed.

I’d left New York in March; it was August and I feared what I’d be in for when I got home. I had a new outlook, a new name and hundreds of experiences both tiny and monumental. How was I supposed to land in Manhattan, unpack my things and jump back in the river of urban mayhem, say hi to people without hugging them, get by with no morning and evening meditation in Buddha hall?

I had no money, was sunburned and dusty, I couldn’t explain the purpose of my visit or how long I planned to stay, but the customs man let me through when I decided to jump ship at Heathrow airport in jolly England, and there I disembarked.

It wouldn’t be too hard to bop around London like a pro, I reasoned. Hadn’t I watched “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Quadrophenia”, “Frenzy” and “The Wicker Man”? I’d been given the name of a local bookstore in London where they sold Osho books and took a big black English cab to get there, gaping out the window in search of Carnaby Street, Abbey Road, Michael Caine, Elton John or Led Zeppelin standing on a corner.

“Oy, ‘ere’s another ‘ippie!” the clerk called to the owner of the store when I showed up. I was given a phone number and the address of a commune, called and was told I would be picked up in a car in an hour. An adjacent room in the bookstore was used for meditation and I was invited to wait there. I plopped the bags, closed my eyes but got no meditation accomplished; the mind went nuts.

A hulking buzz-haired guy picked me up in an asthmatic Vauxhall and we rode to wherever it was I would end up.

“I just got back from 5 months in India!” I announced.
“Oh, yeh? Ow wuzzit?”
He didn’t ask anything more about it, and I didn’t tell him.
“What’s your name again?” he asked after 10 minutes of silence.
“Shunyam. What’s yours?”
“What’s it mean?”
“I don’t know, bliss, sunshine, the usual rubbish.”

I had assumed every Sannyasin I met outside India would have longish hair, colorful clothes, a colorful mind and a playful attitude towards life, like me and most of my pals in the ashram, and I was shocked to meet a conservative man with a Sannyasin name. Pragyan stopped for an errand and I ducked into a small grocery store, buying English carrots and English grapes, my first in almost half a year.

We pulled up to a homey-looking house on a quiet street in a neighborhood called Crouch End.

“ Thanks for the lift, Baba,” I said to Pragyan.
“Thank you for driving me.”

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