Tea Lounge

The Indian Express, Pune Newsline
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Maroon in the red?
Vinita Deshmukh
Pune, March 23 Now you have belly and pole vault dancers in Pune’s pubs and
of course even FTV at home. Therefore, digesting western culture is a lot
more easier even for the most conservative Puneite. But then in the mid-
1970s, when the maroon tribe walked into Pune, with Acharya Rajneesh in the
lead, it was a rude culture shock to Puneites.
Of course, the Rajneesh Ashram later called the Osho Commune International
was tucked in the cosmopolitan and stiff upperlip locality of Koregaon
Park – quite a distance from downtown Pune and amidst bungalows belonging
to aristocratic families. But that wasn’t enough for Puneites to swallow
the arrival of the controversial ‘Sex guru’ in Amche Pune. For he had
already begun hogging international headlines and public outrage in India
with his theory of ‘Sex to Superconsciousness’ around which his public
lectures revolved in Mumbai. 
The Koregaon Park neighbourhood too generally looked down upon this new
neighbour whose baggage of white skin disciples it thought, was repulsive.
Neighbours complained that the disciples were outrageously dressed and
couples had no inhibitions about kissing in public. Similar scenes used to
be witnessed on M G Road and restaurants like Latif’s on East Street.

The bright side for Koregaon Park though was that, soon it was business
boom in this neighbourhood with Rajneesh’s foreign disciples ready to shell
out a luxurious amount for rents for rooms and flats; shops sprouting with
maroon robes and chappals (in fact nearly all the shops in Centre Street
near M G Road had transformed into maroon cloth merchants) and soon
restaurant owners in Koregaon Park were only short of putting up boards:
Indians and dogs not allowed! The darker side of business was hotels like
Mobo’s that were infested with western disciples, allegedly hooked on to
drugs. Pune screamed that its youth would get spoilt by this influx.

Though, curiosity got the better of many Pune intellectuals who waxed
eloquent about Rajneesh’s ahead-of-his-times philosophy much to the
consternation and embarrassment of their families. Some of them also became
disciples and began sporting maroon robes in public. Many surreptitiously
attended his public discourses in the ashram. But generally, the aam
janta’s attitude towards Rajneesh and his tribe was condescending. So, when
he decided to move to Oregon in US (strangely rhyming with Koregaon) in
1981, Puneites heaved a sigh relief, though the ones who cried were the

Koregaon Park wore a deserted look but Rajneesh’s audio cassettes and books
steadily became popular. By the time, he came back to Pune in 1987, after
he was expelled from the US and rejected by 21 countries thereafter, the
acceptance of Rajneesh as a philosopher amongst Puneites had grown. But no,
they would not tolerate the behaviour of his disciples. Playing to the
gallery for a change (earlier the ashram literally looked down upon the
locals), the dressing and behaviour pattern was formalised by the commune
management as it declared in its official brochure that, its disciples must
dress decently and modestly, when in Pune and no, they cannot kiss in

Puneites by then got accustomed to the fact that Osho Commune had become an
integral part of Pune and blunted their animosity towards it. Rajneesh
rechristened himself into Osho and soon he faded away in 1991. Despite
critics predicting the doom of the Osho Commune, it emerged into a more
enhanced throbbing outfit, with some compassion for the locals. First, its
creation of the Osho Teerth Park from a stinking nallah brought it respect
from the public. Then, the transformation of the Lane no.1 from a neglected
road to one with lovely trees, street lights and tarred stretch had people
appreciating the endeavour.

More importantly, the beautiful Gautama, the Buddha Hall was thrown open
for Osho Festivals (coinciding with his birth and death anniversary) and
the public was invited with glossy cards (the only condition being the AIDS
test that was mandatory). The who’s who of music and performing arts of the
country came down to perform and the status of the Osho Commune was

Until 1994, when it found itself caught in an unenvious situation – post-
Osho’s death the commune had begun attracting fly-by-night disciples, who
used the Osho Commune as a facade for conducting drug orgies in the
backyards of Koregaon Park in private farms, in the garb of Osho
sannyasins. Two massive drug orgies were busted by the Pune Police and the
commune had no choice but to tighten its process for giving the commune
pass to the visitors. It endeavoured to only allow ‘genuine’ disciples.
This subsequently dipped the number of fly-by-night visitors who found that
Pune had lost all its ”fun” and these were in large numbers.

The slide in sannyasin population continued but the Osho Commune had not
given up. Amidst controversies of Osho’s intellectual property rights being
exported and Osho loyalists walking out in a huff from the commune due to
what they termed as ”commercialisation of the commune”, the inner circle
dominated by Swami Jayesh, a Canadian, built a swanky and massive 1 lakh
odd sq ft of ‘Osho Meditation Resort’ just opposite the main gate of the
Osho Commune. Despite its metamorphoses from a commune to a resort
wherein ‘Osho’ pictures are conspicuous by their absence and ‘fun and
entertainment’ are in focus, it continues to survive. Only, the spirit of
survival has changed.

But by now, Puneites have moved away their attention. It’s the IT and BPO
boom on the brighter side and traffic chaos and senior citizen attacks on
the darker side that’s keeping them busy. The commune, they know is there,
but it’s just insignificantly stored at the back of their mind.

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