On January 8th 1979 I was in Pune in Western India.
My primary motivation in visiting Pune (Poona) was to see the Rajneesh ashram; simply out of curiosity because while in India I had seen so many of the Oranges, his orange-wearing, mainly Western followers. I wrote this in my journal in the evening:
Rajneesh Ashram 1980: Picture by Akbar Simonse, CCI made my visit to the Rajneesh ashram this morning, so I've completed what I want to do here. Last night at the restaurant downstairs from my hotel room, I spoke to a German girl in Rajneesh clothes who sat at my table; she gave me the information to be there at 7.30 am, and he speaks at 7.45. I woke at 7 and it seemed to be a full half hour walk there, being passed all the while by Oranges in scooter-rickshaws and on bicycles, only one person walking there until I was close. The number of people there still surprised me. I paid my 5 rupees and went into the sniffing queue and had to take off my waistcoat because it was too "dusty", also my bag. These procedures might have rattled me, and I was detailed to sit behind the green cord, where the area was for mainly non-orange wearers. All the security arrangements were done in superior sounding American accents. These priests or acolytes add to the smooth running and to the cultish feel. We were told not to cough or leave before the end of the discourse, and one bearded man next to me was constantly looking around to see who was coughing and got very agitated when one orange left and walked right across the room. I guess there were a thousand people there under a kind of marquee on a cold-surfaced floor, loud speakers and someone was filming. I think it's all taped so people can listen to the wisdom and put it into one of Rajneesh's books. He was brought in in his yellow/orange Mercedes, wearing white robes and as he entered and left most people made an exaggerated namaste prayer sign. This is a daily ritual.
The previous day had been Sunday and in the afternoon I chose to visit the old city. Pune was famous as a modern, developed city, maybe that was a reason for the ashram being located there, so it was surprising to find the old city so intact. I usually tried to visit the old commercial and market areas in Indian cities; they were always interesting and revealing of everyday life and they were usually off the normal tourist beat. I wrote this visit up like this:
Old Pune 2009: Picture by Nandu Chitnis, CCThe old city felt once more like the "real India", really as colourful as anything I've seen on this trip, comparable only with the old cities of Peshawar and Delhi, so that I just wandered looking vaguely for somewhere to sit and relax, like a chai-shop with a view, or just by the roadside. And although I thought it would be very quiet, it being Sunday afternoon, even the market was open, though not doing much business, a group of orange sellers sitting around playing cards, rows on rows of potatoes, cauliflowers, onions, some other fruits, one or two things I had not seen before, no inclination to look closer as I did not want to buy anything, but I remember one fruit with a hard green-white skin, and brown inside, looking a bit like a walnut. Not much in the way of handicrafts to buy, not immediately obvious anyway as the central area was full of manufactured goods. A bangle bazaar, a row of tilak/incense sellers. Garish pictures, of minor deities, a photographic style youngish portrait of Indira. An ornately styled Sikh temple by the river. Right in the centre, the silver bazaar, the finest looking shop in a house of painted and carved woodwork, quite notable, a group of countrymen inside visiting in best clothes and tilaks, their women sitting outside on the pavement. Big crowds at the cinema, signs saying "House Full." I stopped for a lassi, rose flavoured, the best I've had. Little temples dotted about, some brightly coloured, some discreet. Virtually no beggars, no saddhus, no signs of Shiva. Always surprised by the height of the buildings in the cities, many are four or five storied, the oldest ones with wooden balconies and upper parts. For all the time I was down there I was the only foreigner.