Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Shift to Pune

As I write this, aerial bombs right outside my window and masses of fire crackers are exploding in a cacophony of sound all around. It’s Diwali.

I’ve landed in Pune after packing and shipping most of our stuff and taking care of last minute details -- a new bank account and an Indian driver’s license. I flew in from Delhi last Friday, leaving Sadhana Devi in Gurgaon to transfer her bookkeeping responsibilities to others before joining me later.

We were still in America in September, visiting with Swami Kriyananda, when we received word that we were to relocate to Pune from the ashram in Gurgaon. Along with Wayne and Elizabeth Palmer, we would be the first wave to spearhead our new community. Honestly, I was glad to be asked to go, as life in Delhi had become a little too routine. I asked Swamiji for his thoughts about our move, hoping for some nuggets of wisdom. “Sounds fine,” he said. Hmm. Maybe there’s a deep meaning there.

A taxi took me from the airport to the northwest suburb of Pashan where I was dropped at the Vanshaj Prestige Apartments. Wayne and Elizabeth were waiting, having arrived a few days before to meet their furnishings trucked from Gurgaon. They were busily settling in. It was not the first time I had seen these apartments. Sadhana Devi and I had been here on an earlier visit to second Wayne and Elizabeth’s thought that this would be a good starting place for Ananda in Pune until something is built on our own land outside of town. We had reserved six three-bedroom apartments for ourselves and for those who will follow in the coming months: Swamiji and his personal staff, Dharmadas and Nirmala, Vijay, Tim and Lisa Clark and five brahmacharis, all due to arrive by January. Some of us will double up. Each apartment is brand new, between 1300 and 1500 sq. ft. but completely unfurnished. They rent for Rs.17,500 to Rs19,000/month (that’s about $350-$400), plus utilities.

I dropped my bags in my new home on the fourth floor and came face to face with a pile of boxes from Gurgaon and bare walls that echoed every footstep. It seemed mighty empty and a bit lonely to sit there and wonder, “How in heck did I get here?” The apartments are 300 meters up a bumpy dirt/gravel track from Sus Road, a paved, six-lane thoroughfare. I imagine the road will be paved when the neighboring construction is finished. From my windows I can see fields of half built apartment towers going up across the road and directly below, a veritable township of shanties housing those who are building the “new India.” It’s first world and third world, side by side.

My first order of business was to “register” with the local authorities at the Pashangoan registry office. I had been told to bring Rs.4000 and two hours later I discovered what this “fee” was for. Let’s just say it was off the books, with no receipt, and the payment was not “officially” required. It’s just that the papers would simply sit in a big pile in the corner for weeks and weeks or they would mysteriously disappear if payment wasn’t made, meaning I wouldn’t be able to move in. In other words, it was “black money.”

The second order of business was to find a grocery store. The boxes could wait because I was going to be hungry if I didn’t find something to eat. I had brought coffee and soon found a store where I purchased an electric kettle to heat water. I was in business. This kettle has been quite handy as I’ve found it can also be used to boil eggs, noodles and packaged soups I’ve been buying from a nice little store called a half-kilometer up the road. It’s called Spinach. Around the corner from me is Manu’s Corner where eggs, milk bottled water and snacks can be had. All have gone into our new refrigerator, bought on Saturday and delivered Sunday. The DSL came last night at 9:00 PM and the water purifier is due any day.

Wayne and Elizabeth, in Pune longer than I, by now know how to get around town. Very importantly, they have a car, which is a great help. Bhim, a Nepali moved with them from Gurgaon as their driver and generally gets anything done that needs doing. He and his family live a few kilometers down the road. Sooner or later, I’ll probably take the plunge and buy a car too so as to get back and forth to our property 30 kilometers outside of town. For now, I’ve decided to buy a motor scooter which should be fine until the next monsoon. They get great gas mileage and Pune is flooded with them. I’ve picked out a used, 100cc Honda scooter for Rs.29,000 ($620) and if all goes well, I’ll get it in the next couple of days. Without transportation, it’s tough to function here. I’m looking forward to seeing Sadhana Devi riding behind me like the Indian/Muslim ladies, side saddle and wrapped up with a scarf around her head and face.

We (Ananda Sangha) are now in the process of securing title to the last few pieces of the 30 acres we are buying in the countryside outside of town (see April 2007 posts). By December, we should have the purchase phase completed so that we can submit our plans to the town planner. It’s complicated to describe the ton of legalities, but if all goes well, we should be able to begin construction in the spring, sometime after our Bhoomi Puja, the official inauguration of the project on March 1st. I hope some of you can attend. By then, Swamiji and fifteen or more of our ashram will have shifted here.

On Monday, Wayne and I visited Watunde (probably I’ve misspelled this) with Amol, an ashram member who moved here last spring with his family. Watunde is the local village less than a kilometer from our new property, within walking distance. It’s totally agricultural and home to one thousand although only half that many are in the village at any one time. There is little employment in the village outside of farming and many leave to seek work in the city. Ostensively, we visited to see a local cricket tournament hosted by the village, but really we wanted to simply make social contact. Twenty teams were signed up to compete over four days of the Diwali holidays for prize money of Rs.5000. That’s quite a lot for a village tournament.

We arrived just as the tournament was about to commence and were welcomed as honored quests. Amol presented the local team with a new cricket bat and gave a short speech, wishing them good luck. A short puja followed at the wickets, prasad was served, and then Wayne and I took a few ceremonial swings of the bat as Amol bowled (pitched) some soft ones to us. I made contact but Wayne wiffed mightily. The village boys were polite but I’m sure they thought we were hilarious.

We retired to the headman’s (sarpanch) house for tea and conversation. Thank God Amol speaks Marathi as I couldn’t understand a word except for a Hindi word every now and then. Marathi is similar to Hindi like Italian is to French. They both derive from Sanskrit.

We sat in the “living room” of the sarpanch’s house with his ten cows and buffalos. It was all rather cozy and I felt very much at home. Tea was served and we talked about past and recent improvements to the village, the weather, his house, cows, buffalos, milk, the local dairy cooperative, the crops, our thoughts about how we could offer help in the future, and whatever else came to mind. I had wanted to meet the sarpanch because it’s always important to have good relationships in the neighborhood when building communities. It’s also likely that we might hire members of his village once work begins. He seemed like a good man who is respected by his fellow villagers.

Leaving the village, we visited our own property, there to find our surveyor mapping the boundaries to prepare an official map. In a few days, I’ll meet him again to walk the property lines and if our proposed well sites are on land already registered to us, we’ll soon have a drilling rig come to bore water wells. Electrical pumps will follow with a temporary tank and water lines to supply our planned nursery and the simple structure already on the property.

I’m hoping our brahmachari monks will take up residence on the property when they come in December, at least for some of the time. They can escape to Pune for R&R and a shower when the need arises. It will be an adventure for them as there are few amenities. Right now, it’s bare land in the boondocks, but if we can get water, electricity and sanitary facilities set up before they arrive, at least they’ll have the basics. With those, they can set up camp and begin projects necessary for our inauguration in March. Most importantly, they will be on the land to set the proper tone and vibration before others follow. I sure hope they like camping.

Besides these projects and getting settled, we need to begin work with the local congregation. We’re just starting and plan regular satsangs at Amol’s on Fridays and possibly another satsang with a cluster of disciples on the opposite side of town. On Sundays I’d like to have satsangs at a small college in central Pune and when time allows, we can begin some new introductory classes. When reinforcements arrive, we’ll start to regularly go to Mumbai too.

Things are moving quickly and I’ll write more as events unfold. Please keep us in your prayers.

Additional photos to accompany this article are available at: http://picasaweb.google.com/jayahelin/AnandaPuneNovember2008?authkey=DAVwHY_xhUw#