Review by Pankaja Brooke, Viha Connection

I found Punya’s book extraordinary for several reasons: it is unique among books by sannyasins because it gives the real flavour of how it was to live – day to day – in the different Osho Communes around the world in Pune, America and Europe. It’s the nitty gritty details that she’s so good at conveying – and it’s precisely these details that anchor the reader in the experience she’s describing.

English is not her first – nor even her second language – and yet her writing is fluent, precise and often very beautiful. She was born in Italy, but spent much of her life in Switzerland:

‘To be Swiss, for me, meant to be stubborn, self-righteous, stern, inflexible, and a perfectionist, all qualities I can easily associate with…. I preferred to be identified with being an Italian. It was synonymous with fun, long nights out with friends, eating good food…’

Second, she has such a variety of skills and talents that she worked in almost every area of the different communes, so her descriptions of the day to day experience of working as musician, cook, cleaner, graphic designer, filing clerk, tourist guide, builder – have I left anything out? Probably! – give a unique picture of day to day life in this great spiritual experiment.

Osho often said that surrendering to him was easy, but surrendering to Deeksha was a much greater test. Punya had many different jobs in the kitchen in Pune 1, both in the ashram itself and making croissants in the primitive rented bakery down M.G. Road – an even harder challenge!

One of the deadly sins was ‘to be spaced out’. We had learned under Deeksha’s supervision to be where the work was. It was also not acceptable to be so lost in the work as to be unaware of our surroundings. Many a time we got busted in the kitchen if the lights were still on from the early morning or if she found a pot of yesterday’s grated cheese under the table. “I didn’t put it there,” was no excuse. Our energy had to be with the work but the attention not so focused that the broader vision of things was lost.

She manages to convey the essence of how Osho’s various communes functioned as Mystery Schools – using work, relationships, meditation, every part of life – as methods to persuade anyone who was lucky enough to be there to look more deeply into the structure of their own consciousness.

She is honest about the times when her ego was hurt – I often found myself wondering, how would I have reacted in such and such a situation? And she can also describes ‘spiritual’ experiences in beautifully down to earth, but poetic language.

….I close my eyes and, as if in a trance, I let my hands grab whatever instrument they want and add a little spice here and some more there. It feels as if the musicians are just one entity, with no separation between them, all creating this one invisible happening lost in the air.

Personally I enjoyed the part about Pune 1 because I spent more time there than at the Ranch, but her description of the overall experience gives a very clear picture of the flavour of that time, and she manages to sneak in all the practical information about the Big Muddy without being boring by copying the lists of facts she had to impart to visiting journalists as a Twinkie – the ranch name for the charming and diplomatic tour guides.

Sometimes I got a little lost as the narrative jumps from country to country, past to present – but the descriptions of visits to her grandparents in childhood and later paint a vivid picture of the earth from which this flower has bloomed. And although the story line may appear random at first – the different scenes hang like the beads of a mala on the thread of her relationship with her lover Amiten.

Pankaja Brooke, published in Viha Connection, May/June 2015 –

Pankaja's review