Pune – Day 1

So, this hotel is all swank. Sculptured roof top pool, steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, yoga classes, 3 restaurants, unlimited free wine at happy hour, live music, wireless internet access in my room, and gorgeously dressed, incredibly attentive staff who don’t even want you to have to bend over to tie your shoe. They all call me “Miss Pedalinfaith”. I burst out laughing when I hit the lobby and the live band was doing a bad cover of the tune “Love is All Around Us”, from the movie “Love Actually”. (Is it possible to do a good cover of that tune?) I’m definitely gonna get me one of those 700 rupee ($20) massages later.

Pune is much more temperate than Mumbai. Thank the gods. When I got into Mumbai, it was 82F and h-u-m-i-d and it was only 1 in the morning. But here, it is very comfortable. Nothing even like Texas. (Only mid-80’s and humid in the middle of the day. 😉 There have been very friendly people all along the way to make sure I am in the right place and the right time. Most people speak English well enough that I haven’t gotten into any trouble yet. And some speak so well, that I’ve passed hours chatting with them. It’s funny to go around town and see names that at home sound so exotic and are used as spiritual mnemonics but here are stamped on the cover to water system access points.

This afternoon, I asked my driver, Raju, to pick some places for me to see so that I could get oriented….
He took me to the Osho Ashram. I have a couple of Westerner friends who lived here as sanyasis 25 years ago (when they were in the their 20’s), but haven’t been with the organization since it unravelled in the “Rolls Royce Guru” IRS tax scandal in the 80’s. I’m suspicious of the cult thing but since I admire these two folks, I was curious to see what this was all about. I was surprised to see how many Indians were there. I guess I had envisioned the place as crawling with disaffected Westerners. In an ironic turn, there were a whole room full of natives (mostly men) listening to a video in which an American woman was talking about negative thought patterns and choosing to look at our lives differently. I asked the guy at the front desk about joining in a meditation some time and he touted it as “the best” meditation, not just for the head like some of these other lesser meditations that just chant the name of God, and when it is really good, I will never want anything else. That, on top of that you can’t get in to see the grounds or take advantage of any of their massage or other therapy services until you watch a 10 minute video, take an HIV test, and do a 3 hour orientation session, turned me off of the place. I’m not looking to get reprogrammed. But Osho did create a public park along a creek with foot bridges, bamboo stands, and buddha statues that is really lovely. On this Sunday afternoon, it also served as a local “lover’s lane”. I inadvertantly intruded upon some smooching and cuddling time for more than one young couple. It probably helps their sense of privacy that no pictures are allowed in there. 😉

Then Raju took me over to the Aga Khan palace: the place where Gandhi was imprisoned in 1942, the resting place of his wife and his secretary, and now the Gandhi national museum. Again, no pictures allowed inside. (I’m interested to better understand how the sacredness of space is violated by photographs.) But the guards were OK with me taking some on the beautiful grounds. (One thing I forgot to do before I left was put the photo downloading software on this laptop before I left, so I haven’t figured out how to get things off my camera yet.)

The last place Raju picked out for me today was the mall. Crazy, bright, noisy, flashy. The 5-story, hip equivalent of Macy’s was having a contest: whoever spent the most money between 4 and 5 PM would get all of their purchases for free. Sirens went off at 5 to celebrate. It was a bit overstimulating.

Here, pomp borders poverty. Any buildings more than a few years old are dirty from all of the pollution. New construction sits around half-finished, with rebar sprouting from the top of concrete pillars like wispy hairs on a bald head, and squatters have taken shelter there. Dogs run wild (as do, of course, the cows) all over the city. The dust and grime and haze of humidity that makes everything look slightly ecru is punctuated by the beautiful, brightly colored sarees and salwars worn by the women, both rich and poor, and the lush green of moss that drinks up the humidity and takes root wherever it can. My air-conditioned taxi shared the road today with double-rider motor scooters, crammed autorickshaws, and a man transporting shrubbery via elephant. Beautiful, walled off mansions have crumbling concrete leading up to them with people rifling through the overturned dumpsters right outside their walls. At home, the rich and the poor are usually separated into different neighborhoods. Here, it’s all mixed in together.

It makes me uncomfortable for people to be at my beck and call. People working in service jobs are so deferential. Andra, a native and business executive staying at the hotel, shared dinner with me tonight. (We were both dining alone, and like most people here, he had no problem breaking the ice.) He said that it even feels strange for him to get such service now that he has been living in the states for 20 years and is used to his independence. It feels a little invasive, and (until I adjust to this cultural difference) I have to agree.

But the weirdest thing, perhaps, so far is that I feel right at home. I never really got nervous about coming. And now that I’m here, it seems like I’ve been here before. Looking forward to getting my first saree. How will I ever choose from so many beautiful fabrics?

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