Preparing to leave India

After a couple more train journeys with no more inconvenience than a few insect bites and the now sweltering heat of an overnight stop in Mumbai, I made it back from Rajasthan to my friends’ comfortable flat in Poona (Pune). This is a fast growing city, situated 200k from Mumbai, where countless educational establishments, private clinics, a thriving IT hub and the highest density of motorcycles in India can overshadow the fact that it has a long and interesting history.

Not that we have done a great deal of sightseeing during the final few days of my trip. Even here at a height of 1,800 feet and some distance from the coast the weather has become sultry and enervating: well perhaps my disinclination to go out exploring has more to do with the convivial company and complete lack of pressure. After all, I’ve been here before and hope for plenty of opportunities to return. When Sunil rather half-heartedly suggested the possibility of a visit to Sinhagad Fort my response was “Just what I need, another fort!” and we agreed that it would probably be better to wait for a cooler opportunity.

Having seen some of the historic centre of Pune on my last visit, we took a little trip to the Northern part of the city to see if it was possible to visit the world famous Osho Spiritual Retreat. High garden walls and alert security made it impossible to get more than a glimpse of life inside this meditation and enlightenment centre, much favored amongst wealthy Westerners seeking a path to fulfilment. My friends had been under the impression that locals were not allowed in but we saw quite a few handsome Indian boys in the obligatory red robes gaining admittance, apparently accompanying some of the female devotees from overseas.

I’m not sure yet whether you need a “partner” just to be allowed over the threshold or whether you are encouraged to obtain one on arrival but the fact that you need to undergo an Aids test just to be admitted for the introductory half day briefing gives some rather interesting hints about what is going behind those high walls. No wonder the affluent looking European and American women gliding around the nearby streets in their simple (but flattering) burgundy coloured robes all bore expressions of deep satisfaction. I contemplated returning at some stage with a man of my own but after reading a little more deeply into the teachings of the “Rolls Royce guru” and finding a few offensive pronouncements on the fate of the Jews in WW2 I thought better of it.

There is no doubt that a lot of influential Indian figures of the previous half century had (have) an ambivalent view of the Third Reich, their reasoning apparently being that if it was fighting against the British then it couldn’t have been all bad. How seriously this viewpoint was taken by Quit India Movement of the pre-independence period depends on whose version of history you are reading but there is no doubt that its figurehead, Mahatma Gandhi, was in correspondence with Adolph Hitler.

Having visited Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad and memorial in Delhi on previous trips to India, it was fascinating to have the opportunity to pop around the corner from Osho’s to see the Agakhan Palace. This is where he was interred by the British during the years 1942 to 1944 and the information supplied on the display boards makes it plain that most visitors regard this as the wicked persecution of an elderly man and his by now ailing wife. No further comment from me is necessary but I’m glad that my photographs give such a clear impression of the hardships that they faced here. For, although the palace may have been smartened up since being made a national monument in 1969, the arched colonnades, cool spacious rooms and garden of mature trees have hardly changed in the last hundred years.

There is so much more for me to visit, to study and to understand about India but now it is time to pack up and get ready to go home. Until next time.

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