Keeper of the Kitchen

An excerpt from an upcoming book, Hellbent for Enlightenment

by Ma Anand Nirgun

was mopping the red corridor in Lao Tzu one morning with absurd delight when the kitchen door flew open and Vivek came out. Closeup, Vivek was arresting. Long dark hair with a fringe, pixie face, a pale complexion that had never seen the Indian sun. Her wide eyes were a strange blue/hazel, mysterious, alive. She put out a restrained energy – not hot energy like mine, hers was cool, light.

Vivek took my arm gently and pulled me through the door where only a special few entered: the inner sanctum where Bhagwan's food was prepared.

“Nirgun,” she said, “Neera has just gone off with tendonitis for three weeks.” The soft English accent matched her appearance. “Could you fill in for her, just doing veggies and keeping the kitchen clean?”

Could I?! A rush of adrenalin nearly paralysed my tongue. “I'd love to,” I managed, cringing a little because the bottom of my robe was splashed with soapy water, my hands were rough and red. Vivek looked like a queen in a highnecked robe that clung to her exquisite figure. Her hands were graceful, white with long painted nails.

“Good!” She smiled a great wide smile, and my uneasiness dropped away. “Astha will be here in a minute to show you around. I have to see to Bugsy. Help yourself to a cup of chai...” and she was off.

I stood in a daze, it had been so sudden. Torn between delight and shock: BUGSY?!!

I looked around the kitchen. Black and gray granite slabs covered the floor and the counter that ran the full length of the room. Huge papaya trees in the driveway shaded the windows. Through the branches I caught a glimpse of the orange Fire of the Forest. A cool, serene room....A single question came to me and it was anything but spiritual: for God's sake, where's the equipment?

The only stove in evidence was an old four-burner gas plate on the counter. An antique fridge stood near the door, a grinding machine in the far corner, a sink under the windows. Rows of pots and pans with rounded bottoms and flat covers sat in shelves under the counter, china cups and saucers on a wall shelf, and on the counter a thali, a huge round silver tray holding eight small dull silver bowls. I grabbed a cloth and started rubbing them.

Astha came in. She was young, tall, strongly built and couldn't have been more friendly. She told me the kitchen routine: Bhagwan's meals go in at eleven in the morning and six at night. Always the same: a thali of dahl and vegetables, chutney and chapatis. Salad, fruit juice.

“That's it?” I asked incredulously.

“Vivek takes him a cup of tea every morning at six and a snack at bedtime,” she told me. Astha had been working in his kitchen for years. I was impressed by the salads she made for Bhagwan, they were works of art – dramatic, showy.

In the next weeks I dug into all the nooks and corners, a Canadian-pioneer springclean. Vivek came in one day while
I was cleaning under the grinder and shook her head in wonder. “I hereby dub you Keeper of the Kitchen,” she proclaimed, tapping me on the shoulder with a spoon.

Astha started sluffing off on the job she shared with me, the noon dishes; when I got to the canteen almost all the food had been gobbled by swarms of hungry sannyasins, leaving only dahl and scraps of bread. I mentioned it to her and she made excuses. I suggested taking turns: no dice. One day when Vivek brought the thali back and we were alone I told her my problem. Her eyes twinkled.

“I guess you'll have to get that clear with Astha, won't you?” she said lightly and went out, leaving me nonplussed. Wasn't she the boss?
Next day as Astha started to slip out I got between her and the door and told her it was my turn. The sweet smile slipped, her voice came out raspy, angry. “Get out of my way!”

“You can't have your way all the time,” I told her in what I hoped was a calm voice. But her face turned red, her fists clenched, her body stiffened – the change was so sudden, from dozy-childish to angry-stubborn-pushy, that I dropped my guard. Astha tried to lunge past me, my fingers tangled in her hair and then we were on the floor, thrashing about.

I looked up to see Vivek standing in the doorway, laughing. She put the thali down and disappeared. Astha and I did the dishes together in silence. Her pale face was still red and mine felt hot with shame. Such ugly behaviour in HIS kitchen – how could it have happened?

That night Vivek brought me a present from Bhagwan. A backscratcher.

For days I pondered the significance of that backscratcher. Made of bamboo, a small design painted on the handle, abstract
claws – what could it mean? The claws – were they to remind me that we had slipped back into our savage animal past? That we had used violence to remove an itch, when a backscratcher does the same job so gently, so easily? That the five claws stand for the five senses, a reminder that I should “come to my senses”?

Much later I came to know that many of Bhagwan's gifts were just what came to his eye at the moment a person came to his attention; he let existence decide the gift. Sannyasins from all over the world showered presents on him. When he gave them away they all carried the same unspoken message: LOOK INSIDE. Our unconscious mind would throw up whatever meaning the gift had for us.

This fight with Astha sparked a new vision of reality. For me to fight in real life was totally out of character. I couldn't help but see how the raw conflict echoed those in the encounter group. Shocks that each of us came to see as the dynamite that shattered their armour of negativity.

Obviously real-life shocks could give birth to even deeper insights than simulated group conflicts.

It came to me then that the ashram was, in fact, one gigantic encounter group.

[Nirgun's book is published by White Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon (Yes!) 97520 (fax +1 541 488-6415, e-mail: sscholl@jeffnet.org), and distributed by such fine Osho distributors as Viha (e-mail: oshoviha@oshoviha.org) and Publications Osho, or maybe even your local Centre can be bugged to order 20 or more for an especially good deal.]

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