This is an excerpt from a diary Savita Brandt kept
while living in Osho’s ‘Pune One’ ashram in the 1970s
Anunada is going home to England because he’s dying. Skin cancer has entered the liver. Anunada, masseur, his lovely red beard and cheery face, his familiar Jewish lazy-man’s way (he ran the candle shop two blocks away from me in Camden Town).
The news hits the gut, although they say he lies tranquilly in bed, clear headed and in good spirits. So to England he must go for treatment. He has not been told directly that death is imminent because Osho said that if successful treatment appears possible, life can be extended by as much as six months.
Between arranging to go and actually going to see Anunada, I let slip a whole twenty-four hours watching my panic rise at the thought of the encounter. When death screams out from your body are you still you?
But when my arrival is announced, he raises his head from his arms on the balustrade and turns with those collapsed rearranged features and says, “Ah,” and takes my hand at once.
My heart falls away, gripping the creased fingers, barely able to look him eye to eye. All those young man’s lines of age around the lids and brow, all that soft thick body of his now trimmed to vanishing point except for the bulbous belly under his robe.
He looks straight into my eyes, allowing me to slide down those fear-tracks and love-alleys of my inner labyrinth, overawed.
I shut my eyes and a moment comes when I open onto his face, and a fixed gaze watches back into mine, all my shadows and cobwebs, all the basement of me exposed. That penetrating love-look that he gives me, almost like a compassion for me because I am not dying yet and thus have no access to this intensity of his, except to sit here with him feeling it.
“Ah,” he says again. I sit squatting at his feet on the concrete, my fingers clinging to his hand as if it were my life-line to his death, to that sudden jerk of awakening and reassessment.
Tears rise on my eyelids, not for him, for myself, for my reluctance to understand the moment… moment to moment for my procrastinating life. And then – because he’s someone I associate with merriment and lack-a-daisy – that smile breaks out on me, the joke in us bursts through and we are smiling at each other hugely. He used to laugh before and now is still laughing; and me, my awkward spirit that chats and giggles with every encounter, chats and giggles with him.
Geya the nurse brings mint tea and apple slices on a plate and the wind has set itself to billowing and blowing in the giant peepal beyond the balcony where we’re sitting, its leaves hopping about.
Am I me? An unexpected sense of unworthiness is tugging at my insides, trying to hold me down, keep me from flying. As if one has to be precious and worthy to sit with the dying.
There is something in the face of another’s death that feels like the stuff of one’s own reckoning; as if one must live up to the intensity of the other’s life by being part of what is intense, of what lives intensely. Not a wilting dandelion, but a pert, full- bloom rose – nothing but the best for the dying. I am shocked at that ancient feeling of mine coming back – to justify myself, to be useful, gift-laden, to offer him something other that the nakedness of my presence.
And I wonder while I watch this shimmy going on in me whether the need to be worthy is just another mind game along the theme: I’m too scared to face you. Or if there is some way in which the dying mirror our own unlived life and wave it like dirty laundry in one’s face. After all, the ego has to sink so that nothing is left to be lost, and we’re as much afraid of egoless others as we are of our own potential nothingness.
What came across talking to people about Anunada was confirmation of what I’d felt, that his presence had Power. One friend likened its intensity to darshan, to sitting in Osho’s presence; I felt that too. Yet he is not a man utterly reconciled to dying, I gather, at least not explicitly. Is there something present in the body of a dying man that shocks us into true contemplation of death, quite apart from whether he himself is contemplating it? A hall of continuously reflecting mirrors in which each fresh glimpse changes that which is glimpsed? That he because of us and we because of him came to that recognition, that surrendering, as if death itself were a third presence in which we participated.
Just after I first heard of his illness, the same day, news came of my father’s cancer, and I broke into a sob. When I looked I saw how it included some outrage that a dying man should not be allowed to take responsibility for his dying. Some idea came of his being prevented, conjured images of western hospitals in which the mechanisms of sham are so sophisticated that no relative even dare mention death in case it isn’t actually true for the next twelve hours and the shock might bring it forward.
Somehow, through my outburst, I was fixed on an idea that at my death, don’t let anyone play that insulting game on me. When I die, let it be explicit. I want to know. Of course, the body always knows, but I want it to be known I know and to know others around me know too.
It’s the secrecy of death, its taboo that keep the myths and nightmares alive.
But that’s my pantomime.
What emerged from all this rumination about Anunada was the irrelevance of ‘explicit’ death. Only there was me again, seeing my own fixation on verbalization and all the mazes and open spaces to the heart that in my experience it can open onto.
Anunada died on April 22nd. The sannyasins in London danced and celebrated around his bed. His Jewish family mourned and wept.
(Excerpted from a work in progress: The Zigzag Path from Head to Heart: Intimate Diaries from Osho’s Ashram, by Savita Brandt.)