Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A New York Goodbye

By the afternoon of Friday, October 12, I was on a plane to San Jose, where I met up with my brother Jeevan. We then embarked for JFK, arriving there around 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning. After renting a car, our first stop was the Smile of the Beyond for breakfast.

Between August 1985 and January 1989, I worked at the Smile of the Beyond full time -- 13 days every two weeks. For those three and a half years, I had two days off each month. At the start of my tour of duty, I worked under Shushoban, but soon thereafter Guru asked Sahishnu to take the reigns, and for most of those years it was Sahishnu, Satyajit, Ketan and me that made up the varsity squad.

As Jeevan and I walked into the place that Saturday morning, not much appeared to have changed in the last 18 years. Sahishnu's towering presence was at the grill and Satyajit was at the salad bar. (Ketan was just up the street at his new cafe, The Panorama of my Silence Heart.) The mood in the place, however, was decidedly different.

The Smile was packed, like during celebrations, but the mood subdued. There were many quiet conversations going on, and a lot of noticeable tears. We, however, were greeted with open arms, literally. I don't remember ever having been embraced so warmly by disciples since having left the Center some 17 years before.

Our only seating option that morning was at the counter, just behind Sahishnu, who was looking rather glum (I can't say I ever remember him looking happy back there). When he turned around and passed our breakfast specials to us over the counter, however, a big smile came over his face and he gave us both a hearty welcome. He looked genuinely glad to see us, though his eyes were bloodshot and puffy.

While we ate, there were copies of a New York Times obituary being passed from booth to booth.

During a break in the breakfast rush, Sahishnu told Jeevan and me that for the last 15 months he had been massaging Guru (ever since Guru had fired Maral and Pulak for some unexplained infraction or other). The recollection brought a fresh round of tears to Sahishnu's eyes as he explained that he had actually been with Guru in the early morning hours on Thursday, the day Guru died.

In all, it was a very moving breakfast. After Jeevan and I were done eating, we left the Smile (though the infamous Smile funk came with us, sticking to our clothes like some invisible spectral leech) and drove to Sudhir's place to unpack our stuff. We found out that "friends" of the Center were invited to the tennis court to view Guru, who was lying in state, at 12 p.m. and then again at 8 p.m. So, after commiserating with Sudhir, we headed over to the court for our first of about five viewings of Guru over the following two and a half days.

The tennis court was beautiful, and the welcoming mood that we had experienced at the Smile that morning continued for the rest of our visit. As I told many of my old friends that weekend, it is difficult to imagine how the Center as an organization could have carried out Guru's memorial services any better. Very classy from start to finish. (Photo credit to the Times.)

For Jeevan and me, the weekend was a whirlwind of meeting and greeting many of our oldest and dearest friends and reliving the antics of our formative years. I can't do justice to all that took place that weekend in this modest post. I must relate, however, what I learned about Guru's passing on our second night in New York.

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