Perhaps, as Joan Didion did with such great effect in her wonderful book The Year of Magical Thinking, I should start over again at the beginning of this memoir and start peeling away another layer of the proverbial onion.
For me, this memoir began with Guru’s death on October 11, 2007. I’ve already recounted my initial reaction to that news and my subsequent trip to New York in the ensuing days with my brother, Jeevan. I didn’t report everything that happened on that trip though. There was a minor to-do about the fact that my sister’s boyfriend didn’t make the trip to see Guru one last time.
I didn’t report that part of the story in my earlier posts because it just didn’t seem relevant to my story at the time I was writing. Now, though, I think it might be a good jumping off point.
My sister – Nirbachita – didn’t attend Guru’s memorial services. And why should she have? Guru had treated her like shit. (I addressed some of these issues here and here.) At the time of Guru’s death, though, she was living in Puerto Rico with her boyfriend, Pinak. This fact was a source of long-standing drama within certain well-placed circles in orbit around Guru.
A native of Puerto Rico, Pinak was raised in the shadow of the Center. His uncles and aunts were in the Center. Especially aunts. Doting aunts. And one in particular had risen to prominence within the Center’s status conscious hierarchy – Saraswati.
As was true with almost all the girls in the Center, I only knew Saraswati by appearance. She’s strikingly beautiful – in my imagination, her celebrity lookalike is a svelte Salma Hayek in a sari. More than anything, though, it was her job that gave her prominence and influence within the Center. She was – and is – Alo Devi’s personal assistant. Along with her male counterpart – Savyasachi – Saraswati travelled with Alo night and day, around the globe, for decades.
The importance of Saraswati’s service to Guru in this respect cannot be underestimated. Frankly, Guru wanted to maximize the time Alo spent away from the Center’s headquarters in Jamaica, New York. This was accomplished, in part, by having Alo scout out new locales as possible winter vacation spots for Guru and the rest of the disciples at the end of each year. Saraswati (and Savyasachi) made that possible. But I digress.
Suffice to say, Saraswati had Guru’s confidence in a way that very few others ever had. She’s smart, capable, and perhaps most importantly, she’s discreet.
Saraswati also had Guru’s ear. As I wrote about in my own case, having a high-placed advocate who could, on occasion, direct Guru’s attention towards you was a fast way to, well, get attention from Guru (which was, in turn, the source of all status in the Center). Saraswati was such an advocate for Pinak.
Pinak was the golden boy. He came to the Center while still a teen and quickly found himself living in New York. I first met him at Guru Health Foods, where he worked assisting Ashrita, the store’s manager. Ashrita’s primary job, however, was that of Guru’s messenger or emissary. He was, among other things, the official mode of verbal communication of personal messages from disciples to Guru and vice versa.
Most disciples, you see, did not speak to Guru directly – nor did he often speak to them. Disciples could always write Guru letters, but he didn’t typically respond in kind. So, for most disciples, if they had urgent news or an important question that needed an answer, they called Ashrita. Likewise, when Guru needed a message delivered, he often used Ashrita to deliver it.
Many of these telephonic communications passed through the health food store. For many years, there was a phone in the back room that only Guru called. When it rang, Ashrita would rush back to answer it, pulling an ever present list out of his pocket containing questions, answers, and issues to run past Guru. This is the environment in which Pinak cut his teeth.
Pinak – like his aunt Saraswati– is capable and discreet. During his tenure at Guru Health Foods, the store expanded and thrived, as did his status within the Center.
Then, one day, he fell in love with my sister.
That's Pinak, above, as he appears today. What a great guy. He's like part of the family.