In the ’80s, our second residence-to-be in Adelaide was found on a quiet Sunday evening, an old brick house in the suburbs. The rent was very low, surprisingly so – was the house haunted, had a murder taken place? – and the landlord clearly in a haste to secure us as tenants. The garden finally persuaded us, apricot trees and clusters of summer grapes jostling for space on laden vines, lemon trees and the spreading boughs of fig trees drooping beneath the weight of their plump, purple-ripe fruits. The landlord spread his arms wide at the magnificence of it all, clearly moved by his own generosity and the irresistible grandeur of our new home. We signed up, moved in, and spread what little we possessed throughout the several rooms.
In the evening, a great mounting roar, the house trembling, teacups tiptoeing across the mantelpiece and almost falling – and now we discovered we were directly beneath the flight path for the international airport. We had been duped! The great jets were so low and so close you felt you could throw a handful of stones and chip paint off their underbellies, or with your slingshot score a direct hit on the Qantas kangaroo on the tail. But the fruit trees and the absurd rent still compensated.
We gave many meditation classes here, timing our “Now breathe in peace…” with aviation schedules, one ear alert for sounds of incoming flights, the teacups safely stowed away from misfortune.
In those days before the great dietary fall, we were quite fanatical about nutrition and our flight-path home was littered with books on organic living, eating raw, kefir recipes and sprouting, the home-baking of super-breads, organic gardening and fasting regimes, despite the jet pollution raining down. Inspired by the opulence of fruit trees and the lush vines, Subarata launched into a 21-day juice fast, consuming gallons of the irresistible juiced figs – only to discover that the nutrient-dense fruits had deceived her and she had in fact finally gained a few bonus extra ounces.
Subarata had a great love for animals, and her affection for her various animal friends was boundless. For a time, early on during our years on the path we lived out in Port Adelaide, a seaside suburb of South Australia. Our neighbour, a violent and often drunk man, kept a harassed and unhappy spaniel in his backyard and administered frequent beatings to the wretched dog, which cowered in its kennel most of the day. Subarata and our neighbour exchanged frequent insults over the fence, occasioned by the latter’s brutal treatment of his dog. Phone calls to the local Council and the RSPCA did little to resolve the situation, so she took matters into her own hands.
Subarata placed an advertisement in the local paper, offering a gentle spaniel free to a loving home—and waited. After interviewing several responding families and finding a suitable new home for her canine cause célèbre, she arranged for the successful family to call one afternoon when our neighbour was at work, kidnapped the delighted dog and saw it driven away to its new home. She then placed an official- looking letter on the neighbour’s front door from a supposed animal rights group, warning that legal proceedings were in place to prosecute the owner for mistreatment of his pet and barring him from any further animal ownership. The dog’s new owners and their young children were delighted with their playful and grateful and lovely new family member. It was a very happy result for all concerned.
One morning, only a block from our home, I drove into the back of a police car. We had been up all night helping to organise a triathlon and not surprisingly, after the race we were both very tired. As though in a Charlie Chaplin movie where even the smallest things seem besieged by lunatic possibilities, I suddenly found driving a car to be very strange. Approaching some traffic lights, my reaction times dulled by fatigue, I failed to respond normally and we ploughed ungracefully into the car in front of us. Two clearly outraged policemen got out and approached my window.
Sometimes in moments like these – again in the spirit of life’s Chaplinesque comic-ness – we react oddly to serious things. Suddenly both Subarata and I started giggling uncontrollably like a couple of schoolkids, quite unable to stop ourselves even with the belligerent police sergeant rapping his knuckles on the window. Somehow, though, it all ended well.
Hugely under-qualified but shamelessly inventive about my employment history, around this time I landed a nearby job as a hotel handyman, changing light bulbs and unblocking drains and tinkering with air conditioners. Subarata found work as a motel domestic, changing beds and cleaning rooms. I can’t say for certain, but we seemed quite happy then, this simple life. Why do we remember these inconsequential details, let alone recount them? The years on the path lay waiting, stretching out before us like the great airport runway, the Adelaide years of our beginnings and discoverings.
In my own first years of learning meditation, I felt such a growing urge to do something, an awakening purpose of the soul, and along with my equally restless companion Subarata, repeatedly petitioned Guru to liberate us into the future that was stirring inside us. He would say, “Soon, soon – but not yet, not yet..." and three long years would pass before his “Now, where would you like to go?„ released us from all restraints and sent us far away to a distant shore.