Returning to New Zealand
In 1983 Guru invited us to open a Centre somewhere. He said: “Where would you like to go?" We replied that we would be happy to go anywhere he chose for us, so Guru said, “Go to New Zealand. Go to the largest city there." This was Auckland, and I had only ever been there once, to a Pink Floyd concert in the long ago.
We were excited at the prospect of this new adventure, felt like arrows released from a constraining bow and fired away into the distance of a faraway shore, exultant in this challenge, this gesture of trust and this huge freedom. Prior to departing for Auckland after the August Celebrations of 1983, Guru spoke to us, sensing my own mild concern about how we should support ourselves – even then we were both largely unemployable, our pasts littered with abandoned jobs. “Do not worry about money", he said, "the Supreme will always take care of you and give you what you need."
I never forgot those reassuring words, and they have always proven true. I arrived in New Zealand two weeks before Subarata and rented a cheap car at the airport, sleeping the first night or two in the car on the top of one of the city's seven dormant volcanoes, Mt Eden. I found a small flat and a job, relying on grace in regard to where to stay, what to do, the way forward in this large and unknown city. Subarata arrived and we set about our great task. We lived simply in a succession of small flats, took short-lived work, our first years strewn with discarded careers – Guru had told me, "Take work with the least amount of responsibility so you can concentrate on your spiritual life."
Subarata was a domestic help, motel cleaner, walker of wealthy people’s pets, office temp, puller of staples out of paper with the Archives Division of the Department of Internal Affairs – and fired after only three days for wearing headphones at work, which they felt would interfere with productivity! I was a gardener, incompetent night auditor, trainee bus-driver, ice-cream stacker, kitchen hand. Then we joined forces as a clown duo, performing in shopping malls and children’s birthday parties.
In the mid-’80s, Subarata landed a job teaching vegetarian cooking in an adult education college course. This was during a time in New Zealand when you could do almost anything you wanted, with absolutely no experience or qualifications at all. If you knew how to boil a few potatoes you could be a chef; pass your student license and you were a taxi driver; prune back your old apple tree at home and you could apply for a position as a horticulturalist’s research assistant. Subarata would swat up on untried recipes a few hours before each evening’s course, then turn her students loose in the college kitchens, attributing the strangeness of the ensuing dishes simply to beginners’ inexperience. Many new career paths were explored in these heady, carefree days.
At one Auckland restaurant where I did children’s face painting and animal balloons, the entertainment featured a bizarre piece de resistance – two large women wrestling in a giant vat of spaghetti. It wasn’t easy for diners to enjoy their meal with a pair of 200-lb behemoths grunting and struggling nearby in a great trough of tomato sauce and spaghetti. Subarata and I befriended the women wrestlers – Natasha, the florid-cheeked former Russian baker, and Mel, a bankrupt florist seeking quick money to get ahead. We recognized in each other fellow misfits in that secret society of the disenchanted, the silent fellowship of nous autres. The experiment failed, the restaurant closed and I moved on to a salesman job selling sheet metal.
One day we decided never to work for anyone else ever again, no matter what happened. Our real vocation lay elsewhere and a blossoming sense of our soul’s deeper purpose gripped our life. An inner call had come.
In the early years of the Auckland Centre, our methods of transportation closely paralleled the ambulatory history of mankind – we walked, bicycled, bussed, motorbiked, then made the quantum leap to our own Centre car, an evolution that caused much excitement despite the antiquity of our second-hand purchase.
We were very poor and for a long time had to walk and bus everywhere. Eventually we got pushbikes. We felt like religious mendicants on a mission from God, pedaling around Auckland with our books and class equipment.
In the post-pedal bicycle era and the dawning reign of the motorbikes, we called ourselves “Chinmoy’s Angels,” and half the Centre zoomed about on a fleet of dilapidated machines until eventually we acquired the unimaginable, our first car, on the eve of Guru's first visit to New Zealand.
Subarata had a newish bike, the “Nifty-Fifty,” pride of the fleet, and she and our lifetime friend Vyakulata shared its use. Vyakulata was the greatest posterer we have ever had or known – she would sit meditating on the Nifty-Fifty for about five minutes before a day-long foray into the city, and we would hear the little bike put-puttering slowly away up the hilly roads as she disappeared for an entire day of class fliering.
Sometimes on Centre nights we would have a clutch of motorbikes parked outside as though for a bikers’ convention – an odd spectacle for our conservative neighbours, who lined their windows in disbelief, marvelling at the sari and white-clad riders, the strange goings-on.
Subarata liked the motorbike, the sense of freedom, its hint of reckless adventure, the illusion of speed – although even in full flight the Nifty-Fifty could only manage about 70 km per hour, every nut and rivet straining. Once I sat on the back as a passenger while she sped up and down our street – when I tickled her ribs, she drove into the curb and we both fell off.
Later the motorcar crept into our lives – one, then several. We ventured far afield for Joy Weekends to coastal towns and beaches hours away. Our procession of old cars looked like a vintage car rally.