In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, many small businesses in New York failed, including The Blue Lotus. It hadn't helped any that Guru refused to visit the store himself, declared he'd never give the place a spiritual name, and forbade his close female disciples from patronizing it.
Nirbachita had sunk what for a disciple was a fortune in inheritance to start up the beautiful little cafe in the upscale Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. The one-two punch of the economic downturn and Guru's lack of support (to put it nicely) destroyed any chance for success The Blue Lotus may have had.
That's not to say that there weren't disciples who supported Nirbachita and her cafe. There were. A handful of guys and gals helped her build and stock the cafe, and supported it throughout. Among them was Pinak.
From his station at Guru Health Foods -- where he was then acting as a day-to-day manager -- Pinak ordered supplies and called regularly to offer his help and support at a time when Nirbachita needed it the most. Not surprisingly, a friendship developed between them. By late 2001, Nirbachita had left the Center and decided to drive back to California to start life anew.
Pinak decided to join her.
For the next six years, Nirbachita and Pinak lived together, eventually settling in Puerto Rico where they opened a health food store together (and where Nirbachita was the president and driving force behind Amigos de los Animales, the best organized animal welfare nonprofit on the island). The story of their treatment by the Center during that time period is theirs to tell. Suffice to say that it wasn't positive and that Nirbachita was blamed for "luring" Pinak away.
That meme was ridiculous and ultimately counterproductive. So, it was no big surprise to me that neither Nirbachita nor Pinak expressed any interest in attending Guru's memorial services.
Pinak's absence, however, seemed incomprehensible to those of his family who were in the Center and in New York at that time. As I've noted before, it appeared to me that many of the disciples considered appearance at the memorial services a loyalty test for those of us no longer in the Center. Guru had been under increasing scrutiny in the years preceding his death, and I think some of the disciples rightly saw our presence at the memorial as a show of public support.
That's why Saraswati approached us on our first night in New York.
At Guru's memorial services, "friends of the Center" -- ex-disciples like me and Jeevan and Guru's other non-disciple well wishers -- had been invited to walk past Guru's open casket at designated times over the weekend, once during the day and once during the night. At those times, the two long lines of disciples -- one line for girls, a separate one for boys -- came to a standstill for us. (Here's a picture courtesy of the Times.)
It was a very classy thing to do -- allowing "outsiders" in. I can't think of how the weekend could have been carried out with any more grace than it had been. It was an auspicious start for a new era of the Center.
After our first walk past Guru, Jeevan and I lingered on the driveway just outside the tennis court mingling with our many old "brat pack" friends still in the Center (some of them seen here in younger days). Despite the circumstances, the mood was often joyous as we shared old stories and laughed in remembrance. Identifying with the disciples' new found circumstances, I remember looking around at them all -- everyone in white -- and thinking what an interesting time for them.
They had nobody to tell them what to do anymore. How frightening. How liberating.
It was there -- outside the tennis court -- that Saraswati and her two sisters (whom Sudhir wickedly referred to as "Patty and Selma") approached me and Jeevan. Operating on the mistaken premise that our sister was preventing Pinak from making the pilgrimage to New York, they hoped that we might intercede and persuade Nirbachita to let Pinak come see Guru one last time.
We spoke for just a few minutes that first night. It was bit awkward. I sensed -- perhaps wrongly -- that Saraswati felt a little sheepish approaching us with such a request. I told her that I doubted Nirbachita was the reason Pinak was reluctant to come to New York, but that I'd nevertheless be glad to call and find out.
As it turned out, Nirbachita had actually been urging Pinak to make the trip. I don't know why he was reluctant. I hadn't spoken to him. I suspect part of it was Pinak's natural loyalty. He sensed -- rightly, I think -- that there had always been a subtle effort by Guru, by some disciples, by his aunts, to drive a wedge between himself and Nirbachita. They dearly wanted Pinak back in the Center. Those efforts, however, weren't appreciated. I think Pinak probably felt that giving into these pressures would be a sign of disloyalty towards Nirbachita.
Whatever the case, Nirbachita wasn't to blame for Pinak's hesitancy and I told Saraswati so the following night. We were again on the driveway of the tennis court, but this time it was just the two of us. Saraswati was at times demure, direct, flattering, and evasive. For what must have been an hour or more, we stood off to the side of the other disciples who were milling around and negotiated our positions like seasoned diplomats.
Her position was simple and earnest. She wanted Pinak to see Guru one more time. My position was that I wanted Saraswati and her family to treat Nirbachita with respect. In the midst of our discussions, I noticed that we were attracting the attention of some of the disciple passerby.
In fact, one young woman disciple I had known for some time named Suchatala came over to where we were standing. She stood patiently by for a pause in our conversation and then interjected. "I just want you to know that if it weren't for Yogaloy, I wouldn't be in the Center," she said to Saraswati. It was a nice gesture and I appreciate it. With that, Suchatala walked away.
I concluded by telling Saraswati that our two families could not be like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It was incumbent upon the two of us to do our part to bring our families together. I had high hopes, I only half-joked, that if Nirbachita and Pinak ever got married that the two of us might share a dance at the wedding. (Saraswati had no response to that feeble jest; all I heard were crickets.)
In the end, though, Pinak made a last trip to New York.
Photo credit above goes to Prashphutita, whose other nice shots can be seen here.