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Grieving for a Travellers’ Cafe

A Buddha on the green bamboo wall of the German Bakery

A Buddha on the green bamboo wall of the German Bakery

On Saturday night, someone walked out of the German Bakery in Pune leaving behind a knapsack with a bomb inside. It went off around midnight, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 50.
I’ve been to the German Bakery many times. In the month I spent at the Iyengar Institute, it was our Sunday breakfast spot, and anytime we were nearby, we stopped for coffee.
So my sadness has the extra edge of grieving not just for the people who were hurt, and their families, but for the place itself, the bookstore upstairs, the little Tibetan jewellry stores in the lane and the rickshaw stand outside where you might or might not find a driver willing to break away from the conversation and take a fare.
The German Bakery was close to the Osho compound, the centre built around the late Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh, the Rolls-Royce guru of Antelope, Oregon.
The bakery was cleverly named, because Osho has a strong following in Germany, and there is nothing German travellers seem to miss half as much as German bread.
But apart from the name, and parts of the menu, there was nothing especially German about the German Bakery. The only shiny things were the two glass display cases in the back, with yogurt, muesli, cinnamon buns and other sweets, wholewheat bread and German jams. It served good coffee, real toast, omelets and other breakfast food, sandwiches, fresh fruit, juices and herbal teas.
First you’d place and pay for your order, an exercise in navigating chaos, then try to find a seat. There were low benches to sit on and small tables you could move around or assemble for a big group. The tables were about knee high. In the daytime, it was bright inside, a green and watery light, partly from the translucent plastic roof over the front seating area, partly sun streaming in the window and through the cracks in the painted bamboo walls.
And while young Indian people ate there too, mostly there were travellers, tall German women in Osho maroon robes, lithe North American and Australian yoginis wearing the bright, loose cotton clothes for sale on the street outside, young families in hiking boots, older travellers in uber-practical Tilley gear, all of our travels momentarily intersecting in the friendly green light of the German Bakery.
A cat asleep on the translucent plastic roof of the German Bakery

A cat asleep on the translucent plastic roof of the German Bakery

Along with the building, the bomb destroyed the comfortable illusion that despite its four million people, Pune is really a small town, and those who can somehow convince themselves that killing is good will save the mayhem for bigger, more important places.
Perhaps more than most travellers’ cafes, the German Bakery attracted people whose paths were spiritual, who based their lives on ahimsa (non-harming, or friendliness), the first and most profound yogic value. In the face of this horror, the strongest thing we can do is to renew our commitment to a life of non-harming.

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  • Alan James March 9, 2010, 10:18 am

    Good piece on the German Bakery. I’ve been to that little bakery and
    after hearing about the terrorist attack and reading your piece about
    it, I am determined to go back there if only to prove that terrorists have forgotten something important. Sometimes their cowardly actions have exactly the opposite effect to the one they intended. Cowards and bullys will never triumph over the human spirit and I will go back to the German Bakery to prove just that.

  • YogaSpy March 6, 2010, 2:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing your personal reflections. Having never traveled to Pune, it brought to life the stark facts of a tragedy that’s all too common around the world: random killing by desperate people.

    Despite it all, however, I still hope to study at RIMYI in Pune one day.