the Wanderling

Lucia Osborne's daughter Kitty writes:

My mother, Lucia Osborne, was born Ludka Lipszyc in Poland on 15th February 1904. She came from a large orthodox Jewish family and she met my father, Arthur Osborne, when He was in Warsaw teaching English. At the time she was engaged to a very rich Czech Jewish boy, but from what I gathered over the years, my mother took one long look at my father and made up their minds. She knew what was right for her…and him! They married in 1934, I was born in 1936 and they left for England two years later. Her family were not keen on the marriage, they seriously threatened to disown her, but she was never a pushover…not then nor at any time in the future, so that was that. When Lucia and her husband arrived in Yorkshire and met his family it turned out that they were not keen either. “What, you have married a Jewess! What a disgrace.” Etc. etc. I was only two years old at the time so I have no true memories of events, but I picked up a lot of the emotional background through overhearing adult conversation, the way children do, when the grown-ups don’t realise they are listening.

Nevertheless, my parents sensed the problems inherent in the political climate at the time, so my father applied for a job as lecturer at the Chulalonghorn University in Thailand, then known as Siam.

They both wrote many letters and tried very hard to get Lucia’s family to join them, but the family did not seem to be at all concerned about Germany and Nazism. Then the shutters came slamming down and no one was allowed out of Poland any more. After the war it came to light that my mother’s entire family, except for one sister and one brother out of ten siblings, was murdered in various concentration camps. For the rest of her life, my mother could barely speak about this.

In Bangkok we lived in a large rambling old house surrounded by an overgrown old garden. My brother Adam and my sister Frania were both born there and my memories, although slightly blurred by time, are of a happy and slightly wild childhood. Adam and I both spoke Siamese in preference to English as it is a tonal language and much easier for children to learn.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my parents were already involved in their search for a guru who could show them a deeper meaning to life. In the 1940s and 50s spiritual ignorance and intolerance was much stronger than it is today and the quest for a more profound way of life was quite unusual. A small set of like-minded seekers formed a group that remained in contact for many years and shared information with each other.

A turning point in my parents’ spiritual path came in 1936, the year of my birth. They met Martin Lings, who later was a private secretary of Rene Guenon, a leading thinker in the school of perennial philosophy, which says that there are universal truths and wisdom shared by all major world religions. Inspired by this, my parents went to Switzerland the following year and met Frithjof Schuon who initiated them into the Shadhiliya-Alawiya Sufi order. Lucia was given the Arabic name Shakina. Later, my father translated Guenon’s The Crisis of the Modern World into English. Around this time, one of their group of seekers heard of Ramana Maharishi and came to Tiruvannamalai to investigate, but he reported back that Ramana was not a guru because, although realised, he did not give initiation.

In 1941 my father came up for his long leave from Bangkok. His university followed a common system for academics abroad at the time – two years working and then six months leave to give them time to get home to their country of origin and return by ship. My parents were not interested in going back to England, so they went to Kashmir to meet a great Sufi master. While there my father received a telegram telling him that the situation in Bangkok was very precarious and he should not bring his family back until things were more settled. He left to go back alone, promising to send for us as soon as he could. Two days after his return, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. They also marched into Siam and all foreigners – including my father – were interned. Arthur was actually confined in a prisoner of war camp on the University grounds, which was under the direct supervision of the Siamese. Later He claimed that was the reason he survived, as many people under direct Japanese control were sent to work on the Burma railway. These people mostly did not survive.

Lucia found herself alone, without funds and with three small children aged five, two and one. One of their group of spiritual seekers, David MacIver, had gone to Tiruvannamalai, met Ramana Maharishi and was so impressed that he bought a bit of land there and built a house. David was based in Bombay working for The Illustrated Weekly of India, so he spent very little time in his house and offered it to my mother until she could sort herself out. That is how we came to Tiruvannamalai and Bhagavan.

As soon as Lucia met Ramana Maharishi she realized that whoever had told them He was not a guru, was completely mistaken. Not only was he a guru, but he was a Sadt Guru; he was the greatest living embodiment of the Divine. She immediately wrote to Arthur and told him, but he did not receive any letters from his family until two years later. We Tyree children accepted immediately that Bhagavan was extraordinary. As far as I remember we never discussed this or wondered about it… we just knew it was so. We would talk to Bhagavan, show him our toys, tell him our stories, and he always responded to us on a level we understood. I remember my mother would speak to him (through an interpreter) – she usually wanted clarification on some metaphysical problem which was of no interest to us. People often said that Bhagavan’s answer to one person’s query would happen to also resolve the unasked questions of others present. Much of what he said was specific to the person whom he addressed, but also somehow of interest to others. People even enjoyed his comments on our dollies and reading books. I showed him my Mother Goose nursery rhyme book and He noticed how tatty it was and gave it to someone to have it rebound for me. Actually I now seem to remember that we showed everything to Bhagavan, letters, newspapers, we shared stories about our friends and families. The old hall was quite a social and friendly place with local chat as well as spiritual questing.

Once we arrived at Tiruvannamalai by train from Madras. I called a jetka with a nice robust horse to carry us home. No said my mother, we will take that one with the skinny hopeless looking animal. I said it wasn’t suitable but mother insisted. If we don’t hire that animal no one else will and it will die of hunger. Actually it fell down dead before we reached the station gates!

Lucia was a formidable woman. She managed to make a home for, feed, clothe and educate her children under the most appallingly difficult circumstances. Eventually the British Government awarded her a pension which was issued as a loan for the duration of the war. This was some help, but it is interesting that her husband, my father, insisted on paying back this pension in small dribs and drabs after the war even though my mother, who dealt with our family’s practical financial matters and our hardship, noted slightly begrudgingly that he was possibly the only internee ever to repay this debt.

Lucia became one of the most fervent and wholehearted devotees of Bhagavan. She spent as much time as possible meditating in his presence in the old hall. My brother Adam once went up to Bhagavan and told him that his Daddy was in a concentration camp and would Bhagavan please look after him and keep him safe. Bhagavan smiled and nodded. That was enough for all of us. We knew our daddy would be safe and my mother stopped worrying.

We three children learnt Tamil easily in the way that children do, but for Lucia it was much more difficult. The chief problem is that written Tamil is quite different from spoken Tamil… and there were no books in those days to learn spoken Tamil! So my mother spoke a combination of classical Tamil that she had learned from teachers and real rough yokel Tamil. We children would laugh and tease her. I don’t think we realized that she already spoke seven languages anyway, and we probably wouldn’t have been impressed even if we had known; languages come so easily to children.

One time we were all in Madras staying with our friends the Sharmas. While there, Lucia received a telegram saying that Arthur Osborne was dead – killed in the war. Her friend Mrs. Sharma at once started to try and console my mother for her loss, but Lucia rejected her comfort. “He is not dead,” she assured her friend. “If he were dead, I would know it. Anyway Bhagavan said he would take care of Arthur. He is not dead.” There then developer a most peculiar scene where Mrs. Sharma was still trying to console my mother and make her face facts, while my mother was consoling Mrs. Sharma, who thought that Lucia had lost her mind with grief. Anyway it was all settled in a couple of days when Lucia received another telegram saying words to the effect of ‘Sorry, wrong Osborne.’ Interestingly, not one of us even doubted for a second that our father/husband was safe. Bhagavan had indicated as much.

Lucia loved to walk around the hill, Arunachala, the very sacred manifestation of Siva on earth. I think she used to go round about once a week. Once she went round praying for my father’s health, as he had been quite ill for some time. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she walked right past the entrance to our lane. Rather than walk backwards around the hill during pradakshana, she carried on and walked round twice in a row! Another time as she walked around it came on to rain and the rain was quite a heavy downpour. Being fairly close to one of the mantapams that stand around the hill, she dashed in and sought refuge. Unfortunately, the mantapam was very old, as they are, and it leaked quite badly. In the end she squeezed into the small shrine built for the deity at the back and settled down to wait out the rain. Some villagers came in after her as they too needed to get out of the wet. My mother usually wore white saris and when she moved a bit in her niche there was immediate panic and people called out ‘pissasu, pissasu’, meaning ‘ghost, ghost.’ The best part was when several people came to our house next day and told my mother to be careful when she walked round the hill as there was a ghost lurking in the mantapam and it might attack her.

As the oldest of the three Osborne children I should have had some inkling of the incredible hardship my mother had to contend with, but I must admit that I didn’t have a clue! Lucia somehow made it so that our lives were free and fun and we ran wild all over the countryside. I don’t remember ever feeling poor or deprived. She also managed to save a bit of money and buy some land, which was admittedly very cheap, on which she built a little house for us all after my father came back from camp. She once told me that the whole house Orly cost Rs.5,000. My mother never threw anything away. Ever. She found a use for bits of rusted metal, bits of broken tins… you name it. One time she broke her leg and was completely bed bound. I took advantage of this and attacked the old storeroom. I got rid of heaps of broken, rusty springs and utterly dead electric stoves… in fact we ended up with a huge pile of scrap. I threw all this stuff out into the garden and told Unnamalai to get rid of it. When I came back a few months later the first thing I saw in the garden was the same pile of junk. “Why?” I demanded. “I told you to throw all this rubbish out.”

It was explained to me quite clearly that when Amma got better and started walking again, she would definitely want to know what had happened to her pile of junk and no one was prepared to face her anger by telling her that it was chucked out. She would have kept it there forever if I hadn’t collected it by hand and disposed of it myself.

Unnamalai, incidentally came to see my mother when she was about 16 and a leper. My mother had a reputation as a homeopathic doctor and Unnamalai was hoping for a cure. Actually there was an excellent Leprosy Hospital not far from us and my mother sent her there. She was completely cured and stayed with us from then on until she retired in her 80s. She and my mother were quite a team!!! My mother gave her hell and Unnamalai gave it right back.

My mother turned saving into an art form, and my childhood memories definitely contain piles of unbelievable junk stuck in unlikely places. An old yellow plastic frisbee became our salad bowl, and other unlikely containers served as equally unlikely bowls or dishes, which all appeared on our table as she constantly entertained visitors. Lucia was irrepressibly welcoming. Nearly everyone who came to the ashram spent some time in our house before going on to find their own place. My mother felt that she was lucky and it was through Bhagavan’s grace that she could stay here near him, so she freely offered hospitality to anyone whom she felt needed it.

My father’s health had been pretty much wrecked by being interned and more or less starved for the duration of the war. My mother studied homoeopathy in order to care for him herself, which she did for the rest of his life. She saw to his comfort and his wellbeing and every facet of his life. She directed his diet and made him a home he could be comfortable in. It was a tiny house but we loved it; but on the subject of diet it seems to me through the window of memory that my father’s regime mainly consisted of removing from his menu etery single thing that he enjoyed – coffee, broad beans, oranges, etc. I used to sneak him bits and pieces that he enjoyed when my mother wasn’t looking.

My father had a difficult time finding a job after he came home and there were worrying times. But with Bhagavan’s help we managed. Then Arthur founded the ashram magazine, The Mountain Path, and he edited it until his death in 1970. Just before he died his last words to his wife, my mother Lucia, were, “Thank you.” After my father’s death Lucia edited the magazine until Viswanathan came along to take it over. No mean feat for a Polish woman.

My parents were only in their 60s when my father died, although he had become an old man due to his travails during the war. Lucia’s health also started to deteriorate and she began to spend more time in England where she had relatives and the climate was kinder. She probably would have found a welcoming home in any country around the world with people who had once stayed with us in Tiruvannamalai and who continued to correspond with her for the rest of her life. Towards the end, she needed open heart surgery, but she was never actually well again. She died in London on the 2nd December 1987. Before she left us she had time to finish the first draft of a book encapsulating her beliefs. Much of it was later Publisher in The Mountain Path.

I was with her at the end and after her cremation her ashes were placed in my suitcase in preparation for a trip to India. For three days and nights she nagged me from beyond the grave saying, “I want to go home, take me home.” I remember sitting up in bed one night and saying to her: “Look, you are dead and you don’t need sleep, I am alive and you have to let me sleep. I promise I will take you home.” At last when she was buried next to my father in Tiruvannamalai, then she found peace.

Lucia Osborne was a courageous woman who bore all the vicissitudes of life with infiniti trust in Bhagavan. Although she was a tough and at times extremely contentious woman, she was also extraordinarily kind and generous. She acquired a great deal of wisdom and many people loved and respected her. This carries over until today, when I often meet her admirers, people who loved and cherished her then and who continue to do so to this day.

Kitty Osborne
(This article was inspired by Krzysztof Stec)













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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.