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Profile: Dinos Tellalis
Former music teacher and meditation leader is a true child of the 60s finds THEO PANAYIDES
“I’m a child of the 60s,” says Dinos Tellalis. “I was there,” he explains, ‘there’ being North London circa 1968. “I went to a discotheque and [Jimi] Hendrix was sitting next to me, at the bar. I was at parties with the Small Faces and Rod Stewart – these were people I was hanging out with. I chose not to go down that road, because I didn’t like the scene. I didn’t like the way the girls were treated. I didn’t like the macho image. I didn’t like the high heels, I didn’t like the fashion, I didn’t like the superficiality of that. Which took me on another path, which eventually took me to India to search for – you know…”
Fast-forward to an inconspicuous basement flat, just off a main road in Nicosia. The space has been divided into two segments: on one side, a recording studio which is also used for music lessons, on the other an empty room where his “brothers and sisters” meet for meditation. Framed certificates affirm that Dinos – or “Swami Prabhu Prakash”, to give him his Indian name – is qualified to lead an official Osho Sanbodhan Meditation Centre.
The room isn’t totally empty: a sitar leans against the wall, tomes of Tolkien and a Dungeons & Dragons set are visible on the bookshelves, a big ball rolls across the floor, a simple altar stands in the corner. Photos on the wall include a picture of Osho, the bearded Indian mystic who was born Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and amassed followers who now number in the millions (Osho himself died in 1990). The two sides of the flat aren’t entirely separate. Often, if a young musician doesn’t want to practise, he or she may wander over to the meditation space and play with the ball or gaze at photos. Dinos doesn’t believe in browbeating pupils. “As a teacher of music I have to teach you how to relax, how to become creative, how to bring your own creativity into your playing,” he explains. “Not to become a monkey.”
This is “my little world,” he says tenderly. “I don’t go out into society anymore,” he notes later; “Whatever I live comes through the door to me”. (‘Do you live here as well?’ I ask, looking around for a bedroom. He nods, laughing, and points at the sofa.) He’s had the studio for about seven years, adding the meditation classes – though not really ‘classes’, since he doesn’t ask for money – in 2009. Before that he spent 20 years in the school system, as a music teacher. Before that he was abroad – studying Music, playing bass guitar in a band in California, having his existence transformed at the Osho ashram in the town of Pune. Before that he was a hippy. Before that he was a child, alternating between North London and an oddly idyllic few years living with a spinster aunt in the village of Spilia.
Dinos is 62, small and voluble with unblinking blue eyes, his white hair groomed in a long ponytail. “I’m going to tell you the honest truth about whatever you ask me,” he says simply – and he does. It’s rare to meet someone so candid, so open, so averse to self-censorship. “I have a deviant sexuality,” he asserts at one point; “I love Tantra,” he adds by way of explanation (I nod, preferring not to probe for details). Someone else might’ve asked Ishta to stay out of sight during our interview, to avoid embarrassing questions, but instead she sits by the computer, listening quietly – Ishta being the student nurse from Nepal who’s been Dinos’ companion for the past two years, a potentially awkward situation since he’s already married (his divorce comes through in October). The spouse in question is his fourth wife – he and Ishta giggle simultaneously when I ask how many times he’s been married: “Four, maybe five,” he replies, casting a fond glance in her direction – and he has three teenage sons, two in the Army and one in school.
Why so many failed marriages? After all he’s so sensitive, so spiritual. He does meditation, so he knows how to banish negative energy. Why don’t the marriages work out?
“Because marriage is not supposed to work out,” he replies. “It’s supposed to be a process of growth. You experience something with someone” – but then you develop, and perhaps grow apart. The myth of the nuclear family has always been the selling-point, he adds, warming to his subject: “You’re going to have your family, you’re going to get joy from the children, you’re going to work hard, succeed, and then you’ll retire – [but] the truth is absolutely not that! That’s not the norm, it’s the exception.”
Maybe he’s thinking of the time he came back from India to find his first wife pregnant with someone else’s child (it was actually a lot more amicable than it sounds). Or maybe he’s thinking of his parents – a sad tale that surely played a part in forming Dinos’ character. His dad was a radical Marxist, his mum the daughter of a very conservative family. Her parents opposed the union, so they more or less eloped to the UK where Dad was supposed to study Law but instead took menial jobs to support his growing family (Dinos himself arrived almost straight away, “probably as an accident”). He worked as a postman, then became involved in EOKA, attracting the attentions of the CID.
Money was a problem. His mum had abortions, then became unable to have kids altogether. They separated on and off, but didn’t dare get a divorce (“What will people say?”). “Eventually he did this business and that business,” says Dinos of his father. “He got involved in gambling, he liked to drink, he was a great philosopher – he was well-read – so he was always the centre of attention. And so he blew a whole lifetime down the drain. And when I got involved in the 60s movement, he couldn’t adjust. He couldn’t see that I was very much like him, except instead of Marxism we had Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey and Indian mysticism”. His dad disowned him when he went to India; his mum, ever conservative, was shocked (“‘Those barbarians, they eat people’ – that’s as far as her brain went”). Did father and son ever reconcile? Sort of, when Dinos came to Cyprus. “But it wasn’t a reconciliation,” he shrugs, “it was just an acceptance. That somehow we are blood-tied.”
Music, in that rather dysfunctional childhood, was a lifesaver – especially the Beatles, whom he discovered in earnest when he came back from Spilia in his mid-teens (the boy had become sexually active, and his aunt could no longer handle him). Revolver blew his 16-year-old mind, then the Fab Four went to India to meet the Maharishi and “we all started to explore the ideas of meditation – and, I’ll be honest, through the drugs as well”.
What kind of drugs?
“The positive ones”: acid and pot, mostly. He never injected, he insists. “I saw the results. You could see both. The experiment was a real experiment. People were experimenting with themselves: some succeeded and became brilliant, some failed and died”. Those were heady days, a good time to be young and radical. “We were rebels. We were courageous. Naοve,” he admits, “but we had that whole weight of ‘we’re not going to do another war’. We were really sincere. We were a revolutionary youth – we weren’t going to war. Vietnam was happening, I was on the streets of London demonstrating.
“All the father figures were from the Second World War,” explains Dinos, “and there was a big gap in consciousness. And the information! Remember what happened, the paperback came back. Suddenly I could read!” He read Leary, Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. “If I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings I would never have walked 28 miles in Germany in the rain,” he notes wryly. This was en route to India, when they hitch-hiked (not too successfully) along the autobahn. They actually hitch-hiked all the way from London to Turkey, then took trains to Pune, where they spent two years on a total expenditure of £350.
Who were ‘they’? How many people?
“It was me and Krishna,” he replies. “Two little people.”
I’ve grown used to Dinos’ sometimes-eccentric way of speaking, and wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed to have hitch-hiked to India with a Hindu god for company – but still, I have to ask: “Krishna?”.
“Maria Stassopoulos,” he explains. “Krishna.” His first wife, the one who later had someone else’s child. She’s in Australia now, working as a psychologist, and they had a wonderful reunion a couple of years ago, laughing and reminiscing about the past. It’s odd how many hippies moved on smoothly to ‘good jobs’ as businessmen and bankers (and yes, psychologists), I point out. Could he have done the same, if India hadn’t happened?
“Become a businessman? Probably. Or a drug addict!” He laughs shortly. “I mean, I struggled with some things. I’m struggling with tobacco right now. I have an addictive personality. I have a nervousness that can turn into…” he shrugs, letting it trail off. “I have to be very careful. I’ve learned to balance. I needed help, I needed a lot of help. I needed to see another way of life, not to be told.”
He did see another way of life – and also found, in Osho, the benign father figure he’d always lacked in his old life. Yet it must be said – and Dinos Tellalis does say it, even sitting here in the cosy space where he feels most himself – that he’s always been something of a misfit. “I am that weirdo,” he smiles wryly. “I am the one who stands out.” He’s never fit in, whether as a hippy hitch-hiker being ignored by German drivers or a shaggy music teacher beloved by kids but mistrusted by grown-ups. “Only in India I’m OK,” he notes. “In India I’m the baba. I pick up my guitar in India and I’ve got 100 kids around me, smiling”. In India, a musician is a god, “next to the holy man in the culture”. In Cyprus, on the other hand, you tell people you’re a musician and they ask: “What do you really do for a living?”
There’s a lot that annoys him in Cyprus: the role of the Church, the nationalism, the lack of respect for Nature and the environment, the pernicious effect of the Army. Above all perhaps the “culture of fear” we’ve created: “If I say to a Cypriot ‘I’ve decided I’m going to India’, what would be the reaction? ‘Oh!!! Aren’t you scared? You’ll get sick!’ There it is! If you’re doing this [to people] from the time they’re three years old, what are they going to grow into?” Then there’s the obsession with food. “Every conversation reverts to ‘Let’s go eat’,” he complains. “That’s the ultimate thing we can do together. We can’t experience or celebrate together – we can go and eat!”
Dinos Tallelis likes to rant; he’s a talker, a ‘great philosopher’ like his late father. That’s why the kids used to love him, he recalls: they’d say ‘What do you think of such-and-such, Mr. T?’ and he’d be off on some new, uncensored tangent. He was honest with them, even (or especially) about sex and drugs, and they were honest in return. This caused problems, because “I knew things” – which kids were smoking pot, for instance – and refused to divulge them to the school authorities. It’s fair to say he didn’t always leave voluntarily.
That’s all in the past, however. His thoughts are now on the future, especially the near future. He reaches retirement age next year, and doesn’t plan to stay in the cosy little flat in Nicosia. “Hopefully I’ll spend some years in the Himalayas,” he muses, with a sidelong glance at Ishta, “if my Nepalese friends will have me”. Maybe a few years playing music, breathing the fresh mountain air. And then? What does he think happens after Death? “Who cares?” he replies firmly. “The idea is not to care. As long as you’re scared of it, then they’ve got control over you”. But isn’t he curious? “Yes. But I know I’m going to find out in 10 or 15 years, so why worry about it now?” In any case, he adds, he’s at peace with the idea of being fundamentally insignificant. “You can be happy here. You can be happy on the planet, just being nobody. It’s possible!” He laughs merrily. “I’ve lost, through meditation, the desire to leave anything behind”.
It’s so simple, says Dinos Tallelis, speaking of the Osho philosophy that’s shaped his turbulent life. Such a simple recipe. “Drop the nations. Drop the religions. Live in the moment, and grow to love. And drop the guilt! You’re not guilty of anything”. It sounds a bit like John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, I point out, and both he and Ishta laugh approvingly. “That’s pretty much it,” he agrees. “You’ve hit it on the head.” He’s a child of the 60s, all right.