A Photographer’s Breakthrough

From 'On the Edge'

Visitors and press photographers at a summer festival in Rajeeshpuram, Oregon


The registration tents for the Annual World Celebration in Rajneeshpuram have been put up at the base of the dam. The gardeners had already decorated it with the symbol of the sannyas movement by planting flowers of different colours. The symbol shows two birds, a white and a red one flying together. I always imagined that Osho was the white bird and I was the red one, flying next to each other high up in the sky.

The line-up for the drive-by was getting longer and longer, and on peak days it was 4-deep. We now had our own police force, which we called Peace Force – several members had graduated from the Oregon Police Academy – and their first job was to accompany Osho’s car either on foot or in the bronco behind. I knew the driver of the bronco, Arpitam – we had worked in the old M.G. Road bakery together – and sometimes our eyes met. At that moment I always heard my name being called out, loud and clear. I first thought that maybe my name was in his thoughts while he drove past, although this would have been too much of a distraction for him. But each time I heard “Punya!” I received it as a welcome wake up call.

Sometimes standing in the perfect spot, you were right where Osho would stop the car, roll down his window and hand out a present. One day Harry, our hired Peace Officer, received a magnum of champagne which he accepted gracefully and with a big grin. An older disciple was handed a pair of pink slippers with bunny ears and his face expressed something between awe, embarrassment and delight. One day the lucky ones were the toddlers who had gathered with their parents under the trees in front of Naropa, the old farmhouse. There were so many of them that Osho got out of his car to give them presents. Another day it was the larger children’s happy day to receive gifts and the grown-ups’ delight to watch Osho carefully wind up the toys and set them in motion before handing them out.

During one drive-by, I was standing next to Maitreya, one of Osho’s oldest disciples, a former Indian politician and writer. He had just arrived from India with a fractured leg, and was leaning heavily on a walking frame. Osho stopped his car when he spotted him and Maitreya explained what had happened – at least this is what I thought they were talking about by following their gestures. They spoke to each other with reverence and kindness but in a very casual way, the way I have always seen Osho speak with his Indian disciples.

We had also started to place roses on the bonnet of the car while Osho drove by. It soon created a big pile of vegetation, which prevented him from seeing where he was driving. He chose to stop each time close to our Twinkie, Ma Prem Sunshine, who then scooped up the bounty with a blissful smile. Sunshine was ‘family’ and so I felt the blessings come over me as well.

The slow drive for these few miles in the desert heat brought even such a well engineered car as a Rolls Royce to boiling point and at different stages another car had to be brought along from the garage. This technical hiccup, a nightmare for security, was a delight for the rest of us: Osho had to get out of the car and walk over to the next, cold car. Such an occasion was also a lucky moment for one press photographer that I was accompanying. He got a full-size picture of Osho instead of a furtive shot through the car window with all its reflections! And it was a blessed moment also for me, as Osho looked straight into my eyes with a beautiful grin. I bowed my head, but was not able to greet him – as I wanted to – with hands folded in namaste because I was holding onto the belt of the photographer with my left and with my right I was carrying his 400 mm lens which he wasn’t using at that moment!

This intrusive holding-on technique was introduced by us Twinkies to ensure that the photographers did not crowd Osho too closely – which they would have liked to of course. However, most of them accepted to be held as if on a leash because they could concentrate on the eyepiece and not worry about their distance from Osho.

Another day, a photographer assigned to me wanted to climb up to Socrates building, despite my reservations. He looked around like a sniper for a suitable window and finally set himself up on the stairs of the entrance. He was grumpy, nervous, and deeply stressed out, in glaring contrast to the celebrating crowd. He was there to do a job, a good job, and maybe – I reckoned – his career depended on this very photograph, as he mumbled something like “I need a break-through.”

We sat on the steps and waited in silence for Osho’s car. It finally appeared from behind the bend and he got ready. We saw the car approach, and, beyond all hopes and expectations, the car stopped and Osho got out. Bingo! He got the shot! Osho, dressed in a white robe with long black side stripes, was standing next to the Rolls and greeting the crowd with both arms raised. Behind him were a few hundred yards of the winding line-up of the ‘red-clad followers’, as the caption later read. The photographer did not believe his own luck, a flicker of light showed in his eyes, but his mood barely changed.

The following week I filed hundreds of newspaper clippings from all over the United States showing this very photograph: one of the main press agencies had chosen it as the key photograph of our celebrations. A breakthrough indeed!

PunyaExcerpt from On the Edge by Punyapunya.eu
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Photo credits: Yogena, Prabhat, Saten, Oregonlive, Stern
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