Veena, after hearing Anando say in a recent radio interview in Australia that Nirvano was a schizophrenic, questions this statement and gives her point of view about her long-time close friend’s health. (Updated with reply from Anando.)
Many times over the years, people have asked me about Nirvano and what happened to her. And I heard people say awful things about her. But I didn’t say anything – except tell a few sweet anecdotes – because I knew she was a very private person and hated being the object of gossip and speculation. I understood and respected this. I also didn’t like to claim an association with her to make myself look important – name-dropping, as it were. No way did I want to use her and her position to bolster my own ego. I let things pass because so much of what was said was by people who simply didn’t know and who were just into gossip for gossip’s sake.
In the last week, however, I have heard something that totally shocked me. It was a statement in a radio interview by Anando who labelled Nirvano a schizophrenic (39:40) and said she had been a schizophrenic all her life and had been on medication all her life. These were Anando’s actual words – this wasn’t a journalist twisting words and reporting inaccurately.
This statement is completely untrue and I want now to speak out because I cannot allow a very dear friend to be so slandered. I still feel so hesitant because of Nirvano’s wish for privacy but then again, I thought: how would I feel if someone like Anando said something so untrue and no friend spoke out to defend me or set the record straight? If it were someone else, it wouldn’t matter so much but someone in Anando’s position….?
To give a bit of credibility to myself and what I want to say, I would like to say a few words about my relationship with Nirvano and why I feel so strongly about this. I first met her at the beginning of 1972. I had just returned from Goa to visit Osho again after my meeting with him the previous December. Nirvano, Vivek as she was then, had just returned from the UK to stay in India with Osho. The meeting was at a lecture given by Osho in Cross Maidan in Mumbai to quite a few hundred Indian friends who were sitting in rows on the ground in front of a platform on which Osho sat. I walked hesitantly down the side of the area and then noticed this beautiful young western woman sitting at the end of the third row. I went over to her and asked her if I could sit with her because being one western women amongst so many Indians was a bit daunting.
She said yes, probably for the same reason! Then I noticed there were four western women sitting up near Osho’s platform looking very holy and important! Mukta, Astha and two others. I asked Nirvano why she wasn’t sitting up there and she said she didn’t want to be important, she only wanted to be in the background. This was Nirvano. Despite being so close to Osho and taking on the huge task of taking care of him and his health and safeguarding him and defending him from so many demands for his attention, she never felt herself to be important and wanted only one thing: to keep him safe.
My respect for her was enormous.
In the Mumbai days, Osho arranged for her and myself to share a flat and later to also live together when we went up to Mount Abu. When we moved to Pune, I first worked (editing) in Lao Tzu and then lived there – at Osho’s invitation. On the Ranch I first had the PR job so lived near Jesus Grove but later, when Osho started talking and more robes were needed, I moved back into the Ranch Lao Tzu House. And for most of Pune 2 I also lived in Lao Tzu House. Basically Nirvano was my ‘boss’ throughout the whole time – Pune 1 and 2 and the Ranch, a 20-year long period – and I worked closely with her in many different areas. She was a reserved person, not given to chatting much, but she was straight and clear and at times wielded an effective Zen stick. She was a Zen master in her own right! She was also a good friend and we had many laughing times together.
To say she was schizophrenic throughout this time is absolutely incomprehensible! She had her little trips, she wasn’t perfect, but she was not mad and she was for sure not on any kind of medication. I am quite perceptive. I would have noticed if there was even a hint of anything like this. She was as sane as anyone of us, and definitely more aware!
Nirvano was very upset about Osho going to the USA. She was not sure if she could adequately take care of him and, even at that stage, she didn’t trust Sheela. Laxmi and she had had their confrontations but underneath they worked in harmony together as both of them thought only of Osho. Sheela was a different ballgame. She was at first massively jealous of Nirvano and this turned to obsessive hatred. Nirvano bore the brunt of all this negativity directed towards her and, with her stress about taking care of Osho properly, her health started to weaken. Although I wasn’t living in Lao Tzu House I had permission to go there – I often did driving errands as she knew she could trust me. She confided in me how worried she was about a common female complaint, PMT, and she felt bad that she couldn’t get control over it. I don’t remember exactly the occasion but Osho spoke about it once on the Ranch and said that one could take birth control pills, not for the normal function, but to help with the hormones, and how well this could help.
As we well know things started to go very wrong during the last two years of the Ranch. Lives were threatened, murders were attempted, the locals had guns trained on Osho when he went out. We knew the house was bugged and Nirvano no longer knew who she could trust to take care of Osho. Sheela tried to get rid of the people in the house by saying we all had conjunctivitis (not true) so that she could move in and be Number 1. It was a tense, ugly, frightening situation. In the house we were being trained to cope with police or FBI raids – I was even given a gun and we took turns patrolling the grounds at night. It was horrible, and Nirvano’s health deteriorated. She started to get extreme mood swings just like women get before their monthly period. Every woman reading can identify with this. But of schizophrenia there was never a sign.
Then Osho left and for a few hours I breathed a sigh of relief until hearing the ghastly news that Osho and Nirvano and others had been arrested and thrown into jail.
Fast forward… back in Pune Nirvano recovered for a while but, those who were there at that time, know that it was a difficult time for everybody. We had all been deeply disturbed by what had happened at the Ranch. It also became obvious that Osho’s health was deteriorating and this upset Nirvano further. Somewhere during this time, one of the commune doctors decided she was schizophrenic and started giving her lithium, a terrible drug to which she reacted badly. I was horrified watching all this and just kept thinking: no, no, no, this isn’t right. Then someone else decided she was bi-polar and she was given other medication. Nirvano herself knew she had a hormonal disorder but whenever she tried to say something about this she was ridiculed. I think her protestations were regarded as further signs of her being deluded. At that time Gayan and myself were visiting her often, and being women, what Nirvano was saying about hormones made perfect sense to us. She showed all the symptoms of PMT but to an extreme.
(In all fairness, though, I acknowledge that Nirvano’s connection with Osho made it difficult to know quite how to help or treat her. This was no ordinary situation.)
Then one day I went to see her and she was very excited. She told me that a visiting sannyasin, who was a qualified, practising doctor in Europe, had given her the address and telephone number of a clinic of good repute in Switzerland which dealt solely with women with hormonal disorders. He recommended that she phone them. Nirvano told me she had just had an hour-long discussion with a doctor at the clinic and he had actually laughed and told her she was a classic case with totally classic symptoms and if she came to the clinic they could treat and cure her in two to three months.
The relief in her beautiful face that she had finally been heard, that her feelings about what was wrong with her had been confirmed and that she could be treated and cured was deeply touching to see. I was in tears. I told her immediately I would go with her and take care of her. I was actually based in Switzerland at the time and knew there were many competent professional sannyasins with medical backgrounds who would help for sure.
I hoped so much that she could get better for her own sake but I also knew that Osho missed her very much. It had been my feeling from early Pune 1 days that she was Osho’s anchor to the planet. I can’t even find words to describe the connection I sensed between them. The energy was tangible yet something out of this world – and she was the grounding force. Osho had spoken many times of how enlightened beings needed something to anchor them to this earth because basically they were no longer in the body and there was no reason for them to linger on. My feeling had always been: take care of Nirvano and Osho would in turn be taken care of. So my motives in helping her were two-fold. I sensed that Osho would be leaving us soon and if he could be persuaded to stay because of Nirvano being healthy and strong again, then it was worth every effort to help her. She was convinced herself that this was the right thing to do.
But of course, we both knew that Osho had to be consulted and I left her that afternoon with strict instructions to call Osho (she had a direct phone line to his room) and tell him what she had found out. But when I went to see her the next day she was very depressed and told me he had said she was to stay there. The connection between them was so beyond understanding that I accepted this – how could I question it?
I now know that neither Osho nor the people around her, me included, realised the dangers of her condition, specifically that suicide was a real possibility for someone with her condition. All the information about extreme PMT, now called PMDD (see below), mentions this. (From the Gia Allemand Foundation website: When acute stress exceeds an individual’s ability to cope, thoughts can turn to suicide. PMDD greatly exacerbates the stress of everyday life and can leave women feeling so overwhelmed that suicide seems like their best or only option. PMDD sufferers have shared thoughts like “everyone would be better off without me” and “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”) I know Nirvano felt deeply guilty and miserable that she was causing a disturbance that she couldn’t control. She said so on a number of occasions.
And I have long pondered Osho’s comment on her death – his words were: Her death was untimely. I hesitate to interpret anything that Osho did or said, especially when it applied to other people and not me personally, but I put forward the conjecture that he knew he would be leaving the body soon and that once he was gone, Nirvano would be free to function without considering him – meaning she could seek out the medical treatment she needed to recover. But while he was still in the body, he wanted her near him, no doubt for a huge variety of reasons which we can never fathom.
I want to make two further points.
I have heard people say when something went wrong or was bad: Oh, I am sure Osho just laughed about it. This isn’t strictly true. Often he did laugh but there were times when he was passionate about something and got irritated or angry. And sad.
Towards the end of Pune 2 I was living in a room in Riverside because I was no longer working in Lao Tzu House as Osho had put me in charge of Creative Arts. I was very busy one day and the next day I took the day off – we could do that in those days. I only came to the commune for the evening discourse. That night I was opening the right-hand door of the podium when he went into Buddha Hall. The other two positions were the left-hand door and the car door. I always privately thought to myself that the right-hand door was the ‘hot seat’, because when Osho had finished greeting everybody and turned to leave the podium, you were right there in front of him and totally exposed! Nowhere to hide! He could see into the innermost core of your being. Scary!
That night I took my position but I was aware of something strange. I couldn’t make it out. And of course, we didn’t talk. Then Osho drove up in the car and got out and I was immediately engulfed in a huge oceanic wave of sorrow. These are the only words I can use to describe it. I was totally shocked. I had never felt anything like this before. It was as if there was a thick cloud of existential sorrow surrounding him and touching us. When I went to my seat I was shivering with a kind of cold – not of fear – but of unease, alarm, and deep, deep sadness. After the short sitting we took our places again to open the doors and the feeling was more intense. When Osho rounded the back wall behind his chair, for the first time ever I felt I was intruding when I looked at him. He was so open there was never a feeling of being intrusive but this time I could not look at him. I closed my eyes and bowed my head onto my namasted hands and took a small step backwards so as not to intrude on his space in any way. Yet still he stopped and put both his hands around mine, nodded slightly, and went to the car.
I was desperate to get away and went straight home to try to understand what had happened. It was only when I went back to work the next morning that I heard that Nirvano had died the afternoon before.
To this day, I don’t know exactly what to make of this experience. But I know I felt an unearthly sorrow far beyond my comprehension.
As the years passed I thought of my beloved, misunderstood friend often and wondered what exactly had happened to her. Did I trust her with her own diagnosis of her problem or did I trust untrained medical men who had their own agenda? I have always chosen to trust her.
Then, about twelve years ago there was a case in the media of a woman who killed both her young children and then herself. The medical diagnosis was that she had previously been diagnosed as suffering from a condition called PMDD: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. When the symptoms were described I immediately thought of Nirvano. These symptoms were hers exactly. Was she right in her self-diagnosis? I have now researched this condition extensively and am absolutely convinced that she was right and, had she been listened to instead of being fobbed off with unqualified guesswork and wrongly administered medication, she could have quite easily been cured and lived a longer happier life. And consequently, I feel, Osho might have been with us longer as well.
Nirvano did not ever have schizophrenia, and she had not been on medication until the end when she was irresponsibly given seriously wrong and damaging medication.
I loved her then and I love her now and I hope that what I have written will dispel at least some of the awful things that have been said about her and that people will be able to empathise with her and understand the very difficult and tragic situation she – and in the end, Osho – was in.
In conclusion I want to say very clearly that all that I have written is my personal opinion only. I am not a medical doctor (although I do have a degree in Psychology and studied various mental ailments including schizophrenia) and I base my opinions only on what I observed and heard. But I offer this as a different point of view, hopefully a more thoughtful and compassionate one than has hitherto been voiced. And I offer the photographs in the slide show, too. Are these portraits of a life-long schizophrenic on life-long medication? I don’t think so.
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Reply from Anando (5.5.2018)
Veena is right. In the heat of the moment of a rather stressful interview (I had been expecting to talk about my personal experiences at the ranch not answer questions like that) the wrong word popped out to describe Nirvano’s condition. I felt terrible about it afterwards, and am so happy to have the opportunity to rectify it, thanks Veena.
In retrospect, of course I should have kept my mouth shut, but my intention had been to show there was a simple medical reason for what happened. Nirvano told me herself that she had been treated for her condition as a child. And as she got older unfortunately it became worse, much worse in her last few years. It was something she had no control over.
Osho, who loved her very much, said she had done all she could with the body she had. And he asked that in her memory a plaque be placed on the wall of Osho House in Pune, with her photo. It is a great photo that shows the beautiful, absolutely unique, authentic and total woman that is the Nirvano we all remember.
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Related articles and discourse
‘Wild Wild Country’ – Interview with Mutribo and Anando – podcast from Australian North Coast Positive with Nyck Jeanes, on BayFM 9-11am
Menstruation and Awareness – Q: Beloved Osho, it seems so unfortunate that existence had to give women this thing called menstruation every month…
Taking Care of Osho – In an interview given to Sudha in 1978, Nirvano tells her story about how she came to meet Osho