Veena recalls events and perceptions from the first two years in Rajneeshpuram, working as a Twinkie.
The group of sannyasins manning the front line Reception Department in Rajneeshpuram were known as ‘Twinkies’ and were quite famous!
The Reception and Information Department was set up very soon after we went to the Muddy Ranch, because wide-spread interest was immediate. The ‘Big Muddy’ was a huge property with a county road running right through the middle of it. This presented many problems for us because we could not stop people using that road. If the public stepped off the road, they were immediately trespassing, but if they parked on the road and walked up and down it, there was nothing we could do.
The Reception trailer was set up to welcome these people, show them a place to park, answer their questions and eventually take them on guided tours. In this way, it was hoped to make friends of the visitors and also protect our privacy.
We did not want these kinds of people wandering around our property so we ‘kindly’ arranged to escort them and show them what they wanted to see. In reality we were protecting ourselves and showing these visitors what WE wanted them to see!
The main purpose of Reception however, was firstly to deal with the increasing media interest – in the beginning local, then, as interest grew, from all over the USA and then the world. And secondly, to deal with all the County officials, eventually Federal officials, coming to check us out.
Ma Prem Isabel initially started the Reception centre, some time after Osho came to the Ranch in around September 1981. I had trouble getting a visa for the US and only arrived in about November 1981. Having brought a huge suitcase of fabric, wool and sewing things for Osho’s sewing room, I was, on my arrival, taken directly to LaoTzu House. After I had spent a few minutes greeting my friends, Nirvano came in and said Osho wanted to see me. I was astonished but went with her. He told me he wanted me to join Isabel and do the necessary PR. I was quite devastated because I don’t deny I expected to have my old sewing job back and live back in LaoTzu House with Osho and my close friends.
So the start of this very difficult, often very unpleasant job, was not auspicious!
For me the big problem was Sheela. I couldn’t stand the woman – I thought she was the personification of evil – and I had had many confrontations with her back in India. Now she was my boss and I was supposed to support her in the chaos she was creating and the disgusting and insulting way she dealt with ‘outsiders’. Needless to say, more confrontations happened but, as Osho had sent me to do this job, she initially couldn’t get rid of me.
After only another month it was obvious that just two people doing this job was not enough and Ma Prem Sunshine joined us. She was great, and being American, understood Americans in a way that Isabel and I sometimes didn’t. She spoke their language! Reception was moved to a much bigger site just off the county road with a huge parking area and a much bigger trailer. Jayamala joined us as it was obvious that someone needed to be in the trailer while the rest of us Twinkies were out dealing with the huge variety of visitors.
To give tours, we had two kind of vans which took seven people each and later a small yellow school bus which took about twenty people and was very difficult to drive as we held a microphone in one hand, had to change gears with the other (double-declutching each time) and steer with… ? Not exactly safe! For important people we also had the use of two luxury 4×4’s which I loved driving!
We were now officially known as ‘Twinkies’. An American sannyasin gave us the name because we were supposed to smile and smile come what may. The name was derived from ads for American junk food cupcakes called ‘Hostess Twinkies’! The ad showed a woman with a gleaming smile offering guests the cupcakes. And of course we were ‘hostesses’.
The next sannyasins to join us were Punya, Sarita and Rosalie. (Bhagawati joined after I had left.) Punya was invaluable because she could speak five languages fluently which was a boon for when we gave tours to all the sannyasins coming to participate in the World Annual Celebrations. We arranged tours in different languages in our fleet of old yellow school buses – ‘hiring’ them from the Rajneesh Buddhafield Transport department – and Punya was able to give many tours, switching from one language to another!
A big part of our ‘Twinkie’ job was learning what was going on so that we could give an accurate picture to the visitors when needed – so we were constantly updating our knowledge about land use laws, planning issues, construction, road building, water and sewage management, farming techniques, vehicle maintenance, airport and airplane management etc., etc. Sometimes my brains were so scrambled I felt I was collapsing. And we were bending the laws to a huge extent so we had to be super careful not to reveal what we were actually doing, rather than what we were legally supposed to be doing. For example, before we incorporated as a city, we were not supposed to have a medical centre, nor a school, nor a sewage treatment plant…
Dealing with County officials was, in the beginning anyway, fairly nice because they were quite intelligent people and rather intrigued by what we were doing, so fast, and with so much intelligence. Remember, official statistics showed more than fifty percent of us had university degrees, a much higher proportion than a normal population would have. I remember one official being so impressed he said that our land planning department was full of geniuses – he mentioned Videh and Devaprem, in particular. Dealing with local people was generally OK too as they were usually massively impressed with what we were doing. Like the officials, they too saw us as fulfilling a kind of ‘American dream’ so were usually very supportive.
But the media people – my god, what an eye-opener they were. They were not interested in any kind of truthful commentaries on what they saw; rather, they came with pre-arranged titles and sought only material to back up those headlines which were sensational, untrue and mostly featured sex. I remember one journalist from a Californian TV station whom it was my misfortune to take around. He came with the headline ‘Free Sex Guru’ and was only digging for dirt. I did lose my temper with him… slimy bastard!
There were a few exceptions. I remember one glorious day with a journalist and a photographer from the German National Geographic. They wanted vast scenic shots so I took them up to the top of the Ranch in a 4×4 and drove off road to give them some amazing shots. I took a picnic lunch which we all enjoyed surrounded by such stunning views.
Then there was Frances FitzGerald, Pulitzer Prize winner, who stayed with us for a week. She was really nice and super-intelligent and kind of ‘got’ what we were about although in my opinion, she never ‘got’ what Osho was about. She included our commune in a book she wrote about four ‘experimental communities’: FitzGerald’s third book, Cities on a Hill: A Journey Through Contemporary Cultures (1986) looks at four modern Utopian experiments: the gay community in San Francisco’s Castro district; the fundamentalist community of Jerry Falwell, the pastor who founded the Moral Majority; the Sun City retirement community near Tampa, Florida; and the free love commune of the Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in Oregon. All were published in The New Yorker, and the book won the award for literature from The English-Speaking Union. (francesfitzgerald.net)
A special visitor for me was Roshani Shay. Roshani was a Professor of Political Science at the Western Oregon University when she visited us. In her academic position, she became a forceful advocate of Osho and Rajneeshpuram, speaking up in the face of the unrelenting criticism and hatred being fostered by the media. She was wonderful and remains one of my dearest friends to this day.
As all the headlines came out, we got busier and busier – often starting at 6 am in the morning and finishing at 10 or 11 pm at night. Having to spend so much time with unpleasant people was not exactly a pleasure. Also, we became ‘pariahs’ because friends avoided us in case they said something wrong when questioned by a journalist. We were all very suspicious of them by this time! As soon as sannyasins saw me with a journalist in tow, they did a quick disappearing act, so I would go for days or weeks with hardly any communication with sannyasin friends.
We had daily meetings with Sheela who was now going crazy and was obviously on some kind of drugs, which made her irrational and hopelessly unable to deal with all the pressures we were facing – situations very often caused by her ugly insults to all outsiders. Because of her we were existing in an increasingly hostile environment.
The Big Muddy
There is one story I would like to relate because it gives a bit of a taste of the wild conditions we were working in and how life on the Ranch could be unexpected, exciting, challenging and sometimes downright dangerous.
A documentary film crew (not a TV crew) had contacted us to ask if they could travel around our Ranch because they heard there were some old ruined homesteads on the property that they would like to use in their period documentary. Permission was granted and I got Australian Riten, who was a geologist, to come as a guide because it was his job to travel all over our property seeing that everything was OK. He thus had a huge knowledge of what was available. One of the perks of doing this kind of job was that we Twinkies got to drive some of the best cars on the Ranch and this time I got the best luxury 4×4 which performed well in rough, off-road or muddy conditions. This soon proved to be fortunate because I credit that car with saving the lives of five people!
Riten and I shared the driving as we escorted the documentary producer and his two crew members over areas of the Ranch I had never seen. We were driving on tracks, not on roads. After about an hour, Riten said there was just one more place that he wanted to show us before driving home via single car track, cut out of the hillside, with, he said to the crew, some great scenic shots. Up until this point they were quite enthusiastic with what they had seen.
They were even more excited when they saw the last derelict homestead and I could see its possibilities for their film. But the outcome was doomed because, as we got back into the car, it started to rain. We all know why the Ranch was called the Big Muddy! The soil had a consistency of clay and once wet, it became a treacherous ice rink and walking and driving became a massive feat of trying not to end up on your butt or put any vehicle you were driving into a ditch.
Unsuspectingly I followed Riten’s instructions to find this back road with the great view and then return to the Ranch. At first the rain wasn’t too bad, but suddenly the heavens opened up and we were deluged. I could barely see out of the windscreen, even with the wipers set to fast. And with a sinking heart I knew it was too late to stop, because the car was already sliding almost out of control in the thickening mud… and there was a drop of about one to two hundred feet to plunge over if even one wheel went off the narrow track. I was able to put the car into its lowest gear without stopping, but from now onwards I didn’t dare to touch the brakes because we would have skidded and gone over. I was petrified as was everybody else. I remember saying: “Riten, I can’t do this. You have to take over.” He replied: “I can’t do it either and anyway we dare not stop for us to change. You HAVE to do it!”
Well, we know that extreme fear puts one totally in the moment and at that point everything disappeared except my hands on the steering wheel and the sound of the car sliding in the mud. I didn’t even think of Osho! It possibly only took about fifteen minutes to get to the bottom of the track, but I don’t really know because time absolutely stood still. When we got to the valley and were in no danger of going over the edge, I finally stopped and told Riten to take over. I could barely walk round the car because my legs were shaking so much and I could hardly breathe. Our drive back to the Ranch was in silence and, needless to say, the film crew never returned.
“Talk more and more…”
And, as if we weren’t busy enough, one of the other very strenuous tasks some of us Twinkies were required to do, was go out around Oregon and give talks to all kinds of groups who invited us. Sometimes we would leave the Ranch two or three times a week. The groups could be school kids, university students, women’s institutes, or groups just seeking to learn more about current events and life itself.
It was giving a talk to one of the latter kind of groups that proved my undoing. I was scheduled to give a talk in Portland to a group of professional people – lawyers, doctors and teachers among them. Somebody was driving me there that evening but when I got in the car, I found that Arup was there too. Thinking she had business in Portland I asked her where she was going and she told me that Sheela had sent her to watch me – literally to police me – because Sheela considered that I was too ‘nice’ to people and needed to be more confrontational and rude to people like she was. I was naturally very annoyed, as I considered Sheela’s disgusting approach to be counterproductive and I felt she was actively endangering Osho and sannyasins.
When we arrived at the very nice hall that had been arranged, I spoke to a few people and found them to be intelligent and genuinely interested in learning about what we were doing and our outlook on life. Not prejudiced at all. I first showed them a very good documentary our video department had made and then invited questions. The questions were intelligent and insightful and I actually enjoyed the discussions that ensued. Then, after one slightly aggressive question, which I calmly answered and saw people nodding in support, Arup got up onto the platform and started to blast everybody with an insulting rant, calling them all kinds of offensive names. I was totally stunned, as were the audience. We had built up such a friendly and insightful rapport and I saw Arup destroy all the goodwill I had created over the previous hour. She finally said she was now leaving and grabbed my arm and marched me off without even giving me a chance to talk to the people. Anyway, what could I have said or done after that tirade?
Once in the car I furiously confronted her. She said that she could see now that it was true that I was too ‘nice’ and she would report this back to Sheela. I replied these were intelligent people genuinely interested in hearing our side of things and there was absolutely zero need to insult them. Arup told me she would tell Sheela that evening.
The next day I told Isabel what had happened and warned her she would probably soon be losing a Twinkie! Later that day I was sent a message to go to Jesus Grove – where Sheela and her cronies, including Arup, lived – to talk to Sheela after she had discussed me with Osho during her evening business meeting with him up at his house. I asked Isabel to come with me to give me some support. Actually, it was Arup who went to the meeting with Osho that evening because Sheela said she had a cold (I think she was too drugged to be coherent). To give her her due, Arup was very nice. When she returned to Jesus Grove, she came over and sat with me and sincerely apologised. She said she had told Osho everything and Osho told her that I was right and she was very wrong to interfere in the way she did. He sent the message that I was to talk ‘more and more’.
Of course, the opposite happened. Within a few days Sheela came round to our Reception trailer and told everybody that from now on I could only take tourists on tour, and was not to give any talks, nor deal with officials or the media. Then, surprisingly, Osho heard about this and called Sheela, Isabel and myself up to see him. He questioned us all and gave us each the chance to say what we wanted to say. He asked Isabel how she thought I was doing and she gave me a positive report. Osho then gave me a beautiful strand of pearls and Isabel a diamond bracelet, after which he turned to Sheela and said (the exact words as far as I can remember): “Sheela, let Veena talk more and more. Do you hear me? Allow her to talk more.”
When I heard him say that I thought: “OK, that is the last nail in the coffin for me!” Sure enough, within a week, Dolma, one of Sheela’s band of bosses (or ‘moms’ as they were stupidly called) came to the Reception trailer, took me back to my room, made me change and give back my ghastly polyester Twinkie uniform and then drove me down to the tiny sprout-making building on the big truck farm near the John Day River. I was told that this would be my job from now on.
Dolma left before seeing the huge smile on my face and my shoulders straightening up, no longer burdened by a difficult job overseen by an evil and disgusting person. It seemed I could relax and start to ‘sort of’ enjoy the time on the Ranch despite my private concerns.
So ended my two-year-long Twinkie career.
Photo credit with thanks to Arjarva, Toby, Geri Hill, Cathy Cheney, Ted Shay