In part 1 of her recollections, Bhagawati writes about her adventures in Rajneeshpuram and Europe.
Arriving a few weeks before the First Annual World celebration in July 1982, I eased into commune life helping with festival preparations and made myself useful by welcoming the countless busloads of friends arriving day after day from all over the world. Every time a bus emptied out, there was endless hugging and laughing and such joy of meeting each other again in the middle of nowhere.
What I remember most vividly is being invited to see Osho. I walked from my allocated tent towards Jesus Grove to be driven to Lao Tzu Grove when I saw a momentous rainbow ahead. It felt like a great blessing. A second incident which I deemed lucky, was that a low flying bird pooped on my spotless pink dress…
After the festival when it became clear that I was in for the long-haul, I was sent to Zarathustra building to be the designated ‘mom’ (I detested that expression) of Rinzai, the legal department (later RLS, Rajneesh Legal Services and located in Socrates building). Having absolutely no expertise in legal issues, let alone the American type, I enjoyed the company of Sangeet, Sheelu, Niren, Vishuddha, Watula, Sukh, Subhan and Nion and, in hindsight, inadvertently learned quite a lot about briefs, affidavits, agreements, contracts, land use issues and immigration visas.
About half a year later, said outfit was taken over by BIG moms, Vidya, Karuna, Shanti B. and Homa because the heat was on to obtain a visa for Osho. I joined the research bunch and we burned the midnight oil to a point that Puja would come now and then to plunge syringes loaded with Vitamin B into our bums to boost our energy levels. After a while of those crazy intense work hours, I had problems sleeping. I also couldn’t eat much, having lost my appetite. I lost weight. Rather than walking I felt myself sort of drifting through every day. (I only found out much, much later that Puja injected us with ‘uppers’ so we would stay awake and work through the night.)
This situation came to Vidya’s attention who pulled me aside. She said I didn’t look so good. I told her about the symptoms I’d been having for at least three weeks and she suggested a change of department. It felt like a godsend when she said I could go drive a taxi for a few weeks.
Blue Feather on the Go!
This move was a life saver; soon I felt on top of the world again, had a Motorola to communicate with home base Gemini, delivered a variety of goods and at times had passengers; in a nutshell, I felt as free as a bird. My chosen code name for communications was Blue Feather; since childhood I held a strong affinity to all things Native American.
I also did non-sanctioned runs when I felt to help somebody, like getting Indian Maitreya from Magdalena to his trailer as his leg he had broken was still on the mend and he couldn’t walk so well. The management had denied him the privilege to get picked up by car when he needed one.
After about a month, I met Vidya on the road. She eyed me top to bottom and asked if I was ready to come back to the legal department. My heart sank and I said, “No.” She absolutely understood and I continued the taxi runs with much joy, also because I was put on the roster to deliver to Lao Tzu House much of the food stuff they needed, including crates of Perrier water for Osho which I lugged happily up the little path to the kitchen where Nirgun often spoiled me with cookies.
When the road to Patanjali lake was accessible, I would drive out there with others during lunchtime for a swim. It was heavenly to lie in the sun and swim in the lake! Many pick-up truck drivers came out with a load of people sitting in the bed of the truck. However, something happened – I think a sannyasin got hurt because he fell off the back and then everybody was told it was too dangerous to haul people around (also illegal apparently; as if anybody of us lot cared back then) and to cease the practice immediately. But somehow a bunch of friends and I still managed to get ourselves to the lake that summer.
Morphing into a Twinkie
The next ‘temple’ change came about sometime in early autumn 1983. I was enlisted as a Twinkie and joined the girls at Mirdad – Isabel, Sunshine, Sarita, Rosalie; Sophia joined us a bit later.
I was told to test drive on a large school bus which freaked me out. The pick-ups that we used on the taxi runs had automatic gears, which I thought was one of the better inventions mankind had come up with. The buses didn’t and it took a lot of strength for me to hit the clutch or the brakes. I really didn’t want to drive one of those with a load of visitors inside while explaining to them what we were all about.
I can no longer remember how it happened but the bus idea was soon dropped and I learned how to drive one of the vans that held about eight people or so. I was trained by Sunshine how to conduct a tour – I accompanied her on two tours carrying visitors around. She told me to make sure I remembered everything she said precisely, because it was important I didn’t say anything that could create a problem for Osho or the community.
I was then let loose on my own with a group of American visitors. I was petrified to say something wrong. I couldn’t remember everything Sunshine had said and HOW she had said it, so I felt rather constrained the first time round. The second tour was easier, as I decided to talk in the way I always communicate and was pretty sure I wouldn’t say something ‘wrong’. It worked well and I enjoyed the daily tours, sometimes twice a day.
Also joining us from time to time was Margaret, who together with Krishna Prem worked as a researcher into all the media reports about Osho and the commune. Their findings were given to RLS, the legal department.
Most of the visitors I connected with were very nice; they were so impressed with our progress, they wanted to know a lot about us – I don’t think they had met a lot of non-native people living in America before. One middle-aged woman once asked, “So where are you from?” Eager not to mention my nationality I smiled and said, “I was born in Vienna.” She looked astonished at me and asked incredulously, “You are from Vietnam?”
All of us tour guides were very strict when it came to not disclosing Osho’s residence. Of course, most visitors asked where he lived. I’d casually wave my hand about dismissively and say we built his own private quarters and changed the subject. However, in order to get to the truck farm, we passed B-site on the road opposite. On that stretch there wasn’t anything interesting to see so many visitors would zoom into the long fence that surrounded Lao Tzu Grove and ask, “So what is that fence for?”
“Oh, we created a rather large deer park to protect them,” I would explain and carry on, “strange, can’t see any around today though…”
When I wasn’t giving tours, there was a lot of paper work to be done at the office or we would get assigned to visiting journalists. More and more kept coming and they needed to be shepherded at all times. Of course, whenever some German-speaking journalists came I went around with them but depending on the influx, I also dealt with other nationalities. Most were usually fun to be with.
Isabel was a great coordinator and organizer, charming and diplomatic; I think we all liked her lots. I remember a phrase she once used when some journalist challenged her about Osho’s way of speaking English. She smiled and said, “Ah yes, his delightful mispronunciations!”
All of us were outfitted with rather boring uniforms in polyester. The set consisted of a flared purple skirt and a pink blouse. We also had a pair of long polyester pants with a kind of light purplish mushroom colour. We did what we could to shape up our outfits by adding a belt or scarf or some brooch. For winter I had a long down jacket, a down vest and a maroon-coloured thick coat with wool lining. I remember one day how lucky I felt when I checked out Vimalkirti (our communal outfitter) for some shoes and found a pair of beautiful dark-brown Italian-made knee-high leather boots with perfect fit! I hung on to those for many years to come.
The winter of 1983/84 was harsh, not only weather-wise. Building the Lao Tzu town houses near Kabir Creek and B-site in autumn, we also built the Mall and Hotel Rajneesh; we had to get many buildings up before a deadline, when new Oregon land use laws could stop construction. That time was popularly called ‘the crunch’ and involved 16-hour shifts.
Night work was called for. I was allotted a pick-up truck and went from Socrates, where I loaded the air conduits that were being built there to the hotel to be installed and then back to Socrates. Often, I had to wait in the car for the load to be ready and it was very cold. Yet it was also so stunning to look through the windscreen at the clear cold night sky with millions of stars to get lost in. We usually stopped work by midnight.
Of course, the next day we would be up early to morph into Twinkie mode. At times we were so tired, that instead of having lunch some of us would sleep underneath the desks in a small office room where we could close the door and hide.
Every Saturday, Sheela conducted a coordinators’ meeting where every coordinator (mom) had to show up and reports were given about the past week or pending issues; generally, Sheela talked about some new plan or change of a department head maybe, sometimes related a titbit of what Osho had said, but usually set upon chewing up everybody who had in some way failed her or her instructions, in particular her husband, Jayananda. Sometimes Isabel was unable to attend those meetings and I went instead to several of them. It was not desirable to be sitting there… and, heaven forbid, contribute anything.
In Spring, after a prediction by Osho that AIDS would kill two-thirds of the world’s population, protective measures were introduced to our community which the media widely ridiculed and we Twinkies often had to deal with it.
In mid-June 1984, Osho declared 21 sannyasins enlightened and a list of them was posted on the bulletin board of Magdalena cafeteria. Of course, there was no end to gossip if it was true or not and I remember that Maitreya, also on the list, had quipped, “Osho is really a rascal.”
The Third Annual World Celebration and Share-A-Home
During the festival I was standing with a journalist and his cameraman at the roadside waiting for Osho to drive by. We had to have some control about their movements and were encouraged to hang on to the journalist’s belts or, in absence of a belt, fingers into their pants; I dare say they kind of enjoyed that. So I hung on so he wouldn’t move too close to Osho’s rolled-down car window.
Osho approached and stopped the car and looked at the journalist. I was startled when he spoke! It was thrilling to hear him after such a long time! To me, his voice seemed to come from a far-away place when I heard him say, “Rajneeshism is the first and maybe last religion…”
I spent much time with a lovely TV crew from VPRO in The Netherlands. The reporter, Frank Wiering, was a charming, intelligent and unbiased man; I drove around with him and the crew and went to some places for the first time – such as on top of a hill, overlooking the kilometres-long row of sannyasins waiting for Osho’s drive-by. It was spectacular!
VPRO produced a beautiful documentary, entitled ‘De Nieuwe Mens’ (The New Man).
It was in late summer of that year that I had an unsettling dream. In that dream, I was standing near Lao Tzu House and I knew Osho was not there anymore. There were people in suits going in and out with papers in hand and I sensed they were from the FBI or the CIA.
In those days word had been going out encouraging us to share any unusual dreams because it seemed the land we were on was very spirited and lots of residents had vivid dreams. I remember Sarita in particular would tell us many amazing dreams she had. As the dream was so strange, I decided to mention it to (I think) Pratima. She listened yet barely commented and I forgot all about it until more than a year later…
September brought the Share-A-Home program. Initially peddled as an altruistic idea, it became soon clear to us that it had to do with the upcoming Wasco County elections. To ensure the expansion of Rajneeshpuram, we needed a friendly commissioner in power.
Residents were sent out with school buses to recruit hundreds of homeless people in major American cities and bring them to Rajneeshpuram.
Twinkies were told to meet every arriving bus with the street people. Upon climbing into the first bus I was welcoming, I stood next to the driver and had 40 pairs of eyes glued on me. The men looked tired and dishevelled and I felt they had no clue why they were here…
On October 31, Osho began speaking to a small group in Lao Tzu House and we Twinkies got lucky because we were frequently invited to attend the discourses. The first time I sat through a discourse, I couldn’t remember a word Osho said because the room was freezing cold and I was preoccupied breathing deep inside and keeping myself a bit warm. The next time I came equipped with layers upon layers of clothing and was alright from then on.
The majority of residents got to see the video of Osho’s talk the next evening in Rajneesh Mandir, also not very warm but we had heaters installed under the roof. As the videos were only shown after dinner, around 9 pm, most of us were already so tired and often fell asleep on the floor. Those videos were also sent to the European communes.
Adventures in Europe
In December I had another unusual dream: I am standing in a group with about 20 sannyasins along the road when Osho drives by. He stops the car, looks at me, points at me and says something like “It won’t be easy but it will be OK.” I woke up feeling quite confused about what that meant.
Later that day I was called into the office and Vidya asked me if my passport was in order which I confirmed. She said that I would be travelling to Europe together with Isabel to establish press offices in the large communes because of the increasing interest in Osho and Sannyas. We would be gone for six weeks and fly to Cologne together with some of the teenage sannyasins; they would be working in various European communes as part of the first exchange program. We had four planes at Air Rajneesh, one Islander, two Douglas C-47 Skytrain (DC-3), and one Convair 240, a model that had only been manufactured between 1947 and 1954. I had no idea just how old ours was but we would be flying with that one.
I did not want to leave; I wanted to stay in the commune but of course that was not an option. When we boarded the plane, we were about 20 sannyasins, including Patipada and I think, Yogini.
We had three pilots – Prasad, Cliff and Hasyo. For me, the entire journey passed in a daze. It was cold on the plane and all of us dressed up in layers against the chill; from time to time there was food and something to drink handed out. For many hours we flew over white snow-covered Canada before landing for a fuel stopover. I do not recall the name of the airport. Throughout the journey, while two of the pilots were in the cockpit, the third pilot would be trying to get some sleep lying down in the gangway with a blanket.
The next stop was Greenland where we left the plane to stretch our legs for a bit. The airport was eerily empty; just us lot and a few ground staff were around. Prasad told me later that they almost hit a mountain when they came in for landing – the windshield of the plane had iced up frequently and then the pilots had to scratch the ice off with a laminated credit card… We flew on to Scotland for one more stopover (it might have been Inverness) before embarking on the last leg to Cologne.
As we descended I looked out of the window. It was early morning and there were floodlights directed at the plane and police standing on the tarmac with sniffer dogs on the leash. I thought, “Oh great, what now? Are they going to arrest us?”
It turned out that it was highly unusual for such an old and relatively small plane as ours to come in from the USA to land on their small airport and they were suspicious that we had drugs on board.
I have no memories for the following week when we stayed at Uta, the Osho Commune in Cologne. I was not functioning. My brain felt wiped out. I remember Isabel asking me to make some phone calls to some of the media we wanted to meet with and I stared at the phone on a desk, unable to figure out how to work it. If this was jet lag, it was an unusual long one. Or, what other friends suggested was that we had been given sleeping pills or something else on the flight, and that would also explain my loss of memory about most of what had happened during the 48-hour journey.
After Isabel and I set to work visiting larger centres in Germany and also flew to Stockholm and Amsterdam, the first big media event was an invitation to appear in a talk show in Berlin with the other participant being Eckart Floether, a former sannyasin and self-declared sect specialist who used any opportunity to attack Osho and sannyasins.
Sadhu, one of the sannyasin lawyers in Cologne, was very helpful in giving me some pointers before I was sent into the recording room. I felt butterflies in my stomach but once I sat down and saw Floether sitting opposite, I felt calm and ready to talk. The hour-long exchange was spirited and broadcast live. Leaving the TV station building feeling pretty high together with Isabel and Berlin friends at around 10 pm, a man walking his dog zoomed in on our group and told me, “You were great, I just saw you on TV!”
I was to see Sheela afterwards and was shown to her room where she was lying in bed with Dipo next to her. Somebody told her about the talk show and how well it had been perceived and she just looked at me and mumbled, “I just wish everybody could talk like I do.” She obviously was jealous of anybody else who could challenge her authority. I just wished for a rather large distance between her and me.
Put out to pasture
Well, I got my wish. Back in Cologne one evening, Isabel told me that as the six weeks were over she would return to the Ranch but word had been sent that I was to stay for another four months and work on the press office project. I was shocked and didn’t want to stay in Europe; yet aside from throwing the towel and leave our commune, there was no other way open as I could see. After a little while of fuming and vaguely thinking of throwing myself off the balcony I pulled myself up and decided to do the best I could.
I cannot remember all the details but I went to visit the larger communes, spent some time on and off in the Zurich commune Kota on media work, visited the Hamburg commune as well as the offices of Der Spiegel, Stern and Die Welt. I had a very enjoyable time because I realized nobody cared where I was, where I was going to next, or what I did all the time! I also managed to visit some old friends in Germany and would come back to Cologne to recuperate and plot my next trip.
I flew to London and visited Medina Rajneesh, a sannyas commune a one-and-a-half hour’s drive from London, as they planned to have an Open Day for their kids’ school and the media was invited to come. Medina was a bubbling commune then and after familiarising myself with the kids and residents, the day went well and we had good coverage in newspapers and also on TV.
And on that weekend in March, I also met Anatto who usually worked in RSI (Rajneesh Services International) Zurich and RSI London and had been sent with other accounting staff to have a relaxed weekend among the kids to get their heads out of number-crunching.
It was love. And love always…
In April I appeared in a 90-minute TV show ‘Live from the Alabama’, a concert and theatre venue in Munich. The audience was huge and quite rude. The two young moderators were friendly but all the other panel members, a theologian, a former sannyasin and the female supervisor of a cult information centre were bent on making false and derogative statements. On top of that, a video clip was shown with Sheela making the infamous statement, “If one person on Rancho Rajneesh is harmed I will have 15 of their heads.” I was asked to comment.
I remember being so very peeved yet managed to separate ’self’ from the entire scene. I cannot remember exactly what I said but somehow wiggled my way out of this trap.
When after a pause of maybe half an hour the second part of the talk show began, the audience could also ask questions. It was total pandemonium. Sannyasins in the audience tried to help and some shouted down the mob to not much avail – yet I managed to speak coherently by not engaging with that chaotic energy.
To be continued in our Series: ‘The Life of Twinkies’
Credit for screen grabs in slideshow touring with the Dutch film crew: VPRO, Hilversum, The Netherlands © 2004