Punya’s time as a Twinkie – with excerpts from her book, On the Edge.
After a long haul from Zurich via New York (where I first glimpsed Digambara at the Immigation Desk but stayed mum – not wanting to call him by his sannyas name!) and Portland. A Greyhound bus drive to Madras and then together in a people carrier to Rajneeshpuram with Sagar driving. This is how we happened to share a room in Desiderata – arriving at the same time, having a common language, Italian, and a common past, Deeksha’s kitchen. But we were just travelling friends.
The next day, we knew we had to show up at the HR department (not sure if it was already called Ramakrishna – but that became the dreaded name eventually). Vidya was sitting on a couch looking up at me – standing in wait to get the instructions.
“You go and work in the Press Office.”
When I heard the word ‘office’ I almost collapsed and despite the ingrained ‘surrender to the commune’, I could not retrain from commenting, “In an office? I was hoping to work outdoors…” (I had just left an office job to make money for my ticket to the USA and to support the commune…)
“No, that’s where they need you. Work with the tour guides.”
“Oh well, to work as a tour guide is not too bad,” I thought. “But how does Vidya know that I have worked as a tour guide before – when I was in my twenties?”
Her psychic powers were explained to me many years later. At the time I had not suspected there had been secret machinations behind my back…
When Veena who was editing my book, On the Edge, came the point where I described my assignment she apologized profusely for having been in the way of my ‘outdoor Ranch experience’ and even made me add a bracketed paragraph:
(When Veena, while editing this book, came across this passage, she apologised and had to admit that on that day, after spotting my name on the new arrivals list she dashed to Vidya’s office to ask them to assign me to the Twinkies. She knew of my office and language skills from the time she came to visit me in Geneva and thought I could be of help to them, as well as being a very good tour guide. So this explains, in the end, the mystery of this job assignment.)
I found the Reception trailer quite easily and was rewarded by landing in great company. There were Veena and Sarita, whom I knew from before, and Isabel, Rosalie and Jayamala. I was given my first tour where I took notes; names, amount of square miles, history. My head was spinning. But soon enough I was introduced to the filing system of the press clippings, which Jayamala had started and – it appeared – was quite happy to relegate to someone else. So, kind of glorified ‘housekeeping’ job it was!
Writing my period on the Ranch from the perspective of a Twinkie was a good ‘hanger’. I had the perfect excuse of listing size and geography of the place as well as bragging about our accomplishments; buildings, roads, dwellings.
Many excerpts from my book have already been published on Osho News, so will just link to those longer pieces. But here is one unpublished piece that I wish to add here (from Chapter 6 – Celebration):
We gave tours to the guests who visited the Ranch from as far away as Alabama – and their accent was the most difficult for me to understand! On the other hand, I was always asked what accent I had. Maybe they thought I was from some remote US state. I tried my best to blend in with the surroundings… and had started to adopt the American way of pronouncing words, with all the open vowels and the hot potato rolling of the R’s.
I was amazed to see how tour parties travelled for hours on end to get here (similar distances would have crossed Switzerland from one side to the other and back!) but then this was America, and America was big. They had maybe read something about us in the newspapers and wanted to see things for themselves. Most visitors were attracted by the pioneer spirit, the results of which they could admire on the tour. (Nobody had not yet mentioned ‘meditation’ in any of their questions.)
I learned how to start and drive our blue automatic diesel van and was allowed to use our tiny school bus to drive myself home to the distant trailers of Desiderata. I practised double-declutching (this was the official excuse) while exploring the bee hives on the single track beyond Surdas, our farm at the John Day river. There was freedom, exploration, pioneering, enthusiasm and excitement in the air. This was the Wild West dream come true.
First Annual World Celebration
This was all before the First Annual World Celebration (3-7 July1982). The wording felt like an exaggeration when I first saw the bookmarks which we had started to give out to the visitors and send out to journalists, but eventually – to my surprise – over 5,000 people came from all over the world. Sometimes we were also asked to help the tent crew to lift the platforms onto the stilts. The tents were then later mounted on them. Or…
The Twinkies were also given some security jobs. On an extra evening shift Rosalie and I staffed the Mirdad guard hut not far from our trailer. We were equipped with a radio, clipboard, a handheld torch, which I learned is called ‘flashlight’ here, and a lot of gossip. One evening a truck came to a halt under a cloud of dust in front of us. The driver swept his brow and looked at us in distress, “I have a delivery of a few hundred mattresses in my truck. They must have given me the wrong address. There is nothing here.” Little did he know that in the next few weeks we would be putting up thousands of tents for our guests who would join the upcoming Celebration. He thought someone had played a practical joke on him.
The Festival was an ongoing celebration!
Osho’s drive-bys at two o’clock reached kilometrical proportions. It was a long walk to get to the end of the line of people if you didn’t want to be hidden three-deep behind the front row. The highlight of the Festival was on Master’s Day when thousands of rose petals were released from our little Piper plane onto Osho’s car (which now was a Rolls-Royce) and onto those standing in line. […]
While everyone went back to their professions or to their jobs at the 500 meditation centres which had sprouted up all over the world, I went back to sorting the many press clippings about the ‘red-clad followers’ according to country, title of newspaper and date, the way Jayamala had shown me. The other Twinkies were mesmerized to see that with one ‘swoosh’ I could retrieve, as if by magic, any given article from one of many steel cabinets. I am still wondering what was so special about that. “It is just a matter of filing them in the proper place,” I kept telling them…
Not long after the festival…
Digambara and I were soon confronted with the stark reality that we had to leave this paradise sooner or later as our visas were running out. If only we were Americans! Needless to say, we cried our eyes out the evening the work department told us the date of our departure. It felt like a death sentence. As a consolation and a treat, instead of flying straight back to Europe, we decided to stop in San Francisco, Boulder and New York to visit some sannyasin friends.
Back to work in Switzerland just by chance in the same advertising agency in Zurich (there would even be a third stint), and living in the commune as a ‘hotel guest’ (but still three to a room with futons on the floor…), waiting for the next occasion to fly back to Oregon.
Second Annual World Celebration
I do not remember if after my return there had been a discussion where to work, but somehow I became again part of the Twinkies, all getting ready for the Second Annual World Celebration and sending out press releases to international, national and local media. This time, though…
The Twinkies’ office was now fifty yards down the road from its previous spot which had become the main road over Kabir creek. (The advantage of a trailer is that it can be moved!) It was now located close to the new ponds.
In the meantime part of our Ranch had been incorporated and had become Rajneeshpuram. This meant that I had to update my notes from the previous year. E.g. the Mandir which was a ‘greenhouse’ the previous year, had not become a ‘meeting hall’ – these new instructions were then reversed when later Rajneeshpuram was disincorporated and declared an illegal town. I am describing my jaw-dropping experience after coming back and updating my notes in the piece called, Lakes, dams and new buildings.
During this second Festival I also got involved with some German journalists, but mostly with photographers. One experience I remember vividly has been published under, A photographer’s breakthrough. I was accompanying a grumpy photographer (he was utterly distressed and nervous about his career) who chose, to my astonishment, a far-away location to take a shot of the drive-by. He was so very lucky that Osho changed car at the perfect distance (the Rolls-Royces at that slow speed and in the desert heat tended to overheat and had to be replaced from time to time – but one never knew where). From there he took the perfect shot that was then distributed nationwide by one of the press agencies. I came to realise that only after the Festival while filing the hundreds of clippings with his photo. I was so happy for him! Career saved!
In another piece, Coping with the media coverage, I talk about the influx not only of the press clippings after this Second World Festival but also about the animosity that had been created in the neighbourhood. There was so much material to be filed and lawyers moving in and out of our office getting copies of clippings, that we had to move to a larger space; we ended up in the back of the airport building.
Although I was not talking directly to journalists nor giving talks to groups ‘outside’, as Veena did (in fact I never saw her…) just to read the headlines was awful enough. (Of course all my friends working in other departments had no clue of what was happening, happy to be involved in ‘building the city’. And they did not want to know either…) Reason why I called that chapter ‘Coping…’. From that time I mainly remember the long, grey, laminated desk with Margaret and her Rolodex file on my right. She had to read the clippings in their entirety and make a resume with tags that would then be consulted by the lawyers.
I knew well that I was on the Ranch out of love for Osho and that I came to visit the place to be close to him, but this constant negative input made me wonder if maybe somewhere the media were right. I do not understand this psychological twist, but maybe it is a survival mechanism, similar to the way an abused child blames herself for her parents’ bad behaviour. I was in such turmoil that I decided to write to Osho. The answer just said: “Love your work.” I wondered how such a simple device as loving one’s work could stop this negativity from affecting me, but it must have done its job, as, with no effort on my side, I came back to my true self the very same day.
We bonded deeply, Margaret and I, she being British had a wonderful sense of humour which helped us ‘cope’. I was very sad to hear recently that she died shortly after completing her manuscript (we had spoken about that book) that was scrapped after she had shown it to the relevant ‘authorities’.
I am tempted to publish another excerpt (the book is 440 pages long, so there will still be a lot you have not read yet), calling it, Uncomfortable questions. Here I talk about giving the daily tours to the visitors, and one memorable tour I will never forget, which I want to include in this article:
During the Festival I had given my most memorable tour of the Ranch. A yellow school bus full of Festival visitors from Italy had driven up to our meeting point and on the tour everybody was so enthusiastic about all the changes which had taken place since their last visit, that I often had to silence them in order to give – over the PA – the details of the new construction in front of us. I could leave out the entire political rap which was of no interest to anybody and injected the talk with lots of humorous bits which made the bus almost jump off the road. With them I was flying like a kite. Only later I realised that it had been so easy because I was speaking in my mother tongue, so close to my mind, so close to my heart.
In this last excerpt I am also writing about journalists, writers, university professors from whom we had received – for a change – some positive feed-back. I did not have direct contact with them (they were in the hands of Isabel, Veena and Sunshine), but wanted to add them in my book (these pages were put together with the help of my good friend Roshani, one of the above ‘professors’).
Press Releases: Rolls-Royces and AIDS
No longer happy with media getting interested in us only once a year for the Festivals, someone had the idea to line up Osho’s Rolls Royces and then send out a press release showing an image of the cars together with a portrait of Osho. I was involved in the sending out and then the receiving of the press clippings… (mountains!). This you can read in Osho’s Rolls in the US press.
This is the funny part (for me as an archivist):
The usual procedure of pasting the articles onto individual sheets, marked with title and date of publication, was quickly abandoned. We decided to file them according to States and created special folders called: Rolls – Ohio, etc. The number of clippings could then be measured by the bulking of the individual folders. In this way I learnt the names of all the states of America.
And here about the press release regarding AIDS:
Not long after the Rolls-Royce press release there was a second one which generated a response of the same magnitude. A meeting was announced one day and everybody was bussed to the Mandir. Osho informed us, through his secretary, that the time of sexual carelessness, now prevalent in this modern age, had ended, because the lives of two thirds of the world’s population was threatened by AIDS, a newly-discovered viral disease which had no cure.
Osho offered the following solutions so that we could take responsibility and care for our health:
If you are ready and can drop sex altogether through understanding and without repression, this is the safest protection from the disease.
Or remain with the same partner; merge into the same partner, move more and more into intimacy and less into sexual activity.
Even if you are with one partner, or if you have several partners and choose to have sex, at least make use of the scientific knowledge available: use condoms during the sex act and latex or rubber gloves during foreplay. Oral and anal sex should be completely avoided, since there is no way to protect ourselves from exposure to AIDS.
The final thing is to thoroughly wash yourself after any sexual exposure.
(from a leaflet given out to all Festival participants)
The press release was picked up enthusiastically by the same number of newspapers who reported on the Rolls Royces and, this time, we had to get an altogether new filing cabinet to accommodate the equally bulging folders, now called: AIDS – Ohio, etc. Unfortunately, the world media’s enthusiasm did not reflect Osho’s concern, but rather ridiculed the prediction. They were happy to have another go at Osho.
The press release, dated March 1984… must have left a mark on the international collective unconscious. Three or four years later these exact same preventative measures were proposed to the public in posters and advertisements all around the world – without, of course, mentioning Osho’s initial contribution.
This was probably my last piece of office work with the Twinkies. How I came to change my job, and to which one of the many other jobs I moved to, I do not remember, but it was for sure one of those I held the longest. The pyramid building at the entrance of our town, which was then given the name Mirdad Reception, I only came near much later when as a taxi driver I picked up Festival visitors to take them to their tents, or as a bus hostess (same uniform) leaving with the big silver coaches to Portland.
Other opportunities to wear the dreaded uniform (plastic trousers – what colour were they? something like mauve? and the pink polyester blouse) were again given to me during the later Festivals when I was asked to keep the lines under control during drive-by – not making me particularly popular for potential dates…
When I think of the Twinkies I see beautiful faces: Isabel’s impish smile, the grounded presence of Sunshine, Sarita’s elegance, heart-buddy Rosalie, somewhere Sophia in the background, and the very professional Veena (Margaret told me once: “It looks like Isabel is in charge, but it is actually Veena who has everything in check!”) Here you go Veena! Bhagawati who joined the Twinkies later I knew through other commune card-shuffles.
Update 10.10.2020: The previous version stated Ramanuja as the name of Vidya’s office. It has now been corrected to Ramakrishna.