Here are some fantastic excerpsts from My Life In Orange by the recently deceased Tim Guest. Tim survived the Rajneesh experience and became a journalist with the BBC. It is all here: the chanting, the sex, the gold Mercedes, the pedophilia, the germ warfare, the Hindu Nazis who ran the show, the mercenaries hired as security, Bhagwan’s ecstasy and nitrous binges, and so on.

interesting excerpts:

“ Then in December, in an NBC television interview in Los Angeles, Sheela was asked about Bhagwan’s alleged anti-Semitism. She smiled sweetly and said: ‘How do you get four Germans and five hundred Jews into a Volkswagen? Simple. Two Germans in the front, two Germans III hack, and five hundred Jews in the ashtray.’ When they heard about this, my mother and her friends were shocked; then they put it down to a publicity stunt. On that level, at least, Sheela seemed to be succeeding.

Even on the other side of the Atlantic, at Medina, it was apparent to us _ the kids as well as the adults – that the world at large had begun to use the term ‘Bhagwan’ as shorthand for ‘flamboyant religious conman’. One of the kids clipped a ‘Bloom County’ ( comic strip from a newspaper, in which Opus is briefly entranced by the idea of taking sannyas. The clipping circulated in the Kids’ Ilut dormitories. (Opus: ‘Say, brother … uh, how about refreshing me on this Rajneesh business .. .’ Sannyasin: ‘Well, Rajneesh is the truth, and the truth is the light, which is life. Life’s truth light. And happiness. Which is wearing red pajamas and blowing kisses toward the Bhagwan’s 72 Gold Rolls-Royces.’ Opus: ‘Whoa! By golly … that does make a lot of sense.’)”


“Everyone got as blissed-out as possible. Sometimes tears streamed down their faces. Dancing meant waving your head in a figure-of-eight, arms raised, malas flailing out at chest-height, about ready to take the eye out of any kid pushing past through the crowd. I knew that kind of dancing; we all did. We groaned and rolled our eyes whenever we saw someone waving in this manner. Later that year when we were first allowed to have our own discos – no over eighteens allowed – we put hand-lettered signs of our own on the door: ‘NO SPIRITUAL DANCING’. Anyone who raised their arms too high above their heads was swiftly given the boot.”

… That year, the summer of 1984 at the Ranch, many of the Medina kids lost their virginity; boys and girls, ten years old, eight years old, in sweaty tents and A-frames, late at night and mid-afternoon, with adults and other children. I remember some of the kids – eight, nine, ten years old – arguing about who had fucked whom, who would or wouldn’t fuck them. The wilder kids smoked borrowed or stolen cigarettes, burned each other with their lighters, and tried to persuade the younger kids to inhale the gas from whipped cream cans stolen from the Magdalena food tents. I had just turned nine years old. I kept away from these kids. I spent my time in the hills, wandering among the juniper scrub, searching for quartz crystals.

PP. 57

. That day we slipped on past the gates and kept on walking into the grounds of Lao Tzu. The sounds of hammering and sawing faded behind us. I expected one of the men to shout after us, but none did and soon there were bushes and trees behind us. I knew we couldn’t be seen.

Viruchana didn’t want to go any farther, but I wanted to see if I could find Bhagwan’s house. I said I’d meet him back at the gate. I went on, up some stairs. At the top of the first flight I walked out into a long, low hall without walls, just arched columns and a ceiling. Out through the arches I could see the trees and huts and apartment blocks stretched out into the distance. Although it was late afternoon, the sky seemed to be growing dim. The dust in the air left a chalk-taste in my throat. I could hear the sound of running water. One corner of the hall was sectioned off with cloth, a cubicle of raw pink cotton drifting in the wind. Behind the curtains I could hear a band practising. It was a song I had not heard before; but I could tell it was what we called ‘Bhagwan music’: ‘Disappearing into you … Oh, Bhagwan … Disappearing into you .. .’ I wanted to ask for a go on the drums, but realized I wasn’t supposed to be here, so I walked on along the tiled floor. I heard a peacock cry. At the other end of the hall, I went down some stairs. I came out onto a garden, fenced in by trees and bushes, with a lawn of cut grass. In the centre of the garden a small waterfall sprang into a pool. Under the surface, fish glinted orange and yellow. Bunches of ferns arced out in sprays over the water.

I stopped still. A woman – her arms outstretched, her long white dress stroking the grass around her bare feet – was standing by the edge of the pool. In front of her, seated on a wooden chair on the grass, in long grey and white robes with wide sleeves that draped down over the arms of the chair, was Bhagwan. I knew it was him. He had the same eyes, the same face, the same long beard as all his huge photos. I noticed that his feet were bare. In the same easy gesture he made those few mornings I had

been to see him speak, Bhagwan raised his arm towards me. The woman looked round and walked towards me. She was smiling. Behind her, Bhagwan smiled, too, nodding to me. I turned and ran back up the stairs. I expected the woman to say something; a II I heard was the peacock cry again.

I found Viruchana back by the Lao Tzu gates. I told him I had seen Bhagwan; he didn’t believe me. Eventually I gave up trying to persuade him. We went to find my mum.

The night before we left, I finally persuaded Nutan to show me one of his puppets. He took a giraffe figure off the wall and made it dance around the room; he smiled at my mother the whole time. I preferred playing in the dust outside Nutan’s hut where I found a thick stream of ants – they were huge; in my memory the ants seem as big as my hands. I poked them with a stick. The next morning, as we packed up to leave, Nutan finally gave in to my longing stares and made me a present of a puppet. I chose the biggest, a huge wire and paper elephant that stomped Ind rolled and raised its trunk when you jerked its wooden cross. Nutan looked at my mother as he lifted it down from the wall. I shouted my thanks. As my mother packed our bags I went to IIlake the elephant stomp on the huge ants outside.

And then it was time to go home.

Viruchana came to see us off. As we said goodbye and got into OUI: taxi, he gave me a present, too; a black Parker silver-tipped lountain pen in a little plastic fold-up case. He had asked his mum if he could come with us; she had said no. So I clutched the pen and waved out the back window of the taxi until he was out c ~f sight. When we got into the airport, though, I realized I had left his pen on the back seat.

Although I was bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes, and though I was always eating fruit I bought at the side of the road, I did not get sick in India. But sitting in the glass cube that was the airport departure lounge, I doubled over with stomach pains. My mother said it was something beginning with ‘c’ – cramps or crabs, I couldn’t tell. I had this picture of a few small crabs scuttling around inside me, like the red ones I’d seen shuffling sideways on the Blackpool sand. My mother said the feeling would pass. It didn’t. On the plane I sucked on the green boiled sweet the stewardess gave me. I was sick the whole way home.

In the spring of 1981, not long after my mother and I returned to Oak Village in England, the senior Ashram dentist was sent from Pune to London to acquire for Bhagwan a dentist’s chair. The chair – bright red leather, with blue and chrome fittings was duly purchased, lightly scraped, and painted with grey and red enamel (to avoid a 120 per cent Indian import tax on new goods), then shipped back to the Ashram and installed in a wing of Lao Tzu, newly built for this purpose. Later, Bhagwan would have the chair shipped to Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA; for now, as well as his daily discourses in Buddha Hall to thousands of his sannyasins, Bhagwan began to speak some evenings from his artificially weathered dental throne to an audience of four sannyasins – including a dentist and a dental nurse, all of whom he nicknamed either Swami or Ma Bharti, the same surname as his father. As he spoke, Bhagwan inhaled nitrous oxide from a canister by his chair. Like all his other words, these laughing-gas monologues were transcribed by devoted sannyasins, later published (with no mention of the anaesthetic gas) as Books I Have Loved, billed on the back cover as ‘The very last words of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh before He went into silence for an indefinite period.’

‘I don’t think anybody has spoken in a dentist’s chair,’ he chuckles. ‘I feel privileged. I see Buddha envious of me.’ Books I Have Loved is a gem, the private indulgence of a high-as-a-kite guru; at once charming and hilarious, full of aggrandized pleasantry and sweet theatrical emotion. Bhagwan weeps tears of joy at the memory of a favourite author, then tears of sadness at
forgetting to mention them sooner. Time and again he tells the disciple taking the dictation to put this or that book, which he has neglected until now, right at the top of the list. A third of the way through, when he mentions the first book written by a woman – The Secret Doctrine by Madame Blavatsky (whom Bhagwan nicknames ‘Blah-Blah Blavatsky’, because of her wordy style) – he introduces her with these words: ‘I have been thinking again and again to bring in a woman but the men were crowding at the door. Very ungentlemanly!’

Midway through discussing the forty-second book, a spiritual text by Narada, a Hindu Brahmin, which begins ‘Now the enquiry into love .. .’, Bhagwan goes into a digression about love. ‘To enquire into love,’ he says, ‘is the greatest exploration, the greatest enquiry. Everything else falls short, even atomic energy. You can be a scientist even of the calibre of Albert Einstein, but you don’t know what real enquiry is unless you love. And not only love, but love plus awareness … or in scientific terms, love as levitation, against gravity.’ Amidst all the Kcntle veneration, this single sudden exclamation stands out. ‘Levitate!’ he urges us. ‘Arise! Leave gravitation for the graves!’

That was what Bhagwan’s sannyasins wanted. In his communes around the world, sannyasins gathered together to abandon weight, to surrender themselves to levity. Or rather, that’s what the adults were hoping for. The children of Bhagwan’s communes needed other things. We needed comfort. We needed a place to stash our Lego. We needed our home. Shorter as we were, closer to the earth, we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, escape gravity. We felt things we weren’t supposed to feel. We never seemed to make it off the ground.


pp. 95


(My mother)She began the story herself, then paused for me to fill in the blanks: ‘Along the road came a’ .. :’ and I’d shout, ‘Squirrel!’ ‘Called .. .’ ‘Sally!’ Now, in the Medina dormitories, there was less time for stories. On the evenings she could make it to tuck me in I did what I could to keep her by my bedside, pleading with her to stay. But the stories ended soon after I arrived.

My mother slept in a shared room on the top floor of the Main House – a light-filled double-room, with her futon mattress under the window and a chest of drawers against the far wall. Because she was important, a player who had helped set up the British Buddhafield and who was now involved in running the place, she shared her room with only one other person. I soon discovered a new way to spend time with her. If I wanted to see her that night I ran down to ask her, or I dialled ’08’ for Hadiqua’a on the internal telephone, and hoped to catch her in between sessions: ‘Mum – can I sleep with you tonight?’ She always said yes. We met outside Hadiqua’a or in the Kids’ Hut, or I ran up to her room in the evening. I filled her in about my day, the masks I had made, the books I had read. Sometimes I fell asleep before she arrived; often in the mornings when I woke she had already left for a session or for an early meeting. I loved to wake up in the quiet of her room, so very different from the morning racket at the Kids’ Hut.

A lot of the children who had mothers at Medina stayed in their mothers’ beds, especially in that first year. It became so common that a decree was sent out among the parents: children were not to spend more than three nights a week in their mothers’ rooms. None of us took any notice. Most mornings when I slept in my mum’s bed I would wake up alone; my mother _ and Sujan, too, if he had also stayed in her bed – had already gone off to work in Hadiqua’a. If I woke up there on a Sunday morning, though, the three of us would have breakfast in bed: my mother, Sujan, and me.

That’s me, on the right. My teeth as wild as they ever were; my hair growing long the way my mother preferred it. We have i list eaten Marmite on toast and drunk at least three cups of tea each, all brought up on a wooden tray by Sujan from the kitchens two floors below.

Late that spring I picked up one of the Medina internal phones to make the usual call to my mother. All the internal phones in Medina were the same: rotary dial, plastic, mostly dark green – the shiny colour of the leaves on the holly bush outside the kitchen windows. For this call I was standing in a hallway outside the Medina Main Office. I remember watching the dial spin right the way round. The phone rang two, three times. Someone picked up on the other end. ‘Hello, Health Centre?’ I asked to speak to Vismaya. There was a clunk and a pause. I hoped my mother would be on a break so she would be able to come to the phone. Through the receiver I could hear people talking faintly in the background. Then my mother’s voice came on the line. ‘Hello?’



‘Hi, Mum,’ I said. The mouthpiece was a bit big for my head.

I moved it down to hear her better. ‘Tim! Hi, love.’

‘Can I sleep with you tonight?’ I asked. There was a muffled pause.

‘Sorry, love?’ my mother said. Her voice was clear again. ‘Can I sleep with you tonight?’ I repeated. ‘Please?’ I added.

There was another muffled pause.

‘Sorry, honey. What was that? Of course. Yes. Of COurse you can. You always can. Come up to my room about eight-thirty, OK?’ There was a resignation in her voice I hadn’t heard or noticed before.

‘OK.’ I said goodbye, but I didn’t put down the phone. I dialled a nine, just to hear the clicks and watch the dial go round. Then I heard a voice again on the phone line.

‘Muuuum?’ The voice was muffled, as if spoken to someone else near the phone. ‘Can I sleep with you tonight?’ The pleading voice rose into a whine. ‘Can I sleep with you? Can I? Pleeeease? Muuuuummmm … ‘

It was my mother’s voice.

I slammed the receiver down, hard enough to ring the bell inside. I stared at the dial until the sound had faded into silence.

Now, on my daily travels – as I crunched Over the gravel, slid down corridors and hallways, ran across the grass _ I carried a cold, heavy lump around with me, this new secret knowledge heavy in my heart. My mother did not want me. Heavy _ but at least it was mine. No one could take it from me. I began to imagine this new sorrow as something priceless inside me, as valuable as it was weighty and cold: like a frozen meteorite, invaluable to science.

After that day my mother and I saw less and less of each other. She would sometimes catch hold of me in the hallways and ask me how I was; I smiled to keep her happy, then wormed my
way out of her arms to go and read a book or play with the other kids. I never asked to stay in her room again.

In the last issue of the RBEN, issue 14, April 1982, there is an interview with Prakash, the first Medina schoolteacher. ‘I look at these kids and the freedom they have,’ he says. ‘It’s so beautiful. It takes me back to how closeted and imprisoned I was as a child. Today they were having a sex education class, and they were really embarrassed about it. I just talked to them about my sexuality, and they were there, open and listening.

‘I really love being with kids. Part of it is that I grew up really quickly and missed out on that childish stage, and the kids give me that space where I can be a child again.’

To teach thirty kids, they needed to get the school registered with Her Majesty’s Schools Inspectorate. My mother dug out her educational psychologist PhD certificate, and one morning Prakash told us we needed to be extra well-behaved and to stay in the schoolrooms today. The inspectors were coming. After that things were more organized; it seemed harder to just slip off and do your own thing. Two of the older kids went to outside schools, where they occasionally got beaten up – but they also had Saturdays off.

In May 1983 Her Majesty’s Inspectors came to examine the Medina school. After some deliberation they decided it was a boarding school; they wrote recommending certain changes. Ma Sat yam, who ran the school, wrote to the Department of Education and Science pointing out that many of the children’s parents lived on the property. On 30 December 1983 a letter arrived conceding the point, and the registration of the Medina Rajneesh School was confirmed. In the first issue of The Rajneesh Times, Ma Anand Poonam spoke with glee about how different Medina was to ‘preconceived notions’. ‘We do not fit into existing concepts because we are something unique, individual. This makes things a bit difficult for bureaucrats.’




garage had bought a new Ford Sierra with the insurance money, from the Commer crash. There was a new Bhagwan video on th’ way. ‘Oh,’ Sharna added. ‘Has anybody moved the salt bin from down by the compost?’

We were already spending more and more of our time away from the adults, in the forests around the edges of the ground” where we knew we would be alone. We went out in the forest t() be among the plants, the oak, the silver birch, the single lilac, the nettles, the avenue of cherry trees. We began to stalk the forests. We liked whipping plants, but people told us off if we whipped the prettier ones – daffodils, for example. No one could tell us off for whipping plants that stung you, we decided, so we made it our job to clear the whole forest of nettles. We pulled off long birch sticks, stripped them of leaves, and wandered through the forest, along the pegged white cord that marked out the Medina boundaries, stepping high to avoid any ticks that might be lurking in the long grass. (Peegee, the Medina chow-chow dog, got ticks all the time; if you caught one you had to have it burned out. I had seen it happen to Sujan, and the thought terrified me.) Whenever we found a clump of nettles we laid them low, starting with the purple flowers at the top and working our way down to the base. As we got good at it, we worked our way deeper among the trees.

The nettles out there were monsters, taller than either of us, with stems thicker than our fingers. Majid claimed that you could eat nettles – you could boil them, he said, and it made the sting go. I had yet to see him try. In Willard Price’s African Adventure I had read about the nettles on the Mountains of the Moon: their stings were the size of needles; they could kill a horse. I told this to Sharna, who laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m glad I’m not a horse.’ Har-har. Majid and I took no chances out there. We wielded the largest sticks we could find. The nettles were plentiful; they took the punishment we gave them, and they grew back twice as tall.

Slowly, on those whipping trips, we learned nettle-lore. We learned how to stroke the leaves downwards and not get stung at all. We learned how to grasp the nettles at the base, just under I he surface of the earth, where the spines were too soft to pierce the skin. In this way, we could pull a whole nettle – roots and all – from the ground. The knowledge was more useful than it sounds. By being able to emerge from the bushes at a moment’s lIotice waving a huge nettle longer and taller than ourselves with leaves the size of your face – to chase an older kid across the fJ,rass, we gained a level of peace and quiet not readily available. When a big nettle fell on us and the pain was too great to ignore, we knew how to search out the largest dock-leaves and squeeze the green juice over the rash until the pain eased.

Sometimes we wanted the adults to notice our absence – and our prowess. On those afternoons, on the way back to the Kids’ Ilut with our birch sticks in hand, the carefully cultivated plants ill the Main House flower beds proved targets too difficult to resist. We would look at each other and, without saying a word, strip a flowery bush bare with a few quick slashes.

One evening Sujan brought it up at the school announcements. The evening bell rang, and we gathered in the Kids’ Hut playroom. ‘Someone,’ he said sternly, ‘has knocked all the blossoms off the hibiscus.’

I bit my lip to stop myself from laughing.

Summer ended. One by one the swallows and house martins swooped out from under the eaves and flew away. Early that autumn there was a spate of sudden showers; thick, warm, heavy rain spattered the forests. The rain brought out every colour of green you had ever seen. Dark rivers of water ran down treetrunks, like tears.

In October a team of sannyasins decided to dig a new lake where the old lake had been, down at the bottom of the lawn. They staked out the shape of the lake with pegs and wooden cords, and dug down into the clay – I remember being surprised at how grey and wet the sides of the hole were. Then they lined the hole with a great plastic sheet. Someone ran a hose through the window ,II” I all the way from the Main House to the lake. Someone else put a water pipe right by where the lake was, so they rolled up a long hose, and ran a shorter hose from there. The kids gathlered to watch the lake fill, but after half an hour there was hardly (‘V.11 a puddle. We talked about what would happen if we stood on the hose – would the Main House swell up and explode in a shower of water? – then we got bored and went away. That night at lilt Omar Khayyam bar someone took bets about how long the hi” would take to fill. The highest guess was three days.

The Medina gardeners wanted to get some exotic ducks ,., float around on the lake; it turned out another sannyas commune had a bunch of standard green and brown ducks, so they had I” settle for those. Later that week the ducks were shipped in, alld as the water rose they floated around in the hole. Even with ;111 the rain, the lake took seven days and nights to fill.

That winter at Medina we felt ripples of another kind. After the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, investigating alleged arranged marriages at the Ranch, told her she would have to leave the USA, Bhagwan’s original secretary and first disciple, Laxmi, was evicted from the new Oregon headquarters. For fif teen years she’d been his most devoted sannyasin; she left the commune with just two bags and her gold Rolex watch. Laxmi moved from state to state, changing her name frequently to keep ahead of sannyasin spies and the INS. Her former assistant, Sheela, stepped into Laxmi’s place as Bhagwan’s secretary. Soon afterwards the hubbub in Omar Khayyam rose again, after Bhagwan’s bodyguard Shivamurti was also excommunicated. In response to Sheela’s condemnation, he published a series of exposes about the corruption of power in Bhagwan’s inner circle. He claimed that Bhagwan wandered about his apartment so high on nitrous oxide that, while muttering that truth could not be expressed in words, he would brace himself against the wall and foul his own plushly carpeted hallways. Shivamurti also a scandalous story he claimed was common knowledge in the inner circle: Bhagwan used only the missionary position and came quickly. Sheela wrote open letters in the Rajneesh advising sannyasins to close their hearts to Laxmi and _ their egos, no longer fed by Bhagwan, wanted to everything they had all worked for. My mother and her discounted Shivamurti’s allegations. Then in December, in an NBC television interview in Los Angeles, Sheela was asked about Bhagwan’s alleged anti-Semitism. She smiled sweetly and said: ‘How do you get four Germans and five hundred Jews into a Volkswagen? Simple. Two Germans in the front, two Germans III hack, and five hundred Jews in the ashtray.’ When they heard about this, my mother and her friends were shocked; then they put it down to a publicity stunt. On that level, at least, Sheela seemed to be succeeding.

Even on the other side of the Atlantic, at Medina, it was apparent to us _ the kids as well as the adults – that the world at large had begun to use the term ‘Bhagwan’ as shorthand for ‘flamboyant religious conman’. One of the kids clipped a ‘Bloom County’ ( comic strip from a newspaper, in which Opus is briefly entranced by the idea of taking sannyas. The clipping circulated in the Kids’ Ilut dormitories. (Opus: ‘Say, brother … uh, how about refreshing me on this Rajneesh business .. .’ Sannyasin: ‘Well, Rajneesh is the truth, and the truth is the light, which is life. Life’s truth light. And happiness. Which is wearing red pajamas and blowing kisses toward the Bhagwan’s 72 Gold Rolls-Royces.’ Opus: ‘Whoa! By golly … that does make a lot of sense.’)

On 23 December, two weeks after Sheela’s outrageous remark on NBC, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service denied Hhagwan’s petition for a permanent US resident’s visa. They listed four reasons: his poor health would interfere with his religious work; religious leaders were not silent; applicants must have been working as religious teachers for twO years prior to the application,

The front lawn was always littered with mole holes. Chinmaya, the bobble-hatted Medina head gardener, kept us up to date on their battles to rid the lawn of moles. Very early on, he told us, the Medina gardeners swapped their natural holistic mole repellent for rat poison. When the poison didn’t work, they finally installed a series of lethal-looking machines in the holes – designed, so we thought, to zap the moles whenever they came up for air. Nonetheless, the moles kept coming. We imagined them underground, living together like we did. We played our games directly above their own communal homes.

Often, on warm afternoons, we would pause in a game of football on the front lawn to watch the adults come out to do their group-dynamic exercises in the sun. The groups looked fun. The adults would climb onto each other’s shoulders in a pyramid, then roar like lions before all falling off. They would form a ring and hold a mock-bullfight. They would stand stockstill, without moving, for hours.

At certain times of the year, at lunchtimes and in the evenings, we saw people from the Satori groups wandering around with IN SILENCE badges pinned to their maroon breasts. We called it ‘Satori Season’. We’d follow them around, badger them, pull faces – anything to get them to talk.

At times, when we’d sneaked in to grab cushions, or crawled between the trees round the back of the group rooms and raised ourselves up on tiptoes to peek through the windows, we’d seen what happened in the group-rooms themselves. Everyone was fully clothed. People would sometimes be dancing, sometimes flailing and screaming. Occasionally a Ma or Swami would be crying and beating a cushion with snot and drool and tears dripping down their face. More often, the group leader would be talking quietly, gazing into the eyes of a man or woman who would be quietly sobbing.

One morning Sharna called us all into the Main Hall for a surprise. Sixty adults from one of the groups filed in opposite. He told us that this group needed an exercise in surrender, and we were each going to get two slaves for the morning. He said that until noon our slaves would have to do everything we commanded. We cheered and filed across the room to pick out the ones we liked. First, I made my two carry me on their shoulders to the sweetshop and buy me the most expensive biscuits. Then we walked out onto the front lawn; Majid and I held jousting matches using our slaves as mounts. Just before twelve the obvious thought came to us both at exactly the same time. We turned to our slaves and demanded they give us their wallets. The slaves couldn’t say anything – they were still wearing their IN SILENCE badges. But they looked at each other, tapped their watches as if

it were already noon, and ran away.

After the usual information that evening in the announcements _ Disco keep-fit had moved to eight-thirty in the meditation room _ Sharna asked Rupda to come up to the front. We’d seen her earlier, playing on the swings with her slaves; we’d scoffed at her naivety. She hadn’t got her slaves to buy her anything. Now Sharna praised her. Apparently, the only order she had given was for her slaves to enjoy themselves. Majid and I looked at each other and mimed sticking our fingers down our throats.

To us kids, the regular Medina celebrations looked just the same as the groupS, except that the groups took place in Hadiqua’aand the celebrations took place in the Main Hall; we were allowed to push our way through these crazy celebration crowds. We got a much closer look. People would roll their eyes, sing, kneel, or curl up on the floor, smiling with their eyes closed. Everyone got as blissed-out as possible. Sometimes tears streamed down their faces. Dancing meant waving your head in a figure-of-eight, arms raised, malas flailing out at chest-height, about ready to take the eye out of any kid pushing past through the crowd. I knew that kind of dancing; we all did. We groaned and rolled our eyes whenever we saw someone waving in this manner. Later that year when we were first allowed to have our own discos – no over eighteens allowed – we put hand-lettered signs of our own on the door: ‘NO SPIRITUAL DANCING’. Anyone who raised their arms too high above their heads was swiftly given the boot.

There were annual bashes, too, which were always advertised with crazy curlicued cartoons in the glossy Medina brochures:

Hallowe’en, Bhagwan’s Birthday, Guru Purnima Day, New Year’s Eve, May Day Bal1. (These adverts were so slick that the only time Bhagwan’s secretary Sheela visited Medina, she told the assembled throng that our brochures were ‘too much like Vogue magazine and not right for Bhagwan’s message at al1.’) On these annual occasions some of the adults would hold a fancydress cabaret on a carpet rolled out in the Main Hall: men with handkerchiefs tied on their heads, women with glittery feather boas wrapped around their malas, kicking their legs out to music-hall classics: ‘MyoId man said follow the van … ‘ and ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’.

To us, the celebrations all looked the same – a confusion of maroon, heat, balloons, red velvet, make-up, and crowds. The hall would become packed full of sweaty people. Hundreds of adults danced, sang, boogied, disco-danced, got on down to a sannyasin band. At these annual celebrations, a hundred or so visitors mingled with the residents. To separate us from the visitors the commune kids got special beads for our malas: red showed we were residents; orange that we were allowed up after eleven. (About once a week, when my mala broke, I would try to persuade the adult who restrung it to slip one of these orange beads on this time, because I was now old enough; they never believed me.) If you were young – six years old, say, going on seven – what you did was stand on the Main Hall stairs for a minute, looking down on the crowd to get your bearings, then plunge into the crowd. You raised your forearms on either side of your face to guard against the flailing malas. You would push

your way through on tiptoes – craning for a glimpse of another kid or, even better, your mother somewhere through a gap in the lTowd.

The music in these crowds was always Bhagwan music, the old Sufi songs followed by new standards written by sannyasin musicians. The Bhagwan music was so much a part of it all: sung at music groups, celebrations, birthdays, meditations, cabarets, in Ashram buildings and commune hallways, in the kitchens, dormitories; out on the lawn late at night, before fireworks lit up the sky. So much so that, even though the kids rarely joined in the singing, I still remember the melodies and the words – ‘Only you … ‘; ‘In your grace, Bhagwan ‘; ‘Looking inside … Looking inside … I wake up to you I wake up to your love … ‘ In the early days the songs were folksy, but later, as the 1980s progressed, they all began to sound more and more like the Pointer Sisters. Everywhere these songs were sung, sannyasins swayed to the music. Their hands caressed the air; their heads rolled in the familiar loop; their malas swung out into a rattling figure-of-eight. When the music stopped, as we sometimes managed to stay awake to see, everyone stood around with their eyes closed, still slowly swaying, or collapsed on the floor not caring who they layover or against.

In these celebrations, sometimes a group of visitors lined up to take sannyas. Swamis and Mas would line the stairs; we kids would sit and peer down through gaps in the banisters. The hall was packed with dancing, leaping maroon, frenetic drums, arms flailing, malas tucked into shirts or over one arm to avoid possible injury. Everyone sang along to a Bhagwan song: ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! There is a paradise on earth!’

By the side of the stairs in the main hall, moon-faced Adheera who I always thought looked like a wise old orang-utan – would hang a mala around the lowered neck of a new sannyasin, place her thumb on the person’s forehead, and smile a blissful smile. When neither Poonam nor Adheera was available, my mother


That summer, as the Third Annual World Celebration approached, a rumour spread through sannyasin communes worldwide. If there was not 100 per cent emotional positivity this year, Bhagwan might ‘drop his body’ in July during the Master’s Day festival in Oregon. Bhagwan had always said his death was to be the biggest sannyasin celebration yet; no disciple would want to miss the greatest event of his lifetime. Bookings for the celebration quadrupled.

From the Rajneesh Times:

Message to all sannyasins, friends and lovers of Bhagwan.


It is very important to make your travel arrangements to Rajneeshpuram for the Third Annual World Celebration immediately, as Master’s Day, 6 July, coincides with the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and with the 4 July weekend (a US national holi day). Many flights are already fully booked. Also, get your vis;I:; early and be sure to let us know if you encounter any pro/lll’ll!.”,

We were gathered together in the Kids’ Hut and were told that this year we were to have a special treat to be flown out to Rajneeshpuram, the sannyasin city where Bhagwan now lived, for a ten-day holiday paid for by the commune. We were thrilled. I quickly made it clear to the other kids that Oregon was near California, where I had been before, as my unparalleled ‘Centipede’ breakdance moves proved.

All the Medina kids flew out together (most of our parents had flown out the week before). We stopped over in Minneapolis-St Paul, ‘The Twin Cities’, a name which left me with confused images of apples and cathedrals and people joined at the hip. The whole airport felt cool, like the air from an open refrigerator. The older girls kept whistling the chorus to ‘We’re the Kids in America (whoah-oh)’. The younger children held hands as we waited to board the flight. The second plane landed in Seattle, Washington. We made the drive to Portland, Oregon, in a white-painted Rajneeshpuram minibus, two birds wheeling against a maroon sun painted on either side. The evening was dark and cool. I remember the air blowing in through the open quarter-light window. We may have stopped off at the Rajneesh Hotel in Antelope, the nearest town to Rajneeshpuram: I remember a stop at a bus shelter, the crunching of gravel. I awoke again when we reached the long bumpy road at the edge of the Ranch. Out the window I could see huts with men wearing sunglasses, who waved us through. Then we were there, at the Ranch, and I was somewhere, asleep.

The next morning all of the Medina kids were gathered together in an L-shaped room in Sheela’s own residence, inside Jesus Grove – one of the most exclusive areas of the Ranch. The floor was covered in Oriental rugs, the patterns dark red and maroon. In between the rugs you could see patches of the rush matting that also ran around the edge of the room. We were sitting on the cushions that were already laid out across the floor. Some of the Medina adults were lined up against the wall behind us. III front of us, perched high on the arm of a sofa lined up against thl’ long window, in a red jean-jacket and red velour trousers, her legs crossed but not quite reaching the ground, was Sheela. By the way we had all been ushered in we could tell she was important; I’d never seen her before. All I knew was her name. Sheela rolled up her sleeves, played with the silver bangles that ran up each arm to the elbow, and smiled prettily, waiting for us to be quiet.

Behind Sheela, through long windows that made up one wall of the room, huge hills were visible against the bright blue of the sky. The hills looked to me like the round tips of distant, dusty mountains. I was wondering how big this place really was, whether those clouds over there by the hills were still over the Ranch, or the sea, or California, or England. I thought they must be really far away, much farther than anyone might think. Then Sheela spoke. The first thing we should know, she said, was that we weren’t going back to England in ten days’ time. In fact, Medina was no longer to be our home.

We sat upright in shock.

Sheela explained. We were to remain here in the Ranch, to learn about meditation and worship from sannyasins who lived closer to Bhagwan. We would be here for as long as it took; it might be three months, it might be forever. Every adult would be allocated a tent or an A-frame. Children would be assigned carers who would watch over them at their worship each day.

I couldn’t believe the power she seemed to have over us. She could decide all of our destinies at a stroke, with no thought for what we wanted. I hated her. Then I remembered my father, John, and my eyes filled up with tears.

Earlier in the year John had visited Medina. Back then we had made a plan for this summer: after the ten days of the Third Annual World Celebration, John would drive up here to pick rnc up; together, we would go on a camping trip down the west coast of America. I was to stay with him a while, then go back [() Medina.

What now? Would he be allowed to come? Would I be allowed to go? Kneeling on a red patterned rug, I burst into tears. One of the adults, a Woman with long black hair, asked what Was the matter. I told her my father Was coming to meet me. Would I still be able to go away with him? Should I call my dad and ask him not to come? I burst into tears again. The woman rubbed my head and hugged me. She suggested I ask Sheela myself.

I looked over towards the wicker chair. Sheela was still curled up inside it, talking to one of the women. The woman bent Over and whispered something. Sheela laughed, throwing her head back and rattling her bangles some more. No, I said, I can’t speak to her. The black-haired woman pulled me to my feet and pushed me towards the chair. Breathing erratically, blinking back the tears, I stood in front of Sheela. She looked down, toyed with her bangles, and asked me what it was I wanted to say. Was I allowed to leave to visit my father? I asked her. Sheela looked around the room, then back at me. Sheela nodded. Yes, I could go, she said; however, while I was here, I was to worship along with the other kids. Until my father arrived, nothing would be different for me. I nodded eagerly. Sheela looked back up to the other woman. I could see she Was finished with me, so I walked back over to all the other kids and tried to wipe my face with my sleeve.

That Summer Sheela had a series of meetings with groups of sannyasins from around the world to tell them how best to spread Bhagwan’s message. After the celebration, she let some sannyasins go back to their OWn Countries. In some of these meetings her bright red denim jacket was parted to reveal a .357 Magnum strapped to her waist.

Because they were less likely to abuse their power, and because they had been suffering for centuries and he wanted to compensate, Bhagwan put women in charge of his communes. The big-shot sannyasins were all Women: the Big Mammas. Back in the Ashram Main Office in India these matriarchs, the practical


heart of the administration, laid down the law on moral, emotional, and spiritual issues. They were more down to earth than Bhagwan. They listened to the problem at hand. Then they said, ‘OK. Now put it aside. Be meditative, be detached, and carryon with your work.’

The Mammas were absolutely dedicated to Bhagwan. They audibly capitalized their ‘h’s whenever they referred to ‘Him’. They aped his mannerisms; they adopted his vocabulary; they pressed their palms together in greeting; they littered their conversation with Bhagwan’s favourite words, like ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’. Good meant varyingly ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘welcome’, ‘we are finished here’. ‘Beautiful’ could mean anything. When people went a little too crazy at the Ashram, they were sometimes shipped off to a local asylum for tranquillizers and rest care. When they recovered and came back, someone would say, ‘That is beautiful.’ When they didn’t recover, they were drugged and propped up on the seat of a plane back home. Someone would say, “That is beautiful.’

Until 1981 anyone who wanted to see 13hagwan first had to talk to Laxmi, the Indian woman who had been Bhagwan’s first disciple, and had soon become his personal secretary. She always referred to herself in the third person. ‘He told Laxmi to wear saffron,’ she said once, ‘and buy a special mala, and so Laxmi hecame his number one sannyasin. Just like that.’ Laxmi said that when she met Bhagwan it had been love at first sight. She called him ‘a fierce and powerful speaker, a courageous warrior, a lion’. She loved Bhagwan’s message, and was convinced it would spread like an orange fire across the world. In 1977 she announced that by 1987 half of Red China would take sannyas. She was the daughter of an affluent Jain businessman, a ( Congress party supporter with close ties to Gandhi, Nehru, and Morarji Desai; when she met Bhagwan she had been the secretary of the All-India Women’s Congress. Her political power and family connections had been essential in keeping the Ashram running.


Sheela, Laxmi’s assistant, was a small, bright-eyed Indian woman, a powerhouse who never seemed to stop. (Laxmi and Bhagwan nicknamed her ‘The Atom Bomb’.) Sheela had taken sannyas in 1972 and moved to the Ashram in 1975. She started working in the kitchen, but within a year she had formed the Ashram’s bank (began when she sat on the Krishna House steps with a green tin box full of foreign currency). Sheela was soon Laxmi’s second in command. As Laxmi spent more and more time travelling India, searching for a good location for the new Buddhafield, Sheela began to make more and more executive decisions. In 1981 Sheela took over as Bhagwan’s right-hand woman. She immediately began to send some sannyasins away and ‘blacklisted’ others, giving them only menial jobs and restricting their access to the outside world. At the age of seventeen Sheela had travelled to study in New Jersey; two years later she had married a US citizen. Her strong connections with the USA made her keen for Bhagwan to relocate to America. Laxmi wasn’t around to argue.

‘If someone is not next to you, it is as if they do not exist,’ Bhagwan once said. He had no trouble with Sheela’s rise to power. By the time they left for America, Sheela was Bhagwan’s ‘representative’; even Laxmi needed Sheela’s permission to speak with Bhagwan.

For some time, in some corners of Pune, anti-Ashram sentiment had been rising. To distinguish their particular brand of joyous surrender from the renunciation of the traditional sannyasin, Bhagwan and his sannyasins sometimes referred to his discipleship as ‘neo-sannyas’. But religious purists were still outraged. The local Indians were at best bemused, and often shocked by the Westerners’ open sexual contact – holding hands, kissing, embracing in public – while wearing the orange robes of the Saddhu, the Indian mystic who has renounced the world. As one local resident wrote in a letter to The Times, it was as if a thousand Indians, dressed as vicars, were snogging their way up Park Lane.

In 1979 a German film crew came to make a documentary about the Ashram therapy groups. They were allowed to film some of the most intensive encounter groups in the padded cells. They filmed men with beards punching other men with beards. They filmed women taking off their robes. They filmed men and women grappling on the padded floors. They filmed men and women screaming, hooting, and thrashing against the walls. The resulting footage was screened – as Ashram! – in cinemas across India. The reputation of Bhagwan as the epicentre of a ‘sex-cult’ grew. By the late 1970s, despite pressure from Laxmi’s father – an old friend – Prime Minister Morarji Desai had banned all further film coverage of the Ashram because he felt it would give a false impression of India to the West. (Bhagwan had called Desai ‘a cunning fascist’, which can’t have helped.)

There were fewer and fewer Indian disciples at the Ashram.

In the early days Bhagwan had lectured one week in Hindi and one week in English. It was the Westerners, though, who loved his message – and Bhagwan courted them most of all. After complaints from Western women about Indians liberating their sexuality too enthusiastically, he banned Indians from Tantric groups, and then from Sufi dancing. He stopped lecturing in Hindi. By mid-1981 only a few hundred Indian sannyasins remained at the Ashram. Around that time, Bhagwan had begun to receive death threats. Stones were thrown at sannyasins from passing cars; occasionally a lone Ma was dragged into a bush and raped by non-sannyasins. One morning in 1980 a Hindu stood up in Bhagwan’s morning lecture, shouted, ‘You are insulting our religion!’, and threw a ceremonial knife; it landed on the floor at Bhagwan’s feet. (The assailant later told the Times of India that he had attacked Bhagwan because the guru ‘was a CIA agent’. Sannyasin folklore insists that the man immediately fell at Bhagwan’s feet and wept for forgiveness.) After the attack, airport-style metal detectors were ordered for the gates of Buddha
Hall. Visitors to the discourses were frisked; and for the first time weapons were worn by some of Bhagwan’s bodyguards.

It wasn’t just the Indians who were troubled by Bhagwan. In the late 1970s Richard Price, the head of the Esalen Institute in California, visited the Ashram. He was broadly admiring of what he saw, until he took one of Teertha’s encounter groups. One woman broke her arm, another her leg. He was shocked by what he saw as emotional and physical abuse. Price had taken sannyas by post two years before; when he left Pune he returned his mala with a letter of protest to Bhagwan describing the group’s techniques as ‘violence and sexual acting out of the most unfeeling kind’. (In his discourse the next morning Bhagwan said: ‘The expert always misses. Only innocence is fresh, alive, receptive.’) Prince Wilf of Hanover, Prince Charles’s cousin and a German heir to the throne, was a long-time Ashramite. Kirti, as he was known, died at the Ashram after collapsing from a stroke in an Ashram karate class. His daughter wanted to live on at the Ashram but the scandalized German royal family took her into its care.

In January 1979, two months after the Jonestown mass suicides, violence was dropped from the groups. ‘Violence has fulfilled its function,’ said an Ashram press release. But there were other problems. Tax issues were about to catch up with the Ashram administration. Indian officials had recently ruled that Rajneesh Foundation International did not qualify as a charitable or religious organization. Therefore it would have to pay $4 million in backdated income, wealth, sales, property, and export taxes. There was a fire at Saswad, Laxmi’s favourite location for the new commune; there was another fire at a Rajneesh book warehouse ten miles outside Pune. The fires were held up at the time as an example of anti-Bhagwan persecution; but some sannyasins realized that the heavily insured books were more lucrative to burn than to ship abroad. These suspicions were shared by the insurance company, which later sued for fraud and repaid Rajneesh Foundation International only a minimal amount.

Through therapy groups, restaurants, donations from wealthy sannyasins, the Ashram administration had for some time been raising as much money as possible. The Ashram canteen was taking in a hundred thousand rupees a week. Even the six-rupee charge to enter the Ashram topped up the coffers.

In April 1981 Sheela used some of the Ashram money to buy a ten-bedroom, late-nineteenth-century mansion in Montclair, New Jersey – officially Chidvilas Rajneesh (‘Tree of Consciousness’) Meditation Center. Although Sheela referred to it as ‘my castle’, it served as Bhagwan’s first residence in the USA. The Ashram coffers were emptied into a Credit Suisse account in Zurich. The stash of gold bullion was melted, forged, and tarnished to resemble cheap bronze badges, and pinned onto the clothes of the inner circle. And Bhagwan emigrated to America.

The whole first-class cabin of the Pan Am flight was reserved for Bhagwan and his closest disciples. As they rose above the clouds, Bhagwan tucked into a champagne breakfast. Sheela was by his side; Laxmi was not on the plane.

After Bhagwan left India, the Pune Ashram wound down. To mark his absence, a life-size cardboard cutout of Bhagwan was propped up on the stage in Buddha Hall. A half-page advert was bought in the Pune Herald: ‘Big Sale at the Shree Rajneesh Ashram’. Locals gathered in a small crowd outside the Ashram gates – ‘Anything to sell, Swami? Tape recorders? Bicycles?’ Bombay airport was crowded with orange people waiting for flights out of India. The monsoon had started; after a clap of thunder the Ashram electricity went out. The last therapy groups were held on the roofs of the group huts in the pouring ram.

Immediately after Bhagwan’s arrival in the USA, while they arranged visas with the London embassy, the people closest to Bhagwan began to come through Oak Village. The famous
sannyasins, the people who had been living closest to Bhagwan – my mother and her friends met them all.

There were now 126 sannyasin centres scattered across Europe, including twenty-two in the UK, forty-three in West Germany, and one, Ananto Rajneesh, in Podgrad, Yugoslavia. In the Rajneesh Buddhafield European Newsletter there was an interview with Swami Prem Volodya, about life as a Swami behind the Iron Curtain (he Wore his mala locket under his clothes, although people often mistook it for a picture of Marx); and a postcard from Vihan Rajneesh Meditation Centre in Berlin, with a photograph of Bhagwan’s name sprayed guerrilla style in letters six feet high on the Berlin Wall.

Sheela’s New Jersey castle was never going to be big enough for their grand plans for the new commune. Two weeks after his departure, in August 1981, Bhagwan’s final destination was announced: he had moved to a huge tract of ranch land in Oregon, bought by Sheela the month before. Bhagwan named the land ‘Rajneeshpuram’ – ‘The Fortified City of Rajneesh’. The informal name was ‘Rancho Rajneesh’; everyone called it the Ranch.

The Ranch. Sixty-four thousand acres – a hundred square miles – of Oregon ranch land, near Antelope, a retirement town with a population of just forty, bought with $6 million of sannyasin investments and donations. Sannyasins intended Rajneeshpuram to be a perfect society: a model of alternative living, with meditation at its heart. A blue booklet _ ‘Rajneeshpuram: A Blueprint for Man’s Future’ – was printed and handed out to every sannyasin at the European communes; in it, Sheela’s pronouncements were laid out like poetry. ‘If we can build a city in a semi-desert, surrounded by land that has been reclaimed and made agriculturally productive through love and care, recycling wastes, exploring new sources of energy, giving back to nature as much as we take from her and enhancing areas of natural beauty and wildlife, we will have achieved Our goaL’


Bhagwan now insisted that the only way to meet the ‘greatest challenge’ facing mankind – ecological harmony – was through the creative use of new technology. They planned to build dams, hydroponics farms, and the biggest greenhouse in America. As well as agricultural areas, urban and commercial dimensions were needed, to ‘accurately reflect modern man’s dilemma’. ‘Our vision of Rajneeshpuram’, the leaflet continues, ‘therefore includes provision for a small city, so that we can provide a complete working model, a society in miniature, for the whole world to study.’

There was another slightly different, more personal, story to the purchase of the Ranch. Sheela had fallen in love when she saw the broad, dusty landscape. In a euphoric moment, as the deal was signed, she confessed to the Ranch foreman that she felt this would be the place her dead husband, Chinmaya, would be reincarnated. Some of the other sannyasins in Bhagwan’s inner circle asked questions about the suitability of the land, and about Oregon’s strict zoning laws. No matter. Sheela now had Bhagwan’s complete confidence. Sheela wanted ‘The Big Muddy’, as the Ranch was then known, to become Rajneeshpuram. So it did.

The public story was that the land was intended for a smallscale sannyasin farming cooperative. Oregon zoning laws allowed just six people to live and work on the Ranch. In August 1981 Sheela’s husband, Jayananda, wrote a letter to the Wasco County Planning Commission detailing their plans. The new farming commune would need forty-two persons, he wrote: ten for berry helds, ten for chicken farming, six for grapes, five for water resources, four for orchards, four for making fences, and three for the dairy farm.

Meanwhile, in the Ranch’s Zarathustra farm storage building, an extra storey was built. Each time the inspectors C\lIIl’, i11l’ doorways into the upper level seemed to be obstructed. ()II 1111′, secret floor, the architectural and financial plans made for a new sannyasin city. There were already four hundred sannyasins in residence, and secret plans to house ten thousand. The ultimate hope for this Ranch land was clear to every sannyasin: a Rajneesh city, an entire society focused on love and meditation, with Bhagwan at its centre – an enlightened eye at the heart of the celebratory hurricane. Richer sannyasins were approached and told that for $10,000 they could buy an apartment on the Ranch – which, like those at Pune, would be ready ‘soon’. There would be sannyasin police officers, sannyasin Dumpsters, a sannyasin mayor.

Rajneeshpuram: the city of sannyasins in the sun.

By October 1981 sannyasins had bought up a number of properties in Antelope, the closest town to Rajneeshpuram, to use as spare accommodation. The Rajneeshpuram administration had asked the Antelope town council for permission to build a printing plant and a hundred-worker office building on the Ranch. In November Wasco County Court granted the Ranch administration permission to hold an election to incorporate Rajneeshpuram as a town or city. But, it turned out, Oregon land-use regulations applied to the property; and ‘The Big Muddy Ranch’ was zoned for agricultural purposes only. A local pressure group, ‘100 Friends of Oregon’, challenged Wasco County Court’s decision. They insisted all non-agricultural buildings should be built in Antelope itself, not on Rajneeshpuram land. The Ranch administration investigated this possibility, but discovered that according to other water supply regulations, no new construction would be permitted in Antelope. A ‘stop-work’ order was issued, forbidding any further construction work on Rajneeshpuram land.

Not long after, the Rajneeshpuram sannyasins won their case; they would be allowed to build. In fact they had never stopped building.

They changed the Ranch. They dug it up, and ploughed it, and turned the earth with machines, until things began to grow.



Bhagwan had never made any secret of his admiration for the rich. His attitude to money was that it was there to be used: ‘Money needs to be a current,’ he said, ‘fast moving. The faster it moves, the richer is society’. (An Oregon bumper sticker from the mid-1970s: ‘Jesus Saves, Bhagwan Spends’.) Bhagwan said that the poor could never achieve enlightenment as they were too busy looking for fridge-freezers. In fact, he maintained, the seeker of truth had a duty to be rich (an attitude which, some observed, might explain his popularity in West Germany and California). Back in the mid-1970s, the Ashram had two safes: one was reserved for stacks of cash, gold bars, and jewellery given as gifts to Bhagwan. Deeksha, a member of the inner circle and responsible for the Ashram catering, kept her stash of Swiss chocolate in the other. Bhagwan had always loved to collect expensive trinkets: monogrammed towels, gold pens, cuff-links, jewelled watches. Now he had moved on to bigger things. Unknown to most sannyasins, gold jewellery given to Bhagwan at the Ranch was now melted down into bullion. What he really wanted was Rolls-Royces.

His first two white Rolls-Royces, a Corniche and a Silver Shadow, were shipped over from the Ashram when he established himself at Rajneeshimram in Oregon. In 1981 the early guard of Rajneeshpuram sannyasins took up a collection, with the richer sannyasins donating the lion’s share. On the morning of 11 December, his birthday, Bhagwan was led out from his Chuang Tzu living quarters. His birthday present was unveiled: two new Rolls-Royce Corniches, one white and one silver, parked on the gravel drive.

By the end of spring, work on the main infrastructure of Rajneeshpuram was nearly complete. There were generators, sewage works, and water supplies. There were sixty acres of vegetables, a hundred beehives, and a vineyard. There were twenty-eight hundred chickens, a hundred ducks, twenty geese, aflock of peacocks, and two emus (to keep the coyotes at bay).



At Medina we settled for Muscovy ducks; at the Ranch they imported black swans. Despite its being an entirely vegetarian city, there was also a herd of a hundred beef cattle, bought from an influential local. Bhagwan’s apartment had a sculpted garden, a heated indoor swimming pool, and – his favourite _ a door that opened automatically as he approached. There was a new private airstrip for ‘Air Rajneesh’s’ first two Douglas DC-3s. Work had begun on a massive two-acre solar greenhouse intended to be the largest in the USA. Nearly complete was ‘Krishnamurti Dam’, which would form a useful reservoir and ‘beautify the landscape’.

Because of the steep ranch hills, TV reception was impossible – except in Jesus Grove, where Sheela had installed a satellite dish. There was no cinema, theatre, or library. There were few books; the second bestselling writer on the Ranch was Louis L’ Amour. The bestselling author was, of course, Bhagwan. In every shop, office, and restaurant, Bhagwan’s face was on the wall. At the Rajneesh Hotel, his face Was on every ‘hospitality AIDS Prevention’ condom and disinfectant pack. In the Rajneesh Casino, his face was on the back of every playing card.



Also complete were the foundations of a new kind of spiritual university: originally the ‘Rajneesh International Meditation University’, then renamed the ‘Rajneesh International NoUniversity’ (because it did not believe in ‘competition, examination or knowledge through memory’). The staff included deans of ‘the occult’ and of ‘altered states of consciousness’.

To celebrate the birth of the new sannyasin city, they decided to hold a World Celebration, and invite every sannyasin from across the world. Promotional merchandise was ordered: baseball caps with plastic adjustable head-straps and high white foam front with a picture of Bhagwan. (Some of the Medina kids, whose parents visited from the Ranch, had these. I preferred my Marine World Africa USA hat, with two leaping killer whales and a tiger in the centre, because no one else had one.)

The Antelope residents began to see that this was going to be more than a farming cooperative. The German footage of naked Tantra groups at the Ashram did the rounds in anti-Rajneesh circles around Antelope and Madras. The old anti-communist motto ‘Better Dead than Red’ started to reappear on bumper stickers around local Oregon towns. At community fairs you could buy ‘Ban the Bhagwan’ T-shirts and badges. There were also customized versions of our own caps, worn by some of the more confrontational locals: the picture of Bhagwan branded with rifle-cross hairs on his forehead. By early summer there were a dozen lawsuits outstanding between Rajneeshpuram and the Antelope City Council, including one long-running attempt to have the permit for the celebration revoked. The old Antelope residents had begun to leave. Staff at a Portland restaurant -unrelated to the Ranch – had to change their red uniforms after patrons assumed they were sannyasins and stopped coming.

Sheela, who thrived when Bhagwan seemed to be persecuted, called the Oregon locals ‘fascists and bigots’.



There were thousands of sannyasins at Rajneeshpuram. I remember having difficulty finding my mother’s tent among the thousands and thousands of tents lined up in rows, in dusty fields upon dusty fields. If I missed my mother during the day, I went to look for her in the evening at ‘Magdalena’, in the food tents. After a while, people dressed in the same colours all start to look the same. I would walk through the huge, long, low marquees, running my eyes along the hundreds of benches, pushing my way through the crowds of thousands of sannyasins arriving for their evening meal, looking down each row under the huge green canvas canopy. After dark, much of my time at the Ranch was spent wandering through those crowds looking for my mother. There were times when, as evening drew in, I felt I had spent my whole life on tiptoes, looking for my mother in a darkening crowd.

The kids were supposed to sleep in a special communal dormitory, in a larger A-frame, but actually we slept where we liked – with friends, with friends’ mothers, sometimes in one or other of the department buildings. Once I slept outside near a row of A-frames; I thought it would be warm, but it wasn’t. I shivered all night looking up at the stars. My mother and Sujan had a tent in one of the huge tent cities. I always had trouble remembering which was theirs; one time in two, when I found their tent, it was empty.

During the days I walked along the Ranch’s dusty paths, breathed in the dust kicked up by my flip-flops, and watched the Ranch scroll by – past Jesus Grove, Buddha Grove, Magdalena, down Zen Road and up Zarathustra Drive. Every now and then I would bump into one or two other kids and we would play together for a while. We searched between the rocks for quartz crystals, hoping perhaps to sell them – they looked valuable to us, cracked facets of clear crystal that emerged magically from nuggets of rock – but although plenty of the adults were happy to admire them, no one ever showed any real interest in making a purchase. Our pockets weighed down with quartz rocks, we walked down to the shopping district and wandered in and out of the wood-hut shops. Our favourite was Noah’s Ark, the boutique. When no one was looking we ran in and hid under the rails of clothes, peeked out at customers, ran our hands through the sleeves and hems. The boutique sold all kinds of Bhagwan souvenirs: Bhagwan pillowcases showing him in profile, asleep, resting his head on his own pillow; decks of cards, like the ones used in the Rajneeshpuram Casino, a different picture of Bhagwan on the back of each card; pocket-sized Bhagwan flashlights, ‘Be a light unto yourself’ written down one side. There were books, too: Bhagwan’s discourses, racks and racks of Louis L’ Amour. I stood by the jewellery cabinet and stared through the glass at the silver malarings and necklace pendants crafted in the familiar shape: two birds in flight, wings touching, silhouetted against the sun. The other kids crowded around; we’d press our faces against the glass and covet the little pretty stones and silver inside. They’d leave and, anxious as to what would happen if I let these few friends stray away from me, I’d run to catch up. But I’d have already lost them in the crowd.

Around the Ranch, converted yellow Oregon State school buses kept regular routes. I would get on one of these and travel right round the Ranch, past the shopping district, over the creeks, through yellow fields of tents and A-frames, past men with pink ‘Peace Officer’ uniforms and big service revolvers strapped to their waists. Then I’d get off near the meditation halls. I ran all the way around the edge of them. They were huge symmetrical glass and cloth and metal marquees; great panes oj glass emerged from the dust in glittering sheets, like the facets of the quartz crystals we found in the hills. These glass shards let ill all the light, and people would sit and meditate in the light alld the silence.

Once, on my wanderings near Walt Whitman Grove, I came across a big marble slab with words carved in huge letters across the top: ‘I dream’d in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth.’

There were times when my mother was with me, and we would get off the bus together. One time in two I’d manage to persuade her to shell out a dollar for a hot vegetarian bacon croissant from my favourite food stall. All the food at the Ranch, as at Medina, was vegetarian, but somehow – it amazed me these croissants had some kind of stuff in them that tasted better than bacon.

None of us kids knew each other at the Ranch, or really had the chance to get to know each other. I recognized some from Medina, but the rest drifted apart as easily as we came together. There was nothing to tie us down, keep us in place. As quickly as we found one another, we lost ourselves again in the Oregon sun.

That year, the summer of 1984 at the Ranch, many of the Medina kids lost their virginity; boys and girls, ten years old, eight years old, in sweaty tents and A-frames, late at night and mid-afternoon, with adults and other children. I remember some of the kids – eight, nine, ten years old – arguing about who had fucked whom, who would or wouldn’t fuck them. The wilder kids smoked borrowed or stolen cigarettes, burned each other with their lighters, and tried to persuade the younger kids to inhale the gas from whipped cream cans stolen from the Magdalena food tents. I had just turned nine years old. I kept away from these kids. I spent my time in the hills, wandering among the juniper scrub, searching for quartz crystals.

In the roaring heat of the afternoons, sometimes we went naked in Kabir Creek. Once, as we splashed about in the single cool aquamarine crystal of the water, one of the other kids told me there were hundreds of square miles of Ranch. It would take days to walk around the edge. That seemed huge to me. That seemed the same as not having any edges at all.



In the afternoon I would run up to the lake to see if I could find Majid among all the other brown-skinned kids with suntan lotion all over them. We’d all heard about the kid who fell asleep and got stuck to his waterbed; his skin had to be peeled off; we all covered ourselves with as much lotion as we could find. If I found Majid I’d persuade him to swim or to row together out over the water. If you went out to the middle of the lake and looked down, the water was so blue, it was like flying upside down under the sky. The lake was a forty-five-acre reservoir: 350 million gallons held in place by 400 feet of earth, Krishnamurti Dam. We used to row out across the lake, slide out across the brilliant blue, walk out along the edge of the dam. We’d look down and imagine what would happen if the

earth gave way.

The Ranch was the beginning of the loneliest time of my life. On the other hand, I had never felt so free. There were hundreds of people gathered around the lake. Everyone you’d ever seen or known or knew or would ever meet. From the wooden islands we leaped out over the deep blue sheet of the reservoir, avoiding the adults floating on their backs and the kids in the inner tubes and sprawled on top of inflatable plastic milk-sacks they’d picked up round the back of the Magdalena food tents. At the peak of every leap my heart was in my mouth. I didn’t care how I hit the water. The world had never felt as huge or as open to receive us as it suddenly did then.

Once, walking down the path from the lake, shuffling my flip-flops to encourage the clouds of dust that billowed out into the air behind me, I saw a boy coming up the path the other way. He stopped in front of me. We stared at each other. I had seen this boy somewhere before.

We had met in India, he said. Had I been to India? I wasn’t sure. I thought I had been, some time ago with my nlorher ,~ I remembered an avenue of the tallest palm trees, geckos, cciling

ended the day with a visit to the Exploratorium, a museum of science and experimentation that fills the breezy hangar-sized hall of the Palace. The Exploratorium was my favourite place in San Francisco. It was filled with interactive science exhibits – a laser with which you could write your name on the far-away roof; a gyroscope bicycle that you could get into and rotate on, keeping still while the whole world turned.

On the way back to the car I ran up ahead and hid from my father behind a tree. I was sure John had seen me and he was just pretending to look; I watched him pace back and forth by the car in the fading light. Still, I stayed behind the tree. I wanted to test him, to see if he, too, would disappear. I waited for a while longer under the darkening California sky. When I peeked out again the car was still there; my father was gone. I ran back to find him. When he saw me running towards him in the shadows among the trees, I expected him to be angry. But he ran up and grabbed me. He hugged me so hard that I heard my back crack.

At my father’s house, a cabin in the middle of another redwood forest, we ate nuts from ring-pull cans. I ate salted peanuts; he ate pistachios – strange green nuts I couldn’t begin to understand. We watched videos until he went to bed; I tried to persuade him to let me watch Alien by claiming I had already seen it at Medina. He looked displeased, but he still wouldn’t let me watch it again. At night I leafed through Stephen King short stories next to the big fan in the spare room, scaring myself imagining I, too, had a clockwork monkey, which, if ever its cymbals clashed, heralded the death of someone I loved. The air was hot; I always left the fan on all night. Sometimes, even with just a sheet over me, it was still too hot to sleep.

On the way back from redwood forests and malls I sat strapped into the passenger seat. My father’s stereo played Ijahman’s ‘Are We a Warrior’. Chrissie Hynde sang, ‘Those were the happiest days of my life’.

One evening, in the middle of that summer, John took me t< a nearby highway. We walked through the crowd until we founIIl was marked by a sung chant, one that had been sung at till’ I,>,’j of Gautama Buddha twenty-five hundred years before. BILIJ’,W.1I1 chose a handful of sannyasins, dressed in ceremolli;ll Ill. 1 I 0011



ajneesh School was not Medina: it was meditation boot camp. When I arrived from Cologne they put me with the French, German, and Spanish kids, in a new dormitory up by the Main House. All the old Medina kids still slept in the Kids’ Hut. Once again, all my toys were poured into the communal box, all my books were put into the communal kids’ library. The old Medina kids seemed stand-offish but because I knew my way around Medina, the European kids liked me. They always lent me toys in the hope I would show them around. With regular dropped hints about secret passages only I knew about, I kept them interested. (When a matchbox car slid on the floorboards and into a wall vent, I’d tap my nose and say, ‘I know where that’s gone.’)

The main difference between Medina and the new Rajneesh School was how much we had to do. There were now 140 children to keep an eye on. Where before the Medina sannyasins were content to let us kids do pretty much what we wanted, now the new guard couldn’t find enough activities for us. As well as the school hours, now mandatory, each evening’s two hours of worship were harder to get out of. The work was also more serious. Kids sat together in the accounts office toting up figures with a print-out calculator and wondering what would happen if, for fun, they started putting in wrong numbers.





Not long after that, my mother managed to arrange a short visit to Medina. A van needed to be delivered from Germany to Rajneesh School, and my mother, then working as a driver in the Wioska transport department, persuaded them to let her drive. When she arrived, late that same evening, someone was sent to bring me to meet her in the Main Hall. We had not seen each other for six months. When I saw her sitting at one of the coffee tables, I smiled, uncertain whether to run to her. She came over and hugged me. I felt myself stiffen in her arms. She began to cry; I wondered why, though I was struggling not to cry myself. That morning I’d woken up early and made her a round brown chocolate cake with multicoloured candles. I pulled her down the corridor and into the kitchens to show her. I made two mugs of tea. We ate the cake together.

After the tea, I took her on a tour. I showed her the upstairs rooms that had once been adult dormitories and were now our schoolrooms. I showed her my dormitory, which had once been the transport room. As it grew dark we went for a walk around the Main House and out onto the front lawn.

Then it was bedtime. I planned to show her my werewolf book the next day, but at 8 A.M. she came to my bed to say goodbye.

That June the mothers at sannyasin communes across Europe were given a choice. They could either go to visit Rajneeshpuram, for the Fourth Annual World Celebration, or they could visit their children in Rajneesh School. Bhagwan had begun to speak publicly again; not all the mothers chose to visit Rajneesh School. I flew out to visit my father in Mountain View, California, so my mother was spared the choice. There was talk of me visiting her in Oregon, but I didn’t want to go back to the Ranch. Instead I stayed with my father until mid-July, for nearly a month.

My father bought me a bike. It was at least three frame-sizes too large, but I told him I liked it that way. I cycled up and down his street, swerving to catch the far end of lawn sprinklers on their arcs over the pavement. We hadn’t yet decided whether I was there for good, but he promised that even if I went back to England, he would keep the bike in his garage for me until next year.

Another summer in California. Even now, the dry smell of pines in July makes those summers burst again in my chest. Those summers with my father – stillness, separation, silence everything the commune was not. At the weekends we would wander together along wood-chip paths in the park a few blocks away; each summer, among the trees, we found we had a little

less to talk about.

Up the coast in Oregon, the tensions between Rajneeshpuram and local communities were still rising. On 21 June 1984 Rajneeshpuram filed a suit claiming that state and county officials had conspired to drive them from Oregon. Sheela called in a PR adviser who had worked for Ronald Reagan; the adviser made a number of recommendations, including that Bhagwan swaP his Rolls-Royces for US-made Lincoln Continentallimou-

sines (‘If it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for the guru,’ he said.) When he heard this advice Bhagwan laughed, but the Rolls-Royces kept on rolling. By August 1985 those entering and leaving Rajneeshpuram were checked and bodysearched by uniformed Peace Officers and sniffer dogs. Residents and visitors wore colour-coded plastic ID bracelets which iden tified where they were allowed to go; ‘NO HIKING’ signs appeared around the centre of Rajneeshpuram. Local law enforcemcn1 agencies had begun to wonder whether this would all end in a 1 armed siege. The National Guard was warned. On the Ibllcl there were helicopters, armed guards, towers with binocular stands, and rose petals everywhere.

That summer my mother received a message to be at a certain place at a certain time and tell no one about it. A truck picked her up and took her with four others to a private Darshan in Lao Tzu, Bhagwan’s house. When they arrived, Bhagwan handed round some gifts (my mother received another straw hat) and he talked about his Noah’s Ark of consciousness. He rambled on. My mother had difficulty following him; she gave up, stopped listening, and tuned in on the energy of the master. Then he crossed the room to press his thumb on her third eye. He told her to keep her eyes closed; as he pressed his thumb into my mother’s forehead, she opened her eyes and looked straight into his. She felt something like an electric shock run through her. The year before, on a safari my mother took while running a group in Africa, a giraffe had bent down and looked straight into her face. To my mother, Bhagwan’s eyes looked just like the giraffe’s: black, bottomless, something with no sense of self. Something wild.

By the time I returned to Medina, the latest word on AIDS transmission from the Ranch was that mosquitoes and other insects could spread the disease from bite to bite. ‘Insectocutors’ – electric machines that sparked and zipped every minute or so – were to be installed immediately, wherever food was prepared or eaten. These cropped up very soon, in the kitchens and the dining areas. Now, when we cooked and ate, it was against this background of an unearthly blue glow and the acrid smell of burning flies.


They danced in orange, pressed themselves together in crowds, sang their songs about heat and love and the sun. It was left to the younger ones, who couldn’t help it, to live out the cooler end of the spectrum, the silvers and the solitary blues.

When I returned to Rajneesh School from California, it was beginning to grow colder. Late in the evenings, when there was a clear sky, I took to standing outside the Kids’ Hut. I stood on the frosty grass, set my feet apart, and looked up at the moon. I had never seen anything so clear-cut as this moon. It looked like the perfect, pearly moonstone set into a silver ring I had stolen from my mother in Germany, which I fingered in my pocket as I stared. From an upstairs window Asha once called out: ‘Oy! Come and look what Yogesh’s doing! He’s staring up at the moon!’ I hoped they would come to look. I hoped they were intrigued, but I didn’t turn around to check. I just stood there and stared up at the night sky.

When I finally left Medina, it was partly out of loneliness, and partly out of pride. Although at the time my departure kit sudden, it seems to me now that I had long been practising IIII’ exit in as many ways as I could.

In the half-light by the dormitories, late into the W.lflll evenings, we played games. We dared each other to



and listening to the radio. I was looking forward to seeing the green glazed tiles, which I knew had been the perfect width for running Matchbox cars along. When we arrived in the corridors, I saw that the tiles had always been brown.

When Medina closed, some of the teachers and some kids moved to Ko Hsuan, the continuation of Rajneesh School in Devon – the place where the boy was found hanged, and where The Times made much of the mixed dormitories for adolescents. Ko Hsuan is still there. In the summer of 1996 the school briefly made the headlines again; it was criticized by AIDS charities for the HIV tests given to every pupil at the start of each term. The school also insisted that every visitor to their annual festival carry a valid AIDS test certificate. ‘It is our job to protect our children,’ Suvendra, the headmaster, explained to The Times. ‘People at the festival will share shower facilities, toilets and cutlery, which could spread the illness.’ On their website I recognized one or two of the current teachers. I noticed, too, that history had reappeared on the curriculum. As for the Ranch, Oregon State considered the property for use as a prison, but that came to nothing. It’s now a big, hydroponics-equipped ghost town.

In the years after Medina I met up once or twice with a few of the Medina kids. It seemed to be mainly the older kids – the ones who had been teenagers, or almost teenagers, who kept in touch. They turned out to be the ones with whom I always had the least in common. From what I hear, because they were older when Medina shut down they had more trouble than I did with the transition. Soon after leaving Medina some of the older kids, in their mid and late teens, stopped going t~ school. Some of them, I know, looked back on Medina very positively. A smaller coterie felt it was a terrible place to grow up. Some of us embraced the sun; some retreated into the shade.

Occasionally, though, I bumped into one of the other, younger, kids, the ones I was closer to back then. Our mothers’ paths crossed, numbers were exchanged; we got in touch. I met up recently at Majid’s house with Bindu, one of the boys with whom we used to jump out of the third-floor window of the guest house. Bindu is a software engineer now; he lives in Boulder, Colorado. Sitting on Majid’s sofa, Bindu told me he remembered me being picked on a great deal at Medina.

‘Really?’ I asked. ‘Why’s that?’

‘Because you were young, and scrawny, and detached,’ he said. Sannyasins wanted us to let go. They kept telling us: Let go!

It’s that simple! But we were fresh to the material world. All we had ever done was let go.

The Medina kids have their demons, as I do, too. Some have had breakdowns; some have worked as hostesses; some drink. There have been heroin addictions, and one or two have died. But I guess many of us came through OK. It is true that we were not protected enough from the merry-go-round of disciplehood and the agony of surrender. That was our parents’ game; it was too hard for children. But then, if life didn’t hurt us, we wouldn’t notice it pass by.

My mother told me not long ago that Bhagwan always maitained his adult sannyasins were beyond help. They were too far gone to understand what he was saying. It would be the kids, he said, who would really get it.

She laughed. ‘When you do get it,’ she said, ‘would you let me know?’

Recently I went through the indexes of The Times, the Independent, and the Guardian looking for mentions of Bhagwan. My finger traced down the years. Sandwiched between ‘Batman’ and ‘Bombings’, I found a few.




publicly invited Margaret Thatcher ‘to exorcise her deep sense of inferiority with some primal screaming and meditation’. In early 1993 the siege at Waco sparked recollections of Rajneeshpuram, and, since September 2001, there has been another surge in mentions of Bhagwan. Until the anthrax attacks of that month, The Dalles salmonella plot was the only biological attack ever to have taken place on American soil. Bhagwan now has a place not only in From Here to Nirvana: The Yoga Journal Guide to Spiritual India, but also in the opening paragraph of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War.

In the early 1980s the German magazine Stern published a broadly unfavourable portrait of Bhagwan and the Ashram. (The article featured a picture of Bhagwan emerging from his RollsRoyce with Vivek and Shivamurti, his long-haired bodyguard. To Bhagwan’s amusement the caption read: BHAGWAN AND HIS TWO WIVES.) Bhagwan was pleased with the bad publicity. ‘It does not matter whether I am famous or notorious,’ he said. ‘I do not care whether people see me as Buddha or Rasputin. One thing I am certainly interested in is that everybody think something about me.’ In Germany at least, he wasn’t far off the mark. In the spring of 2000 a Berlin ad agency designed a poster for the FDP political party, campaigning for changes in educational policy. ‘If we don’t provide more teachers quickly,’ the poster said, ‘our children will find teachers themselves.’ Above the slogan were pictures of Hitler, Freddie Krueger, and Bhagwan.

At the same time as Bhagwan’s arrest, Sheela, Puja, and Shanti Bhadra, three of the biggest of the Big Mammas, were arrested in a Black Forest hotel by West German police and extradited to the USA to face charges of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and first-degree assault. Sheela, it transpired, had formed a hit squad to carry out attacks, including the murder of District Attorney Charles Turner, Laxmi, Vivek, and an Oregonian reporter. During their trial five rusty handguns were dredged up from the bottom of the Rajneeshpuram lake (the one Majid and I had slid over in inflatable milk-sacks we stole from the Magdalena food tents). The guns had been bought in Texas with fake IDs, then smuggled back to the Ranch on Greyhound buses. Sheela’s hit squad had staked out Charles Turner’s house in Portland; they planned to ambush him in an underground garage. Granted immunity from prosecution, some of Sheela’s ex-friends and members of the inner circle stood in the dock and testified against her. (Y ogini, the woman who had stroked my mother’s hair and sung Sufi songs of surrender, turned state’s evidence in return for just a two-year sentence.) The court heard that Sheela had instigated The Dalles salmonella poisonings. A team of sannyasins had been sent out with orders to smear salmonella from rubber gloves onto the salad bars of eight different restaurants. The court heard how the poisonings and murder plots were looked on lightly by some of the conspirators; after all, death was just another part of the journey. As well as the poisonings and the Oregon bombings, Sheela and her associates were accused of drugging Australian shareholders in preparation for a corporate take-over. (In the witness stand Sheela admitted she had a ‘bad habit’ of poisoning people.)

Sheela pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy in immigration frauds, wiretapping, and ‘tampering with consumer products’ (The Dalles salmonella poisonings), attempted murder, first- and second-degree assaults on Wasco County commissioners, and arson at the Wasco County planning office. She received two twenty-year and ten-year sentences, to run concurrently. ()II Tuesday, 13 December 1988, after serving a total of just 2 and a half years, Sheela was released from the San I )i’T,” Metropolitan Correctional Facility. She was put on a plane to West Germany the same day.

PP. 295

to get an angle; I stood and turned. We wheeled about. I dodged a heavy strike, he slipped in the wet leaves, and I was over him, my foot on his stick. He pulled to one side, and I knelt on his chest. ‘Give in,’ I said. ‘Surrender.’

‘Never,’ he roared. Somewhere a loose branch slid from a tree and clattered to the ground. He wasn’t giving in, and in a moment he would buck me off and get above me and I would never manage to throw his weight off. I grabbed my stick and held it above his face. ‘Surrender.’ I jabbed the stick down to within an inch of his nose, swaying dangerously near his eye as he still bucked beneath me. ‘No, never.’ He roared again and jerked to one side. He pushed me up, and he was out from under me, rolling to one side. I turned. In the last moment before he leaped up I jabbed my stick down into his bollocks. He froze. I jabbed the tip down harder. ‘No -‘ he said. I pushed the stick down harder. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘You win. I give up.’ I didn’t move the stick. ‘Say it again.’ ‘You. Win. I. Give. Up.’ I pulled the stick away. He laughed, lying on the floor, breathless. He held out his hand. Breathless, too, I took it. Laughing, I pulled him up.

In the years we lived together, in the countless fights and arguments the three of us had, it was Martin who tried to stop me walking out. It was Martin who stood in front of the door and would not let me leave.

My mother and Martin are still moving. In the ten years since I left for university, they’ve changed locations four times, in three different countries. Each time they move, they say to me: ‘This time we’re here for good.’ Nowadays my mother has reined in her dreams of saving the world; she’s brought them closer to home. Last I heard she wanted to keep two pigs in the back garden, and to treat them kindly, ‘as a homeopathic remedy for all the ills mankind has inflicted on animals’. (I couldn’t resist pointing out that if it was a homeopathic remedy, you’d have to be slightly but consistently mean to the pigs until they fought back.) All she wants is a place to write and to feed the birds.

My mother sometimes wonders out loud about what would have happened if she had said no to Poonam and not left our home to build a British Buddhafield. If we’d stayed in Leeds, would we have stayed happy? Did it make any sense? Was it worth it?

When she does, I say: how could anything have been different? How could all this have come about in any other way?

After one conversation along these lines, my mother cried. ‘I’m sad,’ she said. I reached out and held her hand. ‘No,’ she said, laughing through the tears. ‘Actually, I’m not sad. I’m happy. I’m so happy that you can talk this way. It makes me feel like it was all worthwhile.’

‘I got lost,’ my mother said to me once. ‘Because I was a lost person. I didn’t have a strong sense of myself and my values – I would just give myself away to the moment. I didn’t have a substance that kept me anchored in the things that mattered.’ In the end, though, she had enough substance. Enough substance to stop the family from splitting apart altogether. There was just enough gravity, between us all, to keep us together and on this earth.

Nowadays more and more people are living by themselves. We read the figures in the newspaper: between 1971 and 2001, the proportion of people in Europe living alone doubled. At times the need for privacy and for freedom conflicts with the needs III our bodies and our shared histories. Capitalism thrives wlll’1I people live separately. In order to survive, the system that Illln’i us so much personal freedom must also keep us aparl. 1\’ •• \ result, the commodity that at Medina was so plentiflll till’ company of others – out here in the world is scarce. We Illlvl’ found ourselves; we have lost each other.

One of Bhagwan’s ~ and my mother’s – favourite Zen sl (Inr~ “11t’1i

as follows. A fish swims around looking for the sea. I It- ‘lskN 111\ ,h,



other sea creatures: what is the sea? They all shake their heads. No one knows. One day the fish is flipped by a big wave, out of the water and onto a desert island. He struggles and flips on the sand, gasping, drying out, until, when he is on the verge of death, a wave comes up and flips him back into the sea. As he swims away he thinks: Ah. This is the sea. When I hear that story, I always think about the communes and the world outside, us kids tossed on big waves between them. But which is the desert? Which is the sea?

I lost my mother because she lost herself in the dream of a new way of being, a new way, so she thought, without suffering. ‘We were trying to create heaven on earth,’ she wrote me once. ‘We had never been to war, never seen hell, and we got the idea we could make heaven.’ But in making their heaven, they couldn’t help but also make hell – for others, and, in the end, for themselves.

My mother and her friends left behind the world that had hurt them, in order to build a new one to the dimensions of their desires. They left the Earth and went into a new orbit. (Some of them went so far out, they couldn’t come back.) Perhaps that was what needed to happen; maybe we needed to see the world from an extraordinary vantage point to realize the preciousness of the everyday. We had to look down from orbit in order to fall in love with the ground. I was born into that orbit; all I ever wanted was to come home.


What is left of my past now? There are the videos, the books, the brochures, the Buddhafield Newsletter and the Rajneesh Times. There are some clippings from newspapers: The Times, the Guardian, the Sun; a series of in-depth reports from the Oregonian. (When I called to speak with someone at the Oregonian who worked on the Rajneeshpuram investigation, he asked me if I was one of the kids who had been abused, then flown out of the country before they could be questioned. I told him that it was the first I’d heard of it.) I still have my toy seal and his cautious, anonymous name, although his hand-lettered label has since worn away. I have what other people say. I have my body, the physical custodian of my history.

A few years ago, on a week-long beach holiday, my feet started tingling. A week later, after returning to England, my toes went numb. They stayed that way. Eventually I went to see a chiropodist. I lay on the massage table and she rubbed and twisted and pushed my feet and eventually told me my toes had bent upwards over the years, pushing up the bones in my feet and putting pressure on the nerves. ‘Dropped metatarsal’, she called it. She said she had never seen someone so young with such an advanced state. I felt proud. She gave me a set of exercises to do. She asked me to push my feet down against her hands, as she pushed upwards against them. ‘Gosh,’ she said. ‘They’re strong.’

When I’m tense, I always rise up onto my toes. It’s a habit from childhood, when I strained on tiptoes to catch sight of my mother in the crowd.

When I did find her, back then, she was always looking else where: to a picture of Bhagwan, to a troubled sannyasin beating an old pillow, to Sujan, playing a barmy old man on a makeshift music-hall stage. For a long time after the Ashram – through Medina, through Germany and Wioska Rajneesh, right up until I finally decided to leave the commune for good – whenever I walked off, I was always hoping someone would follow me, I always left the door open behind me. It was only later, when 110 one followed, that I stomped back to slam the door closed, I wasn’t just rejecting; I was hiding. Even when we played Noone Allowed To Let Anyone See Us, all we really longed for was to be found.

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