Lindsay Rose Jordy /Chennai, Sept 19 (BPNS)
“One of the first change that I noticed is that my father had introduced me to Bhagwan and that was the major and ultimate change of my life” says the 73-year-old Ma Anand Sheela, who has come a long way from being the “little Sheela” who once lived in Baroda, Gujarat.
After her studies in the US, she returned back to visit her parents and that was when she met her Bhagwan again, after which her “life took a completely different turn”. According to her, who was the former personal assistant to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or Osho), “when you meet a man like Bhagwan and you don’t have a change it is your misfortune.”
It was during her recent visit to Chennai that I had a chance to interview her and get to know her more as a person while we met at the Sethu Foundation, a non-profit organization in Chennai, through Ms. Sethu Lakshmi and Ms. Aditi G Shah who arranged the meeting.
Ma Anand Sheela has a way of answering every question that is directed towards her. A way that is both composed and confident at the same time. There was a sense of serenity about her that radiated through the entire room. “A person down to earth, with a big heart and a lot of courage”-this is how her friend, Mirjam Moravitz, who has been with her for nineteen years describes Ma Anand Sheela.
She presently runs two nursing homes in Switzerland It was the love for her parents- which is universal- that made her open them.. Matrusaden is in honour of her mother while Bapusaden is in honour of her father. They work and function very well under her experienced management.
Going back to the 1980s, in order to create Rajneeshpuram they did try to find land in India but it was during the time when political emergency was declared in India which hindered them from buying any land inside the Indian boundary. To go forward with the project, she suggested the idea of moving to US, where the constitution allows them to purchase the needed land.
She said “he (Osho) said ‘Ok Sheela, you arrange.’” The land was in Christian belt and “these people did not want any other philosophies, they were bible thumbing people, and we were definitely not that” she replied when asked about the local opposition faced by the commune “To like other people or not like nobody knows. When you rent an apartment, you don’t know how the neighbours are going to react.”
“Bhagwan was against all established religion.” She continued “He loved talking about Jesus and talked to us wonderful things about Jesus but established Christianity, he was not for.” Speaking on the problems caused in the name of religion in India, she says that religion causes trouble all over the world and “I am victim of it. That is why I say follow your own feelings.”
Her experience at Rajneeshpuram, she says, “was very beautiful, because I was taking part in Bhagwan’s dream of creating a community. But creating a community is not an easy aspect because there are so many individual egos and to create a community you have to be a collective ego. Until that collective ego starts existing in people things don’t move fast, they conflicts.
We were lucky. People who came to Bhagwan, they had come for him and we had one collective connection.” She says that it was a very interesting project and it was very rewarding for an individual. “Life wasn’t boring. I didn’t feel a second of boredom because we were so enthusiastic, so active and so ready to take the challenge in hand.”
She said that she does not know about the current workings of the organization and is not involved with them. When asked whether she would go back to the organization if she gets a chance, she replied with a bold “No” because “Bhagwan is not there.” She believes that people will continue to talk about him for centuries. She says that she does not think there will be any other like him in the future and humorously adds “but they better take my approval.”
Talking about the controversial Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country, she said“When you make a film or write a story or do a video, unless you have sensation you can’t sell it. And there are very few honest journalists around in the world who don’t care if somebody doesn’t read their story. These two young men wanted to make a powerful story, they wanted to have their Emmy Awards and got one too. So, if they say we were controversial it is not our fault. That was our life style.”
According to her understanding as she didn’t watch the series herself, the show portrayed the local Oregonians and their behaviour and asks how they could condone their behaviour. “You need to analyse for yourself, don’t take what others said because you yourselves are intelligent and you must use your own ability to analyse”, she added.
Ma Anand Sheela states that they were controversial because they were new generation then. “We had no fear and we did not mind spending for the project we had. This gave them anxiety. We wore different clothing. I don’t know what they have against red and orange clothes. I love red and orange clothes even today, but that shows their mentality.”
To the question whether the 2021 documentary film Searching for Sheela, really helped to tell her story, with a soft smiled she replied “Does it matter? It doesn’t. It matters only if I take it personally. What it did do was, there was Wild Wild Country created and India didn’t do anything then and now India did Searching for Sheela ,so that is one Hollywood and one Bollywood and now I am a famous person. What does it matter.”
She was trying to get back on her feet while the time she was away from the social sphere. “To get back on the feet” she says “requires a lot of attention. I was probably unconsciously waiting for a good opportunity and when that opportunity came, I jumped on it and came back in 2019.” Speaking of the traumatic experiences and the rollercoaster of events that accumulated her life and still managing to be herself and emerge to the person that she is now, she said “I stand by my story. I have nothing to shame about my story and my life. I am probably the one person in the world who is living her life to utmost pleasure.” She says that coming back to India was very nice and she felt very proud to see the youth of India even though she was shocked with the amount of population, traffic jam and pollution. “I was really charmed by the youth.”
‘I want to tell the youth of India to learn to think for yourself. Be yourself. You are beautiful youth, intelligent youth. Don’t buy other people’s story, narrate your own. Articulate your thoughts and your feelings put them together and say for what it is without fear. Go get the world.”
“Beautiful man” was the words she used to describe Osho, while talking about him, her “favourite subject” of discussion. She says that she takes to heart all of Osho’s ideologies and it helped her get back on her feet and continue to walk. She specifically talked about his basic teachings in small words of “Life, Love Laughter and Acceptance and on top of it be yourself.”
Was there a point in her life when she felt that Osho didn’t understand her or judged her in a wrong manner? She replied saying that she never thought about “Bhagwan” in these terms, he was a man of understanding and a man of deep thought and analysis. “Yes, it made me sad because he knows me. I lived with him fourteen years and I directly worked with him.” She said that him saying what he said exactly proves her point that he was among wrong company and experimenting with drugs which maybe created panic in him. “Because I took care of him and his commune and while I was there, he had his comfort zone.” She believes that her leaving suddenly has affected him even though it was not her intention.
While speaking of the sexual allegations and talks of transient sexual relationships within the ashram she said that she had lived fourteen years with Bhagwan, from the beginning of Pune ashram until US. Taking into account the time she was there she claimed that the allegations were nonsense talked by the people who maybe angry with him for one reason or another.
These people according to her are not worth talking about. Regarding the topic of sex, she points out how people are afraid to talk about it even though every household in the world lives with sex and people are born because of it, how people still condemn it. She asks “why is it a problem that if Bhagwan or Bhagwan’s ashram has sex there”. She further states that it is a human desire, human physiological event. “I have heard stories where people should talk about it where there is sexual abuse, there they keep their mouth shut and show prudence. What nonsense is that?”
“When somebody say something is cult, don’t participate in it. Talk about respect.” She said with sarcasm on the topic of how the organization is regarded publicly as a cult. “Even if that philosophy you don’t comply with or follow, speak with respect.” Which is common respect for people.
How did she overcome being criticized and accused by the person she loves? Why wasn’t she devastated? Devastation captures the people who expect in love. “I had no expectations. I loved him and I gave him freedom to be himself. Not that I will love you only if you praise or compliments me. I had no such expectations. True love never expects. It only offers.” She did not have the weakness of expectation. “My relationship with Bhagwan was of utter respect for the man and his intelligence and absolutely no expectations. I had learned that from him and I followed him because I loved him.”
Speaking of India, she said “I had envisioned India progressing, which it did. I have envisioned the mathematics of Ramanujan, which we have. But India fails in basic cleanliness in every area, starting from streets to the household toilets. And this is where you youngsters have to start revolution. She associates the lack of cleanliness to the prevailing caste system, as people often expect someone to do the work and clean after them instead of doing it themselves.
Diving more into the subject she says, “When I use toilets, I have certain respect. After using, leave the toilet for the other person clean. That is respect for the toilet and for the next person. Here sometimes I have a feeling that men use toilet standing and they pee all over because it is their manly right. There I must say, I become rude. If that is your manhood then please don’t come near me because you will forget your manhood completely near me.” She added “I would say in university talk about openly. When you go to a toilet and somebody has made a mess create a bit of theatre.” Spread awareness. “If you truly want your progress to be acknowledged by the world you have to invite the world to come to India and you can only invite if you offer clean toilets. These are basics.”
“It is a disaster” she says, “It is worse than tsunami because it is every day that you have to use toilet. This one sector I fear needs total attention and another sector is illusion. Illusion that after marriage it will be a Bollywood marriage and happiness ever after that is a false, false attitude. Many people write to me on Instagram that they don’t want to get married. But parents and families are pressuring. To them I say, learn to speak with your parents.”
When asked if you could say one thing to the people right now what would it be. she said “Help me clean up India. That’s how passionately I feel.”