Monday Musings: When Sheela’s love for Osho brought her to Pune after 35 years
On October 4, I had the rare opportunity of spending more than three hours with Sheela Birnstiel, formerly, Ma Anand Sheela, as she re-visited the lanes and by-lanes of Koregaon Park, saw the Osho International commune, and paid her respects to Osho at the place where he was cremated in Pune.
Famous as the controversial secretary of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who was later known as Osho, Sheela shot into the limelight in recent years after the Netflix docu-series, Wild Wild Country, featured her prominently, and, the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon.
The most tumultuous period of Rajneeshpuram centred around clashes with the locals, her sudden flight to Germany in September 1985, and the criminal convictions for which she was deported to the US and served a prison sentence.
Pune was the place where she spent one of the most beautiful periods of her life at the Commune, demonstrated her organisational capabilities, rose to become Osho’s secretary after Ma Yoga Laxmi and planned Osho’s secretive departure to the US in June 1981. Pune was also the place where she spent beautiful moments with her first love Chinmaya, whom she lost to cancer in this city.
Now 70 and settled in Switzerland where she runs two homes for the elderly and disabled, Sheela, accompanied by her two devoted secretaries-caretakers, and a film crew, was on a short, discrete visit to Pune to re-visit Koregaon Park.
Full of nostalgia about Koregaon Park (KP) of the mid-to-late 1970s, one of the first things she noticed was the lifeless façade of Osho International commune in lane number 1, and the complete absence of people in “orange” robes. Yes, when she left Pune in 1981, Osho’s followers wore bright orange robes, and the maroon robes only came later. She was happy with the rich greenery of KP, although the entire landscape had changed with large buildings, numerous shops and restaurants and the high volume traffic.
She was not aware of the famous German Bakery restaurant because it did not exist when she was here. The only hotel she knew was Blue Diamond- Pune’s first and only five star hotel in those days. “Take me to Hotel Blue Diamond because that is my reference point…the Commune was right behind,” she said.
The most poignant and deeply emotional moment for her was when she visited the place where Osho was cremated on the night of January 19, 1990, at Tulsiram Ghat in KP. Full of reverence for Osho, Sheela closed her eyes, stood in silence for minutes and bowed with a ‘namaste’ at the low pedestal created to place bodies. She was delighted to spot a dog sitting below the grill and spoke of her immense love for animals.
For Sheela, this was one of the most significant moments of her journey with Osho. “I was not there when he died, but I feel connected with him here,” she said.
When asked, where she was when Osho died, Sheela said she was in Paris with her lawyer, who saw the news on TV, confirmed it and then informed her. “I had the feeling that it was an unnatural death,” Sheela said, of her intuition when she got the news.
We had a lengthy discussion on all that happened on the day Osho died, and in the years that followed. She could not immediately connect with some of the names such as ‘Amrito’- Osho’s personal physician, whom she knew as “Devraj’; and ‘Nirvano’- whom Osho considered as his soulmate- and who had died in suspicious circumstances 40 days before his own death. Sheela knew Nirvano as ‘Vivek’.
Sheela spoke extensively of how shocking and outrageous it was to completely deny the existence of Osho’s Samadhi inside the Commune, created as per his own wish. She wondered whether this was being denied by the Commune managers to make it easy to liquidate the property.
She expressed the hope that Osho’s followers, his admirers and others would take steps to ensure that the Samadhi was protected and opened to the public.