I'm not done yet, still two more episodes to go.... but I'm reeling under the onslaught of 'Wild Wild Country', the Netflix documentary on (Osho) Rajneesh. It is the first time I am getting to see up close what I had just heard or read about as a young person.
Truly, this is one of the times you realize that the printed word just does not do credit to something so bizarre, so macabre, that it is actually 'out-of-the world'. I grew up on a sporadic diet of what the glossies fed us about the glamorous, hush-hush world of this self-styled guru who held sway over some pseudo elite circles in India in the late '70s and early '80s. In perhaps what was the curtain call to the flower children and the hippies that traipsed through the country in the '60s, this cult of free sex, free living, free-for-all held a kind of vicarious fascination for a pre-teenager. One read about them fleeing to Oregon (US), the fabled Rolls Royces, the star followers, the hypnotic speaker in his flowing robes and flowing beard. And then I lost track... it was too far away, too exotic to keep up with my humdrum, more immediate and acute growing pains.
When I first chanced upon the series, I didn't quite jump in; because by now it was a long-forgotten chapter with a vaguely murky end. Then, curiosity (or was it boredom?) got the better of me and I tentatively clicked 'play'. The narrative is compelling, toggling between some main players (Ma Anand Sheela, Rajneeshites, the then US Justice Department officials, journalists, Oregon residents and many more) recalling those momentous days, supported by actual visuals and TV clips from the archives. It begins with covering familiar ground in Pune, India and flashbacks from Oregon residents.
As it unfurls, so does the underbelly of crime, drugs, murders, naked power, aggression, greed. And every time the epithet 'Bhagwan' is uttered, my insides squirm. Leave aside spirituality or God (the meaning of 'Bhagwan'), where was there even a particle of the promised peace to those thousands who left homes, careers and families to follow him? Was it truly the work of a master hypnotist? Was this what people looked for and got? Did this actually happen?
Sheela, the central character to Rajneesh's depicted life, the determined force behind his movement, strangely touched a nerve for me. The bright, love-filled, trusting eyes that I saw in the young, pretty woman who unabashedly professes, "I was in love with him', transmutes to a disillusioned, faded and weary old woman. And every tear that slips out of those eyes now is as authentic as the hard-as-nails, gritty persona of back then. Where did misplaced devotion lead her?
And then there is Rajneesh. He, of the hypnotic gaze and the flowing robes and beards that popped out of every paper and magazine of the time. But, now I see him 'up close', I hear him. Weak voice, bad pronunciation, inane homilies and finally, drugged gaze and filth-spewing tongue. Wow, what a con!
I have yet to see the finale, but I may have seen enough.