While the foundation of an empire was being laid in hushed silence, Sheela deftly distracted the locals by putting on airs of a soulful affluent widow. She walked down the sleepy town of Antelope wearing Dunhill sunglasses, a cowboy hat and Gucci boots, the only thing that was missing was a sprightly poodle held in the nook of her arm. She fluttered her luscious lashes as she leaned over the counter of a local department store, requesting for supplies.
“So, what drove you to buy this vast expanse of farmland, ma’am?” questioned an inquisitive storeowner who seemed enamoured by the women in front of him.
“Well…,” she said with a snooty air, “after my dear husband passed away…I wanted to put my solitary life to some good use. I have bought this ranch to conduct an ecological experiment. I have a few innovative ideas on how to utilise a dry, parched piece of land to produce agricultural laurels,” she gushed and fluttered those lashes yet again, before adding belatedly, “I hope I can do it right,” she sighed.
“Wish you luck, ma’am. I am sure you will!” the fascinated man replied. Sheela smiled and gracefully gathered her bags out of his calloused hands and stylishly sashayed past the yawning rednecks of this small town. After she nimbly sneaked inside the doors of the county offices to apply for building permits in order to raise fifty houses on the ranch grounds.
“Secrecy” was to be the mantra here. Having been through enough of mudslinging, muckraking and scandalous repertoire with damaging consequences in their homeland, Sheela was not prepared to take a second chance in the US. The kingdom of Bhagwan had to stay shielded by creating a defence wall of secrecy and battlements of discretion.
Initially, the locals fawned upon the young heiress and gossiped about the millions that she must have inherited, but soon the spell was broken when the speeding caravans loaded with the red army began rumbling down the rutted roads of Antelope.
Sheela was jubilant when in the month of August their organisation received permission from the county authorities to erect fifty-four mobile homes on the ranch. In blink of an eye, Sheela’s office sprung up. After her office was installed in the premises of the ranch, Sheela began working hard at turning the ranch into a reality.
Right off the bat, Bhagwan’s kingdom began emerging. As structures were being erected, sannyasins started gushing in. They began toiling day and night, submerged in the creation of the Red Paradise; and in turn they were provided with food and shelter.
When the first rays of the orange sun lit the ranch in its peachy glow, sannyasins sprang up and began milling around the outhouses, stores, garages. Brief interludes of joy broke in with every incoming van that brought in its wake long-lost friends and lovers reunited under the clear blue sky of Oregon. But things seemed a little different on this land … and many wondered why? Gone were the cascading orange robes of good old Poona days and gone were the flowing golden locks. A more tolerable shade of red had replaced the blinding orange and more civilised attire that consisted of pants and shirts had replaced the wild robes.
Despite Sheela’s many efforts, the first signs of trouble began erupting when the scrutinising eyes of the locals fell alarmingly upon the construction boom at the Big Muddy. Each time the concerned natives attempted to sneak a peek at the growing number of sannyasins, they would scatter and scurry away into a safe place of hiding, to be camouflaged by their wild environs. But these games of hide-and-seek couldn’t be played for long.
The cat was finally out of the bag when the righteous son of the mayor of Antelope, Margaret Hill, cordially presented his mother with a copy of Stern magazine that flashed on its cover a few scandalising images of perspiring naked sannyasins wildly jostling and copulating. Aghast and stunned, the mayor signed off letters to Senator Packwood and Senator Hatfield, two conservative elected Republicans from Oregon, to rescue their humble towns from the onslaught of the Red Tsunami.
After getting over the initial shock, Hill lunged for her phone and called the Los Angeles Times, informing them of the Sex Guru who was secretly set to invade their modest community.
Once the news of Bhagwan’s imminent arrival had started making the rounds in the sleepy community of Oregon, the infuriated locals informed the environmentalist watchdog group, 1000 Friends of Oregon, of the possible land use violation by the Rajneeshees who seemed to be blatantly misusing the agricultural resource land by raising outlandish structures.
While Sheela was busy paying cordial visits to the locals, who now eyed her with mistrust and suspicion, the impatient Bhagwan had started dogging her with his incessant phone calls and barrage of questions: Seela … when will you bring me to the Ranch? Is the house finished yet? How long do I have to wait? I cannot wait for long!”
The Master would whine like an errant child, in a voice dripping with desperation. He would switch to a honey-smooth voice as he provided Sheela with a litany of demands of how he wanted his house and Ranch to look like. Petrified, Sheela would listen motionlessly, with parched throat and cold hands, barely able to croak a meek, “Okay Bhagwan. I will do my best.”
On the morning of 29 August, the day of Bhagwan’s arrival, the Big Muddy hummed with activity. Amidst a murmur of thrill and excitement, finishing touches were being laid on Bhagwan’s house and the garden, too, had been thoroughly ridden of the last speck of dust so that nothing triggered the Guru’s allergies.
Finally, the jet landed with a triumphal thud in Redmond, Oregon. Bhagwan emerged out of the aircraft and a breeze brushed his face as he pressed his palms and smiled contentedly at the small group of bowing sannyasins.
Sheela, who was beaming with joy, led the Guru by hand towards his vehicle. Vivek and another helper trailed behind the Guru. Sheela swung open the door for the Master who slid on the passenger seat smiling expansively, while she pushed herself behind the wheel. A smiling sannyasin opened the back door of the Rolls for Vivek and her aide, who slumped glibly on the back seat.
An hour later, Bhagwan’s Rolls roared past the glorious sign of Rajneeshpuram and drove down the gravel road that was surrounded by vast expanse of hillocks dotted with juniper trees. The car zoomed down a narrow path, flanked by tall trees, that led into the compound of Bhagwan’s home.
“We have arrived home, Bhagwan,” announced Sheela complacently, sliding the Rolls to a stop in front of his glinting new abode. She tilted her face to steal a look at Bhagwan who seemed enthralled by the sight that he beheld. Sheela heaved an enormous sigh of relief. Finally, she had added another feather in her cap, or rather beret that she had been so stylishly sporting that day.
Excerpted with permission from Nothing To Lose, Mambeena Sandhu, HarperCollins India.