Nothing to Lose by Manbeena Sandhu – Stories of Black, White and Orange from Bhagwan Land

Manbeena Sandhu’s first non-fiction venture- Nothing to Lose, the authorized biography of Bhagwan Rajneesh’s right hand Ma Anand Sheela unlocks the secrets behind the kingdom of Rajneeshpuram through the eyes of Sheela.  The story begins in the scenic beauty of the German Black Forest where Sheela is arrested post her resignation as Bhagwan’s secretary. Then on, it is a retrospect of her life unfurling before the readers. It is interesting to note how remarkably intertwined it is with that of Bhagwan’s, who becomes her beloved and forever master.

A teenage Sheela is smitten by the calm demeanour of Bhagwan Rajneesh in 1965. His discourses start attracting her attention. Post attaining her degree and marriage, she returns to her one true calling- Bhagwan. This time she is accompanied by her husband and is ready to leave her life and embrace the orange hues of his beloved’s world. With time, she settles down in his ashram in Poona and even traverses International boundaries to gift her Master the city of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA. But as they say that relationships hang from a fine thread; and once that thread is pulled hard, it is inevitable that the relationship will break. With time, their diverse mindset causes a strain in their relationship resulting ultimately in Sheela’s resignation from her post and starting afresh. In her new world, she faces several allegations which she graciously handles till she finds the freedom and peace in spirit that she has been pursuing all along.

Sheela’s life trajectory is full of ups and downs but she comes out of all upheavals, much like a rebellious warrior who keeps the reigns of her life in her hands. It is pertinent to acknowledge her supportive parents and family who are progressively ahead of their times. That is why a daughter coming from a well-to-do family in the 1970’s Surat, who marries an American, could walk on the path of spirituality, unobstructed.

Bhagwan’s Ashram in Poona starts off like a Gurukul where thousands of neo-sannyasins gather to hear his discourse. But over time ‘Sex-Drugs- Rock and Roll’ set in as the motto, given his principles of free sexual spirituality. Though considered to be the ‘Messiah of the New Morality’, his ideals start enraging the elite and the powerful.  This leads the readers to question the idea of progressiveness and its acceptance. Further when spirituality and faith starts turning into commercialism it explores the pitfalls of such practices. By the time Rajneeshpuram is set up , Bhagwan is a changed man who basks in the glory of his Rolls Royce’s and Diamond Watches transferring his vigilant guardian duties to Sheela. It is not long before his growing demands takes a toll on the management, finance, political and social sustenance and ultimately on Sheela who breaks free of the chains of bondage.

Nothing to Lose is the story of Sheela and her relation with her beloved Bhagwan. It depicts her many personalities – as a symbol of strength, a passionate lover, a dutiful disciple, a rebel, a self- respecting individual and much more. The biggest turning point in her life is the betrayal she faces when Bhagwan becomes a changed man. He is no longer the man who shows ways to the lost, instead, he becomes the man who loves to traverse on diamond paths. Sheela maintains an elegance and dignity in her behaviour by trying to prove her point, but never resorting to mudslinging in the name of her Bhagwan. The respect and position that she gives to her Bhagwan is for lifelong even though her beloved loses his path in the course of their relation.

Sheela also turns out to be an extremely innovative and creative resource throughout her contribution to the Ashram and Rajneeshpuram. Her hands-on understanding of the situation, taking back –up measures, excellent marketing skills and maintaining a well-researched legal and media teams made her reach out for the moon in terms of expansion and empire-building. However sometimes it is clearly visible that many of her actions are not her own. They are the words of the Bhagwan which she resonates as a helpless puppet. This can be perceived in two different lights. First, the true and pure faith that Sheela has for her Bhagwan made her comply with him and progress on a path of wrong –doings; Second, Sheela’s thirst to continuously prove herself and win her Bhagwan’s love makes her trudge on a path of unending misery. Sheela’s actions are open to individual perception. But even then, her consciousness and rationale behind it all makes her come clean as a victim rather than a Mastermind.   

Nothing to Lose is an apt title to  Ma Anand Sheela’s biography because the one who has surrendered it all has nothing to lose in life. She first surrendered herself to Bhagwan and then her spirit, skills, words and actions towards taking care of the disciples at Rajneeshpuram. But when she loses the trust with which she had surrendered her life, it makes her strong enough to hold her fort and battle it out with the world to start the second innings of her life. Today, Ma Anand Sheela is an icon of strength and a symbol of patience and perseverance. Her life has been one of service to the community and she continues to do so by serving others. Sheela’s life is full of trials and tribulations and it finally seems she has arrived at a stage of spiritual peace. Her journey is full of lessons – the white, the black and the orange – that is part of life . One can only hope to read the biography and pick up from these lessons, improvise on them and give back to the society through service.

Sandhu has done a commendable job of researching and presenting an era gone by through her narrative skills and detailed descriptions. Nothing to Lose highlights Bhagwan Rajneesh’s views which later became immortalised under the Osho Movement. It did take the world by storm in the 1970s-80s ; but in 2020 one cannot really act as the moral police here and judge / comment on his teachings. Time and mindset have indeed come a long way since the movement was at its height and today it might be visualised in a completely new light.

No. of Pages: 319

Publisher: Harper Collins

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart

Rating: 4/5

*I would like to Thank WritersMelon and Harper Collins for providing me with a review copy of the book.