My Life In Orange

Overview

At the age of six, Tim Guest was taken by his mother to a commune modeled on the teachings of the notorious Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Bhagwan preached an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, chaotic therapy, and sexual freedom, and enjoyed inhaling laughing gas, preaching from a dentist's chair, and collecting Rolls Royces.

Tim and his mother were given Sanskrit names, dressed entirely in orange, and encouraged to surrender themselves into their new family. ...

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Overview

At the age of six, Tim Guest was taken by his mother to a commune modeled on the teachings of the notorious Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Bhagwan preached an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, chaotic therapy, and sexual freedom, and enjoyed inhaling laughing gas, preaching from a dentist's chair, and collecting Rolls Royces.

Tim and his mother were given Sanskrit names, dressed entirely in orange, and encouraged to surrender themselves into their new family. While his mother worked tirelessly for the cause, Tim-or Yogesh, as he was now called-lived a life of well-meaning but woefully misguided neglect in various communes in England, Oregon, India, and Germany.

In 1985 the movement collapsed amid allegations of mass poisonings, attempted murder, and tax evasion, and Yogesh was once again Tim. In this extraordinary memoir, Tim Guest chronicles the heartbreaking experience of being left alone on earth while his mother hunted heaven.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
U.K. PRAISE FOR MY LIFE IN ORANGE

"[Tim Guest's] wonderful account of a frankly ghastly childhood is hilarious and heartbreaking, and it says much for the resilience of the human spirit that he has grown up sound in mind and body without a trace of bitterness towards his mother."—Daily Mail (London)

"An extraordinary memoir."—The Sunday Telegraph (London)

The New Yorker
Guest’s memoir recalls an ambulant childhood—a ranch here, an ashram there—among the disciples of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, a Rolls-Royce-driving charismatic who instructed his followers to wear only the colors of the sun and to liberate themselves from bourgeois hang-ups. For his followers, the Bhagwan’s communes were lands of plenty, filled with sex, drugs, t’ai-chi sessions, and primal-scream therapies. Their children, however, survived largely on their wits: Guest and his friends swipe beedi cigarettes from the commissary and get high on Darjeeling, but they’re starved for belonging and belongings. One of Guest’s attempts to spend time with his mother is thwarted by a sign that reads, “Motherhood Group in Progress. Please Do Not Disturb.” Occasionally, his recriminations smack of a similar self-indulgence, but, as the guru’s regime crumbles, Guest’s account of paradise lost gains acuity from the fact that, for him, it was mostly hell in the first place.
Publishers Weekly
London journalist Guest (the Guardian; the Daily Telegraph) shares the bittersweet story of his nomadic childhood as a member of the sannyasin, a group of people who swathed themselves in orange and lived in the various communes of the infamous Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1979, when Guest was six, he was brought into the group by his mother, a lapsed Catholic who "surrendered herself to the world without a second thought," moving to England, Germany, India and Oregon to work for the cause of Bhagwan's Eastern mysticism (which involved, among other things, engaging in sexual freedom and inhaling laughing gas). Guest played with the ragtag children of the hippie adults working in these ashrams, sometimes going for long periods of time without his mother's love or guidance. He systematically observes the daily lives of the sannyasin and their master, refusing to trash the devotees or their spiritual beliefs, instead targeting the manipulations of Bhagwan, whom he depicts as a power-mad holy man who taught restraint, poverty and obedience yet collected Rolls-Royces and told jokes "cribbed from Playboy." Guest forgives his neglectful mother as he records Bhagwan's fall from grace through American tax evasion, lawsuits and denials of admittance from country to country until his empire crumbled. Honest and vivid, this is an absorbing book about survival and good intentions gone awry. Agent, Denise Shannon. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British journalist Guest recalls the toll taken by his childhood in a commune devoted to the teachings of notorious Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh. Torn between her conflicting desires for ecstasy and paradise, the author's mother moved from devout Catholicism as a child to Marxism, feminism, and eventually a Bhagwan commune. She never married Guest's father, an academic who later relocated to teach in California, and was a loving but troubled mother. In 1979, when Tim was three, she heard a tape of the guru talking "about joy, about bliss, about an end to fear and pain." She became increasingly involved with Bhagwan's British acolytes, went to India to meet him, then took her six-year-old son with her when she joined an ashram outside Bombay. From then until the late 1980s (when Bhagwan fled an indictment in the US, and his followers fell apart), Guest's life was controlled by the cult. He poignantly describes a world turned upside down, a world in which the adults behaved like children, following their bliss with unlimited sex and drugs (until the Bhagwan became obsessed with AIDS) while their neglected offspring struggled to raise themselves and take care of one another. Guest movingly details a lonely childhood spent at communes in London, Devon, India, Oregon, and Germany. His mother moved frequently and performed exhausting manual work as she strove to obey the sect's increasingly draconian dictates. He missed having her come to say goodnight to him, cuddle him, or read to him. He wanted to be with a parent, not a group, and he resented the numerous rules: obligatory worship, restricted diet, confiscation of his books and stuffed animals. Adolescence was rocky, though by then hismother had grown disillusioned with the Bhagwan, who once owned 93 Rolls Royces, lots of expensive jewelry, and 21 assault rifles. A rightly disturbing record of malignant child neglect by people who sought a heaven, but made a hell. Agent: Denise Shannon/Denise Shannon Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156031066
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Pages: 314
  • Sales rank: 1,413,875
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Guest writes for the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph . He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

I have photographs of my mother leading a commune parade down Fleet Street. I have photos of me curled up on a commune beanbag reading a commune library book. I have photos of the commune kids running three-legged races on the front lawn; photos of us in maroon body-warmers, tugging each other around on sledges over the frozen waters of the commune lake.

I have brochures, too, designed and printed on the commune printing presses, that list the therapy and meditation groups on offer at the commune. I even have copies of commune videos, made to promote the new lifestyle we were pioneering on the cutting edge of consciousness and out in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. I have another video, made by the BBC, with early footage from the Ashram in India. People saying 'beautiful'; people doing t'ai chi; people naked in padded rooms, hitting each other with fists and pillows. I have copies of the newspapers that were hand-printed in the commune design studios, the photos silk-screened, the headlines hand-applied in Letraset letters. In these newspapers there are interviews with the commune's leading spiritual pioneers, written by other commune residents in the zany language of the time.

I even have some evidence that there was family life before the commune. Photos of me back in 1978, sulking on the steps of our house in Leeds, clutching a Snoopy doll and two stuffed monkeys, just a month before we dyed all our clothes orange.

This evidence has taken me years to gather together. I can look at these artefacts now, and see myself; but in the late 1980s, a teenager living with my mother in North London after the communes had ended, I had no evidence of our history. In a small fire out in our back garden my mother burned her photos, her orange clothes, her mala necklace, with its 108 sandalwood beads and locket with a picture of Bhagwan. Despite my pleas to let me sell it and keep the money, she even burned the bright gold rim she had paid a commune jeweller to fix around her mala locket, in the later, more style-conscious commune years. A week after the fire, I borrowed a pair of pliers, prised the silver rim off my own mala, and threw the beads away.

I had no other evidence of my commune childhood. I had lost touch with the other commune kids. My mother never talked about the commune - or if she did, I refused to reply. We had both stopped using the names Bhagwan had given us. In our cupboards there was no longer a single red or orange item of clothing. Sometimes it seemed the only evidence of the past was in the shape of my body: the tough skin on the soles of my feet, from years of walking barefoot over gravel. The tight tendons in my calf, from a lifetime of standing on tiptoes, looking for my mother in an orange crowd.

Then, in January 1990, when I was fourteen, in the back of the newspaper on my mother's kitchen table I found an article about the commune. I tore it out, folded it, put it in my back pocket. For the next month I carried the clipping everywhere. At school and on buses I would pull it out, read it, fold it, and put it back. I carried that newspaper article until it was too tattered to read; still, I carried it in my back pocket for another two weeks, until finally I left it in the pocket of my jeans and put them in the wash and it was gone.

The article, from The Times, was headlined MINISTER ACTS AFTER INQUEST ON SCHOOLBOY.

A boy was found hanged after a row during a clothes-swapping game with girls at the Ko Hsuan private boarding school, Devon, an inquest was told today.

The school, where some teenage boys and girls share the same bedroom, is organised on communal lines and follows the teachings of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Nicholas Shultz, aged 13, fell out with a girl he had a crush on because she would not let him wear her clothes. About half an hour later Nicholas was found hanging from a rope swing in the grounds.

I was convinced I knew that swing and the tree it hung from, a great spindly oak in the forest out near the commune boundaries - but I also knew I was mistaken. The commune I remembered had already closed. But this school, Ko Hsuan in Devon, was a continuation of my commune. I knew the teacher, Sharna, who told The Times that thirteen-year-old boys and girls shared bedrooms because 'the kids were mature and totally trustworthy'. I knew some of the Ko Hsuan kids from my own years in those mixed dormitories. I also knew the loneliness of that boy, whose sorrow did not quite fit into the commune's decade-long dream of laughter and of celebration. I could feel that same, familiar sorrow, deep in my chest like an old bruise, but I had no idea of the origins of my sadness. When I read the clipping I remembered there was a reason why I was this way: isolated, strange, shabby, and alone.

I carried that clipping around with me because I finally had one single piece of concrete evidence: at last, something outside of me existed to confirm it had all taken place. I treasured the clipping because it was a single piece of ballast: something to hold me to the ground, to make my history real. I carried that article around because I knew the boy hanging from the swing could have been me.

Copyright © by Tim Guest 2004

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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First Chapter

I have photographs of my mother leading a commune parade down Fleet Street. I have photos of me curled up on a commune beanbag reading a commune library book. I have photos of the commune kids running three-legged races on the front lawn; photos of us in maroon body-warmers, tugging each other around on sledges over the frozen waters of the commune lake.

I have brochures, too, designed and printed on the commune printing presses, that list the therapy and meditation groups on offer at the commune. I even have copies of commune videos, made to promote the new lifestyle we were pioneering on the cutting edge of consciousness and out in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. I have another video, made by the BBC, with early footage from the Ashram in India. People saying 'beautiful'; people doing t'ai chi; people naked in padded rooms, hitting each other with fists and pillows. I have copies of the newspapers that were hand-printed in the commune design studios, the photos silk-screened, the headlines hand-applied in Letraset letters. In these newspapers there are interviews with the commune's leading spiritual pioneers, written by other commune residents in the zany language of the time.

I even have some evidence that there was family life before the commune. Photos of me back in 1978, sulking on the steps of our house in Leeds, clutching a Snoopy doll and two stuffed monkeys, just a month before we dyed all our clothes orange.

This evidence has taken me years to gather together. I can look at these artefacts now, and see myself; but in the late 1980s, a teenager living with my mother in North London after the communes had ended, I had no evidence of our history. Ina small fire out in our back garden my mother burned her photos, her orange clothes, her mala necklace, with its 108 sandalwood beads and locket with a picture of Bhagwan. Despite my pleas to let me sell it and keep the money, she even burned the bright gold rim she had paid a commune jeweller to fix around her mala locket, in the later, more style-conscious commune years. A week after the fire, I borrowed a pair of pliers, prised the silver rim off my own mala, and threw the beads away.

I had no other evidence of my commune childhood. I had lost touch with the other commune kids. My mother never talked about the commune - or if she did, I refused to reply. We had both stopped using the names Bhagwan had given us. In our cupboards there was no longer a single red or orange item of clothing. Sometimes it seemed the only evidence of the past was in the shape of my body: the tough skin on the soles of my feet, from years of walking barefoot over gravel. The tight tendons in my calf, from a lifetime of standing on tiptoes, looking for my mother in an orange crowd.

Then, in January 1990, when I was fourteen, in the back of the newspaper on my mother's kitchen table I found an article about the commune. I tore it out, folded it, put it in my back pocket. For the next month I carried the clipping everywhere. At school and on buses I would pull it out, read it, fold it, and put it back. I carried that newspaper article until it was too tattered to read; still, I carried it in my back pocket for another two weeks, until finally I left it in the pocket of my jeans and put them in the wash and it was gone.

The article, from The Times, was headlined MINISTER ACTS AFTER INQUEST ON SCHOOLBOY.

A boy was found hanged after a row during a clothes-swapping game with girls at the Ko Hsuan private boarding school, Devon, an inquest was told today.

The school, where some teenage boys and girls share the same bedroom, is organised on communal lines and follows the teachings of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

Nicholas Shultz, aged 13, fell out with a girl he had a crush on because she would not let him wear her clothes. About half an hour later Nicholas was found hanging from a rope swing in the grounds.

I was convinced I knew that swing and the tree it hung from, a great spindly oak in the forest out near the commune boundaries - but I also knew I was mistaken. The commune I remembered had already closed. But this school, Ko Hsuan in Devon, was a continuation of my commune. I knew the teacher, Sharna, who told The Times that thirteen-year-old boys and girls shared bedrooms because 'the kids were mature and totally trustworthy'. I knew some of the Ko Hsuan kids from my own years in those mixed dormitories. I also knew the loneliness of that boy, whose sorrow did not quite fit into the commune's decade-long dream of laughter and of celebration. I could feel that same, familiar sorrow, deep in my chest like an old bruise, but I had no idea of the origins of my sadness. When I read the clipping I remembered there was a reason why I was this way: isolated, strange, shabby, and alone.

I carried that clipping around with me because I finally had one single piece of concrete evidence: at last, something outside of me existed to confirm it had all taken place. I treasured the clipping because it was a single piece of ballast: something to hold me to the ground, to make my history real. I carried that article around because I knew the boy hanging from the swing could have been me.


Copyright © by Tim Guest 2004

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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