"My Life in Orange" A review by Alok John
Tim Guest, born in 1975, was one of the children living at Medina, a large sannyas commune in Suffolk that ran from 1981 to 1985. He is the son of Vismaya, now called Anne, who was one of the three leaders of British sannyas at this time and was a leading therapist.
This somewhat angry book has two themes: the story of the relationship between Tim, once Yogesh, and his mother, and a history of sannyas, in particular Medina and the Ranch.
Tim was rejected by his mother and spent much of his time at Medina living like an orphan. His problems were compounded by the fact that he was an extremely intelligent child, living in a commune where many, but not all, members interpreted 'no-mind' to mean possessing a mind that was childish and primitive. He also had no feeling for spirituality, meditation or Osho.. Why should he? So when the other kids broke his big Star Wars toy given to him by his father in California, and an adult told him the answer was to "let go", this was just torture. To say such things to a secure child who leans towards spirituality, as some of the other children did, is one thing. To say it continually to an insecure child who needed his toys because he did not have his mum, probably amounted to emotional abuse. He did not trust most of the teachers at the school, and many adults at Medina hardly ever listened to him. Some would insult him by saying things like
"Earth to Yogesh...Do you read me?"
For all this Tim was and is justifiably angry.
The book contains moving detail about the relationship with Anne and the efforts she made to heal the rift between mother and son after she left the commune.
However the book is also a story about the history of sannyas and here Tim expresses his anger by including just about everything negative, right or wrong, about sannyas : the Rolls Royces, the nitrous oxide, Sheela's crimes, you name the scandal, Tim made sure it was in his book. Much of it is factually accurate, though presented in a negative light. I only found one outright lie : Tim says there was murder at the Ranch. There wasn't. But it is wrong and dangerous to put such a lie in the book. There are also
subtle insults : sannyasins doing dynamic "flap" their arms. After the Ranch, "sannyasins had begun manufacturing the drug ecstasy"; in reality a very small number did this, and a great many more went back to the often professional lives they had before living in the organised communes. .Throughout the book he implies that sannyas ended in 1985 when the orange coloured clothes were dropped. For some this is when it began!
The happiest parts of the book are his descriptions of playing at Medina with his friend Majid. Tim and Majid invented the game NATLASU "Not Allowed To Let Anyone See Us". "We would set ourselves missions, the hardest being to creep from the woods to the top floor of the Main House and then back out again. We couldn't allow anyone to catch even a glimpse of us while we were playing. We played NATLASU most afternoons.". They discovered static electricity. By sliding on the ground floor carpet, they could generate static electricity and give passers-by electric shocks. It isn't hard to
imagine the fun they had with this.
The book is full of detail of life at Medina and his mother's experiences which is not recorded anywhere else, and may prove in the future to be a useful historical source. Sadly Granta has printed the book on the cheapest acidic paper. There are plenty of photos but these are poorly reproduced in black and white. This is a pity because the sight of orange clad sannyasins against a background of green grass or oak panelling was breathtaking.
To be honest the only parts of the book I enjoyed were when Tim writes about the other children and the games they played. I knew most of the detail about the fall of the Ranch, and reading about his controlling and power hungry mother, while fascinating, was a little depressing. However this is an important book just for the wealth of detail it contains.
My Life in Orange by Tim Guest, published by Granta Books, 2004, paperback, about £12