The Stern photos

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The photo's made for an article by Andrees Elten for German magazine Stern caused a major upheaval, both in India and in the West.
This is just a page to make some notes about that.
The photos were made in 1977, and are © Jay Ullal / Stern
See 
Besuch in Bhagwan-Kommune - wo der Sex die Gemeinschaft zusammenhält With one of the photos in a recent Stern article, 29. September 2018


KP in Osho, India and Me

When this happened, the press officer of the ashram was Sw Krishna Prem (Canadian journalist).
He writes, in Osho, India and Me, page.192 ff. :
But about looking in on the therapy groups he’s (Time journalist Larry Malcolm) more insistent. So am I. I just say no. When Osho had been told TIME was here he’d sent me a message. “He says, Laxmi informed me, “tell Krishna Prem to be loving and friendly with them and to show them what they want to see, but he should also make them aware that it doesn't matter to us what they write, positive or negative. Whatsoever they write, the work will continue. And about visiting the cathartic groups, Laxmi herself draws the line.
Once, long before the press office began, she had allowed a STERN photographer to shoot in Teertha’s Encounter group. The journalist with him, STERN’S Andrees Elten, had done the group to write an article, and both he and the photographer, Jay Ullal, had taken sannyas. When this happened, she agreed to the photos. But after the article had been through the hands of STERN editors, the photos, inadequately explained, just looked bizarre, frightening to anyone who didn’t understand what was going on. And a decision had been reached - no journalists or photographers in cathartic groups. Apart from the obvious risks of misrepresentation, this one experience showed Laxmi it wasn’t fair to the participants either, being put on display like monkeys in a zoo. I explain all this to Malcolm and take him to a few non-cathartic groups — Centring, Zazen, Vipassana, Enlightenment Intensive. He’s not satisfied. I shrug my shoulders: “This is how it is here.” I tell him he’ll have to make do with interviewing Teertha, leader of the Encounter group, and also suggest Geet Govind, the former Dick Price, a new sannyasin and founder of California’s famous Esalen Institute.
(...)


(page 211) Later that evening, Mangala comes to my room with the material for Bombay. “And you’d better take a look at this,” she says, handing me a copy of STERN, opened at a double-page spread. “I ran into a German sannyasin with it, grabbed it and split.”
It’s one of the photos Laxmi allowed Jay Ullal to take ages ago. I know, the second I glance at it, that our troubles in India have just begun.
The photo was taken in Somendra’s Leela group, and he’s the only person wearing anything. And all he's got on is a tatty lunghi knotted around his waist. Everyone else is stark naked. Grey beard flying, Somendra stands in the middle of the room, his arms raised on high like a voodoo priest caught in the moment of incantation. Around him swirl a mass of writhing bodies, faces twisted in catharsis. One woman stands, spent, sweat-tangled hair covering her face, her body sagging in exhaustion against two nude, dishevelled men. And the photographer’s been clever - the viewer’s attention is drawn straight to her pubes!
Someone read the article by Andrees Elten, by Satyananda," Mangala says, and they say its very beautiful and very moving. It’s his account of doing Encounter and taking sannyas".
Terrific, I mutter, a bit sarcastically. Indians don’t read German, but they’re sure going to love these photos. Sex. That’s all they’re going to see. Sex. Now they’ll be totally convinced we’re all in the clutches of some mad sex-guru. I’ll bet this is all over Bombay already.”
“Well,” she says, heading for the door. “It’s bed for me. Good luck,” she adds, pointing at the magazine. “You may need it.”
“We’ll survive,” I promise, checking my watch. It’s not too late. “Guess I’d better show this to Laxmi.”
She’s in her dressing gown, getting ready for bed. She studies the photographs for a while. “This is what happens in groups?” she asks, as if she’s never really known.
“You had no idea?” I say.
She shrugs. "Laxmi knows Somendra’s work is beautiful. Energy-magician, Laxmi calls him. But in photograph it looks so ugly. It surprises Laxmi, that’s all, how beautiful work can look so ugly. All well,” she sighs with resignation, setting the magazine aside, “this will set the dogs in Delhi to barking.”
“I’ll call from Bombay and let you know how things go with the press.”
You do that, swamiji, she says. She suddenly sounds tired.


(page 215) “And what else is going on in relation to us?” I want to know. “I have the feeling there’s more.”
(Bachi Karkaria, journalist with the The Illustrated Weekly : ) “Does the name Jay Ullal mean anything to you?”
The STERN photos! So far, no one had mentioned them, but I'd been wondering when they'd pop up. Have you seen the latest issue of STERN ?" I ask.
“No,” she answers. “But I did hear, though, that there was a big article with some outrageous photographs. No, these are other photos Jay Ullal took when he was at the commune.
“What I’ve heard is that Kushwant Singh contacted Ullal in Germany and asked for photos for the Weekly. Ullal sent some, but they were just too shocking for us to use. Kushwant kept them locked in the safe in his office, but not before they'd been passed around the building from editor to editor. They wouldn't show them to any of the women, but I overheard them talking and snickering among themselves, like a bunch of schoolboys over dirty French postcards.
“No wonder they look at us strangely,” Madhura says dryly.
“Finally STERN contacted Kushwant, saying Ullal had had no right to send them to India, that he’d just helped himself from the STERN files. They asked for them to be returned. By then Kushwant had been fired and the photos had disappeared.
“And where’s Kushwant Singh now?” I ask, knowing full well the photos could surface one day and, when they do, we'll have quite a number on our hands.
“In New Delhi. He’s editor of The National Herald, the newspaper Mrs Gandhi’s father, Jawaharlal Nehru, started.”
I file the tale away. Something else to tell Laxmi.
It’s almost two o’clock and I ask the waiter for the check. Bachi's made us an appointment with Dr. Bharati, editor of the huge Hindi roto, Dharmayug, the largest and most influential publication in the country. Its time to get back to the Times building, to face the veiled sneers once again.
“All of this makes me ashamed to be Indian, ”Bachi says a little sadly in the taxi. “I saw such beautiful people at the commune. And there’s all this.” Her hands flutter helplessly in the air.
“Don’t worry about any of this. And I'm grateful you've been so direct and honest with us. But don’t worry. I remember one discourse on the Sufis. Osho said the Sufis say that when a man has had a glimpse of God, everything he does succeeds. People may not get it, but we’re doing God’s work. Everything will work out fine. It always does.”


(page 224) The Missing STERN Photos
So this is Gods joke for today,” Laxmi says wryly when I lay the latest issue of New Delhi magazine on her bed-side table. “Suddenly it seems the photos Jay Ullal sent to Kushwant Singh are no longer missing.”
Missing they’re not. In a full-colour spread, albeit off-register in typical Indian style, the STERN photos, plus a few others so horrific even the Germans rejected them, are laid out for all the country to see. And the editor’s been clever. Under the simple title, Total Love, there are just a few words: “The Poona Acharya allows disciples in his community to practice what he preaches. The group therapy sessions are a means to achieving the ultimate bliss and freedom.” If he were here right now, I’d throttle the schmuck.
"So, swamiji" Laxmi asks, "what do you suggest? Something has to happen so the work doesn’t suffer. And there is new commune to consider.”
I don't hesitate tor a second. “We take the bull by the horns. We call press conferences in Bombay and in New Delhi. We invite the press, telling them we’ll be dealing with these photos. What else to do? You’ve taught me we have to use whatever challenges come our way - and this is one of the biggest yet.
By afternoon, reservations are made. I he Bombay conference will be at the Taj Mahal Hotel; the Delhi one, at our Raj Yoga Meditation Centre. And Subhuti's at the typewriter, a press kit already taking shape.
It’s decided that Madhura and I will handle the conferences, and that Satyananda and Somendra, stars of the STERN article and photos, will come along. Osho also suggests Divya accompany us. She’s attractive, articulate and a long-time therapist. She’s also used to dealing with Indians, having done Tata Management seminars in the past.
We give ourselves a week to get ready, but if I think for a moment were going to get any rest before the upcoming trip, I’m kidding myself. Osho’s on the government’s case these days — and he’s not letting up for anything.
"“He’s really after this government,” Satyananda says to me after one particularly powerful discourse. “I’ve been to Delhi dozens of times for STERN, but I have the feeling this trip is going to be a whole new experience.


(page 228) It had all begun smoothly. Veetmoha had arrived in Bombay early, with Divya, Somendra and Satyananda, and with all the efficiency of his African safari days, had taken charge. He'd sent the Taj Hotel bearers scurrying here and there, fetching easels and tables and linen, until he'd mounted, to his discerning satisfaction, an impressive display of foundation books, tapes, newsletters and magazines. In one corner, lied set up a screen lor the slide show on commune crafts, finding a bearer who, for five extra rupees would keep an eye on him and pull the curtains on cue. Madhura, with equal ease, had slipped into her hostess role, arranging the seating informally, chairs grouped around low coffee tables, and instructing the waiters how and when she wanted refreshments served. At the front, under a huge colour photo of Osho in discourse, Divya, Somendra, Satyananda and I are positioned.
The press was prompt, most arriving well before four o clock. They've been looking forward to this one,” Bachi Karkaria tells me. “They’re usually a good half hour late - if they bother to come at all. I’ve never seen a turnout like this!”
As soon as they’re seated, I call for their attention and introduce the four of us, mentioning the material in their press kits - an incredibly comprehensive opus by Subhuti, The Role o f Therapy Groups in the Great Experiment of Osho, geared to an Indian audience for whom a therapy group is as alien as a Big Mac.
We all know why we’re here, so I get right down to it. “You’ve all undoubtedly seen the photographs published in New Delhi magazine, I say. At this, many of the men snicker and the women lower their eyes. “We’ve come to talk to you about these photographs. They were taken as part of an article Swami Satyananda was writing for STERN and have been used out of context, as well as illegally, by New Delhi. The photos were removed surreptitiously from the STERN files by Jay Ullal and sent to India. Now, we are told, STERN is suing New Delhi.
“In any case, some of the photos were taken in Swami Somendra’s group and he will explain to you what is actually happening in these photos. We hope to help you understand, since group therapy is new to India, exactly what is going on in Poona.