Prophet Of Love written by Farrukh Dhondy has a disconcerting beginning. It starts with a monologue about the four-letter word which turns out to be part of a god-man’s sermon. A description of the said god-man put the beginning completely in perspective. His name is Bhagwan Saket and he is a spitting copy of Bhagwan Rajneesh, with his “long white beard and flowing black-and-white hair”. He has hypnotic eyes and a shrill voice which he uses to exhort his crimson clad followers to adopt his new way of life. Mention of a Rolls Royce only cemented the likeness. Bhagwan Saket is the guru of a commune in Pune and his followers are mostly Westerners. The main protagonist is the author himself and he has said that some instances mentioned have occurred in his life. Is this book based on a true story ? Farrukh Dhondy in an interview in the dna magazine has commented that “it’s 14% true and 86% imagined truth”. What a delightful usage of words !
This book piqued my interest with the style of narration. It’s is in the first person but told from the perspective of two protagonists, one of whom is the author himself. The other perspective is provided by a monk called Chandrika who was closely associated with Saket from his initial years. Farrukh’s narrative takes the story forward and Chandrika’s provides the background which enriches the canvas. As with any skilful story teller, the author has beautifully merged the two without creating any dissonance in the reader’s mind.
Prophet Of Love starts with Farrukh’s quest for an inside story on Bhagwan Saket’s ashram in Pune. Farrukh, a freelance writer has returned to his birth place from London to write the story for a weekly. His spinster aunts are thrilled to have him home and he takes residence with them. His efforts to get to the truth behind the public persona of the Bhagwan does not yield immediate results. He’s stonewalled at every turn by the members of the commune and shown only a very sanitised version of the workings. On one of his visits, Farrukh encounters a dissident sanyasin Diamond, who has been banished from the commune. But her daughter is still inside and she desperately wants to get her out. She enlists Farrukh’s support along with that of a childhood friend of his called Praful. Praful is also a journalist and is a deeply embittered person. The dynamics between Farrukh, Diamond and Praful constantly keeps changing as the story progresses. Juxtaposed with this is the monk Chandrika’s story about life in the monastery, the arrival of Saket and his struggle for survival in a world for which he was never prepared. The story set in the late seventies has an old world charm to it which conjures up a sense of nostalgia. The story alternates between Farrukh’s present and Saket’s past until the two entwine.
I found Farrukh’s part of the story slightly tepid and lacking a soul. The story played out as expected, like a calmly flowing river without any interesting twists or turns. On the other hand, Saket’s story really caught my attention. How a child condemned to die in a monastery is saved by a benefactor, and how he navigates the waters of life to become a spiritual saviour for disillusioned Westerners, is brilliantly portrayed. I might have found Farrukh’s story dull, because I’ve read almost the same incidents in the news media during those times and so it wasn’t anything new. On the other hand Bhagwan Rajneesh’s past was not well documented until much later, by which time my interest in him had died down. So I was eager to understand the rationale behind his actions. Farrukh Dhondy has said that Bhagwan Saket is not totally modelled on Rajneesh, however after a couple of pages, the distinction between fiction and reality fades in our mind and it was as Rajneesh that I viewed Saket.
There were a couple of explicit scenes which somehow detracted from the mood of the story for me. However, I loved this book for the world it took me into and for a glimpse into the life and mind of a much- written- about, yet not fully understood god-man.
Thanks to Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book for an impartial review.