‘I grew up in a cult’ My bizarre up­bring­ing

When his par­ents joined the Or­ange Peo­ple, it was the be­gin­ning of his strange up­bring­ing writes NATALEE FUHRMANN

Woman’s Day (Australia) - - Contents -

At just five years old, So­han Hayes could never un­der­stand why his mummy would leave him. He’d cry and get an­gry about it, but above all he missed her, and noth­ing could lessen his feel­ings of aban­don­ment.

His mum Prem Ar­pita (real name Suzanne Hayes) and her part­ner Ron Few­ster were part of an in­fa­mous world­wide sect known as the San­nyasins, the Ra­jneeshees or Or­ange Peo­ple.

Led by In­dian mys­tic Bhag­wan Shree Ra­jneesh, thou­sands of Aussies were en­ticed by the sect’s prom­ises of en­light­en­ment through spir­i­tual cleans­ing, he­do­nism and sex­ual open­ness.

Prem left So­han with the WA branch of the move­ment to pur­sue en­light­en­ment in In­dia. The brunt of that de­ci­sion has had life­long ef­fects for So­han and his younger brother Govindo, who were bil­leted with other sect fam­i­lies for months at a time and left in med­i­ta­tion cen­tres dur­ing their par­ents’ odyssey of self-dis­cov­ery.

“I’m 42 now and a fa­ther of two, so I’ve come to ac­cept it, but I can still re­mem­ber ar­gu­ing with my mum well into my 30s about her leav­ing me,” So­han says. “Mum’s only ex­pla­na­tion was that she was fol­low­ing her heart. She was a fan­tas­tic mother and I felt like I was num­ber one in her life, but dur­ing those Ra­jneesh years, un­til I was nine, there were some wild times and not a lot of di­rec­tion was given to us kids.

“I’m no longer dam­aged by my ex­pe­ri­ences, but I am marked,” says So­han, who has man­aged to move on with his life and is now hap­pily en­gaged to Laeti­tia Wilson, 38, who sup­ports him in deal­ing with his past, and is mum to their two daugh­ters Kaia, five, and three-year-old Tora.

With philoso­phies that shad­owed Hin­duism, the sect was “loud and proud” and quickly be­came a source of de­ri­sion.

“They bought and ren­o­vated one of the build­ings on Col­lie Street [Fre­man­tle]. We had a whole floor of just kids. Adults must have been up or down­stairs,” So­han says, re­call­ing his time be­ing cared for by mem­bers of thee sect when his mother left.

“I saw plenty of naked­ness ss and peo­ple hav­ing sex at home, but I just ac­cepted it as nor­mal. In the Fre­man­tle head­quar­ters, the adults would throw their arms in the air dur­ing dy­namic med­i­ta­tion and shout, ‘Who? Who? Who?’ which was short for ‘Who am I?’ hun­dreds of times. They ended up pad­ding the win­dows be­cause there had been noise com­plaints.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing mes­merised watch­ing the cata­tonic danc­ing and shak­ing,” adds So­han, who re­calls his mum and step­dad tak­ing part in bizarre prac­tices such as star­ing at a wall for three days. “Mum even prac­tised laugh­ing for three hours per week, then cry­ing for three hours the next week.”

So­han’s mum, who passed away in 2011, was even­tu­ally asked to leave the Ra­jneeshees for speak­ing out against some of the ex­cesses, like the Bhag­wan’s pen­chant for Rolls-royces – he had 93! But for So­han, the dam­age was al­ready done.

“I’d have loved a nor­mal child­hood with two lov­ing, well-ad­justed par­ents but I went to 16 schools and was an­gry for so many years.

“Mum and I had it out when I was in my 30s – there were a lot of tears. She apol­o­gised for be­ing ab­sent but I con­tinue to have trust is­sues for fear of be­ing let down and aban­doned.”

So­han’s un­usual child­hood has made the me­dia artist all the more vig­i­lant with his own fam­ily – he’s de­ter­mined to give his girls the child­hood he never had.

“I feel I over­com­pen­sate with Laeti­tia and our girls now,” laughs So­han. “Hav­ing two lov­ing par­ents is so im­por­tant to me now, and I fight to main­tain that. I in­vest a lot of time in my fam­ily, and I will pre­serve it at any price.”

‘I con­tinue to have trust is­sues for fear of be­ing aban­doned’

Govindo with his mum and grand­par­ents. So­han, who was called Ariel­riel be­fore be­ing given­ven his San­skritt name, with Pre­mem and brother Govindo.

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