Last of the Hippies?
GOKARN, KARNATAKA, AND ALLAHABAD, UP ~ “Welcome to Rainbow,” says the policeman, lounging on his motorbike, looking bored. He seems unaware that he holds the invisible key to a commune whose members believe they are living the perfect life even though they have sworn off sex temporarily in tribute to the Kumbh Mela underway closeby.
“You can’t stay the night here, you are Indian,” he says, barring me from the campsite, “What is there to see, anyway?”
But then he says, “Go on. But leave soon.”
The Uttar Pradesh administration has forbidden natives from entering the Rainbow Family of Living Light’s love camp on the outskirts of Allahabad. Indians, it fears, may trouble the community.
Who are these Rainbow people?
Inside a tent, a man with dreadlocks tells me, “I am my own rainbow.”
I quote Bob Marley to him.
“…to the rescue, here I am. I am a rainbow, too.”
“Welcome home, sister,” he says.
The Rainbow Family, described by a 1993 Rolling Stone article as ‘the largest best coordinated nonpolitical nondenominational nonorganization of like-minded individuals on the planet’, exists in a realm beyond the law in several countries. It is neither a registered society nor movement. It has no headquarters. Its members are often arrested, chiefly for unlawful gatherings.
In a way, Rainbows are the last of the hippies, people who the world that has moved on since the heady 60s has largely lost its tolerance of. In the US, where they hold an absolutist view of the First Amendment and their right to peaceful gatherings, there have been instances of their being handcuffed by the police.
So there is something odd about a policeman guarding this Rainbow camp.
When they first came to this site a couple of months ago—a woman and her daughter, and a man with dreadlocks that reach below his knees—they wanted no amenities, just permission to stay on Mela grounds in an isolated corner of Kumbh Nagri’s Sector 7. Soon, they were joined by other Rainbows, and the administration gave them water and electricity connections (for lightbulbs and for them to charge their phones and tablets), and then, confused about their purpose, thought it best to keep Indians out; after all, a baba had tried to molest two of the women in the camp, and another had made off with a woman’s belongings.
Most Rainbows found in India are foreigners, though there are a few Indians too—either full-timers who do not conform to any organised religion or society, or those who stay with them just a few weeks every year to escape their work routines. Some do drugs, some don’t. Teachers, bankers, sales executives, artists and other people who have probably never worked in a way that would qualify as work, they live in various isolated corners of India. Rainbows have been visiting India for at least two decades. Looking at their tie-n-dye shirts, guitars and hair flowers, you might think of them as revivalists, an echo of the anti-war hippie movement of the 1960s. Read more…