Guru Tamasoma slapped his thigh with glee. “See,” he said, “I told you it’s a great time to be a saffron-wallah in India.” Vidushak agreed. “It’s an especially great time to be a baba,” he said. “Forget global business management strategy. What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School is that the easiest way to build a global empire is Indian-style jugaad. Just claim that you’re a godman. Or baba. Or guru. Some spiritual type. Bas, that’s it. The hordes will beat a path to your door. Prime ministers, presidents, politicians, governments, army, police, the law and laity alike will be your slaves, doing your bidding.”
Preparations on for the World Culture Festival, organised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living, held on the banks of the river Yamuna this weekend. Pic/PTI
The investment is laughably minimal. Your venture capital is a saffron robe, long hair and a beard — and you’re in business. It helps if you surround yourself with beautiful women devotees in a trance. “Don’t angry me,” Guru Tamasoma roared. “Look how they are troubling our good friend running the World Culture Festival on the Yamuna flood plains near Delhi this weekend. The smart fellow got both the Central and the State governments as sponsors, and is spending R25 crore just for stage-related construction. Just because some farmers’ crops were bulldozed and they were thrown in Tihar Jail, so people could enjoy music and dance, and Army soldiers were assigned to build bridges on the Yamuna for the event, look at the media tamasha that followed!”
Vidushak cleared his throat. “Er, actually, the National Green Tribunal has fined our friend’s organisation R5 crore as penalty for violating environmental laws. The Tribunal pulled up the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change for declaring that no environmental clearance was needed, in contravention of official notifications.” Guru Tamasoma dismissed him, “Arre, what is environment in front of God?”
True, you’ve come a long way, baba! Vidushak reflected. “In the old days, babas sold yoga, spirituality and sexual romps to firangis ‘seeking themselves’. They are bachcha party before today’s pahuncha gurus,” he said. As soon as babas get a mass following, they use their political and business contacts to build commercial empires. They have a ‘baba success formula’: just add a mix of spiritual talk, yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, and in two minutes, you have instant success. “If you are a yoga baba, your devotees will automatically help build your empire by buying everything you manufacture, from noodles to vitamins for male sexual disorders, including atta, biscuits, pickles, balms, shampoos and incense sticks,” said Vidushak. “You can even swing an exclusive deal with a Defence Research and Development Organisation subsidiary to process seabuckthorn, and the Defence Minister and Army Chief will personally publicise your venture.”
It makes you nostalgic to remember the baba who once produced old-fashioned vibhuti and Rolex watches from his sleeves: he has left behind a multi-billion dollar empire, that includes hospitals, clinics and universities. “That is small fry,” Guru Tamasoma insisted. “Our good friend shakes hands with presidents and prime ministers worldwide and attends UN meetings.” “But it is big fry when you go to jail on charges of alleged rape in your ashram, and your witnesses are swiftly bumped off or go missing,” Vidushak retorted.
Meanwhile, today’s Gen Next, media-savvy gurus star in movies and run TV channels. One of them displays Olympic, multi-tasking baba skillsets: as hero of his own movie, he rides into town astride an orange Royal Enfield Bullet, single-handedly destroys battalions of commandos, baddies and 'adivasis' in hired skirts, strides in slo-mo like Men in Black, plays a rock star and dazzles beauties by playing a saxophone. Of course, he also sells khichdi, pickles, and yeah, noodles. “Hard to imagine Christian, Islamic or Parsi men of god selling noodles,” Vidushak smiled, “but Hindus — and Indians generally — are famously flexible.”
However, India is not alone in this. As we also know from Spotlight, which won Best Picture Oscar, and Pablo Larrain's The Club, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the Church protects its paedophile priests worldwide — and itself. So, here’s an Indian truism: he’s a godman. And he don’t care. And India’s unofficial anthem? Rang de Basanti — colour it saffron.
Disclaimer: This column does not refer to any specific person; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.