Of fake godmen who prey upon us
They not only fool ordinary folk who work hard for their meagre savings, but also give a bad name to the real seekers of spiritual truth
A friend is writing the "bible" for a proposed web-streaming series on Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan, erstwhile head of the Dera Sacha Sauda and one of India's so-called "godmen" who was arrested in August 2017 for rape. (A TV series bible is the pitch or treatment that outlines a proposed series, its characters, its first season, and the script for an episode.) Ram Rahim is the fellow who produced and wrote a film starring himself. He's also been charged with the alleged castration of about 400 followers, though several of these charges have since been dropped as no evidence of the castration was found.
My late granduncle, with whom I lived for three years after I returned to India and joined journalism in the late 1980s, used to joke that India's biggest export was of "godmen". He was particularly disgusted by Dhirendra Brahmachari, a close advisor of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Other former PMs who had dubious "godmen" as advisors include P V Narasimha Rao, whose chum Chandraswami moved in the 1980s jet-set. The Beatles recorded a double-album of songs that were written while they stayed at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikesh but quit the ashram after Mahesh Yogi tried to allegedly rape American actress Mia Farrow (John Lennon's song "Sexy Sadie" was originally titled "Maha Rishi").
There's a Netflix documentary series about Osho -- Wild Wild Country -- that you could catch about the godman who was most associated with sexual activity on his ashram till the putrid likes of Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu, the Gujarati godman who has been convicted of raping women. (Asaram Bapu has been officially certified as a "fake baba".) And if you want to read classics that portray fake babas, you could pick up R K Narayan's 1958 classic -- The Guide -- or even G V Desani's 1948 rip-roaring satire – All About H Hatterr.
Godmen are the dark side of our culture. These are charlatans who misuse India's age-old reputation of spirituality and reclusion to project a false image of their own greatness. It is a false image because these men, who are supposed to have transcended the material desires of mundane existence, are caught bathing in milk or raping their innocent devotees. When I worked in the South, I once went to visit a famous godman who specialises in breathing techniques (I went for work as there had been a shooting at the periphery of the ashram's ever-increasing spread of land). While I sat next to him I noticed his fine attire, the expensive material and the intricate chikan work in white. These god-men amass enviable wealth. All the necessary accounting must interfere in their meditation and breathing technique.
We Indians are not only gullible but we also tend to forgive such excess and attribute it to the fact that we live in the epoch of "Kali Yuga", an apocalyptic era when everything is topsy-turvy, especially morals and values. Some of us even quote William Blake: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom", though all that ever led me to was a massive hangover and a morning's work so wasted that Balzac would be ashamed.
What is unforgivable is how these charlatans prey upon our gullible countrymen and take advantage of societal reverence and traditional images of yogis and sanyasis to project an image of themselves as having given selflessly to society. They not only fool ordinary folk who work hard for their meagre savings, but also give a bad name to the real seekers of spiritual truth, those persons who do actually give up the rat-race and live in the Himalayas meditating on divine questions, the method of Hindu philosophy (quite unlike the Western tradition of debating deep questions in the academy).
As you might have guessed, I bring this up not because of the proposed Ram Rahim web-series but because of the shamelessly cynical behaviour of PM Narendra Modi on the eve of the final round of polling in this long, drawn-out election -- an exercise that plunged new depths in our public life, including an unseemly spat in the Election Commission because of its chief's arbitrary behaviour that drew all-round condemnation. Modi's cosplay and having himself photographed in a cave in Kedarnath was an unconvincing play-acting; he could not possibly have calmed his mind given he would be nervously counting cliff-hanging contests in his head. His real aim was to convey that once the counting is done on May 23 and the expected hung Parliament emerges, he will be "above the fray" of those jockeying for a coalition government, holding the high moral ground.
Don't be fooled. Modi is just another self-proclaimed fake fakir. He deserves to remain eternally in that cave in Kedarnath, while India fixes its broken economy after five years of his misrule.
Aditya Sinha's latest book, India Unmade: How the Modi Government Broke the Economy, with Yashwant Sinha, is out now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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