Thursday, 30 June 2011

Babagiri on the Babadrome

By Christopher Howard

Now my question is – Do you think God exists? If you think ‘it’ (or ‘He’ or ‘She’, or even a transgender, I leave it to you) doesn’t, please refrain from reading any further. Set your clock back in time, and treat yourself a relaxing harpist. But if you think God exists, then here’s my next hoist – Why do we need Babas and Godmen?

Before I meander into forages of confusion and abject delusions, partake the hatred spewed at my limited adjudication of Babadom and its many bravados, I would want you to sigh after taking in a deep breath. In this illusory world of misplaced perceptions and tapering insights, Babadom is a roaring business. You can think of cheats, thugs, rapists, exploiters, dacoits, chauvinist pigs, racists, pedophiles, psychos, and pinheads. Where all these end in their inimitable sojourn to the Savages’ Eternity, Babadom takes over. Holds sway. For the benefit of my readers, I might like to coin a term that indulges in this very act of the Babas and the like, with some amplitude for a capillary ridicule and despise at the same time – ‘Babagiri’.

Like prostitution, Babagiri has an immemorial and checkered history, its creation as original as the 'creation' of Man himself. The first group of prostitutes would have probably had a Baba to resort to, and in all probability, the enlightened soul would have had shown them a way out of their ‘sins’. ‘Atone’ for their sins, in all probability, by giving free sex to none but the Baba himself. Not to overdo my imagery as I move along, here’s a caveat though. Babas come in many flavours, much like ice-creams, and coffee. You have hot and cold Babas, with cardamom, spices, juicy, with ice, or just ice-cold. It will be subservient to your taste buds, and given the right dosage of a Baba at decent intervals of time, an itinerant Baba can soon become the most sought-after, like Aladdin’s genie. As for the flavours, Babas can knot themselves up as ‘Guru’, ‘Yogi’, ‘Pir’, ‘Satguru’, ‘Fakir’, ‘Tantric’, ‘Swami’ or  ‘Qutab’. The female equivalents may be ‘Mata’, ‘Amma’, ‘Devi’ and thus many more strains. Those who graduate this class of insouciant Babagiri and its breed go on to become ‘Avatars’, ‘Messiahs’ (and assholes).

I still remember the morning one day, when the newspaper brought out a front-page article on Chandraswami, the self-proclaimed Godman of the 1990s, and his deeds. Nobody had heard his name before, except probably the rich and the famous who thronged his ‘Ashram’ in Delhi, which included some former Prime Ministers of the country. ‘Spiritual adviser’ was the label he bestowed upon himself. State-heads and Who’s Who seemed to be his clients, most notable being the Sultan of Brunei, Elizabeth Taylor – the quintessential celluloid superstar, and Sheikh Isha Kaleefa, the ruler of Bahrain. The word ‘Mamaji’ from Mahabharata's Shakuni got a new torque to pull it through, with Chandraswami’s close aide Kailash Nath Agarwal doing what it took to play the character. Yet again, the squirming nexus between the politicians and the underworld became apparent. It was reported Chandraswami had a reclusion to a jungle in Bihar, where he meditated for four years, before attaining ‘Siddhi’ or miraculous powers. How far this is true is still a question mark. As is  how much these miraculous powers still work knowing he’s still embroiled in atleast ten critical cases of FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act) violations. Defrauding clients and swindling bucks seemed to be his forte. However, these came to light much later, when the London-based businessman Lakhubhai Pathak, of the now-famous ‘Pickle case’, alleged Chandraswami had cheated him and decamped with a whopping hundred thousand US dollars.

With what has been going on, I would still opine that Chandraswami was a small fish in the crowded seas. He was caught relatively early, and the only reason he was caught, was because other fishes were toiling deep under, trying to make little movements so as not to invite attention.

That brings me to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of the ‘Art of Living’ fame. He calls himself a spiritual leader, which would have made sense if I could understand what’s so spiritual about him. To the emotionally-vacuumed middle-class, lovelorn and love-torn, amidst rocketing petrol and diesel prices, and personal crackdowns of faith and sanity in this immensely materialistic world, even a whisper for abstainance is construed as spiritual. A pompous beard with graying strains, diligently left to visit its unattended precincts, carries all the charisma for a double-take. The middle-class needs icons and prophets. To survive, and somehow retire to sleep at the end of the day thinking they have a life. I had a close friend, who once told me I should do the ‘Art of Living’ course, for she had been benefited from the same. She was a person who seems to have been born to struggle all her life – first, she fell in love with a guy from another religion, her parents opposed the marriage, she married against their will, got a baby, the person she loved left and dumped her in lieu of a divorce, and being a single-mother and working, she relapses into bouts of depression and emotional hangovers. She seems to be on a perennial cliff, hanging precariously to a life that will end one day, and the only reason to live is obtained from the charms of a three-year-old son who plays with toys carelessly in front of her eyes. Sometimes, she gazes at the stars outside the window and hears her son asking her the whereabouts of his father, nonchalantly oblivious of the fact that life is not a Facebook status that can be juggled with, or changed, per one’s liking. And whims. No wonder, being emotionally void, the person finds respite in some hyped lessons that one thinks is coming from a higher form, if not God himself. Years of such belief, however, makes the latter teacher don the garb of a demi-God, and logic and reasoning are obliterated to that inert space of the Cerebellum where nothing exists. It is not surprising then that their eyes seem to be tinted as to measure them up as God himself, in real, as one who cannot die, and if he does so as all mortals will, his grace would be eternal in a subtle astral form.

Once many years back, I had read a news-clip that said Vijay Mallya of the United Breweries, was a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The reporter was unbiased in his remarks in the article, meaning it wasn’t clear from whom he had actually got the money or perks to write that – whether Ravi Shankar or Mallya. In it was also mentioned as to how Mallya had met Ravi Shankar at the airport, and had started crying when the latter held his hand, brimful of love, warmth and inner peace. Mallya falls under the same category as my friend – only that self-pity and lack of confidence in his inner self visits him in some other form. He is as emotionally tied up as the normal man, and inspite of being a liquor-Baron, he is afraid of his death, of the day when not even his money will remember him. Why did he have to give alms to the ascetic Ravi Shankar in the form of his tears? Friends, Romans, Countrymen – to me, all this is drama. Common people can be herded to inane realities, where fictional thoughts juxtapose with a virtual apocalypse of the times. What churns out is aberration and confusion about the purpose of one’s being, which anyway, hardly anyone ever take pains to understand. The spiritual world is not a logical world, it is a metaphysical conglomerate of a multi-dimensional Universe, but still there remains an iota of sanity in this charmed pandemonium and ethereal madness, and for those in the right mind, it wouldn’t take much to decipher.

No doubt there would be a plethora of platforms declaring that Mallya is a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and there would be hundreds of innocent and grace-saving people who would succumb to this guile. ‘If such a successful person like Mallya is a follower, why shouldn’t I be?’ would have been the common fever doing the rounds. Not out of some pastoral invocation, or a heavenly directive, but a mental state that believes the successful, but ignores the fact that every path to success is unique. Ravi Shankar was a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who I remember, was a rage in the US of America once upon a time,  till the late 1980s. There used to be half-page advertisements in newspapers about his proposed University or Ashram or some such crap (I shall try to find a better word next time, couldn’t think of anything better for now) , where his yogic methods would enable people to fly and be air-borne. I still believe this Mahesh Yogi was himself a fraudster of ‘A’ grade, with a sizeable number of American-white followers, his institution took off as a pioneer in Transcendental Meditation. It was called ‘TM Movement’, one that was a new religious movement as well as a non-religious one. ‘Maharishi’ and ‘Yogi’ were honorifics bestowed on him, and in his younger age, he seems to have done penance in the Himalayas. I have noticed one common thing about Babagiri – most of them go to a secluded place for ‘Tapasya’ (penance) where nobody sees them, and appear only in a few years’ time, with miraculous powers. Ravi Shankar maybe an exception, but to me hardly exceptional.

Mahesh Yogi, since he often laughed vociferously in TV interviews, became publicly known as a ‘giggling Guru’. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Maharishi became Guru to the Beatles and other celebrities. He started the TM-Sidhi programme, in the late 1970's that claimed to offer practitioners the ability to levitate and to create world peace. Levitation and creating world peace – a paradigm shift you’d say. Its like teaching the elevated art of Philosophy, and then how to piss. He founded the Natural Law Party in 1992, and ran campaigns in dozens of countries. He moved to MERU, Holland, near Vlodorp, the Netherlands, in the same year. In 2000, he created the Global Country of World Peace, which was a sanitized logical entity or a ‘country without borders’. He appointed its leaders in countries across the world. In 2008, the Maharishi announced his retirement from all administrative activities and went into ‘Mauna’ (spiritual silence) until his death a few weeks later.
Many accounts say his name was Mahesh Kumar Varma of the Kayastha caste, from central India, while the Allahabad list of distinguished alumni says his name as ‘M.C Srivastava’, even as obituary lists it out as ‘Mahesh Srivastava’. Whatever, it was because of his caste, and not being from a Brahmin, that cost him being a successor to Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, his Guru. He was instead delegated to render discourses on Vedic and scriptural themes. That all tall-talks about spiritualism should fall flat for a man-made triviality called casteism is itself worthy of contempt. 

It is said millions of people studied his methods and learnt the advanced meditation techniques. His initiatives included schools and universities with campuses in several countries including India, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Mahesh Yogi and his kins have created charitable organizations and for-profit businesses that include nearly 1,000 TM centres, schools, universities, clinics, health supplements and organic farms. Estimates of the value of the Maharishi's empire is in the range of billions of dollars. Without doubt, there’s got to be some real Mantra for the business, which ordinary mortals like us either don’t know, or refuse to acknowledge, or aren’t gifted enough to.

When I was on a project in India way back in the mid to late-1990s, I came across huge hoardings put up all over the city of Chennai. It showed a lady, with a free-spirited smile, dark-complexioned, curly-haired, a rounded ‘tika’ on a small forehead, a nose-ring that sparkled, and a charm that could be matched only by the radiance emanating from her face.  There were phone-numbers at the bottom, and some names, written in English, with a transliteration in Tamil. It had a logo, and written around it was ‘Mata Amritanandmayi’, with an emphasis on a common reference to her – ‘Amma’, which means Mother. There would be people on the Arcot Road , Chennai, who would hurriedly halt at the hoarding, jot down the phone numbers, and throttle away in brisk paces to be gobbled by a bus splashing with the sea of humanity.
Many years later, I came across a person who was supposed to be an agent for spreading the word that so-and-so was God’s gospel in human form. This agent system worked two ways – there were agents who would be given a fixed salary, and would also be involved in the work of the institution; and there would be agents who would work on a commission-based system. The person I talked about, Sathya (name changed), would work on commission, putting up a word at crowded places, like the outside of cinema halls where people wait and gossip, and hospitals where restless people can’t wait any longer for their turn, or anywhere where there’s a decent audience for their vocal chords, smeared with a helping of propaganda, to find vent. He also apprised me of the modus operandi from the level and angle he discerned, the groundwork involved, and the hierarchies of authorities working in a labyrinthine network in an optimal spread across various strata of the society. It was a ‘large’ small-scale business, where hypocrisy and falsehood would rule the roost.

‘Amma’, born Sudhamani Idamannel, is revered as a ‘saint’ amongst her followers, and her ‘Darshan’ (seeing the Saint or the Godly) is considered pious. In the year 2000, when she visited Chennai, I met her.
There were friends, some of them journalists in the leading newspapers of the time, and some IAS officers who held senior administrative positions in the government, and both of these groups urged me to meet her. I was in the surging crowd that seemed to swell, and her arrival made them go berserk in an effort to catch her glimpse, inspite of the volunteers and the bandobast.
My friends told me how they had spiritual experiences on meeting her, how they had wept when she hugged them for no apparent reason, and had felt lighter the next moment, and how she comes to them in their dreams. One of them boasted Amma had given him a candy last time, when she had spotted him and had come right across, singling him out amidst the crowd, and how she had hugged him, and whispered in his ears in Malayalam – that all his pain would go away. He elaborated on how, true to her prophecy, the remainder of the year had changed his state of affairs, to the point he was really happy now. Incorrgible skeptic that I was, nevertheless, I thought I should meet her.
In what could be described as the briefest encounter, she hugged me when I met. Nothing really happened. I really felt nothing at all. I thought my friends had been taken for a ride if at all they believed what they have been told. And if they had experienced what they said, it can be surmised as the desperation of vulnerable minds, eager to be ecstatic hearts, churning out emotions that the wishful mind prescribed. A self-effacing rot, rut, nothing more, nothing less. Or I am the most depraved sinner of all time, for whom all doors of spiritual perception have been slammed shut.

The Mata Amritanandamayi Math, of which Mata Amritanandamayi is the chairperson, is today involved in many spiritual and charitable activities. In 1987, at the request of devotees, the Mata began to conduct programs in countries throughout the world. She has done so annually ever since, apart from tours across the length and breadth of India. The products that her Trust sells to its devotees range from soaps to incense sticks. Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, the Vice-Chairman of the Math, has written a biography about Amritanandamayi. The Math also publishes Matruvani, a monthly spiritual magazine. Anything that can be sold with a picture of Amma tucked in somewhere, and anywhere this works, it is a business opportunity. To nobody’s qualm are the Vedas and the Gita, the sacred books, invoked and anecdotes from daily life mixed for a healthy dosage of packaged preaching. ‘Gyaan’, means knowledge, so be it! ‘A continuous stream of love flows from me to all of creation’ is the universal agenda.

If you have read this far, you would find it conspicuously wasteful if there’s no mention of another fraudster of epic proportions – a man who was elected as the chairman of the Hindu University of America, in 2007, also known as the International Vedic Hindu University, in the state of Florida, US. He has been popular for his specific meditation techniques and the idea of ‘Dhyana’ (meditation). He has spiritual centers in India and abroad, in thousands, and his followers number in the order of millions the world over. His notable followers include the high and the mighty – politicians like Narendra Modi from the Indian state of Gujarat, and B.S Yeddyurappa from Karnataka, not to mention an elite set of actors from the film industry.  As per his biography, this great man seems to have had an intense spiritual experience at the age of twelve years, and subsequent wandering and spiritual practice culminated in his attaining the state of spiritual enlightenment, or Eternal bliss. ‘Nithya’ means Eternal, ‘Ananda’ means bliss, and hence the conjoined form relates his name – ‘Nithyananda’, or ‘Swami Nithyananda’, as has been the wont. I didn’t know about this enlightened soul, until I saw his video in which he was in a compromising position with a woman, a starlet, broadcasted on a Sun News (a Tamil television channel) in March, 2010. I still remember how all and sundry would talk about the colossal horniness of the Swami, and punch search strings with his name for Youtube and Google to spit out the videos. I had seen his videos on the internet umpteen times, to check out if it was a mix of ‘conspiracy, graphics, and rumour’ as alleged by the Swami and his faction. The video material was all over the place, like shit when it hits the fan, inspite of an injunction from a Civil Court that blocked further broadcasting. Around the second half of April, Nithyananda was arrested by the police in Himachal Pradesh, and brought down to Bangalore for CID investigation. After fifty-two days in jail, Nithyananda was granted bail in June, 2010. But here’s the irony – Nithyananda’s driver, who was supposed to have released the video, was charged by the Bidadi police, under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – chiefly accused of defaming Nithyananda by distributing the film. Power and money can dress up crime as the most righteous. How sexual offences can be garbed under the superficial visage of a mongering meditative movement, and the whistle-blower decomposed with the burden of criminal cases piled upon him, is a carelessly half hidden secret.

That brings me to mention another ‘Mata’, a lingual variation to the Amma-genre. Every other day there’s a new religious movement created to help inscrutable masses wade through the convoluted jingoisms of faith, as if telling them to sober up from what they are, and guiding them through the blind alley. It would be humorous, or ridiculous, or both, if it weren’t as appalling. Nirmala Srivastava (nee Nirmala Salve), known among followers as ‘Mataji’ or ‘Shrimataji’ belongs to the self-proclaimed creed of godmen, who come out of their aestivation, to make enlightenment look like a commodity, purchasable off the shelf.
Nirmala was born to Christian parents in Chindwara, India, and she seems to have claimed she was born self-realized. She was supposed to have descended from the Shalivahana dynasty, her father being a scholar who had translated the Koran to Marathi, and one who knew fourteen languages, while her mother was the first woman in India to have received a degree in Mathematics. In her youth, she had stayed in the Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, and was jailed while participating in the Quit India Movement of 1942. She studied medicine at the Christian Medical College, Ludhiana and the Balakram Medical College, Lahore. Her husband, Mr. Chandrika Prasad Srivastava, was a Civil Servant, who later served Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri as the Joint-secretary and was bestowed an honorary knighthood by Elizabeth II. Sudhir Kakar, a Freudian psychoanalyst and writer, has written that Nirmala was ‘closely associated’ with Rajneesh in her ‘apprenticeship years’. In a film ‘Nirmala Devi: Freedom and Liberation’, Nirmala said that those people supposed to be spiritual, were actually greedy and promiscuous, and this had made her lose hope and self-introspect, search within herself. She said that at Nargol, in May 1970, she had witnessed the rising of the primordial Kundalini. In her own words: "I saw my Kundalini rising very fast like a telescope opening out and it was a beautiful color that you see when the iron is heated up, a red rose color, but extremely cooling and soothing." She stated that the potential for all humanity to gain spiritual self awareness was realized at this time, which she characterizes as a "historical process of en-masse self-realization and inner transformation". Soon, she founded ‘Sahaja Yoga’ in Mumbai.

It is a matter of immense interest that Sahaja Yoga spread its tentacles to one hundred forty countries, or about that number. Nirmala’s husband was the Secretary-General at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency based in London, from 1974 to 1989, and that helped her to get international footage. The first Sahaja Yogis were seven London hippies. It was 1979 that Nirmala declared herself a complete incarnation of the Adi (Primordial) Shakti (Power) to her disciples, and also claimed to be Maitreya and the Mahdi - the Buddhist and Islamic reference respectively. However, Sahaja Yogis consider theirs to be a separate religious movement, and are encouraged to marry amongst themselves. I have come across a Sahaja Yogi who was in love with a Hindu guy, but in the modern world, love doesn’t seem to get a free runway. Or how else would you account for all her family members being adamant that the guy should become a Sahaja Yogi as a pre-condition for her marriage. It wouldn’t have been in such utter distaste if the girl in love did not have a similar opinion too. A strong opinion, that nevertheless had its way and the marriage never materialized. Though I might be too microscopic in my examination, and there would invariably be instances of cross-marriages, but my point is – any progressive religion, new or old or just-born, should aim at uniting people and not dividing them further. Meditation is a good thing to happen to Man, but it cannot be your meditation, and mine. I don’t think there’s anything called Spiritual Property Right (SPR) till now, but the way things are moving, I can’t be sure that is not on the cards. Atleast, with all the ‘Babagiri’ prevalent in this free-for-all trade, I think that’s where we are heading.

In the year 2007, while at the Indianapolis airport, Indiana state, USA, I happened to meet a gentleman in his late seventies. He was an American, his hair scarce with age and whitened by experience, one who spoke little and mostly wayside syllables to himself, and gazed at newspapers as though they were stars blinking in the outer firmament. His spectacles rose and fell as and when required, and with the little allowance that he could gather from a failing eyesight, I could see him reading all the while. It just happened, that he was on my flight from Indianapolis to Frankfurt. When the plane finally took off, I glanced at the book he had been reading all this while. It was by Rajneesh – Osho. 
‘Are you a follower of Osho?’ I asked. He answered in the affirmative, nodding, a glint suddenly visible in his eyes. He then went on to explain how things were in the 1960s and 1970s, the hippy movement, the drugs and sex that spread faster than rumours or religion, the immense threat of a Third World War, the fatigue of monotony in daily life, and policies of the governments of nations, and with all these as backgrounds, how solidly Rajneesh captivated and swept off people from their rigid and ‘bark-like’ philosophies of dead tissue – across races, caste, creeds, nations. This gentleman’s name was Mark Davis, and he went on to proclaim how Rajneesh’s philosophy was genuine, and holds true to the last grain, even today. He was immensely disturbed by the treatment meted out by the US government before and after his death. He felt pity that India, the country of his birth, hadn’t learnt much from the teachings of this enlightened soul. Mark’s voice rose and fell, and I could extrapolate his age in years backwards, as to what a gullible entity he might have been at a younger and less mature age. He had lots of girlfriends at that time he told me, and his father was rich. He had the luxury of designer cars, shoes, and covertly made or smuggled drugs. There wasn’t much of a challenge in his life then, and how quickly he had been losing interest to live.

Osho, born as Chandra Mohan Jain, also named Acharya Rajneesh, was later christened Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. ‘Bhagwan’ means ‘The Blessed One’ in Hindi language, a term of respect for a human being in whom the divine is no longer hidden but apparent. Known as the ‘Sex Guru’, his opinion on sexuality was provocative, and attractive of many criticisms across the national and the international press. His other pet topics included socialism and Mahatma Gandhi, and his outspoken criticism of both earned him controversies. He would reinterpret writings of religious traditions, mystics and philosophers the world over.
In 1974, he moved to Pune and established an Ashram that offered therapies derived from the Human Potential Movement to the Westerners who would enroll and visit his institution. He was a promiscuous Guru, who didn’t consider sex a taboo. In fact, far from it. His permissiveness, and philosophy for human happiness were either loved or hated, absorbed or scorned at. When issues arose with the Indian government, and the society, Rajneesh moved to the US, where his followers created ‘Rajneeshpuram’ in Oregon state.
He had amassed huge wealth, unaccounted for, and the spectre of a huge fleet of Rolls’ Royce automobiles (93 at last count) invited undue attention, or due, depending on the way you look at it. The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985, because of various criminal cases including that of food contamination on the citizens of The Dalles. Shortly after that, Rajneesh was arrested for immigration violations and deported. Its interesting how twenty-one countries denied him entry, which led him to come to Pune again, and settle there for good. His Ashram is known as the Osho International Meditation Resort. That’s a creative name, in keeping with the mood of his Ashrams – ‘Resort’. His teachings against static belief systems and religious traditions, though provocative, have had a notable impact on Western New Age thought. His books sell like hot cakes even today. You can see them at any railway station or a bus-stand, be it Higgin-Bothams or petty local vendors. His videos and speeches are all over the place, and I have seen people echo his articulations as if they have met him the day before. There’s that passion, energy. They ruminate on it, and reflect how Osho was the greatest Guru of all times.

One thing that makes Osho starkly different from others is that he did not abhor material possessions. He derided socialist ideas, and gave importance to materialism. He stated that socialism would only socialize poverty, and described Gandhi as a masochist reactionary who worshipped poverty. India needs to escape its backwardness, which was possible only through capitalism, science, modern technology and birth-control. He was perennially at loggerheads with orthodox Indian religions that were dead, filled with empty ritual, oppressed their followers by embedding fears in their heart, and dished out hollow promises of blessings. Osho’s academic career had philosophy as the base, and he had passed M.A. in Philosophy with distinction in 1957, immediately procuring a job at the Raipur Sanskrit College. The Vice Chancellor had asked him to seek a transfer in fear of eroding his students’ morality, character and religion. In the early sixties, Osho started the Life Awakening Movements (‘Jivan Jagruti Andolan’). He once had a deadlock with the Shankaracharya of Puri. His Pune Ashram, one point in time, became the backwaters for extended stay of the Westerners and large-scale prostitution and drugs, though Osho was never implicated directly. The government of India stopped issuing visas to foreigners whose destination was the Ashram, and charged him with a whopping accrued tax amount of five million dollars, with retrospective effect. Pestered and scrutinized, Osho moved to Oregon in US, where his secretary and personal assistant’s husband bought a 260 km-square ranch, to be named ‘Rancho Rajneesh’, where the Oregon community was to be created. He was also credited with forming a new religious movement called ‘Rajneeshism’ in 1981, but owing to local and government pressure, it had to disband. He was, alongwith his secretary Sheela,  accused of trying to kill people of The Dalles through food poisoning using Salmonella as the medium, considered one of the first noted chemical-biological terrorism in the States. Sheela later accused him of consuming sixty milligrams of Valium each day, and being addicted to Nitrous Oxide. Osho was later arrested at a North Carolina airstrip, trying to flee with a small group of his disciples, thousands of dollars of cash, many watches and bracelets that amounted to almost one million dollars. After being deported, he tried knocking doors of many countries for asylum, but in vain. It was only in 1989 that Rajneesh took the name ‘Osho Rajneesh’, and a few months later just ‘Osho’. It had been a roller-coaster ride of infamy and hypocrisy, and probably the epitaph at his ashes at Pune Ashram sums it all up : ‘OSHO. Never Born. Never Died. Only Visited this Planet Earth between Dec 11 1931 – Jan 19 1990.’ There are two hundred thousand annual visitors to the Osho Ashram, Pune, and more in queue to re-discover the Guru. Business thrives like never before. It’s a multi-billion dollar empire even in his death, with Prime Ministers, high-profile actors, film personalities and sportspersons promising allegiance. Today, the Osho group runs Stress Management seminars for corporate clients like IBM and BMW, with a reported revenue in millions of dollars. Prominent visitors to his Resort have also included the Dalai Lama.
To enter the Resort’s premises, one needs to undergo an AIDS test. His label as a ‘free-thinking agnostic’, ‘the most original thinker’, and other such accolades are equally matched by virulent qualifications such as the one by the Australian critic Clive James, who referred him as "Bagwash", likening the experience of listening to one of his discourses to sitting in a laundrette and watching ‘your underwear revolve soggily for hours while exuding grey suds. The Bagwash talks the way that he looks.’ Whatever it may be, if Osho is the Bagwash, there are enough bagwashes ready to barter away their own homes and children in lieu of practically nothing except Godmen’s blessings – and it’s a fact.

No story would however be complete without a mention of one of the greatest Baba of all times, whose phenomenal success has been built on failures not discernible to mortals like me and you, one who has all the ingredients for a psycho-action-suspense-horror potboiler if ever a movie were to be made on his life and times. The ‘cocky’ Guru on whom accusations range from being a pedophile, to a gross cheater and swindler, to a magician and conjurer who could trick the poor and the rich, one spinning out Holy ashes (‘Vibhuti’) and golden chains with real-time precision, one who could deliver an oily massage to the private parts of naïve adolescents for matters of indulging in self-gratification. In this galactic Babadrome, there couldn’t have been a Godman whose apotheosis is more static, yet whose dynamism is evident in the huge hospitals and schools for social welfare, one whose legacy is said to be mired in a secretive congregation of only a handful of his close aides, his operations embroiled both in controversy, and adulation in equal measure.
Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi is a household name, and some of my very highly educated friends place his portrait at the high altar of their hearts, maybe at an altitude higher than salvation itself. I still remember the day way back in the year 2000, or maybe 2001, seated in the cafeteria of an Indian newspaper office -  when the news broke out about Sathya Sai Baba’s homosexual and pedophilic inclinations as was evident from the investigation done by an enterprising journalist. He had been to his Ashram, ‘Prashanthi Nilayam’, and taken photographs for evidence. Some of the documentary proofs were even published, with graphical red circles intended for emphasis. As far as I do remember, this gooseflesh-pumping story was brought out in the India Today magazine that used to be one of the most respected news journals, for the sheer authenticity of information. One of my friends in the cafeteria had grabbed a copy of the magazine. A friend of ours in the group was a Sathya Sai devotee. Like lightening, he pounced upon the magazine, grabbed it, and the next few minutes there was just the sound of shredding paper, with a zeal that would embarrass a mechanical shredder. Fast and furious, and lo, India Today was decapitated and disintegrated beyond redemption. His red eyes shone like a hurt animal on its last leg. He flung his palm to throw out the paper pieces from the third storey building, and we could see the bits hovering and flapping, till they would float down to an earthly calm down under. All of us were shocked. Babagiri-induced jingoism can reach fanatic levels; , but then for the Baba, disciples are ready to shed the last drop of their blood.

Sathyanarayana Raju, as he was born, became famous in the latter half of the twentieth century through cheap tricks of materializing objects from thin air, and his divinity was safeguarded by a larger-than-life image. A young Sathya was apparently stung by a scorpion and lost consciousness for several hours. Within the next few days there was a noticeable change in Sathya's behavior with ‘symptoms of laughing and weeping, eloquence and silence. He began to sing Sanskrit verses, a language of which he had no prior knowledge.’ Doctors said it was hysteria. His parents brought Sathya back home to Puttaparthi and engaged the services of many priests, ‘doctors’ and exorcists. On 23 May 1940, Sathya called household members and reportedly materialized ‘Prasad’ and flowers for his family. His father became furious at seeing this, thinking his son was bewitched. He took a stick and threatened to beat him if Sathya did not reveal who he really was. To this Sathya announced calmly and firmly ‘I am Sai Baba’, a reference to Sai Baba of Shirdi — a saint who became famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the state of Maharashtra, India, and had died eight years before Sathya was born.
Later that year, Sathya Sai Baba declared that he had no worldly relationship with anyone. Devotees began to gather around him. With a whopping 1200 Sathya Sai Baba centers in 114 countries, his followers round the globe estimated anywhere between 6 to 100 million. Watkins Review listed him as one of the 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. Prime Ministers and Presidents of various countries have touched his feet for blessings. His properties, schools, colleges and charitable institutions might embark upon a cost-estimate that some say is close to 1.4 trillion rupees. His chamber seems to be a storage chest for gold, with hundreds kilograms of gold being run into in the treasure trove, post his death. There were 98 kg of gold, 307 kg of silver, 12 crores in cash, and a plethora of shoes (500 pairs), saffrons, robes, bottles of perfumes and hairspray, and this, some say, is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been many drivers in buses and other vehicles being nabbed by the police with gold, being sourced out of Puttaparthi. All this gold and giftable commodities might be the secret of those magical materialisations from thin air, all those layers of Holy ashes that could have formed another Earth somewhere else, and the gimmicks about the three-tonne lingam trapped within the stomach.
Sathya Sai Baba had predicted that he would die at age 96 and would remain healthy until then. After he died, some devotees suggested that he may have been referring to it in lunar years, rather than solar years, and using the Indian way of accounting for age, which counts the year to come as part of the person's life. Other devotees have spoken of his anticipated resurrection, reincarnation or awakening. God or no God, any crap about God sells, the wildest imaginations are given colours of theory, and the art of faking makes a spring fountain out of the river, and then, and business comes to a point where anything sells. And then one day, a bunch of idiots sign a logical memorandum saying all that they hear and see is true, they know it is true, and what they know is true comes in their dreams, and that they can vouch for it. Sainthood is a Maggie-masala, a 2-minute recipe. The BBC documentary named ‘The Secret Swami’, made by a UK-based Indian journalist, was banned because it exposed the dark alleys of homosexuality and pedophilic exercises undertaken in the garb of a divine Babagiri - a good work of analysis and investigative journalism to untie the knotty morass. In the video, there are interviews with Indian politicians like Murli Manohar Joshi, and he barks at the lady who interviews him, as if questioning the Baba’s tactics and his vastly opaque empire is itself a blasphemy worthy of extermination.

Freedom of expression is a basic human right, a natural human right, a fundamental human right. Perhaps we are far from it. Or else how would you account for Babagiri thriving four seasons, full throttle? Not finding an ounce of thorny questions? Neither from the rational and nor from the skeptic? Nor antagonisms from efforts in driving free-spirited debates on spirituality?

The Next Level of Ridiculousness on Babadrome - Scroll invites readers to write about this picture.
The best entry (max 1000 words) will be published in the next issue.

Chris is a UK-born American journalist, currently based at Los Angeles. He can be contacted at

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