Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review – Gurus: Stories of India's Leading Babas

- By Uday Oak

The concept of ‘Guru’ is quintessentially Oriental. Neither ‘teacher’ nor ‘master’ capture the true meaning of the word in totality. One will have to add ‘father’ and ‘mother’ and then the picture would be closer to reality.
And not just the concept; when it comes to putting it in practice, we Indians are overzealously eager. And we have a wide variety of Gurus (more popularly known as ‘Baba’ or ‘Maa/Amma’ as applicable). One could follow one ‘Guru’ a week and still have insufficient life even if you live for a couple of centuries!
Even if we discount the local brands, we still have a multitude of brands available at the national level. With the increasing globalization, the demand seems to be increasing rapidly.
Why does one give up rationality and go after such ‘Guru’s? Either one is going through some terrible (real/perceived) trauma, or one is lured by the clever marketing done by these Gurus. The mindless urbanization, climate changes, market up-downs, change of governments, political/social unrests, atrocious infrastructure in rural areas, all have contributed quite lavishly in increasing the ‘trauma index’ of any average citizen. And since the trauma need not be real, but can also be ‘perceived’, the count keeps on mounting. The rest is amply taken care of by the clever marketing. One such ‘Guru’ is famous for using the line “Give your worries, your frustrations, your insecurities to me and I will give you peace”. In a society where going to a ‘Guru’ is proudly flaunted and going to a psychiatrist is considered a grave taboo, such marketing gimmicks are sure to reap a rich harvest.
Bhavdeep Kang has taken a small sample of the Gurus affecting India and done reasonably detailed study. The result is the book “Gurus, stories of India’s leading Babas”.
She covers Mahesh Yogi, Dhirendra Brahmachari, Chandraswami, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Morari Bapu, Jaggi Vasudev, Baba Ramdev and Bhaiyyuji Maharaj.
Of these, it is difficult to figure out why Morari Bapu was included in the list. Apart from his fetish for ‘Ram Katha’ recital (and that too without pecuniary demands), he hardly seems to fit in with the rest, Babas of the first order.
Mahesh Yogi and Dhirendra Brahmachari are no more. But they can be called the true trendsetters. There were ‘Gurus’ even before, but Mahesh Yogi demonstrated to the world how obscenely rich and popular one can get in this ‘profession’. Beatles coming and staying at his ashram for months! Dhirendra Brahmachari demonstrated how the right political connections can get you to scale immense heights.
Each of the other ‘Gurus’ detailed in the book has carved out a niche and created a fiefdom. Some have amassed huge wealth (Baba Ramdev), some have become (more self-proclaimed) Gurus of the rulers of the day (Sri Sri, Bhaiyyuji Maharaj) and one lives in the twilight zone (Jaggi Vasudev).
The book is not a gossip column, though the matter ranks very high on the gossip index. How Ravi Shankar broke with Mahesh Yogi and started his own shop is quite juicy a story.
But on the whole, Kang brings in her perspective, and that is what makes the book a good read. Her ‘perspective’ comes in at the right proportion – any less, and she would have been accused of skin saving; any more, and she would have been an activist.
Gurus – Stories Of India’s Leading Babas
Author – Bhavdeep Kang
Publisher – Westland Ltd
Price – INR 295
First Edition – 2016.

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