Saturday, June 11, 2011

Life in a Metro — Saffron Robes, Black Money

Alas, Ramdev thought he could go from curing the body to curing a nation.

Dog biting man is no news, but man biting dog is – that's what generations of aspiring journalists have learned in classrooms. But today, for a TV channel, the incident of a man publicly biting a dog would not only be news but ‘breaking news'. The footage of the man biting the dog would be shown repeatedly, with perhaps a red circle pointing to the exact moment his teeth sink into the poor animal. And then there will be sound bites (pun not intended at all) from various people: a psychiatrist analysing how the man could stoop to such a level; an animal lover demanding imprisonment for the man; the veterinarian giving an update on the dog's recovery; and so on.

A few years ago, a cat stranded on the sunshade of a high-rise became the ‘breaking news' on one of the channels, and that was when I completely gave up watching news on TV. I began catching up with the day's events the old-fashioned way – reading the next morning's newspaper.

Until last Sunday, when I decided to make an exception by being a couch potato, and as a result found myself caught in the crossfire between the Central government and Ramdev. The channels – all of them – reported no news other than the midnight eviction of Ramdev from the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, where he had sat in protest to demand the return of stashed-away black money to the country.

As I watched the drama, memories went back to 2003, when I was initiated into yoga in an ashram located in the forests of Kerala. Also around that time, a channel called Aastha had started telecasting live the yoga camps conducted by Ramdev in various towns.

Since I knew my yoga by now, I took an instant liking for him: a good-natured, talkative, saffron-robed man who had taken yoga from hallowed ashrams into the drawing rooms and bedrooms of the common man. He demystified yoga and brought about a revolution in urban India.

But is that why he is so popular and powerful today? No. His real power stems from the evangelist-like statements he makes about the curative powers of yoga. The kapaalabhaati kriya alone, he says, can cure all diseases that afflict mankind. He, therefore, came as a godsend to the middle-class, middle-aged Indian – as someone who promised them quick, painless and free cures for their raised sugar levels and blocked arteries.

While the health benefits of yoga cannot be disputed, it is not known how many diabetics or heart patients were actually cured by following him on television. But faith can be blind. So the number of his followers swelled by the millions, and Ramdev went from strength to strength, holding a yoga camp even at Rashtrapati Bhawan, at the invitation of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. And then, success went to his head. He became ambitious. He thought it was time for him to cure the nation of its ailments.

But Ramdev made two mistakes at the Ramlila grounds. One, he forgot to discard his saffron robes. A saffron-robed yogi is supposed to be a renunciate who pursues spiritualism and preaches detachment – he does not take on corruption but instead seeks to rise above it. Two, he forgot that people come to the camps for purely selfish reasons – they are interested in Ramdev as long as he talks about yoga and its benefits. Corruption is something they've learned to live with; their real enemies are diabetes and hypertension.

Which is why his campaign failed: it got mass coverage, but not mass support.

Today, all that is being talked about is whether the government was right or wrong in evicting Ramdev from the Ramlila grounds. Black money remains where it is.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, 11 June 2011.

10 comments:

Paresh Palicha said...

Yes you are right Ramdev became ambitious. That is how every 'Godman' is born. At first, he may be giving discourses on how to simplify life referring to the Holy books to 10-20 people from his surrounding. As he gains popularity the high & mighty feel it is a good photo-op to be in his shibirs no matter if he is teaching yoga or pulling out golden ring from the thin air. Now, he feels he needs political immunity. So, the vicious cycle continues.

Sudeep said...
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Sudeep said...
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Sudeep said...
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Anonymous said...

Who wants to get his hands dirty? Not people from middle class who slog to earn for their taxes,bills,onions and petrol.Not the rural folks who’re out of touch or the rich who are indifferent.Let ramdev fast and threaten the govt so they
Use force to evict him and end up make a statement on themselves.It’s the cause and the bill that is dear to us.Doesn’t matter who fights for it.This will go a long way to give our children a better future.Let someone create Rang de basanti in real life,let Indians have a julian assange.Even an indigenous Robinhood will do.
-somebody who stood next to kiran bedi at Anna’s fasting venue.
Idealist? you bet.

Janani Sampath said...

Valid point, but what is wrong with Ramdev speaking for a larger cause? I don't know if this man is a fraud or a original yogi, his larger cause is what I am concerned about.

I am bewildered by the government's defense: they see RSS controlling Ramdev. What a pity; what happens to their secularist stance when it comes to the Hindus?

I want to know what would be their defence if an archbishop or a maulvi had come out in the open, condemning the rampant corruption.

Anonymous said...

But why doesn't Ramdev with all his super yogic powers, which he claims can heal all types of diseases, rid himself of his left eye twitching.

That flummoxes me more than anything else.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous, the last Anynomous..do you even know that he has come a long way from the paralysis that he had as a child. He did that by practicing Yoga.That is how he got so much into Yoga. I wish you may have some twitching all over your body, try it out..you call your self educated..rubbish

Paresh Palicha said...

Dear Sudeep, Thanks for your response. It is not that I'm critical of a Hindu religious man with me being born to Hindu parents.

I think we are very liberal in that sense. We don't need any credentials to be so-called Godman.

Tomorrow if I can create a few followers even I can claim to be the saviour.

I don't mind how anyone is being a Godman or God-lady for that matter. But, look at empires they create and seek immunity from the Law using the clout of followers.

Is it not naive to ignore or be silent about something that we feel just because we are born Hindus.

Sudeep said...
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