By Saurabh Thapa:
Weekends reek of indolence. In the privacy of your apartment, the absence of scrutinizing stares allows your flaws to reveal themselves as your overworked body eases itself: the pot belly you pull in, keeping it together constantly, now assumes its natural position, that is, outside the stomach; the ill-treated hair which always stayed composed in a tight bun or ponytail now sways in its temporary freedom, flaunting its split ends in full glory. The couch is a welcome change to uncomfortable seats everywhere from the office to the bus ride; and the X-rays emitting out of the T.V in front are eerily comforting. And more comforting is the thought of a plethora of channels that awaits the slight twitching of your finger on the remote to bombard you with seamless entertainment. This is the escape, our modern primitive middle class seeks from the hassles of 21st century. The modernity stems from the manner of getaway (T.V, extra-marital affairs, etc); but the cave-man traits find their routes in an entrenched religious phenomenon: Superstition!
And that is precisely the reason why a 9 to 5 working employee doesn’t change the channel when the mother of all advertisements (its stature owing to its never ending length) appears on the 17 inch screen. This mother is quite like our regular mothers: she is assertive; she’ll make you sentimental and will never take “No” for an answer. So, fighting the urge to not reach out to your phone is futile. You reluctantly dial the number flashing below the B-grade actor advertising the product, make the deal and wait patiently for the product to be delivered. The lapse between placing the order and the actual delivery is the time when your intellect is most active. You ponder over your recent action; contemplate whether confiding in all the staged claims is worth it. And then, to put you out of your misery, Sri Yantra is delivered at your door step! It goes straight to the most pious place in the house where, along with the rest of the miniature deities, it creates a synergy so powerful that the new owner ends up also as an owner of (if the claims are true) a posh house, a beautiful wife, a taller daughter, a chest of gold coins etc. Or perhaps, like the other religious mascots, it just catches rust.
The West is always appalled by our ‘over-the-top’ beliefs, sometimes going too far to call Ayurveda “Black Magic”. But this isn’t about them and their multitude of college disciplines among which some incorporate the study of India and its socio-economic problems; it is about how the aspirations of the people from middleclass make them believe in out-of-the ordinary. And everything that is not ordinary isn’t always extra-ordinary; most are surreal. So in the pursuit of a ‘financially’ better life, an Aam Aadmi puts his faith in miracles and unless he appears on Nirmal Baba’s live show, he ends up disappointed. The cry of the wronged is heard by the media who, like classic vigilantes, swear revenge against the self-proclaimed infallibles. Gravity eventually hits and they all fall, although, some fall after others. These cheaters with their expensive parachutes (guess where the money came from?) come across as a rather amusing cult. Atypical of this species, Nirmal Baba has still not reached the ground.
His widely publicised show appears on popular channels like SabTv and is quite hilarious like the sitcoms airing on it (for the aam aadmi, at least). He has all the ingredients that go into the making of a Legend: a financially modest upbringing, a lot of siblings and a series of losses in various business ventures. While some grew more determined and developed the knack of diligence like Abraham Lincoln, our Baba acquired divine powers! He became the missing link between the silent creator and the loud creations. Now, Baba’s ‘Third Eye’ isn’t as cool as the tricks up Satya Sai Baba’s sleeve (the remixed version of the original saint from Shirdi could conjure things out of thin air). Nirmal Baba on the other hand has limits to his power; he reserves it strictly for advising people on which god to invest their money in for maximum benefits. All this wisdom at just 2000 rupees sounds unreal, right? Well let’s not forget that Baba is our latest godman and like every other teacher’s pet, he too avails certain perks from the one he follows. In a recent spate of scams against Nirmal Baba, his personal possessions were exposed which included a hotel worth 30 crores he bought in New Delhi. Turns out his only gift wasn’t divine after all since he received a backlash from his followers, including a diabetic patient who was advised to consume sweets by His Holiness.
But he won’t go down history as a conman who duped people for their money. He’ll forever be despised for tainting the concept of faith. Man’s faith in god has existed since the dawn of humanity; the act of sucking up to the divine being is as old. Rituals and customs that lack scientific verification have been the traditional means of luring god into doing one’s bidding. Though superstition, these acts of faith form a part of our culture. And yes there are non-religious benefits to reap too, like, inculcating discipline and routine in one’s life, optimism and meditation. To sum it all up, god is a make-believe counsellor who is accessible to all for free and like his mortal renditions, he doesn’t speak much either. God is the one, however surreal, in whose presence a human by virtue of his ability to think, openly introspects and retrospects to eventually realize the presence of a conscience within him. And to see natwarlals denigrate this spiritual bond for their selfish motives is disheartening.
However, all the Nirmal Babas are not only meeting their ends. They’ve become the spokespersons of various temples and tele-marketed products that mock in the name of faith. In 2011, the country was taken aback on discovering gold worth 320 billion rupees in Padmanabhaswamy Temple (courtesy of blind followers). When the Kerala High Court ordered the temple to hand over the authority of all the assets to the state, the Travancore Royal family approached the Supreme Court to retain their wealth. Speaking of Televised products like the earlier mentioned Sri Yantra that promises prosperity and success which, if god is just, should only come to the hardworking, traps the people deeper into the morass of superstition. These babas, temples and products convince the middleclass that god has shares in the stock market. Investing in them is investing in a better future. So where the notions of toils and sacrifice are operative, you encounter a fool’s fantasy.
Perhaps it’s this folly in religion that has propagated theism. Why put your faith in something that reeks of corruption? And that’s ironic on the part of middleclass who over-zealously expressed their support against corruption during Anna Hazare’s overrated fast at the Ramlila ground (even though half of them didn’t know what Lok Pal is). These are the same people who exude gargantuan gusto when it comes to bribing god. Was it epiphany of sorts that protected them from Anna Ki Aandhi? That’s unlikely. But for whatever reason though, Anna’s tempest is now just cold air blowing.[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Saurabh Thapa is the President of Literary Society, Ramjas College, University of Delhi To read his other posts click here.[/box]