Archive for January, 2006

Pranayamarx

Monday, January 9th, 2006

Now I’ve seen it all. The RSS, Laloo and Mulayam are actually in agreement over something. And Marxists are fighting for vegetarians. What awful ideological erosion will Swami Ramdev wreak next?

I am no expert on Ramdev. It was only about a year ago that I started noticing that every evening, when I came back home from work, there was an extraordinarily hirsute man holding forth from my living room TV screen, with my mother watching in rapt fascination. Then, one day, I got a call from my cousin. She was coming to stay with us for a few days, and could I please find out where Swami Ramdev’s ashram was in Delhi, so she could visit? Yes, yes, I said, and promptly forgot about it, and had to later suffer an indignant house guest. My next encounter with the pranayam packager was a few months ago, when the friend of an aunt of mine told me in great detail —I can’t remember any of the details — how her teenaged daughter, who had been suffering from some really strange and potentially debilitating disease, had been cured completely by Swami Ramdev’s medicines. But since I am the sort of person who treats all this spiritual and miracle cure stuff as background noise, I never paid any attention to what was clearly the rise of a new superstar.

So, when Brinda Karat went to the media with supposed evidence that Ramdev’s drugs contained crushed human bones and other animal matter, I called up my mother in Kolkata. And found her totally unfazed. “I have gained tremendously in health, doing the exercises prescribed by Ramdev,” she told me. “I feel much better, I think I even look different now. First of all, it’s unclear whether the samples tested are actually Ramdev’s drugs or fakes. And even if they are, and they have crushed human bones, what about it? Is he murdering people and crushing their bones to put in his medicines? And if the medicines work, what does it matter if it has crushed human bones or whatever? It’s good for health. That’s all that should concern us. And who knows what those big pharma companies put in their drugs? Anyway, it’s a matter of faith. I have faith in him, and it has worked.”

What did my cousin think about the controversy, I asked her. “I haven’t spoken to her on this,” she said, and suggested that I did. So I called up my cousin. “I have gained tremendously in health, doing the exercises prescribed by Ramdev,” she told me. “I feel much better, I think I even look different now. First of all, it’s unclear whether the samples tested are actually Ramdev’s drugs or fakes. And even if they are, and they have crushed human bones, what about it? Is he murdering people and crushing their bones to put in his medicines? And if the medicines work, what does it matter if it has crushed human bones or whatever? It’s good for health. That’s all that should concern us. And who knows what those big pharma companies put in their drugs? Anyway, it’s a matter of faith. I have faith in him, and it has worked.”

But, I asked, what about vegetarians unknowingly taking these medicines?

“We are not talking about food here,” she told me firmly. “This is medicine. Aren’t vegetarians prescribed chicken soup by doctors for their health? And how do you know all those big pharma companies aren’t putting in non-veg stuff in their allopathic drugs?”

But allopathic drugs are made of inorganic chemicals, I protested weakly.

“Organic, inorganic, don’t give me that jargon,” she told me. “You don’t need to show off just because you have a science degree. Isn’t there iron in your blood? So is iron inorganic or organic, veg or non-veg? See, this is all basically about jealousy. We Indians can’t stand anyone doing well, going up in life. Especially these leftists. Why are they after him? Just because he sacked some employees of his last year. All this is just unionbaazi. Buddhadeb should tell them not to waste our time with this sort of rubbish.”

Swami Ramdev, clearly, is not about to lose his constituency.

The next day, I read in the papers that the RSS, Laloo and Mulayam were batting for Ramdev. Laloo had said that if the medicines work, they work, and who cares what’s in them. And Mulayam had simply pointed out that Ramdev had crores of disciples. I also discovered the interesting fact that the hirsute healer was a Yadav by caste. So, it was back to votebank politics. Laloo, of course, had gone on to say that the whole affair was an MNC conspiracy against Ramdev and him. Which is definitely puzzling. Why would MNC executives spend their time plotting against Laloo? Don’t they have enough on their plates already, fighting competitors and trying to retain brand-promiscuous customers through desperate discount schemes? But then, to rephrase what the Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn once said, no filmmaker ever lost any money by underestimating the public’s intelligence — in India, no politician ever lost any votes by claiming MNC-victimhood.

In the meantime, Ms Karat may do well to check www.vege.ru, the website of the Eurasian Vegetarian Union, set up in 2001 in Russia, long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The revolution of 1917 stopped the development of vegetarianism in Russia,” it reads. “The Soviet State authorities considered vegetarianism as a pseudoscientific theory that reflected the bourgeois ideology and therefore harmed Soviet people. In 1929, the last vegetarian society in Moscow was closed. The leaders of the vegetarian societies were persecuted, many of them arrested and sentenced. The Big Soviet Encyclopedia (1961) commented: “Vegetarianism is based on false hypothesis and ideas and has no followers in the Soviet Union!” The word “vegetarian” was taken away from the dictionaries of the Russian language.

So, this is how things stand, as far as I can make out: Ramdev fans are willing to eat crushed human bones; RSS, Laloo and Mulayam are in agreement; and Marxists are fighting for rights of vegetarians. What next? A BJP-Naxalite alliance? CPI(M) getting into the cruise-liner business? Sharad Pawar and Jagmohan Dalmiya on the same team? Is anything safe any more?