In this jet-set world of ours, spirituality is a fast-selling flavour. Socialites no longer name-drop diets and diamonds, but coo over meditation techniques, the funkier the better. Is being ‘spiritual’ trendy now, wonders Shinie Antony
The body may be biodegradable, but not the, er, soul. Mortality gets you in the end, but your true essence is apparently bobbing about the body like a balloon in a child’s hand, to be released into the blue skies when your earthly sojourn comes to an end. It is not enough, therefore, to fold limbs into pretty padmasanas, the atman needs a pink bow too. And to fulfill this freshly sprung urban need for individualised solace have lined up hordes of new-age healers. Welcome to the 21st century spiritual supermarket, open 24/7. It is official: you can outsource the soul.
The fashion must-have of the moment is an exclusive spiritual guide/ counsellor/ trainer of your own who will combine multiple ‘energies’ in a personal package just for you — for a fee. He is your PRO in the spirit world, his job is to make you look good in the afterlife. For something so invisible to the naked eye, the soul sure has gone all high-maintenance.
With shrinks not yet a status symbol, and astrologers somewhat passé, the jet-set needed a new jargon to flaunt. Socialites no longer name-drop diets and diamonds, but coo over meditation techniques, the funkier the better. “Dahling, I know just the place to drop that bit of baggage. Better not carry that into your next birth.” Or, “Can’t do lunch today, got to round up the old chakras!” This is botox all the way on the inside. From CEOs to clerks, it is the in thing to say profound things. They have either just read a book that changed their life or are in the process of writing one that will change yours. Everyone has sold a Ferrari by now, crowding the pre-owned car industry somewhat. Navel-gazing can’t get more hi-tech than this.
A lot on offer
And since ‘cosmic’ kichdi is a fast-moving consumer item these days, and the packages on offer are aplenty, a nouveau spiritualist has a lot to wade through. A lot. Cool gurus in one-on-one encounters put the stethoscope straight on your soul, giving you specialised healing, cleaning your chakras with their own two hands, reading your aura, teaching you to breathe from scratch, one nostril at a time, and generally mucking about your subterranean backyard. You name it, they cure it; with rudrakshas and reiki, tantras and mantras, chants and charms, tea leaves, tarot, trances… All holes in the soul darned here! Licensed or not, here they come. A good time, you will agree, for bogus yogis. For the middlemen to make jumbo while the mumbo shines.
One longs for the good old days when a bad phase was because of Saturn — you could just blame a planet for your misfortunes and move on. Now that each and every karmic block can be circumvented with the help of this or that alternative therapy, you know you are just being too lazy to pick your celestial path. On the upside, you can clear your past-life debts with present-life credit cards.
Other countries may have drinking water, we have our self-declared saints. Indian gurus have always enjoyed a firang following — god-men are still high on our export lists. The busy eastward bound traffic continues, with millions of tourists hot-footing it here to pray, pray, pray. From the Beatles onwards, they have all come on holy visas and hung on to every wise word spoken to them. To be fair to them, after a gruelling flight into India, sitting in a hot room thick with devotees, battling belly issues and inhaling incense, any word must sound otherworldly. But unlike the earlier days when only the white guest from the west came here begging to be ripped off, today Indians themselves are running helter-skelter for enlightenment, straight into the arms of conmen.
Demand and supply
When it comes to forces we can’t see, credulousness is currently in high spirits. If I told the man sitting next to me in, say, a bank, that I’m a ghost only he can see, chances are he will run out screaming, trusting me implicitly on this. Incidentally, most people are vain that way; they think if there is a ghoul about, they will be the first to see it. Specters can expect to be met halfway! Even little girls get into the spirit of things, huddling in a circle — planchette being the new ringa ringa roses — armed with questions for the deceased. Older kids watch the mirror unblinkingly in candlelight, ready to be spooked. Actually, I have to confess, I see dead people; at funerals, as corpses.
Clairvoyance is the new black. People are prescient and all coincidences are kismet. “I said welcome to him before he thanked me! It is like I knew he was going to thank me!!!” Beat that.
Of course, in the halo trade, there’s supply and there’s demand. Blind faith comes with its own agenda. Which is why those kids get gobbled up by fly-by-night cults and some women breed faster than they can pray to populate obscure sects. When all we want is to reboot in safe mode, to be taken into a giant godly lap and be fussed over, the personal touch of the intermediary elements is frankly seductive. Ah, the comforts of subcontracting salvation!
The flesh is weak and the spirit all too willing when it comes to abracadabra: we are all suckers for miracles. We touch wood while saying we are not superstitious. Not many, if told by random palmists to pay a certain amount in order to avert an accident, will say, “I’ll take the accident.” A man needs some magic in his life, a spot of the supernatural. Even if his here and now is all haywire, he wants his afterlife to be all peaches. In a matter of eternities, what is a little loose change, eh?
Wishes are horses...
Greed, guilt, who knows what drives someone to cart his conscience into an ambulance and drive through traffic signals at breakneck speed. Dissatisfactions are the order of the day. Wants are to be blamed of course, wants that multiply by the minute. Modern life has imposed too many yens, half of them either impossible or unbearable when granted. Wishes are horses and what cannot gallop gives us a slow inner burn. If I cannot keep up with the Joneses, I’d rather blame my misfortunes on Mrs Jones’ black magic. A crutch is crucial to lead us from disbelief to acceptance, from shellshock to mourning. Someone to hold my hand through a crisis, to listen to my boo-hoo-hoos, to be on my side, to look deeply into my third eye and whisper sweet nothings into my, well, third ear. Someone on my payroll I can call my own. Really, any quack will do!
This is a happy marriage until one person has a deep baritone, and the other, deep pockets. Those who stumble upon the truth about the charlatans rarely ‘pray and tell’. Having opened up their wallets, they now seal their lips, not wanting to look more moronic than necessary. They even justify to themselves: okay, after that accident, Pappu can’t dance, but he walked a few steps na? The street-smart nature of seasoned frauds, their sales pitch and corporate sharpness escape only the terminally devout who sign up for sightings and blessings of sundry babas at any given rate.
A power-point presentation throws up an endless list: past-life therapy, regression, progression, séances, karmic cleansing, meditations, pranic healing, numerology, crystals, feng shui, vaastu, pyramids, angel therapy, healing with colours and gems and water and air… Merely placebos and pacifiers or surefire prescriptions for posterity? Not many can tell. I mean, it is nice of someone to channel sunlight into the small of my back, but then, I am charged for it! What is the sun at the door with a bill for its rays?
But life is definitely moving towards ‘The End’, the credits are soon going to roll; all the more reason to cling to notions of rebirth. How gratifying to wag a mental finger at a boss who won’t give you a raise: “I’ll be back, as your haemorrhoid!”
The Oxford Dictionary describes soul as the spiritual part of a person, believed to exist after death. The word is often coyly swapped for ‘heart’, ‘deep in my bones’ or ‘gut feeling’, and has come to signify the sixth sense, or explain the inexplicable. Somewhere along the way it became something others can see by peering hard enough at you, a kind of porous device planted in you as a psychic’s plaything. Best send it a friend request.
I know, I know, ‘nirvana’ is hot, because there is a coffee by that name. No doubt the idea of a soul is great comfort, lest the body gives itself airs. But in all this transcendental business, the only thing seen levitating is the rupee — from your pocket to another.