Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Few Questions To Godmen

A few days ago, a lad of about twelve died in my vicinity. His name was Birju. He used to sell nimbu-pani to passers-by for Rs. 3, even in the afternoon, when the sun would stretch out its robe and send down all it had inside. He had once played cricket with me, and had been a formidable player. He said he would buy a Honda Activa when he grows older, though he didn't say why, and I didn't ask. We don't exactly know if he has died or not, but I learned he had disappeared a week ago, and to his family and social circle, that would mean as good as dead.

I opened up the papers next day expecting to find something written about Birju, given that a formal complaint had been launched the evening before by his parents. Instead, I read about the death of Sathya Sai Baba, miracle-worker, godman, philanthropist, and head of a fifty-thousand crore empire. I thought Birju would have a few questions to ask godmen today, so here they are:

1. What purpose would a fifty-thousand crore empire be to godmen, given that they can derive things by miracles, more importantly that they are godmen?

2. Given that godmen claim philanthropy unto themselves, how do they lead fifty-thousand crore empires when so many people are lying helpless, hapless or at the brink of survival?

3. How is it that a Prime Minister that is not accountable to people is accountable to godmen? Or likewise a media industry? After all, it is rare that newspapers report - yes, report - obituaries for pages and days on end, of people.

4. Why are dubious miracles priced more than cool nimbu-panis in the hot sun?

5. Does widespread belief, devotion and praise change falsehoods to truth?

I hope Birju is happy, wherever he is.


  1. I have given a fair bit of thought to these so-called 'God-men' and the miracles they come up with. For once, I can't understand what their followers are called; disciples? No, that word has a much stricter set of implications.
    Devotees maybe; since people consider them as Demigods. But, then, so is Rajnikanth.
    Fans? No, that doesn't fit.

    Most people I've talked to, those who are 'followers' at least, have often said that their 'belief' is a matter of faith, and some stuff about divinity etc. Maybe I am somewhat a skeptic when it comes to this, but as a student of anthropology, I think it is unfair and unprofessional to discredit a 'system of faith'.
    But, as an individual, I think mass beliefs are nothing but subversion of individual thought. My critics have countered by saying that not many can possess such intellectual faculty. But I say, any true "mass" effort, if there is ever any, would be that which encourages us to think independently, as rational creatures. This era you and I live in, is witnessing a clash of the secular space versus the sacred (excerpts from Fr Joseph's class).
    Personally, I think any system that puts the good of the incompetent before that of the ones who are in need, is a corrupt one. I am not insinuating that all religions, or cults, are that. But, when a matter of faith is a monopoly for the few, and a 50 crore enterprise...I think, something is very wrong with our society.

  2. The reasons why faith or reason is seen fit to be "discredited" forms the core of the encroachment upon the secular by the sacred. If something is of value today, it is just not enough to practice it, or to discuss it, but one must pit it against other things in relative terms. Take the example of advertising: it is no longer enough to inform people to buy, but to entice them to. Other forms like nationalism, ideological beliefs, even education, are more rabidly imposed (or discredited).

    But to "let everything be", faith or not, as a corollary of the principle that opposed to wrong must be right, is falling in the same fallacy. Here indifference, garbed as the secular, decides to give up even the effort to understand. That is why, the more clearer option seems to reason with faith (albeit in its own basic terms) as one would with reason in her own terms. This gives us the necessary insight that even faith is a human creation and bound to have its own controversies, like anything else, at the same time keep vigil over rash intrusions.