***This is based on a true story, one known to the author. Names have been changed to protect individual identities. Retold with permission***
People want quick fixes to their problems. Or are desperate enough to seek the services of oftentimes fly-by-night characters who promise everything from a miracle cure for hemorrhoids to infertility treatments.
And they always find their prey who are willing to dole out insane amounts of cash in the hopes of receiving succor for their problems.
Mind you, I’m not saying that all self-proclaimed gurus are dubious, however, the number of people getting swindled at the hands of fake babas (spiritual leaders) outweighs the genuine ones.
While those who blindly follow the gurus may have something to do with the deeply superstitious nature of rural India, strangely this has less to do with education or even religious affiliation for that matter. And more to do with believing in the spiel, or in other words the promises the guru says you will enjoy if you do this (insert magic words/ritual).
If this is not a clear sign that mainstream politics and religion have failed to address the issues of regular folks who therefore turn to the gurus for solutions, then I don’t know what is.
Welcome to India, a country that not only boasts over a billion people but is also home to thousands of self-proclaimed gurus. In fact, there are all kinds of gurus as this excerpt explains: “There are gurus for rich and poor. Many of them command huge followings at home and overseas counting politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees.” The BBC article goes on to explain the scope of multi-tasking some gurus indulge in: “Many of the gurus are also successful entrepreneurs and run massive business empires, selling traditional medicines, health products, yoga classes and spiritual therapies. They run schools, colleges and hospitals.”
Part of the appeal is their protean nature which makes these gurus appear as magicians and people flock to them because of their belief in said magical powers.
Take for example two US-based women who traversed several time zones to seek out the ministrations of gurus based on clever advertisements promising a one-stop quick fix to their issue — childlessness.
Woman #1 had been married 20 years and had already undergone several rounds of expensive infertility treatments but to no avail. The couple had reached a point where the husband was threatening to leave and remarry which pushed the woman to seek out a religious baba she had stumbled across on the internet.
Several phone calls later, she was invited to a counseling session and once she fell hook, line, and sinker for the guru’s clever ruse, the financial demands began. At first, it was in the form of small cash amounts but later escalated to substantial sums of money.
The last time I heard from her, the woman was trying to find a way to send an expensive laptop to her guru without the knowledge of her husband and his family who is Muslim. Her baba or guru on the other hand is Hindu.
Woman #2 made several trips to her guru’s ‘retreat center’ where all attendees are required to purchase overpriced tickets. Already in a panic about her biological clock ticking away, the woman agreed to a frantic coupling in a backroom with her guru who was on a break between speeches.
Following the ‘blessed’ union, her guide wasted no time in getting right back to rousing his enthralled audience.
And mighty though her guru’s assurances were in words, he, however, did not have what it took to give her her heart’s desire which was a baby.
Meanwhile, her bank account took a heavy hit for her troubles.
It is no surprise that her guru did not fit the stereotype of a typical holy man — the one who quits a worldly life, grows a beard, and meditates his life out on a lonely mountain. Instead, the modern gurus, are essentially savvy businessmen and influencers who on the one hand manage their flock while simultaneously acquiring large swathes of real estate, hoarding wealth, and living in fancy houses.
No wonder sociologist and former professor Abha Rohatgi chose some strong and brutally honest words when describing this ‘guru entrepreneur’ trend: “Basically, what these gurus are doing is selling consumption camouflaged in spiritualism.”
And yet, these guru entrepreneurs can do no wrong in the eyes of their faithful devotees.
Originally published on Medium by the author
Comments / 2