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On T.M.Krishna’s article “The Sri Sri syndrome: What we should not forget about so-called gurus and godmen”

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When one writes his opinion on any given topic, it invariably reflects the writer’s likes and dislikes. This is where the writer needs to be careful if he / she really wants to project himself / herself as a reasonable and objective person. Of course, if he does not care, then it’s different story. If the writing is based on subjective views of the writer, and negatively puts down someone with no justification, then such a writer is wielding a poison pen. T.M.Krishna has exactly done that and has exhibited his wickedness in his recent opinion in Scroll, “The Sri Sri syndrome: What we should not forget about so-called gurus and godmen”. He is hardly objective (that’s his choice anyway), the moment he says “Syndrome”. He is judgmental without really bothering to understand why many people associate themselves with Sri Sri and Art of Living. Everyone may have his / her own reason and it is for them to decide. He makes sweeping generalizations. His write-up is also so shallow that there is hardly any point he substantiates. It is just some loose talk unfurling his hatred towards Sri Sri Ravishankar. I guess his real target is BJP, Modi and anything Hindu. He imagines grave manipulations behind every trivial matter as if there is great scheming behind every event or action. He has a wrong target here. There are many other pressing worldwide issues, which will impact most of us before we realize it, than the topic he picks up here.

He is trying to bring awareness to the “consumers of spirituality” when dealing with the “so-called” gurus. He refers to self-anointed Sri Sri, “so-called” guru (for TMK, probably Afzal Guru is the only acceptable guru). As a founder of an organization, which deals with spirituality, Sri Sri is referred to as Guru; What’s wrong? Why this bitterness on TMK’s part? If TMK does not consider him as Guru, it is perfectly within his rights. After all, a teacher or guru appears only when the student is ready.

TMK describes the World Cultural Festival as “violent in ecological terms, extravagant in financial and social terms, shockingly wasteful in terms of time, energy and sheer man-hours”. Wow, what makes him to come to this conclusion! AOL has done several works on environmental preservation, so they know better than TMK to deal with ecology. Yes, he can pose a question whether the environmental concerns are are taken care, but here, he passes the judgement. Every cultural event can be described as extravagant, and unproductive. What about musical events? What about TMK’s music concerts? What about major sports events? Olympics? Cultural, arts, sports events do have a purpose and in simple terms, it keeps the humanity going. When done well and right, it brings people closer. Some activities may sound waste of time to some and for others, just the opposite. For TMK, playing Carnatic music on electronic key board is a waste of time, but it is just his opinion. Yes, there is a growing awareness on environmental protection and for every event, it is one thing to take care of. When TMK’s own initiative “Urur Alcott Kuppam” becomes more and more successful in the coming years (I sincerely wish so), it would attract lots of people and in the process Besant Nagar beach may face ecological damage. How violent the damage will depend upon how successful the festival becomes. I am sure TMK will take care to ensure its ecology is restored. World Cultural Festival was just a marquee event of AOL with participation of people from all over the world. It does not deserve this much hatredness from TMK. If you like, attend; if you don’t, no harm either. What serious discourse TMK wants? Firstly, does he have any substance for a serious discourse?

Sadly he generalizes Sri Sri along with religious showmen who have many cases against them with several accusations. Every area of human endeavor has its own set of good and bad elements. It is not proper for a decent person like TMK (I still guess so) to give the title of his article on Sri Sri and make a generic statement which amounts to bracketing him with bad elements. This is cynicism at its worst. Then he talks about two contrasting social movements in recent times. He should know that people flocking Gurus is not a new phenomenon. Even without invoking capitalist / communist argument, this is easily explainable. Common man faces day to day problems to different degree. He always looks for some intervention either through his own maturity and knowledge or through a Guru or through prayers or combinations of these to make his life better. This has nothing to do with communist’s oppression or capitalist’s machiavellianism. TMK just wants to show his own analytical prowess in worldview by bringing in theories, but to me, it is no brainer. Then he decides to bring in caste equations. He has to hit “high-caste” somehow in his columns. He “achieves” that by saying the high-castees are the victims of the changes in social powers and so they surrender to these Gurus to feel better. Where is the connection? People flocking gurus are not a new phenomenon. Issue arises only when the Gurus start to exploit the people who come to him.

TMK gracelessly dismisses the good work of Sri Sri and AOL and draws analogy to the corporate social responsibility initiatives or similar work by politicians and political outfits; that it does not deserve any appreciation to the level of creating an extra ring of halo around their head. He sees brand-building as the motive behind such acts of good work. Brand is an illusionary thing after all and so are the halo rings. It cannot stand the test of time without substance. Many a times branding happens, when one keeps doing good work. Tendulkar brand was not caused by his skillful manipulation and cunningness, but by his talent, ability, conduct and performance; then it feeds back into building of his brand. Same goes with many great achievers in different fields. When we say achievers, it is just an appreciation and not necessarily a mindless surrender. Branding is a reality in this era and as long as one lives upto it, I don’t see anything wrong. Tiger Woods was a brand and then he lost it. When viewed positively brand building is not an agenda, but an outcome of some good work. After it becomes an outcome, it becomes an agenda in order to sustain the good work. It is subject to changes with time and people at large will decide on the sustainance of the brand. But going by TMK’s argument, no one in the world is good and everyone has an evil motive. Some cynicism is good to have, but if one becomes as cynical as TMK, I guess life will be miserable. Thank God, TMK was inducted into music in his childhood, otherwise we would have ended up with another Arvind Kejriwal.

Another generalization comes in the form of Cult creation around Godmen. He seems to bracket Sri Sri into that, because that is the title of his article. Firstly, he should know what is cult. In simple terms, “a place is not a cult if it has an entrance door and an exit door; cult is only when the exit door is not there or if it is closed; cult is the one which rules by instilling fear”. He should know which groups satisfy this definition. Coming to Sri Sri or AOL, I am not an AOL follower or associate, though I have visited the Ashram on a couple of occasions. Nobody even showed any inclination of “trapping” me. Every interaction was done with mutual respect. I have some AOL friends too and I have not got any impression that they are exploited or they are talking to me to trap me. They are not under any fear. They are not indoctrinated with evil thoughts against humanity. They are all normal folks. They must have seen and felt something to associate themselves with AOL’s activities. So if TMK has something to complain about “cult” culture, he should have chosen some specific examples and write; not in an article with Sri Sri in the title.

How easy it is for TMK-like people to write rubbish and publish? When we write articles in Scientific Journals, each sentence or message will have to fall under one of the following 3 categories: (1) It is obvious, well established law of nature, (2) it refers to another peer reviewed and scrutinised work or (3) it is substantiated in the written article itself through data or at least it is an interpretation of some data in the article itself. If the message or statement does not fall under any of these categories it will be rejected for the lack of credibility before further scrutiny. Looking through such “credibility lens”, TMK’s article is for the dustbin, as he has not substantiated a thing what he said. Hope TMK is advised to weigh his articles through these three criteria in the future. Writing a credible article needs some research, it not just a pastime.

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