Ashish Vaswani

The final report of investigations into Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ‘assassination bid’ made for a really amusing read this morning. For those of you who’re not in the know, here’s a quick recapitulation. The end of last week saw a strange nation-wide drama unfold itself in front of millions of eyeballs looking for some off-beat prime time entertainment. No, it wasn’t a new sex scandal featuring a tinsel town starlet, nor was it a twist to the ever elongating saga of ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi’s debauch tactics. What caught the media’s attention this time round, was a misfired bullet after one of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s public meetings (aka satsangs). What was interesting to see, was that even till after a couple of days of the ‘incident’, Sri Sri (can someone please tell me why this gentleman needs two Sris prefixed to his name?) continued to appear on most news channels explaining to saas-bahu-drama-deprived aunties and IPL hungry uncles how he escaped a bid to his life by ‘a whisker’.

Before I even begin debating, let me first inform you (if you don’t already know) that Guruji (that’s how Sri Sri’s addressed by his followers) was leaving in his vehicle after the satsang, when all he heard was a loud thud. Now, though this thud happened be a bullet gone astray, what is interesting to know is that, it was shot so far away from the Guru that it was evident right from the start that the actual target being him was highly unlikely. This can be corroborated by the fact that Guruji was actually informed of the thud being one that of bullet almost an hour after the incident. Even if what the Guru claimed hitherto were to be true, and the attack been a real threat to his life, what I can’t digest is the unnecessary limelight that was garnered over a man who already has a strong enough public relations mechanism to keep cash registers ringing in Ashrams around the world. (A 6-day basic course in ‘The Art Of Living’ could cost as much as Rs. 2000). Call me a cynic if you want to, but it’s strange to see a spiritual guru who’s under the shock of having escaped an ‘attempt to his life’, give live interviews to masala-hungry news channels back to back. At one point last Monday, there were as many as four channels showing LIVE footage of Swamiji’s reply to the attacker!

Now the twist in the tale came this morning, when newspapers carried reports of what had actually ‘conspired’. The owner of a farm located close to the Ashram was fed up with the nuisance of stray dogs who had mauled his sheep. The only problem is that the farm owner chose a really bizarre way to put an end to this menace. He used his licensed revolver to shoot three rounds at these dogs, one of which incidentally landed in the Ashram! Now that Guruji has been made aware of this, he wants Karan Johar to make a movie on the incident titled, ‘I Am Swamy, But I Am Innocent’!  

Serious questions need to be asked here- Why was such a hue and cry made about a bullet being fired ‘specifically’ at Sri Sri when it missed him by yards? With the exception of a few reports on the actual victim who was injured, (a deveotee of Ravi Shankar) why wasn’t anybody interested in getting his side of the story? Why was the media giving so much attention to an incident without gathering enough information about the real sequence of events?

It’s really nice that our country has so many spiritual gurus to lead our way in our quest for eternal peace and enlightenment- what’s with channels like Aastha, Sanskar and Jagran giving birth to new godmen every other day. And though all gurus can’t be typecast as being ‘unholy’, I personally have serious doubts over the authenticity of most, if not all of them. The recently unearthed scandals of Swami Nithyananda and Asaram Bapu are cases in point. There are acres of land all over India, and even abroad, dedicated to ashrams, yagnashalas and gurukuls. Most gurus have enough clout amongst the netalog as well. What is even more amusing is that most hi-fi gurus spend their time serving their firang devotees abroad under the pretext of global ‘uddhar’.

I don’t have a problem with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar per se. In fact, I felt hugely satisfied after attending an Art Of Living YES+ (stands for Youth Empowerment and Skills) workshop last year. The Sudarshan Kriya which is the USP of any Art Of Living (AOL) course does have scientifically proven health benefits. And the gyaan that you get on a course is, in every way, aimed at helping you strike a chord with your inner self. But that’s that. The tactics that die-hard AOL followers use to get you on the course are really annoying. If you have friends involved with the Art Of Living Foundation, may be you know what I mean. Most participants on my course agreed that they were either coerced or sweet talked into attending it by AOL friends. Same was the case for me. I understand that any kind of event does need a fair bit of publicity, but sometimes it just crosses the tipping point. The director of WAYE (World Alliance of Youth Empowerment) which introduced YES+, Khurshed Batliwala (I am in awe of his persona!) himself asks participants to try and find as many people to register for the course and persist till they give in. He does mean it in a very funny sort of a way and does so for the eventual upliftment of society, but I fail to understand why people should be ‘forced’ into joining a beautiful course like this in the first place. If the course does have the benefits that it claims to have, (which I also believe) people will register for it themselves, you don’t need the AOL brigade to go scouting for participants, catch them by the neck and then smilingly ask them to deep breathe their way out of it. I doubt if any one thing, person or incident could teach anyone the ‘Art Of Living’. It’s the daily struggles with ourselves and the world around us and worthwhile experiences over the years, that teach us small but meaningful lessons, which ultimately help us to ace this mammoth of a test called Life.

As for last week’s bullet firing drama, all I can say is that maybe Guruji’s ardent bhakts advised him to cash in on some media attention and make hay while the sun was still shining. With Guruji’s security now being beefed up a few notches higher than before, it is the taxpayer who will pay dearly to protect a public figure- who preaches the ‘Art Of Living’ to the world, from fellow Living Beings!