Pakistan on an Indian Spiritual Trip

The guru in Pakistan

I stood in the sun, eyes blinking. On that dry Delhi summer afternoon of parched throats and heat without sweat, I was waiting in the queue outside the visa collection window of the Pakistan High Commission. People started exchanging notes. The moment they discovered I had been there before, the questions were rapid: Do you have family there? What are the good places to visit, shop, eat? Are they like us? I became a Pakistani expert, until I saw someone watching me with a bemused smile.

He was a tall lanky man with longish hair that he kept pushing behind his ear in a rather effeminate manner. In that line of nervous people waiting to know whether they had been granted entry, he seemed supremely confident. “So, you’ve been to Pakistan before?” he asked.

“Yes, of course,” I said, now that I was the ‘source’ the group around us had made me into.

“Is this your first time?” I asked.

By way of explanation, he opened a file. The sun was beating down and there was just too much light to read. I shrugged. “Many times,” he said. “For how long do you plan to stay?”

“I’ve applied for a month again, let’s see. And you?”

“Six months.”

“What? Do they give a visa for six months?”

He had a boyish grin that did not quite go with what he was about to tell me:
“I teach.”

“Oh, ok…” I was not sure if asking anything more would be deemed proper. He held up that file again.

“Actually, I teach the art of living.”

When spoken, it sounded like he was teaching Pakistanis the fine art of going about with their lives. But, obviously, he was a tutor with the Art of Living Foundation.

"Do you know about it?"

"Of course. They let you stay there for this?"

I must admit I was envious because of my own experience with visas. I was fairly certain then that there was a spiritualist inside me waiting to come out.

I got my passport and, unfortunately, just then he was called to furnish some papers, so no contact details were shared. If only I had looked at the file he had opened for me. Perhaps, he did not wish to make a public display.

I was curious then as I am now about how in a supposedly Islamic country there was enough space for such quick fix spiritual solutions. I met a few local soothsayers, too. One particular palmist was very popular in Karachi; people would go in their cars and stick their hands out. It sounded like a takeaway joint, only bizarre and fascinating. My friends took me there, but he wasn’t around on that day. The fact is that despite the Islamisation, these kinds of activities have been prevalent.

I recall this now because Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, visited the country recently. I am amazed at the manner in which his trip has been portrayed in the media. ‘He is going to teach the Taliban to de-stress...this is a peace mission’, they say.

Quite naturally, he is not going to let go of this opportunity to appear as more than a soul spa. So he said:

“All those who fight have fear and concerns; they want to feel valuable. Our techniques give them a sense of well-being and calmness, and once the inner calmness happens, the feeling of wanting to fight and the urge for revenge disappears.”

Why has he not tried that in India? We have terror groups, criminal gangs, separatist organisations. He has met some, but will he dare to approach them to stop taking revenge? Can anyone imagine the Taliban members doing a breathe in-breathe out?

This is nonsense only to project the guru as someone with a higher purpose, and a vague Taliban rather than real criminals come in handy. Besides that, he is treading on dangerous ground by getting involved in politics:

“We want to talk with the Taliban in Pakistan. We’ll go in with an open mind, to find out who they are, their problems and their intentions—that has always been my approach.”

He is talking about the ‘we’ of his organisation, not as an Indian. I am surprised that there has been no objection to this. Even ministers who appear in studios with people who are considered enemies of India are lambasted. Those writing anything positive about Pakistan are questioned. And here we have this man talking about an “open mind” regarding the Taliban.

And how are the Pakistanis taking this? Do they not complain about their nation being run over by the Taliban?

At the time of the Lal Masjid incident when Islamabad was supposedly under siege, there were Pakistanis in deep meditation at the Art of Living Foundation, not to solve the country’s problems or shut them out, but to detoxify their indulgences. There are 5000 such people. It is part of one more salon trip.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s mission is possible because he is not interested in really doing anything. If that were the case, then the government as well as the Taliban would have found ways to keep him away. His is a commercial venture, catering primarily to the elite or to those among them who want to ‘help’ others through pop philanthropy.

There is nothing more to it than this. However, it just does not sound important enough. After all, this is Pakistan. Both Pakistanis and the guru need to make it seem like ‘peace’, one of the most abused words in the Indo-Pak context. It takes on the pugnacity of a war-like situation.

This is the guru’s hope trick and ticket.

(c)Farzana Versey


  1. I wont waste google's storage space to express my affection for Gurus and Babas, that said what would be their reaction if Ahmadiyya leader was invited to address a Guru Gobind Singh college or a Hindu College or BHU group and explain their practice. Good for him that he finds an audience there and hope thats the only reeason for his visit.
    another Pakistan trip ,would wait for you updates from there .

  2. JJ:

    Good points. Pakistanis, like people in most societies, esp ours, need some reassurance that aal izz well.

    Re updates, I think I should start my own ashram and dispense some vexpert type advice and teach people how to hold their breath. Kaam ka kaam, naam ka naam and, if I'm lucky, then daam ka daam too...


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