Archive for the ‘television’ Category


The Swami Syndrome

March 8, 2010

Another day. Another Swami. Over the last few days, all television channels have been abuzz with news of the Nithyananda scandal, a sting operation which has captured the swami in a compromising position with a popular actress. As expected, this has incensed the general public who have damaged his ashrams and burnt his effigies. A swami getting exposed is not a new occurrence. In spite of this, why do people fall prey to these fraudsters time and again? To understand this, one needs to take an in depth look into this complex relationship.

A country like India has never been in dearth of religious gurus. From the usual street corner tantrik or fakir to high profile gurus such as Sai Baba, Amrita, DGS Dinakaran etc, the gurus are many. In fact, the gurus would probably outnumber the different gods of all religions put together. Traditionally, their roles were mostly restricted to performing gimmicks such as vomiting lingams and necklaces, giving out oracles (arul vaaku) and spewing out some Sanskrit mumbo jumbo which no one can make any sense of. People like DGS Dinakaran made their riches by organizing miracle gatherings where ‘acts of god’ were performed. This included things like people suffering from incurable diseases being cured instantly, the physically challenged being able to walk etc. In addition to making millions out of people’s misery, these people often wielded powerful political clouts which gave them elite status. Most often, the people who were followers of these gurus were poles apart. They were either the super rich or the very poor. But this trend took a change during the mid 90s. With the advent of globalisation, not only did the society in general begin to evolve, so did the gurus. With a burgeoning middle class, the swamis adopted new techniques to tap this new market.

Though globalisation has been a bane for many, it has also been a boon for some. With more and more multinationals setting shop in various metros, the young and educated middle class benefited the most from the job opportunities created by these new ventures. Though their new careers helped them procure the material comforts which they have always dreamt of, the stressful work life left them burnt out with little time or energy to enjoy those riches. Instead of introspecting into the reasons and system which has led to such a situation, more of these ‘educated and knowledgeable’ people went in search of gurus who will be able to rid them of all these worries. The gurus capitalised on this need and came up with different fancy ideas to make money. Programs such as ‘The Art of Living’ by Ravishankar, ‘LifeBliss Foundation’ by Nithyananda, “Transcendental Meditation movement” by Mahesh Yogi claim to show us how to lead a better life through Yoga and meditation.

A closer look at all these programs and discourses will show all that these gurus preach are basic facts of life known by everyone. But each one claims that their program is the only means by which one can achieve happiness and peace. And these programs do not come cheap. They are specifically designed for the corporate world and cost thousands of dollars. Naturally, the participants feel rejuvenated at the end of the program. If someone is housed in a serene environment with all facilities for a few days and does nothing but relax and enjoy clean and fresh air, they are bound to feel good. There is nothing spiritual or magical about it. But this temporary escape will vanish when reality returns. When these gurus get exposed, it obviously aggravates the followers because all these days they were being fed with crap that ‘worldly pleasures’ are bad and one needs to rid themselves of such ‘pleasures’ in order to achieve ‘true happiness’. When they see the same guy who said such things indulging in those ‘pleasures’, they feel cheated. Their misery is analogous to that of people who lose money by investing heavily in chit funds. They are not angry that they have been foolish enough to let themselves be cheated by someone who only told them those things that they wanted to hear; they are just angry that they didn’t choose the ‘right’ guru.

Even when these swamis get defamed, no doubt some people will still continue to stand by them. Others will continue their quest to find a ‘more effective’ guru. Its almost as if they need one guru or the other to tell them how to lead their lives. Unless they realize that the real reason for their miseries is the capitalist fueled economies and that these gurus are actually encouraged and supported by the very same biggies who exploit them, there will be no reprieve from this syndrome. Today, it is Nithyananda. Tomorrow, it’ll be someone else.


Inter-Caste Marriages: A sham?

January 4, 2010

A recent episode of the talk show ‘Neeya Naana’ had an interesting topic. As most Tamil television viewers would be aware, Neeya Naana is a weekly talk show being telecast on Vijay TV. Each week, a topic is introduced by the show’s host, Gopinath and people argue for and against the given topic. The topics mostly range from being silly to plain ludicrous. But now and then, some interesting topics get discussed as well. These give us a good snapshot of the current society’s opinions and thoughts. This week was one such.

The subject of discussion this time around was people who had inter-caste/ inter-religious ‘love’ marriages. The moderator discussed various aspects starting from how the people found their spouses’ caste to how they faced their parents’ ire when they married and most crucially, the belief system under which they bring up their children. The opinions voiced by the audience make us wonder if the whole concept of inter-caste marriages has had any impact at all on curbing the impact of caste on the society.

Today, many people are of the opinion that caste is not as prevalent in towns and cities as in villages. With people moving to new places in search of greener pastures, it is widely believed that the different castes have truly amalgamated in the hustle and bustle of the city’s busy lifestyle. Nothing can be more far from the truth. In comparison to the open practising methods followed in villages, the folks in towns and cities adopt a more contemporary approach in establishing their hegemony. Theirs is an approach of making selective compromises that would make their life easier in a big city but not any that would affect their caste pride. In this way, they create an impression of having amicable relationship with others in the community but also retain the respect of their caste brethren. This is probably more sinister than the practices adopted in villages as the hatred is concealed in the guise of co-existence.

One of the main occasions when this caste pride comes to the fore is during marriages. All hell breaks loose when a boy or girl chooses to marry someone from a different caste. But nowadays, it seems like the people who get into these kinds of inter-caste relationships themselves know where to draw the line. This was quite evident from the opinions of the audience in the program. Just to give a glimpse, there was this woman who wanted her lover to either to be from the BC or the MBC category. Then there was this lady who went through her future partner’s certificates to figure out which caste he belonged to. Another woman told of how she knew of her partner’s caste even during her schooldays and the time when her parents threatened to kill him on knowing that he was from a different caste. This lady and many others apologised to their parents on the show for the grief the parents had been put through. The fact that those parents were prepared to kill another human being just to keep caste honour didn’t seem to bother these women. It was indeed sad to note that there wasn’t a single person who said they loathed the very system called caste and wanted to prove a point by marrying someone from a different community.

Another aspect which comes to our attention is how the offsprings of these relationships are brought up. In most inter-caste marriages, the lifestyle adopted by the couple will mostly adhere to the higher caste amongst those from which they hail from. This was also evident from the opinions voiced in the show. Examples such as the lady belonging to the Mudaliar caste giving her son a Brahmin upbringing (‘We have even performed the Poonool ceremony for him’, she said) and the Christian woman who converted to being a Hindu after marriage prove this point. Interestingly, it was mostly women who had made the compromises. It seems like the only instance where the couples make an exception is when they get a community certificate for their children!

Caste is definitely a social evil which needs to be exterminated. What’s required is a change in mindset of the society and awareness about the negative impact it has had on people’s lives. Marrying someone from another caste doesn’t serve any purpose unless there is a concrete effort to change one’s opinions about the evils of the system. Until this happens, these marriages would be no more than mere sham exercises which only serve to help programs like Neeya Naana garner more TRPs.