An epidemic of fasting has broken out. It isn’t just Baba Ramdev who, at the time of writing this, was all set to go on an indefinite fast. Medha Patkar has just finished one in Mumbai. Babulal Marandi, the former chief minister of Jharkhand, ended a fast unto death last month, of course without dying. MLAs in Telangana are all set to fast. Anna Hazare says he’ll join Ramdev’s fast. Jyoti Ghag, a US citizen, planned to start a fast in Washington DC before the police booked her for attempted suicide.
“My fast is bigger than his,” said an activist, pointing disdainfully at the fast by a guru across the street. The guru retorted that his was longer. “We shall fast on the beaches,” said a professional faster called Chur Chill, “we shall fast on the landing grounds, we shall fast in the fields and in the streets, we shall fast on the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Who will be the Master Faster? Punters backing Ramdev say he’s the favourite, because he’s also a yoga guru. Others are banking on Hazare’s fearsome reputation as a serial faster. Those who favour long odds are backing Patkar. But the professionals say that Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for over a decade, will win hands down.
Dedicated fasters are fasting against hunger, poverty, disease, malnutrition, corruption, dowry, black money (only the cash stashed abroad — a fast against black money within the country will have few supporters) and the small size of bananas being provided in the office canteen. Little Bunty says he’s going on an indefinite fast against his mother’s malicious attempts to feed him spinach.
“Like any other activity, fasting has to be learnt,” said Swami Fastananda, who runs a course on ‘The Art of Fasting’, adding that admissions are now open. “We want to catch them young,” said Guru Fastdev, a teacher at Kendriya Fastalaya, adding that he also taught associated disciplines like standing on one’s head. He said their pupils were planning to stand on one leg for a week for world peace.
Fasting has also gone international. The website of Fasting Centre International says it has supervised the world’s largest fasting clientele over the past 35 years. Listing the many benefits of fasting, the Centre gives real life examples, such as ‘Fasting cured CEO’s Hepatitis C and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’, ‘Fasting cured MD’s binge eating’ and, my favourite, ‘Fasting Cured Minister’s Hernias’. Check it out at www.fasting.com. Also, consider Psalm 109: “My knees are weak through fasting/and my flesh faileth of fatness.”
In fact, fasting is fast developing into a multi-million dollar business. A fasting analyst pointed to Ramdev’s miles of tents, LED screens, fans and coolers. “That’s nothing,” pooh-poohed the promoter of a fasting firm. “Our company gives the fasting connoisseur best-of-class fasting facilities,” he said. He plans to have air-conditioned tents with water-beds, attached baths and Jacuzzis. Post-fast parties with celebrities will be an added attraction. A rival fasting professional said he would get cheerleaders to cheer every grunt and groan made by the fasters. Fasts will be broken by sipping champagne. A fasting consultant said he plans to bring in Lalit Modi and start an Indian Fasting League. “We also want to include fasting as an Olympic sport,” he said.
But while we enjoy this feast of fasts, the government seems to be rather glum about it. A reporter from Fasting News says that if their efforts to dissuade people from fasting do not work, the entire Union Cabinet will go on an indefinite fast against fasting.
( Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint )
The views expressed by the author are personal