About ten years ago, with a little help of Madonna Inc, India suddenly became cool.
Since then, things Indian have been doing great business — Kolhapuris and Lungis on the catwalk, tablas and Bhangra on the billboard pop charts and yoga and meditation on the schedules of every New Yorker.
The only difference has been in the price and packaging between Indian products at home and in the West. It’s fun to snigger at the price the West is ready to pay for Eastern exotica, but when the same phenomenon hits closer home, it’s not so funny.
The flagship of the India Shining brigade is Ayurveda — a 5,000 year-old indigenous health philosophy that almost every desi practises in some form or another.
Health spas have exploded, not only in Kerala, but in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and even in the Capital (with Galaxy-spa hotels opening soon.) Of course, the foreigners are lapping it up, but now even Indians are dishing out big bucks to experience the same.
Says Dr Vinod Kumar, a naturopath and ayurveda practitioner, “Most of these new spas practise a fusion of naturotherapy, aromatherapy and acupressure, all under the Ayurveda umbrella. The rose petal baths, herbal ‘elixirs’ and meditative music add to the ‘holistic effect’ and Indians are being taken in by the new packaging.” Kabir Sahni, an exexecutive at Body Shop, London, offers, “Ayurveda wasn’t cool to Indians till it was injected with foreign chic. And now it is the new fashion symbol.”
Companies like Kama, Forest Essentials re-worked the Body Shop model a bit, and are selling slick products that don’t come cheap. Says Priya Ahuja, a college student, “Some of these companies sell a mixture of sandalwood and triphala for Rs 500 when I can get it at a tenth of the cost.
But desis buy it to show it off on their bathroom shelves.” But price isn’t the only worry for purists. Proffers Kumar, “the science is individual specific and doesn’t lend itself to being a commercial mass product. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful.
Ayurveda is not just for the rich but for all those who care to make the effort.” We knew that for 5,000 years, so why are we wasting money on re-learning it all now?