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Baba & babalog, positions please

Remember when yogi meant Dhirendra Brahmachari and chocolate meant Cadbury's? Now, you get to choose your own flavour, Shilpa’s yoga or Ramdev’s yog. Pratik Kanjilal tells us more.
By The Word this Week | Pratik Kanjilal | None
UPDATED ON OCT 09, 2009 02:31 PM IST

Yoga (n. English)

Internationally hot workout routine requiring trainers, resorts, leotards, mats and money. Distinct from yog (n. Sanskrit), ancient system of physical, mental and spiritual improvement requiring only langots, patience and time.

This week, the yoga mat is the battleground. With the release of her yoga DVD in India — the original Brit version went on sale in December — Shilpa Shetty has hit Baba Ramdev hard and fast and, well, under the beard. The barbate Baba dominates the how-to market and is a compelling TV evangelist. He’s drilled right down through the social scale and it is because of him that you find even grocers and clerks, whom yogis usually neglect for business reasons, sharply inhaling and exhaling in municipal parks at 6 a.m. His only handicap: he’s really not easy on the eyes.

Enter Shilpa Shetty. She is beardless and her midriff is poetry in motion under studio lights when she does the kapalbhati. Also, maybe the aspect ratio in her video has been tweaked to make her a size minus. On the Internet video-sharing networks, her DVD’s trailer is billed as a hit — the “sexiest yoga video ever”. She has a certain unfair advantage.

But this week, Baba Ramdev has been a fast-moving target. He’s been off on a teaching cruise, putting discerning holidaymakers through their postures on the luxury liner SuperStar Virgo as it hithered and thithered stylishly all over the South China Sea. While other passengers sunned, gorged, quaffed, gambled and caroused, his students ate abstemiously of kadai gobi, touched no tipple and practised on-deck yoga. Close your eyes and imagine the scene — ozone-enriched pranayama and gale-force pavanmuktasana on the high seas. The very seas that China’s eunuch Admiral Cheng Ho sailed 600 years ago on his way to India and Kenya, back when Columbus was a small boy fooling about in boats. This is pioneering yoga steeped in history.

Back home in India, the Baba is set to become Yogi-in-Chief to the Union Government. As this paper reported, he is supporting Anbumani Ramadoss in his scrupulously correct but humourless crusade against bad lifestyle among the masses. This is a charmed win-win relationship. The ever-unpopular Health Minister needs all the friends he can find and with the government machinery backing him, Ramdev can be unstoppable. But is there really a contest? The Baba's rebarbative beard is actually an asset. To his audience, low style quotient spells authenticity. And Shilpa Shetty’s positioned just right for the society crowd. The yoga market’s widened, deepened and gone niche. Remember when yogi meant Dhirendra Brahmachari and chocolate meant Cadbury's? Now, you get to choose your own flavour, Shilpa’s yoga or Ramdev’s yog.

Pratik Kanjilal is Publisher, The Little Magazine.

The Word This Week, a column dealing with the latest trends and happenings in popular culture, will appear every Saturday.

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