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God knows

Isn't it ironic that philosophies that preach renouncement are used by many as ways to getting attached to the most exclusive products? Farrukh Dhondy writes.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2011 22:50 IST
Farrukh Dhondy

I was in Mumbai over the memorable days of the final matches of World Cup cricket. I am not in any sense a cricket fan. I don't know Silly Mid-off from Crooked Madoff, but mention it to mark the fact that it was not so long ago. I was invited to dinner by old friend Kabir Bedi, his charming and beautiful partner Parveen and equally 'c&b' daughter Puja.

Having started this as a name-dropping column, I should recall the circumstances under which my name was dropped — from the proceedings in which it should have been extolled — thanks to 'friend' Kabir. More than a year ago I was invited to Italy on a lecture tour, speaking to university students of literature or of English about my own writing. The talks and readings in Bologna went very well. I was then transported to the mosaiced city of Ravenna to address a large student audience with the assistance of a bilingual chairperson. In introducing me and my writing the chair mentioned that apart from the books they had been compelled by their course to read, I had also written films for the Indian industry.

Before I could get into the short story I had bookmarked, a hand went up from the audience.

"Did you mean you write for Bollywood?"

"Yes," replied the chair, "Now we are delighted that Mr..."

A few more hands were raised before she finished her sentence. "So do you know Kabir Bedi?" a bold young lady asked.

"Yes, he's a friend of mine." There were 'oohs' and 'aahs' all around the hall and several hands shot up, but their owners didn't wait for their questions to be called.

"What's he like?"

"Is he married?"

"Does he have a girlfriend?"

"Don't be silly, of course he has a girlfriend!"

"Have you seen Sandokan?"

"What aftershave does he use?"

"Is his voice dubbed?"

Before I could frame even one answer, the chair held up her hand to bring order to the house.

"Mr Dhondy is here to read his own stories — questions about his writing or literature later, please!"

I began, aware of a certain restlessness in the hall. I didn't finish, but came to a nodal point in the story and ingeniously asked them to write possible endings to it for homework.

"Now let's get on with your questions. Even Kabir."

Smiles all round and again a dozen hands shot up. Their teachers lining the wall frowned. I mentioned the film we made together and talked about Kabir's role as the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. I think I said something about Puja and advertising. I forced myself to be content to write myself out of the morning's script.

Now dining with Kabir at one of his favourite restaurants and not having seen him for some time we exchanged notes about what we each were doing. I mentioned the piece of fiction (to be published soon, but I shan't advertise!), which starts with a real assignment that I was given in 1979 or thereabouts, to return to my home town Pune and report back on the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh ashram and try and get an interview with him.

I didn't realise it, but Kabir is something of a fan of Bhagwan Rajneesh, or Osho, as he was later called. I volunteered the possibly apocryphal account I had been given by an ex-devotee as to why he had changed his name. Rajneesh had realised that in old Sanskrit the word 'Bhagwan' was synonymous with 'Yoni' the word meaning the external female genitalia. Since he didn't want to be labelled the 'Y', he changed his designation.

Kabir wasn't receptive to this particular version of events. He talked about the works of Rajneesh, or Osho, or whatever, that he had read and said they were the most sublime interpretations of Indian philosophy that he had come across. There was no gainsaying that, but I did beg to differ. My own reading of Rajneesh is that he remains, some Californians not withstanding, the cleverest intellectual confidence trickster that India has produced. His output of the 'interpretation' of Indian texts is specifically slanted towards a generation of disillusioned westerners who wanted (and perhaps still want) to 'have their cake, eat it' claim at the same time that cake-eating is the highest virtue according to ancient-fused-with-scientific wisdom. His lectures are designed for those who might have difficulty with Schopenhauer or in coming to grips with the monistic ultimate of Shankara's Advait Vedanta.

It may very well be that Master Osho had read and digested in truth the essence of Vedanta, or for that matter of Spinoza or St John of the Cross. But reading his commentaries on 'philosophy' — this simply doesn't come through. The texts and speeches are full of homilies and seem in the main to be guides towards daily happiness and peace of mind. I didn't broach our differences of perception or critical assessment with Kabir — he was paying for the meal and wine.

It has always struck me as ironic that philosophies that were framed to induce suffering humanity to renounce attachment are in our times adopted as ways to getting attached to the best or most exclusive designer products. I have come across Buddhist circles who chant the Buddha's scriptures in order to get a Mercedes Benz. If the Buddha had a grave wouldn't he be detachedly spinning in it?

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London. The views expressed by the author are personal.