At the 8th Hindu Spiritual and Service fair in Chennai, carpets were laid out in jubilant saffron - in the backdrop of imitation gopurams and floats of gigantic shivalingams. It was a parade of Vedic chants, garrulous schoolchildren, with foreheads of tilaks and caste marks bobbing from above the sea of crowds. It was right out of a Hindu right-winger’s dream.
Touring 400 stalls is not easy, especially for children across 10 schools with their lunch-deprived teachers.
The mighty Lingam float
Prominent organizations like Isha Yoga, Art of Living, Patanjali and Devasthanam trust get the choicest cream of the carrot cake – roomy stalls, stalls within stalls. More recognizable the leader, the more to flaunt.
A group of children at war with each other at one of these prominent were stopped with one word. “Let’s play a mind game. When I say Rama you hold your hands in servitude. When I say Krishna, you throw your hands up. When I say Hare, you stand in attention. When I say Radha, the most subservient of the lot, stand at ease. But I will choose only five kids to play this game,” says the head of the stall.
Children cueing up at a stall
The winner is a boy who performs robotically, almost au naturel at it. The rest four get nothing, if any, the chiding and jeering by the other schoolboys and girls who didn’t get picked.
It’s almost surreal how most of us are indoctrinated with beliefs of gender, caste and religious segregation at a seemingly young age.
Ahead, there’s a stall that specializes in the instruction of Vedic Science. It’s not the predictable discourse of Taj Mahal initially being a temple, or the brouhaha over Ayodhya. It’s all about quick fixes.
Solutions to fix love jihad, health problems, missionary education and mental illness. “When you find your son or daughter straying from their path, liking Muslims or Christians, don’t fret. Cut their Facebook and Whatsapp connections off, and go report the boy to the Cyber Crime cell. Make sure you slap a section on rousing communal tensions, and they will do nothing to your daughter. All solved,” says Sanjay, a man who teaches soft skills in corporate institutions.
Vedic science lessons
He believes the biggest threats to Hindus are Whatsapp forwards and Christian psychologists who use their Hindu patients’ information to weaken the Hindu movement and move them towards conversion. “I don’t sleep very well at night because of them you know,” he confesses wearily. He’s been performing his scientific rites since morning and craves a refreshment. “I’ll head to the Patanjali,” he says. At this fair, Patanjali is the Starbucks.
Stall hopping is educational at the Hindu Spiritual fair, but it’s especially educational when you have a guide. The guide is Rajan, an IT professional who gets people up to speed on their Hindutvavaadi, and as fashionably as possible for the young things.
“My idea is simple – we came first. Anyone of any other religion except Hinduism is searching for salvation elsewhere, come to us boss! It’s our land’s salvation you are looking for dammit! Come to Hinduism!” he excitedly roars, while a few hoppers stop in their tracks. When asked about where the restroom is, he throws in a crash course on how to excrete.
Yes, how to poop, the Hindutva way.
Solution? The Hindu Way of Life
“When the British invaded, they brought with them Western toilets. We didn’t have hernia, piles or prostate cancer until the whiteys came. The Indian toilet is crafted using the Hindutva way of life. It must be patented,” he says. Rajan is also on a mission to patent. “Patent the Hindutva way of living, patent its fruits. Turn the white man’s life and tools on its head.”
He winds up his lecture with “You’re not Muslim no?”
In the deep crevices of the massive, exhaustive array of spiritual classes and self-help books and medicinal bars, the caste associations languish. They have the rogue spots, not the primetime ones.
Following the Tamil Nadu Brahmin Association, is the Tamil Nadu Brahmin Association. “There are two stalls, because there was infighting within the association and the founder of the first one went and founded another one – with the same name.”
Shell out 250 rupees and you’re on the mailing list, Whatsapp groups and the receiver of a monthly magazine – if you were already in the club by birth, now you’re in the Mogappair branch’s club. “Are you looking to get married? We have a great matrimonial service. Which subcaste do you prefer?”
The Tamil Nadu Brahmin Association membership benefits
Right opposite, the Reddys, Nairs and the Chettiars had their own associations too – and they all felt cheated by the reservation system. They were all cast out to the corner of the fair, a little caste neighbourhood of sorts and this looked like the most intermingling they’ve had in a while. Why can’t we all have one big party?
Reddies are the next door neighbours
Next, a middle aged woman hands me a bumper sticker that reads – ‘Save the Cow, Save the Nation.’ “We need to avenge the death of 80,000 cows that died during the British invasion!” The calm voice takes on a shivering cry for help. “When you stab one cow, you stab 20 men! That is the ratio we need to correct. 20 men for one cow!” This fair is all about new history lessons.
Anita, an activist with the Gau Rakshak Association, is a proud cow vigilante. She hands me a piece of some cow dung extract laced with pepper. “It’s good for your body and soul, have it,” she offers. Before registering a protest, it’s forced down my throat. This was not the food sample anyone expected.
Hinduism and women
In all of the history lessons and the culinary rollercoasters, a cheery, subdued RSS Pracharak stood, greeting everyone with a smile. He seemed the calmest of the lot, and after the yelling and the shoving, it was natural to be drawn to him.
In a Malayali twang, Rijith told me his story. “My father was Communist, my mother Congress, and I was drawn to Hindutva,” he chortles. His politically polarised family began when his father, tiring of the charm that Communism held for generations in his family, was embarrassed by the lack of his knowing the Ramayana by heart. “My father was embarrassed when his friend asked him what stories he narrated to me at night, and after that my father read more Vedic scriptures,” he said. At 4, he admitted his son into the RSS.
Why hasn’t Rijith wavered like his father? “In Communism, there are no bedtime stories to tell.”
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.