The Indian Spiritual supermarket is so much of a cliché in novels set in India that I remember thinking once that I would never write about it. And yet, I somehow ended up setting a large part of The Reengineers in an ashram. The Guru, an erstwhile Mathematics professor, realizes too late that the institution has become a shady corporate marketing peace and love, and  collapsed from the ideals upon which he had founded it.

A short excerpt.

We made our way down the overgrown path. Night was falling, the cool air filling with the buzzing incantation of insects.

‘Your friends are in the main hall. It is safe there now. The professor’s session is about to start.’

‘What do you do during these sessions?’

‘Things that you usually do at a school get-together. We do fun maths. Share facts that might interest everyone. Laugh. Sing and dance. Discuss ways and means to save the world. Sir gives a talk and answers questions.’ He paused. ‘He always says that he is as much a student as we are. That is what I like the most about him.’

I did not want to attend the session. I wanted to find Anu and Sabi, return to the old library and break down that blasted door through which we had entered the place.

‘My aunt holds god-men in great regard. But I’m not sure if I believe in them.’ I said.

He laughed. ‘Nor am I, buddy. I have seen too many of them at close quarters. I did a series of features on them for a spiritual magazine. A great many of them are astute business people who build multimillion dollar empires by claiming to offer the most important things in life, like peace and mindfulness and love. Often, people get a temporary high, a fleeting sense of belonging and well-being from the illusion of strength that comes from attaching themselves to gurus, without realizing that the energy they associate with the so called holy person comes from within themselves. The seekers who get addicted to such people often give up their personal power in the name of surrendering to the divine, forgetting that they are as divine as the guru and that the guru is basically a human like them.’

He sighed and then continued cheerfully, ‘At best, gurus are harmless placebos who help their devotees feel good for a short while. While researching such people, I came across several stories that would curdle a potential seeker’s blood and make him turn back to the safe comfort of the material world. Countless innocent people have been abused at such ashrams, many have had their hard-earned wealth siphoned off into the guru’s personal funds and still others have ended up in expensive rehabilitation programmes after getting disillusioned with ashrams and gurus. Of course, I never used any of those stories in my articles, for both my editor and I are equally wary of the ruthless spiritual mafia. You have seen how dangerous they can be, like Govind and his cherubs. But the professor is hardly a typical guru. He is—’

‘Different,’ I muttered under my breath. Wasn’t that what they all said?

‘Cool, actually,’ said Siddharth.

I had not expected him to say that.

‘He is a good guy, a decent chap. You will like listening to him.’

I walked silently, thinking of how I could get Anu and Sabi alone once I reached the hall. I was getting more and more confused. Did Siddharth have something to do with our situation? He had said nothing more about helping us return home, and yet I continued to trust him.

‘You can trust me.’

He smiled when I looked up, as though he empathized with my surprise as much as he understood my thoughts.


Large tables were set up inside the main meditation hall. They were covered with merchandise: books, prayer beads, sandalwood figurines of Hindu gods, flowers and garlands made of saffron-coloured silk, customized ‘seeker’ pens, key chains, notepads and study kits, herbal cosmetics, Ayurvedic snacks and drinks, audio tapes of the professor’s talks, seeker music albums sung by Roshan and friends, and laminated photographs of the professor.

The hall was packed with people. All eyes were turned towards the dais, where the professor sat quietly on the throne-like sofa. He hardly resembled his photograph. In person, he was a short, elderly man, thin and bespectacled, dressed in a white cotton shirt and grey trousers. He looked like the academic that he was.

Roshan stood on one side of the dais. He gestured to Apurva, who went up to the professor’s chair and handed him a mike. He frowned and raised a hand. There was immediate silence in the hall. He looked around the gathering and his frown deepened for a moment before he shook his head and began to laugh heartily. His joy was infectious and soon the entire gathering started laughing with him. I found myself joining in, laughing with a lightness that I had never experienced before.

There was nothing particularly spiritual about the session that followed. There were a few dance performances by a bunch of overenthusiastic schoolchildren. Two girls recited the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, chanting each line twice, the audience chanting with them the second time. There was a Vedic maths quiz; chocolates were thrown to those who gave the correct answers. The professor led a talk titled ‘When does the search end?’ and answered questions afterwards.

But it was incredible to watch the mesmerizing effect that the professor had on the audience. No film actor, politician or cricketer could have claimed greater devotion from their fans. Even when the spotlight turned to the boys and girls performing on the stage, the audience continued to gaze in rapture at the professor.

When he spoke, they drank in every word. Grown men and women wept over the microphone when they got up to ask him questions and giggled like teenagers when he replied to them.

‘What shall I seek, Sir? I have everything that I want, including you, in my life.’ A large woman in a small black dress blushed.

‘Sirji, after the postgraduate seeker course, can I apply for a doctorate in seeking? I have always wanted to become a doctor.’

‘Tell us the story of meditation with cats, most hallowed master.’

And so on.

The professor dismissed most of them with single words or short nods, but he gave reasonable answers to the few serious questions.

Roshan read out the questions that had been posed confidentially. Some of them were sensible, though better suited to an agony aunt column than a spiritual forum.

Book Excerpt: ‘The Reengineers’ by Indu Muralidharan – Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins India

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