Book Review: Godman to Tycoon by Priyanka Pathak Narain

Sometimes, Twitter does good. It was through Twitter that I realized that I wanted to read this book. Someone was posting passages and snippets from the book. Soon enough, I realized that the book is not easily available online (digital or print editions). Because there is an injunction to the distribution and sales of this book. More intrigue. More itch to get the book. I can be blamed for many things, but being resourceful on matters such as these wouldn’t be one of them. [Anyway, click on the book, and you will get to the Infibeam page where it’s being sold]

So, with the book in my hand, and a long weekend around the corner, I dug my heels in, and began my quest to understand this extremely enigmatic person and brand. For, Baba Ramdev, the person, is the same thing as Patanjali, the brand. At least in my humble world view.

Someone already did a brilliant TL;DR version of the book, so I would let you go read that. I would not talk about specific gossipy elements. Or maybe, I would.

The book is a pretty darn good read. The level of research, given the general air of mystery around the Baba, is good. The narrative style – fluid. The level of detail – not so much that it becomes boring. Not so little – that you say “is that it?” I was expecting far more sensationalism and far less detail from the book. Sometimes, three passages that are used for advertising are all there is to the book. Quite similar to the trailer of Dharma movies.

Well, coming back to the man – Baba Ramdev’s life can be organized in 3-4 brackets.

First, the  early life in Saidpur, Haryana. Next, from the Khanpur Gurukul to Saffronisation of Baba at Kripalu Bagh Ashram. This phase introduces two of the most important actors of the story – Acharya Balkrishna and Acharya Karamveer. The third stage is the media brand that Ramdev built. And lastly, the Patanjali phase.

While the third and fourth phases make for an engrossing read and are a lot well researched, the first two leave a lot to be desired. The third and fourth phase also have the benefit of far higher media coverage, availability of footprints online, and more people tracking who this Baba is!

When it comes to the first two phases, the book somewhat disappoints. Ramdev’s strained relationship with his father, the agonies of a poor farming family’s life in rural India, and his family relationships – leading all the way to his running away to join Khanpur Gurukul – are largely unexplored. One of the biggest mysteries has to be how the failed family relationships suddenly became an important pillar of his empire (his brother handles all the finances of Patanjali, and has a hot-n-cold relationship with Acharya Balkrishna). It is here that a reader wants to understand Balkrishna and Ramdev’s relationship. One of the unresolved conflicts of the narration is how easily Ramdev became the CEO in the trio of Ramdev-Balkrishna-Karamveer, given that Acharya Karamveer was the senior of the three and had helped them get their foothold in Haridwar.

Second, the Gurukul to Kanakhal foothold. From Karamveer’s introduction into the story, to the eventual “saffronisation” of Baba Ramdev as he spots the opportunity of taking over the Kripalu Bagh Ashram of Shankar Dev. This section builds up a reasonable amount of understanding of how Baba Ramdev started becoming a Godman. You see early signs of his visionary forward thinking, business acumen, and leadership skills. But here again, a lot of things are presented on face value – like a chain of events. The under-currents of relationships are not that well explored. What’s great to know is how the same set of opportunities led three different men to three different places. Balkrishna started his Divya Pharmacy stage at this point.

However, the book picks up heat in the last two phases. There are lot more balancing viewpoints, people speaking in favour and against Ramdev and his Patanjali empire. A reasonably wide gamut of issues are touched upon – from something as serious as the suspicious death of Swami Yogananda/ Rajeev Dixit, to the less talked about marginalization of Shankar Dev.

Scrupulous as his methods come across as, there’s a lot to admire about the Baba Ramdev, the businessman. How early he spots the religious TV opportunity and the far sighted calls taken on Patanjali products are commendable. Yet, as expected, the book leaves you with a lot of unease about a man who’s revered by a large section of people, and yet has enough skeletons in the closet that the authorities are paying lip service to.

I felt that as a journalist, Priyanka Pathak Narain has done a fabulous job of not taking an either-or stand about Ramdev.  A lot of the evidence is anecdotal and conversational. The places where there is hard-evidence (such as the litigations or product failures), she does present an unambiguous picture. But for what its worth, success has as many enemies as it has friends. While writing the book, it must have been tough to not color every passage with a bit of black against his name, yet the book seems to respect the difference between information and opinions.

 

I really enjoyed the book, and would heartily recommend it to all you Dant-Kanti lovers and haters alike! Have I used Patanjali products? Unfortunately, yes. ☹

 

p.s. One of the funniest things about the book is everyone’s failure to find Baba Ramdev’s date of birth! I mean, in the age of Aadhaar…

 

 

 

 

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Winter

Winter is like that.

Cold on the outside. So much, that it makes you feel warm inside. With the right company. Or, the right book. Or, with the right view.

It makes you look inside.

Like the way mild rain showers do. Not the torrential downpours. No, they scare you.

Mild rain showers make you wrap yourself up in an imaginary cocoon. And sing songs to yourself. As you walk back to the comfort of your home. Or, the place you can call home.

 

And as you shiver, you become one with the surroundings.

Winters can do that.

Like mild rains.

Not summers though.

 

The winter haze hides all noise. Sometimes, you rub your ears just to hear something. The sound of silence, maybe.

You only see what you need to see.

Or, what you expect to see.

When you stand by the windows in winter, you see beauty. Nature’s silence.

winter

Everything is an illusion. Or not. Like the heightened taste of pakodas. Or, the warm glow of companionship.

In winters, two often become one. As they seek each other.

And as two become one, the world seems like a less crowded place. Not divided by the difference between tea and coffee, white and black, paratha and dosa, capitalists and socialists. Like a nice coffee shop with a community table, which has space for just one more person. And another.

Like that community fire that makes you sit around and share stories. With space for just one more person. One more story.

 

Aren’t wintery places more sought after holiday destinations? Like Switzerland? Kashmir? As compared to the desert of Thar? Or Chennai?

 

Winters bring out the best in everything. Except, the colours of nature. Nature becomes silent. And broody. But broody is beautiful, no? Don’t you see a lot more of model photoshoot pictures where the subject is intense and broody. Not cheerful. Isn’t that the appeal of Ajay Devgan? Apparently?

 

 

I wonder why he wrote it that way. The Winter Is Coming. Ominous. Winter is nice. Winter is togetherness. Winter is the countless night spend together huddled in the same rajai. Winter is multiple rounds of chai-coffee together. Winter is those lazy five minutes of sleep. Winter is the new year picnic with family and friends. Winter is the steam coming off a hot roti. Winter is us.

 

 

 

 

hum jaane kya kya kar aaye

Another one from the offline archives that never made to the blog this year.

 

Hum jaane kya kya kar aaye
Ye muththi khaali kar aaye
Jor laga ke bheenchi par
Hun ret na kaabu kar paaye

Paani ki tarah sab pighal gaya
In aankhon se aansoo ban kar
Kuch sapne humne tod liye
Do aankhein khaali kar aaye

Ab haath khule par dua nahi
Ab zakhm khule hain, dawaa nahi
Apni zebein khali kar ke
Allah ka daaman bhar aaye

Kaatenge kaise baaki umar
Is baat pe charcha kya karna
Tasveer bitha ke is ghar mein
Hum tumko rukhsat kar aaye

Tum baith wahan khush khush hoge
Hum roz yahan kuch rote hain
Har roz koi kissa keh kar
Hum dil pe marham kar aaye

Moving on… From 2016

It’s been an year. More than that. I’ve not written anything here. This blogging part of my life has stayed dormant. I was busy. Not writing. I ended 2015 with this, and I had to eat my own words in 2016.

2016 was not good. In totality. The year you lose your father cannot give you a victory big enough to compensate for your loss.

I was busy with that phase of taking care of him. Trying to take care of him. Compromising on almost everything else. Even when I was doing other things.

Later, I was busy grieving. The grief still sneaks in from here and there. More so, on the days I sit down to write something. It’s almost like I need to apologize before the conversation can move forward. For everything I did not do enough of.

I haven’t written much about him. I don’t know what to write about him.

The middle class guy that I am, I spent a lifetime living his dreams. All except one. I don’t regret that.

I do regret not talking enough. I regret not doing enough. I regret not being there as often. I regret a lot of those things. Comes with the territory, I guess.

I would like to believe that I made him proud. I am certain some of my actions or decisions did not agree with him. He tried not to make me feel bad about them.

Everyone believes that I was his favorite. I hope I did enough to be his favorite. I hope it wasn’t just because I was the youngest. And the cutest. 🙂

I hope he knew that I loved him as much as he loved me. It’s difficult though.

I am grateful that his pain and suffering did not prolong. I am grateful that while his sickness lasted long, he did not have a difficult departure. I am grateful that I was there. I always feel that I would have not been able to come back to my life if I was not there. If I hadn’t seen him leave.

 

So, here’s to an attempt to fall forward in 2017. I hope that when this year is over, I am done with getting my life and living in order again, you can still proudly say –“my son!”.  To quote from what I wrote for Aaroh

मेरे लड़खड़ाते कदमो को थाम ले
वो ऊँगली हो तुम

तुम मेरा कल हो
तुम्हारा आज हूँ मैं
तुम्हारी अनकही कहानी का
अंदाज़ हूँ मैं

And in case you have internet where you are – here’s a pic for you.

dsc_0021

 

***

This is what I wrote on the night of May 6th. The night before he left.

तुम्हें लौट कर आज आन पड़ेगा।
अभी बात मेरी पूरी नहीं है।
अभी मैंने काफी कहा ही नहीं है।
अभी तुमने काफी सुना ही नहीं है।

अभी मेरे सपने अधूरे अधूरे।
अभी मेरी हर दास्तां है अधूरी।
अभी मैंने कितने फ़साने हैं लिखने।
अभी लफ्ज़ मैंने बुना ही नहीं है।

बस इक बार हंस के मुझे देख लो तुम
बस इक बार और सीना चौड़ा तो हो ले
बस इक बार और उस बिस्तर पे सो लूँ
बस इक बार तुमको पकड़ के मैं रो लूँ

फिर इक बार तुम मेरी बातें समझ लो
फिर इक बार फिर मुझपे गुस्सा तो कर लो
फिर इक बार एक चुटकुला तो सुना दो
अभी मैंने कुछ भी सुना ही नहीं है

अभी मैंने कुछ भी सुना ही नहीं है
अभी मैंने कुछ भी सुना ही नहीं है

Can’t Put My Finger On It. But I Know Something’s Wrong.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the basic fiber.

Most people find it okay to jump traffic signals. There is a perverse delight even in being able to jump a light and jump the cop who tries to catch you shortly afterwards. Driving on the wrong side is fine. Incidentally, I live in this residential area, which, by conservative estimates, is higher middle class with a large proportion of educated (graduates and above) families. And yet, every morning, I find people driving the wrong way on a one way street in this residential area, just to avoid driving an extra 100–150 meters. Expensive fuel. I also see a lot of people whose driving license should be revoked given their parking skills.

Most people find it OK to not worry about their driving license, and let an extra 500 bucks to a grand take care of it. Most government offices and officials find it OK to take a bribe. Easier than having to check whether someone actually knows how to drive. The driving school guys also find it easier to get the license than to teach you how to drive.

Most service professionals find it perfectly alright to not deliver on their commitments. Most plumbers or carpenters mean one hour when they say they are 15 minutes away. Most technology companies find it OK to delay a project by a few months. Most hardware manufacturers find a 10–15% defect rate in their products OK.

In the most affluent city of this country, a metro rail project gets delayed by several years, and the city fails to buy the services of the best planners and builders, with all the money it has. In this process, every day, thousands of professionals who charge their clients and their organizations by the hour, spend several hours on the road just trying to get to their respective destinations. In the political power center of this country, a girl gets brutally raped and beaten and murdered, and it takes citizen rallies and candle light marches for the authorities to remember that this might need some attention.

Most people find it okay to be disrespectful towards a woman’s identity and her physicality. Teasing, groping, fondling, grabbing — they are all just fine. Somehow, a survey conducted on women suggests that more than 90% of them have been teased. Interesting, not more than 10% men commit to having participated or observed it.

In a certain state, men are married off without their consent and at gun-point, and in another, daughters are burnt or killed for expressing their desire to marry someone of their choice.

It has to be disturbing that a man often charged with abetting the murder of hundreds and thousands of people is the supreme political leader of this country, because a majority of constituencies felt that they had no other choice. It has to be unnerving that education minister of this country has had to refer to a certificate course of x days as her best credential for the job, only to be seriously undermined. It is even more disturbing that a politician universally acknowledged as the most corrupt ever has a gold plated Lanka of his own in a small Maharashtrian town that is now known for nothing else but this politician. It is also quite disturbing that the biggest democracy in the world has but one family owned business as the real political alternative.

The accident of having found a great president is almost immediately corrected by finding one that even hard fought despair could not have cared about. And a prime minister who could have done something is put on mute by a remote, ably handled by the buffoons of a family legacy.

The government actively bans harmful stuff — beef, porn. A college/ university even banned certain dresses. Harmful for the Indian culture. But religious, acidic and dividing speeches are not banned. Religious tolerance.

In broad public eye, 540 odd chosen people waste a nation’s precious time and money and do not let the office function, and nothing happens to them. In some companies, people are fired for showing dissent against their bosses.

Most are trained to respect our bosses. And not respect those who are not our bosses. Or peers. It is unacceptable to let your educated children work in a restaurant part time, and acceptable to laugh at the poor English of the unskilled service person. Most people want to have someone who could do their work. All the time. Maids, delivery boys, office boys… are, jara mera ye kaam kar dena… but find it rude if someone asks them to do something extra.

Most people find it an extra and unrequited effort to hold the door for someone coming from behind. But they find it OK to jump a queue and get in front of someone who might be ahead. They do make the extra effort for that.

Speaking of time and effort, our judiciary is piling over with the number of cases it has to handle. And it still keeps a case running for decades. An actor gets a bail after running over many people. Several years after running them over. Being Human? A young drunk lawyer can’t get bail for running over one. Fair and Blind Justice. A certain politician is still in contention, and gets support from the torch bearers of “anti-corruption and fairness”, having siphoned of a little over a 1000 crores in the name of fodder. And people will still vote for him. National Blindness.

They either support, or they are against. People take sides too easily. More importantly, they want people to take sides. Or they choose people’s sides. If one says Aye, one never gets to say Nay. The walls of protest have become too easy to paint — a digital swish, or a 140 character momentary wish. Every debate is black or white, no shades of grey for this nation of mine. “Jo galat nahi hai, wo jaroori nahi ki sahi ho”, I had read somewhere long back.

Something is terribly wrong with the fiber. I just can’t put my finger on it.

p.s. This post deserves a lot of hyperlinks. I am not in the mood though.

Dilli, बड़ी रफ़्तार है

बड़ी रफ़्तार है तेरे शहर में

हर इक ठहराव पे गुस्सा निकलता है
बड़ी रफ़्तार से
हर इक तकरार पे चलते हैं खंजर
बड़ी रफ़्तार से

कभी गर भीड़ में रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ गयी तो
कोई चिल्लाता है फ़ौरन से,भइ
साइड को हो ले दिखाई को ना देता
पलट के आती है गाली बड़ी रफ़्तार से

कभी पीले से कपडों से दुप्पट्टा जैसे सरका
तभी झोंके से आई एक सीटी
बड़ी रफ़्तार से
चिपक के एक फब्ती कस दी किसने
मिली बेशर्म आँखें फिर
बड़ी रफ़्तार से

दिलाया याद सबको कौन हैं वो,नाम क्या है
दिया ठुल्ले को सौ का नोट
क्या रफ़्तार से
जो बच कर आँखों से छुपना हो मुमकिन
तो मारी केडी क्या रफ़्तार से

अगर भूले से आँखें मिल गयी तो
किया इनकार क्या रफ्तार से
जो उसने ज़ोर डाला सच का जालिम
दुहाई दी तो क्या रफ़्तार से

जो देखा सामने कमज़ोर कोई
दबाया उसको किस रफ़्तार से
जो देखा सामने भारी सा कोई
दबाया सच को भी रफ़्तार से

ये रफ़्तार तेरी है न मेरी
ये न सच है न कोई झूठ ही है
ये है रफ़्तार अब इस ज़िन्दगी की
ये है रफ़्तार तेरे इस शहर की

बड़ी रफ़्तार है तेरे शहर में
बहोत डर लगता ही तेरे शहर से

Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

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