The shrill ringing of the fixed-line phone startled me on a busy weekday when I was furiously typing away at my laptop. Grumbling about having to break my flow of thought, I walked up to the phone and answered. An unsure female voice on the other end of the line said, “Hello?” and waited with a long pause to see what I would say next.
I decided this had to be one of those telemarketing calls because she sounded like she didn’t know who she was calling. She had clearly dialled a random number. I said, “Yes?” in a matter-of-fact tone. Her voice turned friendly. “Hello ma’am. I’m calling from…” she continued, and introduced the company she was representing. I wasn’t entirely shocked. But it doesn’t cease to amaze me how spirituality has turned into a major profit-churning industry in India.
The call was from a reputed international religious organisation. The caller was urging me to become a member of a prestigious fold of her esteemed organisation. I said, “No, thank you,” and hung up. But the phone call continued to bother me long after.
Spirituality organisations in India run call centres; they have HR processes for their recruits and run efficiently and in a cold-blooded manner. Nothing wrong with that. If people want an emotional connect and if there’s an organised way to do that, who am I to judge? And they probably need to organise themselves better when the fold grows larger.
However, how will I be able to trust an organisation that gives priority to process and structure over more humane emotions? It’s the classic debate of how one thinks versus how one feels, and spiritual organisations are increasingly leaning towards the former, which is a troubling thought.
They have chief executive officers, regular office hours, set time tables for spirituality courses and sales staff with ‘targets’ to meet (read number of recruits to their courses/ organisation). Does the essence of the Guru’s teaching then lose steam in the midst of this structure?
I was walking on the streets of Miami a few months ago and was approached by a Cuban with the Bhagvad Gita in hand urging me to make a donation to this organisation and buy a copy of the Gita.
I was kind at first. But when he refused to see reason and even hear me out about where I’m from or why I don’t need another copy of the Gita on my bookshelf, I lost patience and was forced to be rude to him. And this is not the first time this has happened to me in a foreign country.
There’s no doubt that marketing genius can make or break a brand — in this case the spiritual guru. But there’s also no denying that their teachings may have helped millions find what they’re looking for. They’re popular because their teachings strike a chord with people somewhere and fill that void. People wouldn’t otherwise be patronising them. At the same time, I also wonder where these organisations should draw the line and allow destiny to take over and chart the course for their teachings and belief systems. It’s for each of them to decide, at the end of the day.
(The writer is a Bangalore-based commentator)