As a weekend guest at his ashram in Bengaluru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar could not have asked for anybody as questionable as Muzaffar Wani. He is the father of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen militant who was shot dead by security forces in J&K on 8 July, leading to violent clashes between protestors and armed forces that killed 70 and injured 11,000.
I don't think Sri Sri's brand of spirituality works any miracles for global peace, prosperity and happiness. Yet I enjoy meeting him.
The Art of Living guru and Muzaffar are believed to have discussed the current situation of "suffering in the Valley". And ways to restore "peace and normalcy."
That won't happen, of course, but I'm not surprised at Sri Sri's initiative. He has always been, well, burdened by the pain of innocents caught in the crossfire of politics, religion and terrorism. And is willing to be the shoulder they are looking to cry on. The hand that will apply the comforting touch. I've known him for 15 years and increasingly seen him go beyond the Art of Living and into trauma relief around the world. From the Ivory Coast to Iraq and Kosovo to Kashmir. Reawakening human values in people, teaching them Gandhian principles, yoga, meditation. His lessons in spirituality are not just for victims of terrorist attacks, but also for survivors of earthquakes, floods, tsunamis.
Quite frankly, while he might be God's gift to the emotionally bankrupt, I don't think Sri Sri's brand of spirituality works any miracles for global peace, prosperity and happiness. Yet I enjoy meeting him. He is a fun person, young at heart, energetic in body, curious of mind, though he is 60. I think the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful meditation and breathing technique that is the cornerstone of the Art of Living, works best on him. He is always smiling, a flash of white in a tanned Tamilian face, the eyes twinkling with mischief. It's hard not to like him. But he doesn't strike a spiritual chord in me.
Once I drove with Sri Sri to Malabar Hill from the Press Club in Mumbai. He had talked to the media about a "Stress-free Mind and a Scam-free Nation." I dodged the discourse because I knew it wasn't going to change anything for me or the country. I had interviewed him after 26/11, when his enigmatic smile didn't reach his eyes at a satsang held for survivors and bereaved families. He talked to me about terrorism, and that didn't dispel the hate or quell the violence between Pakistan and India. I interviewed him when Maharashtra was facing drought and he had toured the districts like a healing wind, but that hadn't brought rain and stopped the farmers from committing suicide. So my money and prayers are not on Sri Sri restoring peace to the Kashmir Valley right now.
"What do you do for [people]?" I curiously asked. "That's part of the suspense," Sri Sri grinned mischievously, "I speak different languages to different people..."
I don't understand how he touches lives. I have seen hundreds of people pack a South Mumbai flat, among them elegant society ladies and nubile collegians, corporate heads, politicians, film stars, other celebrities, all waiting for Sri Sri to come. And when he came, barefoot and diminutive in a white cotton dhoti and angavastram, all he did was walk through them with a benevolent smile. Like Moses crossing the Red Sea. With a soothing touch here and a whisper of comfort there. Which had the faithful dizzy with ecstasy. "What do you do for them?" I curiously asked. "That's part of the suspense," Sri Sri grinned mischievously, "I speak different languages to different people – but with one goal, to improve the quality of their lives. Everybody has a different disease, so the treatment must be different, but the cure is always good health."
My money and prayers are not on Sri Sri restoring peace to the Kashmir Valley right now.
I let it pass. Like I did the solutions he offered for Mumbai's problems when I was with him in the car. We had hit peak hour traffic. Motorists honked impatiently, the signals blinked with jaundiced eyes, traffic policemen whistled shrilly and waved their arms. Sri Sri sat next to the driver in utmost calmness. He was in Mumbai to teach inner rejuvenation and social awakening. But the traffic and viral fever did him in. He sat blowing his nose and fiddling with a cell phone. This was new. He didn't have a cell phone before. And he took and made calls like anybody else. I wasn't impressed with the interview he gave me. What would lead to great copy, I knew, would be his personal mobile number. A hotline to God. I asked him for it. But Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had been asked this before. He pretended not to hear. Outside, an orange sun was setting in the Arabian Sea. "Stop the car," he ordered the driver. Pointing out he told my photographer, "That will make a great picture. I will stand on the embankment and you will get the Mumbai skyline behind." And enthusiastically he sprang out, not forgetting to take his cell phone with him.