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Satchidanandam. The mammoth signboard was visible from far away. A surly face peeped from inside the enormous saffron gate beside the signboard as Joseph pressed the calling bell outside the gate.
‘I want to see Ramankutty,’ he said to the surly face.
‘Who?’ The face frowned.
‘Ramankutty, the man who owns this enterprise.’ Then he added as a vital piece of information, ‘He was my classmate, you know.’
‘This is not an enterprise, first of all,’ the surly face said. ‘This is a holy ashram. And it belongs to Satchidananda Swamikal.’
‘The same,’ Joseph said. ‘He was my classmate before he became Swami. You just tell him my name, Joseph George, and he will remember, I’m sure.’
The surly face was not convinced. But he let in Joseph after asking him to enter his details in the visitor’s register. A visitor, that’s what he was, Joseph realised.
As he walked towards the Reception, he was greeted by various huge billboards on either side. For Firm and Full Breasts: Kumarispandanam. Another board offered Ayurvedic cure for begetting male offspring. Is begetting girl children a disease, Joseph wondered. There were many other hoardings to wonder about as he walked on the long stretch from the main gate to the Reception. He thought he was in a wonderland.
‘Swamikal is busy in a meeting with the MLA and other VIPs,’ the receptionist, a lady in a saffron suit, said. ‘You can wait.’ She pointed to the waiting room. He had told her the purpose of his visit.
Satchidananda Swamikal was Ramankutty before he became a godman. He was Joseph’s classmate in the primary school. He dropped out of school after class 4 because of many reasons. His family, who were launderers by caste, could not afford to send him for higher studies. Also, the high school was far away from their village. Moreover, launderers didn’t need higher education.
Today Ramankutty is a godman who owns a multi-crore enterprise selling Ayurvedic products as well as religious discourses.
Joseph was a teacher in a school run by Christian missionaries in Varanasi. His school was one of the many Christian institutions attacked in various parts of the country on Christmas day by saffron-clad people who smashed whatever they could and burnt what could not be smashed before chanting ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and also making the students chant that.
Joseph was a mediocre student all through his academic career. He was a timid person too. He could never have secured job on his own. It was with the help of Father Nicholas that he got this teaching job at St Mary’s Public School, Varanasi. Now the school was no more. St Mary had surrendered to Sri Ram. And with a name like Joseph George, he thought, he would never get a job anymore in that part of the country.
Joseph returned to his home in Kerala not knowing what to do for eking out a living. He sat brooding in the house of his aging parents until someone told him about the miraculously successful start-up of his old classmate. What Ramankutty started as a Yoga centre with a few lakh rupees got from the central government as incentive for start-ups had grown rapidly into a gigantic commercial and spiritual enterprise.
‘Swamikal won’t be able to meet you today,’ a man in saffron dhoti and kurta came and told Joseph. ‘He’s busy. You can enter your name and phone number in this book and he will call you when he’s free.’
Joseph entered his name and phone number in that book which already had a thousand amorphous names and numbers.
‘Swamikal has sent you this complimentary gift,’ the man offered a packet.
As Joseph got up to leave, the man said, ‘We appoint only high caste people as staff here in order to maintain the purity of our products.’
Joseph smiled. Was it a smile?
Joseph opened the gift wrap of Swamikal’s compliment. Purushatva Rasayanam: For Masculine Virility. This time Joseph’s smile was real.