Monthly Archives: May 2018
With Memorial Day upon us, it is worth sharing a little-known fact about the deeply revered and beautiful Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Memorial will be forever tied to the hills of South India.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has a unique and unmistakable design by Maya Lin, with a centerpiece consisting of two walls of solid polished black granite, each one 246 feet and 9 inches long. These walls list the names of 58,307 American men and women who were killed or MIA due to the Vietnam War, etched into stone. The gigantic blocks of black granite were imported all the way from Karnataka, India, the home state of my family and one of the few places in the world where shiny black granite is to be found. It helps make the Memorial reflective- in more ways than one- with a spirit that extends to other monuments…
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Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Growing up in the 80s as Indian-American kids with parents from India, many of us often heard rumblings about the mysterious Indian figure Rajneesh, also known as Osho or Bhagwan (God). At dinner parties and picnics, Indian parents and other adults would talk animatedly about this cult of personality and his myriad followers who forcibly parked themselves on an exceedingly white and conservative part of Oregon in the late 70s and early 80s to form a weird religious cult commune.
The hushed tones and liberal use of the language Hindi by adults in those gatherings, which most of us kids didn’t know very well, always denoted to me that there was something deeply sinister going on in conversation about the Rajneeshis. My parents thought that they were being discrete, but using Hindi as a covert device was the biggest dead giveaway that the talk was of nefarious things, and probably involved something called sex, and it had gone awfully wrong. And it sure did make us Indian people look bad throughout that decade on the global stage.
This was an exceedingly unique American story and a touchpoint of its time: mostly white hippy American types by the hundreds falling over themselves to drop everything, move to Oregon, and unconditionally worship the (admittedly interesting) teachings of a brown man from India who presented himself as no less than a God floating around in flowing colorful robes in a fleet of expensive Rolls Royce cars and private jets. Rajneesh was the ultimate figurehead of an American Mega Church movement, if that person was not only considered a God but also a rock star. His core message was promoting the guilt-free enjoyment of materialism, pleasure, and spirituality side by side.
Once I was old enough to know a bit more, the Rajneesh story bored me. It seemed like a typical trope about cultural appropriation of Indian traditions, fueled by Americans and Europeans flocking to ashrams in India to “find themselves” and engage in large sex orgies and liberal drug use in Indian clothes in a misplaced quest for spirituality and personal growth. When the predictable downfall of the highly suspect cult/commune arrived, it all came crashing down with an avalanche of financial embezzlement, illegal surveillance, threats of violence, and the long arm of the law coming down hard in the form of FBI raids and prison sentences. Everything about this just seemed so cliche to me, that I never cared to research too much into it below the surface knowledge I had as described above.
As it turns out I was completely wrong, at least in terms of how interesting and intricate the narrative actually was. Until this spring when I started watching Wild, Wild Country, Whatever little I had picked up about the Rajneeshi cult was more than I cared to know. I had been dismissive of it all. But that changed in one fell swoop, further evidence that a lot of what I think I know, I really don’t after all. It was easy to dismiss these failing sannyasins as a bunch of gullible nutjobs and posers trying to build their own obviously unattainable utopia right here in the United States.
But then a flip switched. Until I recently watched the Wild, Wild Country documentary series on Netflix out of vague curiosity, I learned there was much I didn’t know about the Rajneeshis. I had no idea how big they became, with thousands of members at their peak in numerous outposts around the world. I was especially unfamiliar with the tiny young Indian woman named Ma Anand Sheela, the hand-picked deputy of Rajneesh who effectively launched and then ran the massive communal enterprise of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon with an iron fist. I mean this chick was feisty, fearless, smart, tough as nails, camera-ready, and a formidable manager and leader by any objective measure. She was for some reason empowered by Rajneesh to lead the vast religious, political, and sociological experiment, and managed to accomplish large things within a few short and eventful years.
Wild, Wild Country is absolutely fascinating and so is its subject. It has certainly earned its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Built upon many hours of original archival footage, it shows not just a commune but an entire city government being built from the ground up in rural Oregon, surrounded by communities who downright despised the Rajneeshis to pieces. Suddenly an airport, roads, farms, homes, buildings, police force, defense force, city hall, and city council rose from empty land through the sheer will of the Rajneeshis, their collective sweat equity and organizational acumen. This intrigued the city government official in me. They built something special. The cult even began to perpetuate their own laws and justice proceedings, somewhat akin to a Native American tribal reservation, within the United States but somewhat separated from it. They sure had balls.
And the problems started right there. Predictably, a minor war ensued between the suspicious locals and the passionate Rajneeshi cult members who were performing all manner of rituals in their little city, and rubbing their newfound wealth, power, and peculiar culture in your face. Copious amounts of interviews were filmed in the modern day with some of the people involved from opposing angles, including conservative local retirees who hated the foreign influences they were seeing around them, law enforcement personnel who were eventually called upon to investigate the cult, and several key Rajneeshi members including Ma Anand Sheela herself calmly explaining the history of the downright bizarre events that permanently shaped all of their lives during that period some four decades ago. This stuff is stranger than fiction.
The documentary series spends far more airtime on Ma Anand Sheela, her tight inner circle, and her wheelings and dealings than the overall leader Rajneesh. After all it was she who ran the nuts and bolts of the movement, while Rajneesh seemed to just float through the scenery sort of above and outside of it all, saying and doing little of consequence. The filmmakers were wise to do this. Though I wish I could have seen more about Rajneesh and where the hell he came from, and what the hell it was this fraudulent Indian con man did all day, Sheela is a far more complex, interesting and intriguing character in this play. She was no doubt a true believer.
Even if you know how the story ends, the journey holds many plot twists, escalating conflicts, outright danger, and thrilling moments leading up to climax. There is plenty of well-timed suspense. During some parts of the 6 episodes, it almost felt like I was actually there immersed in the city of Rajneeshpuram during that time in history. The townspeople splinter amongst themselves. The Rajneeshis also suffered epic meltdowns and schisms within their ranks, some self-inflicted and others by force of outside influence. Although many of the key figures come across as batshit crazy at times, on both sides of the war, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for both perspectives as much of the conflict falls into the gray fog between what was right and who was wrong.
As for Ma Anand Sheela, she goes through a long and most wonderful metamorphosis worthy of comparison to a butterfly, and the series documents this arc well. It is in fact near impossible to reconcile what she was, to what she later in life became. And this may be the best part of all for those who believe self-improvement is possible. It is a phenomenon within the Rajneeshi phenomenon that I came to learn more about them despite my own chauvinistic blinders.
I encourage all of you to drop everything else in your queue and enjoy Wild, Wild Country.
usindiamonitor true to its name has been monitoring in fascination the wild growth of fast food franchises, many of them American, in Indian cities. When I was a kid visiting or living in India in the 80s and 90s, American fast food was one of the things I missed the most about America. It was so vastly different from what was being served in Indian households and restaurants- of course, that food was healthy and delicious in its own right but something would be missing.
But fast food has gone gangbusters in India since that more isolated, innocent, idyllic time in India. McDonald’s India was perhaps the canary in the coal mine, even though the corporation has of late been mired in massive legal troubles with its local business partners. In the past we wrote a business case study about McDonald’s India on these pages. Now we also have Pizza Hut, Domino’s, KFC, Subway, and many other brands making deep inroads with Indian consumers. And this was to be expected. As we repeat every single day, American corporations MUST have an India strategy to survive. The market is too huge, and the economic growth is on too high a trajectory to be ignored.
One the one hand, it’s great to have access to quick, cheap, and admittedly tasty food for working Indian families. As with fast food in America and around the world, things have taken a decidedly darker turn though. India’s obesity epidemic is crushing the nation’s youth, with much of the responsibility falling on America’s food and soft drinks. And now, we have news that fast food companies are dumping saltier, fattier, and more calorific food on the Indian market as compared to the US market, with at times, MULTIPLES of the sodium and fat content of the exact equivalent food item in America.
This is just not right at all. It’s actually evil, and my bet is that the joints are trying to addict a new market of people with this salty behavior. WE CALL ON ALL US FOOD CORPORATIONS TO STOP OVERLOADING INDIAN CONSUMERS WITH TOO MUCH JUNK IN THE JUNK FOOD. Sure, we all know it’s junk food and we make the choice to eat it freely. But this targeted overload is an outrage and the Indian government and people should not stand for this highly unethical behavior. All that we ask is that you don’t make the Indians eat junk that’s junkier than the Americans do. You don’t have to trust me- just watch this video here. It should make you sick to your stomach.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
*Writer’s note: Credit Bill Maher and his guest, historian John Meachem, for briefly discussing on Friday what the founding fathers may have thought of the current nightmare American government has morphed into. Meachem cleverly insinuated that the fathers might have actually been surprised that it took THIS long to get a tyrant into power. This got me thinking, and writing.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
GW = George Washington;
TJ = Thomas Jefferson;
BF = Benjamin Franklin
The three men are seated in a bar on M Street, Georgetown, in Washington, DC, May 2018, sipping ale
GW: Want me to be frank? Honestly I feel energized… Oh glorious day! Finally, Americans will have the chance once again to fight a tyrant who endeavors to rule over them and once again, prove their mettle to the world! What luck for the citizens of 2018 to be born into an era on the razor’s edge between democracy and dictatorship not seen for so long, not since 1776. 242 years of laziness and complacency have not the Republic served well.
TJ: George, as per usual proving much the indefatigable and overconfident jock…always relishing, nay, spoiling for the next fight. Your masculinity and raging hormones at times cloud your judgment, methinks. And the Yoda thing, you’ve been watching too much Star Wars lately, Sir.
BF: Speaking of. My labs are quite close to reverse engineering a portable light saber, which may one day yet prove fruitful to my secret Jedi contacts at the US Special Forces Command (SOCOM).
TJ: But you do digress, Benjamin.
BF: Indeed, but I do digress from your very own digression. Digressions and transgressions are those aspects of our personalities which make us human, Thomas. Embrace them like the polymath you are.
TJ: Benjamin, ever the philosopher. Coming back to this tyrant, this Pervert Orangutan of sorts.
GW: This tyrant who lies in bed eating cheeseburgers two miles away from us will be defeated by the institutions and systems we put into place to check and balance just such a vile figure. We were brilliant in our framings and ruminations in the late 18th century.
TJ: You are quite upbeat, old chap. But what if the tyrant beats the patriots this time and our little experiment goes to shit within just 242 years? What if he succeeds in cancelling democracy?
GW: Did I sit around crying in the freezing winter cold of Valley Forge, my men dying of hypothermia and lacking even food rations or shoes, obsessed by the specter of defeat, allowing my troops to witnesseth my mourning in my own depression well before anti-depressant pills were even invented?
BF: Bravo, George. But let us not underestimate the lengths I went to in Paris, wining and dining my way across town and wooing all manner of ladies to gain the trust of the Versaille court and bring France to our cause.
GW: Such hardships you had to overcome, Benjamin. Without exploring the cracks, one will not find the Liberty Bell that today does yet ring so sweet and true, eh?
BF: We aren’t so different, you and I. George, you are a born pugilist and I, a natural diplomat. One hand washes the other.
GW: We also happen to agree that light sabers are fabulous, and of the highest order of importance is their speedy production without delay for our soldiers at arms.
TJ: We seem to have a political party, the Repugnicans, that is somehow fallen in line 100% behind the tyrant and his dictatorial tendencies. Those within the party ranks who speak out are raked over the coals most cruelly and unusually.
GW: Didn’t we ban such punishing behaviors in the outset?
TJ: Tell that to the boys of Abu-Grab!
BF: In seriousness, perhaps the threat of gravest import is the number of our American descendents who are so willing to support the tyrant no matter what he does. He could shoot a person on 5th Avenue, but the sheep would still follow. Some citizens seem to have forgotten the value of democracy, voting rights, human dignity, a free press, and facts. Without these, our little experiment could be dead in the water.
TJ: These fools stand at 40% of the adult population only, and not enough to maintain the corrupt tyranny for long.
GW: Let us be honest with ourselves, Sirs. WE too, miss our slaves.
BF: Of course. But most people moved on long ago, while some others did not, especially in those pesky former southern colonies built on cotton, tobacco, and loathing.
GW: The institutions led by patriotic Americans will always win against the wannabe tyrants. We baked it into the system. We will see victorious patriots winning the elections, marching in the streets, gaining the upper hand in courts, and in general waking up the country to the potential for possibility and progress.
TJ: What will become of those supporters of the tyrant who witness their pipe dreams of white male supremacy and retrograde social rules cruelly dragged along and dashed to the ground once and for all?
BF: Who cares about what happened to the loyal deputies of King George who wanted to see US lose? Their time on the wrong side of history too shall soon come to pass in front of the world.
THIS IS STILL RELEVANT AS EVER
I saw this video making the rounds on WhatsApp, and the premise of this gentleman Dr. Anuj Srivastava’s little lecture is intriguing: why are Indian media outlets so derogatory? That they spew lots of hatred is certainly true. And the video starts out with a calm and intelligent tone that led me to believe this might be an interesting few minutes and I might even learn something.
However, the good doctor’s explanations are absolutely batshit crazy! To take just one example that really caught my attention, he claims without any evidence that CNN-News18, the CNN India partnership formerly known as CNN-IBN, is funded by the “Southern Baptist Church,” and that is why the channel is anti-Indian, anti-Hindu, liberal, and leftist. One by one, he claims that all of India’s major news outlets, including NDTV, the Times group, the Hindu, and India Today are all totally compromised by foreign governments or religious…
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