Inside the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai is Madras. There are giant copper horses along walls, golden kanjivaram threads on cushions, a vast cream coloured marble floor and unending passages left fragrant with filter coffee or jasmine; like a good ‘luxury hotel’ it is everything that you’d imagined the city to be. Outside the reception lobby of the towers wing, a group of women decorated with heavy diamonds were gushing in whispers. Some sleepy children hanging off their father’s shoulders, some wrinkled septuagenarian men with pens in their pockets, merchants, singers holding veenas, security personnel mostly with heads tilted into cellphones, all coming together to enlarge the cluster.
I asked one woman what was going on; she folded her palms and said “we are waiting to meet Guruji”. I was on my way up to interview the man who was their collective healer, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living. Like a car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I inched my way through the crowd outside his room. He sat on a chair in white overalls, looking calm. “Is it possible for the world to have one religion, that of spirituality?” I asked. “In a world divided by sex and religion, the healing abilities of spirituality will bring people together,” he replied, in a soft voice.
In spirituality, wisdom doesn’t belong to a religion, to a community, it is for everybody. “Just because ayurveda and yoga are part of ancient Hindu traditions, doesn’t mean they don’t work on non-Hindus.” Keep the lens of religion aside and look at what is available in nature and culture. He also said that Art of Living was for anybody in search of healing, anywhere in the universe. Godmen are met with either immense love or total suspicion. As long as they rescue and revive hope, they are heroes.