Sitars play while humanity burns

Vijay Prashad is a historian, author and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, an inter-movement research organisation based in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, New Delhi and São Paulo. He is also the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books and a fellow at the Independent Media Institute. As a journalist, he writes for Frontline, the Hindu, and Turkey’s BirGün. He has been associated with Himal Southasian since its inception.

A desi entrepreneur in Silicon Valley promises an Internet gurukul—for a fee of course. Online is the assembly line of the New Age, and the Indian-NRI bourgeoisie could not be happier.

All the men are computer pro grammers, all the women are beauty queens, and some of us are humourless. So it seems in the land of Silicon India. Bill Gates says that Indians are the second smartest people on the planet, and the international consortium of beauty contests deems Indian women to be the most beautiful. Gates wants us to work in his computer monopoly, so he flatters us with technical complements. The magnates that salivate before the Indian market (the size of France, we are told eagerly) complement the Indians by saying that we too should overconsume nonsense. The H1B visa quota has been increased to 300,000 per year, to encourage more of us to apply to work as cyber-coolies. Simultaneously, Lara Dutta won the Miss Universe title (May 2000), Priyanka Chopra won the Miss World crown (November), and Diya Mirza took home the Miss Asia Pacific honours (December).

Flattery opens hitherto protected markets and encourages labour to toil along in the service of a benevolent white dominance. And in the thick of all this is Kanwal Rekhi, godfather of Cyberyuga and President of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE, a network of almost 400 desi Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, founded in 1993).

I don't care how much money he's worth or what he's done, or even if he is one of the wealthiest or most influential of people, or if he belongs to the winner's circle of our civilisation. Leave all that to the magazines which have no other way of filling their pages than making lists of the best and the brightest, or drool about the supposed eminence of those whom the editors envy most. I'm interested in Kanwal Rekhi because of his name. Or rather by the sound of his last name, Rekhi, like Reiki, the latest New Age craze of desi cities.

Rekhi, like Bill Gates and Naidu.Com, sells us the Internet as our Utopia, while Reiki teaches us to find Utopia in self-indulgence. Words like 'love' and 'fellowship' are the rhetoric of Rekhi/Reiki, but their orbit is severely narrowed in the world of, the world of "I care about others, but can I go online first and then reorder my Chi". We are in the information age, say the Rekhi-Reiki prophets, and with 'Thoughts' we can, like ancient wizards, bring forth paradise.

I met a Reiki master recently. A very nice man, he told me the story of Dr. Mikao Usui, the founder of the Usui System of Natural Healing (the proper name for Reiki, or 'Universal Life Force Energy'). Drawing from ancient Chinese mysticism, the Reiki philosophy believes that the world is governed by energy forces (called Chi in the tradition of Quigong or Pran in what is now called Pranic Healing).

The Reiki masters manipulate vibrations, or the range between the dense or low vibrations of the physical world and the high vibrations of the spiritual or astral plane. Until the structurally adjusted 1990s, most Indian cities did not find themselves prey to the ultra-commodified world of 'alternative healing,' nor the universe of the New Age, from Deepak Chopra (King of the Sly Babas) to Shahnaz Husain (Queen of the Ayurveda).

The rise of the Hindu Right provided some sense of order for the dubashis of the multinational complex: they struck a Faustian bargain with rapacious firms in the belief that the antidote to social ills lies (for the working class and the dispossessed) in the discipline of Hindutva and (for themselves) in the self-indulgence of the New Age. In 1993, the Reiki India Research Centre was set-up in Bombay, and its first project was the creation of Reiki World (Badlapur Ashram), where the enthusiast can "have rest, peace, fun and deep experience of Sadhana and sharing by being together".

After a leveraged buyout, with the carcass of the Old Economy lying before one's valiant feet, what better rest and relaxation than a massage, an astral session and the rearrangement of one's Chi? The language of Reiki utopianism is much like that of the Internet madness. Reiki masters tell us to "imagine the implications of the universe around us made from energy which can be shaped and manipulated by thoughts." The Internet gurus ask us to trust in the Information Age, where online is the assembly line, and the computer is the factory of the New Economy.

Work and value
Kanwal Rekhi has no time for the minutiae of public policy, because this big thinker believes that India lacks Thoughts and the Entrepreneurial Spirit. With more spirit, India will leap forward. "India is poor," says Mr. Rekhi, "because it is pro-poor. We have so many political statements like 'garibi hatao' but no one does anything to change it. The reason is because in the US the emphasis is on productivity. In India, there is an emphasis on jobs. But people fail to realise that work performed doesn't add value."

Reiki and Rekhi Utopianism puts all its stock in the Ether, that mysterious substance that early modern people believed pervaded the universe. The activity of the millions who struggle hard to survive and to transform their lived reality is cast off indelicately by Rekhi in favour of the mystery of American productivity.

What is this productivity and whose interest does it serve? "Today," Rekhi announced to a few hundred desi Silicon Valley executives in mid-2000, "India's Third World is visible mostly, but slowly people are beginning to see India's First World—the entrepreneurs making it." Entrepreneurs are those people who live untrammelled by notions of social justice and community values, and it is these people who are the agents of the Rekhi Economy and the consumers of the Reiki Spirit.

Rekhi considers his firm, The Indus Entrepreneur, to be the "epitome of free enterprise spirit of Silicon Valley", and his aim is to start chapters of this "entrepreneur incubator initiative" across India. The country needs to move from "job preservation to job creation," he notes, and the Indian government needs to change its laws "to encourage individuals to come forward with risk capital." In the Hindutva vein, Rekhi adopts the gurukul concept, with his TiE the institutional guru, for a fee, to husband entrepreneurship in modern India. A free market for the free-spirited bourgeois entrepreneur.

With the highest incarceration rates in the world, and its jails full, the United States is hardly an economic utopia: the numbers look so good because the poor languish in jails (many for minor crimes related to narcotics), and because the US dollar, backed ably by military might, is the store of global wealth.

Millennium Dreams exhumed medieval ideas of the occult. Beside the pessimists who await the end of the world stand the optimists who hope that the astral plane will offer something miraculous for the blessed. In the early days of 2001, the World Reiki Weekend was held in New Delhi, where US and European Reiki Masters taught their Indian shishyas shadow meditation, the techniques of dancing hands for aura healing, and for the activation of the healing properties of stones with mantra.

One would think that India already contained all manner of such wisdom, but even this must now be imported, what with the customs barrier lifted on all manner of items, including the spiritual apparently. Meanwhile, Rekhi's TiE goes forth with its promotion of the entrepreneurial spirit through its workshops and seminars.

The Indian-NRI bourgeoisie once was an enthusiast for the technology of the IITs, but now it seems this genus is infected with a Californian variety of alchemy. In the Middle Ages, scholars of the occult tried to transform base elements into gold, or else to search for perpetual youth. Our contemporary bourgeois' attempt to make silicon into gold, or to make one's body immune from the ravages of age, is the alchemy of the modern age.

Meanwhile, our educated youth are propelled from one cybercafe to another, feisty for the fool's gold, and then eager for a bit of relaxation. Faced with the detritus of the information age, we are sold the bindaas philosophy: relax, chill out, don't get too stressed. The sitars play while humanity burns.

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