If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 18 June 2010

The yogi and the bureaucrats

There was nothing feminine about the thin sadhu I saw on TV. He has a shock of silver hair, sunken cheeks, a flowing white beard and sharp, penetrating eyes looking out of deep, dark sockets. Yet, 82-year-old Prahlad Jani is called “Mataji” by his disciples. But that is a relatively unimportant mystery about him. His claim to fame is that he has neither eaten, nor drunk, nor relieved himself for the last 76 years. According to Mataji, when he was eight, Goddess Amba Mata appeared before him and touched his tongue with a finger. Since then, he hasn’t needed any nourishment, says Mataji, who reportedly survives on “solar energy”.

His is not one of the thousands of bogus claims made to sell magic potion or nirvana. In fact, Mataji has nothing to sell. I discovered from a newspaper report (The Hindu, 9 May 2010) that in 2003, the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS) conducted extensive tests on him and didn’t find his claim phoney. DIPAS repeated the tests in 2010, with more sophisticated equipment. Top scientists of DIPAS, aided by 35 “super specialist” doctors kept him under the constant surveillance of CCTV cameras at the Sterling Hospital in Ahmedabad for fifteen days.

According to the director of DIPAS, during the fifteen days, Mataji did not eat or drink anything and passed no urine or stool, although he took bath and gargled occasionally. During the observation, the doctors did not record any appreciable change in his medical parameters, which is expected if a normal person fasts for long. What intrigues the doctors and scientists most is not that he survives without taking food or drink, but the fact that he doesn’t pass water. As yet, they haven’t found out what keeps Mataji ticking; they are trying to unravel the mystery. One does hope they will succeed.

The defence ministry, it is reported, wants to understand the process so that it might be replicated for jawans serving in remote areas where it is difficult send supplies.

That, in my humble opinion, is a ghastly exhibition of bureaucratic short-sightedness. We are at the threshold of solving the biggest problem of humankind, but the babus in Delhi can think of nothing better than saving on soldiers’ rations! If scientists figure out how Mataji survives and can replicate the process in other humans, if they can invent a solar battery that can power humans, our civilisation will start moving in a different direction. Hordes of people migrated from one continent to another in search of food and countless wars have been fought over the commodity. All that will have become history, finally.

As the first of the basic needs of roti, kapda, and makaan is struck off the list, people will be free from their biggest bother. They will also have much disposable income to buy clothes and shelter, giving a huge boost to the economy. Producers of food grains, poultry etc. will be hit initially, but they won’t have to worry about feeding themselves and will have the breathing time to look out for alternative careers. Maybe, they will start producing cotton, rubber and bio-fuel plants. People working at restaurants and pay-and-use toilets will become unemployed and will demand redundancy benefits. But even they will not be very badly off as they will have no mouths to feed.

The municipalities will have no solid waste to manage. Sewers will be empty. Cities will be clean and won’t reek of garbage. When we travel across the country, we won’t have to suffer the spectacle of people defecating on fields.

When all that happened, only one question would remain unanswered. Why was Goddess Amba Mata so horribly parsimonious about dispensing favours? Why couldn’t she take time off and meet at least a hundred poor men, women, and children every day and put a finger on their tongues?

[Kolkata, 10 May 2010 / Published in the Statesman on 3 June 2010.]


  1. That's quite an idea! To put in the words of a popular commercial "Kya idea hai, Sir-ji!" It'll be quite a relief for Indian women too as much of their time is spent in the kitchen, sweating for the family's nourishment. They will be freed from the staggeringly plenty household duties and women labour will be generated in the economy.
    There'll be a problem though. There are a few people whose main form of entertainment - and often occupation - is devouring into good food. Are their lives going to turn all grey?

  2. Thanks, Sayantani, for bringing in the women's perspective, which I missed.

    And your point about gluttons like me is relevant too. If, after reading my blog, the Goddess decided to put a finger on my tongue, I'd certainly run away!

  3. I somehow cannot agree with the sadhu's (apparent) way of living. It must be a sort of drab existence, I wish God had given the sadhu some other means of solving these problems without banishing food altogether!

  4. Good to see your Blog.
    I feel that the man must be subjected to a thorough psychology test besides his physical parameters.
    I can remember of only the IRA activist named Bobby Sands ( 1975-77) who refused to take any food for seventy plus days and then succumbed to death.That was the documented and longest fast unto death.
    Wonder if his Gods helped him too .

  5. The only Indian freedom fighter who fasted unto death, as far as I know, was Jatin Das, who died in Lahore Jail after fasting for 63 days in 1929.

    We can only bow to men like Jatin Das and Bobby Sands.

    Thanks for visiting, Anil. I do hope you'll come back.


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