Sipping spirits and spirituality on board Superstar Virgo(Special)June 14th, 2008 - 10:16 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
On Board Superstar Virgo, June 14 (IANS) God cleanses money even if it is a slightly dubious shade of grey. So it was that some superrich Indians, riding the crest of spirituality and holistic living, splurged their millions on a luxury cruise down the South China Sea. On board Superstar Virgo, one of the world’s biggest luxury cruise liners, 1,062 moneybags from India prayed to the almighty to redeem their sins, practised Vedic yoga, vegetarianism, pledged clean lifestyles and waged an intense inner war to fend off the temptations that money can buy.
The five-day cruise was organised by the Kolkata-based Vishwa Jagriti Mission, a spiritual organisation promoting the Hindu faith, and the Patanjali Yogpeeth, co-founded by the country’s hottest Vedic lifestyle guru, Swami Ramdev.
The crowd was a curious mix of the country’s top business families, rich farmers who have amassed “enormous wealth” from the fertile bowels of Mother India, a bunch of NRIs who swore by the Hindu way of life, socialites with a conscience, retired government servants, neo-spiritualists and, lastly, a mischievous bunch of newshounds.
The day would begin with a gruelling two and a half hours of yoga and prayers at sunrise - a small price to pay for the pleasures that awaited throughout the day.
Guru Ramdev lorded over the ceremony, teaching the cruisers, most of them grossly overweight, simple breathing and stretching exercises to stay “fighting fit” and contribute to society with “muscle and money”.
“As god’s children, you must work for the uplift of humanity, stay away from all that is artificial, Western, synthetic and contaminating,” the guru thundered to the rumble of rain and stormy winds that lashed the upper deck of the 13-storey liner, which has a swimming pool, sauna baths, Jacuzzis and a poolside restaurant that grilled the most exotic sea creatures.
“Beat the rain and you have conquered nature,” the seer egged on his devotees to make sure that they stayed glued to their expensive prayer mats.
It was also time for felicitation. “Taliyaan (clap),” ordered the guru as the affluent devotees filed past the crowd to bare their purse at the yogi’s feet. The asking rates for forging lifelong bonds with the guru - to become members of his congregation - were Rs.1.1 million and Rs.400,000.
After a while, the rays of the sun would filter through the dense banks of clouds and the aroma of freshly baked croissants and Danish pastries would waft in from the lavish breakfast buffet hall adjacent to the deck.
“There, you have defeated nature,” the guru would proclaim about doing yoga in the rain. “Food,” a voice from the rear would whisper! It was time for a hard-earned “green” breakfast after two hours of rain-drenched exercise. That yoga is a natural appetiser could be vouched for from the loaded breakfast trays.
After that, for the scions of some of the families, it would be time for a bit of soul-searching. “We have all the money to spend. But our fathers and uncles could not have imagined spending their hard-earned money cruising. They would rather have bankrolled it,” said an exporter from Kolkata, looking out at the vast expanse of the inky Gulf of Tonkin, off northern Vietnam.
Sightseeing would mostly be about shopping. “Chinese shoes are beautiful and quite reasonable,” said a woman, whose shopping bags bulged with 15 pairs of shoes for “the children”.
The Chinese malls, barring a few, however, looked no different from those in India. But the tag “foreign shoes, purchased abroad” totted up the footwear’s and the wearer’s net worth.
At sundown, it would be time to return to the sea. Night on the ship had an ethereal quality - when nothing seemed real. The guru’s sage advice - “stay off booze and gambling” - seemed like memories of another day as the spiritual revellers relived their Titanic dreams with coloured chips on the roulette table in the sprawling casinos. Missing probably were the neon lights of Las Vegas.
Even the women, clad in silks, chiffons and glittering jewels, ran for prime slots on the tables with armloads of chips to join their husbands. This was the new India where money seemed to level all, even the gender gulf.
The bar strained at the seams as foreign liquor flowed like water. “After all, spiritual holidays must combine the best of both worlds,” said a 60 plus portly trader from Kolkata, as he drained his glass of Jack Daniels.
There was always the “guru” to fall back on to wash away the psychedelic sins of the night.
(Madhusree Chatterjee is a journalist with IANS. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tags: curious mix, enormous wealth, government servants, guru ramdev, hindu faith, inner war, luxury cruise liners, moneybags, mother india, patanjali, poolside restaurant, rich farmers, riding the crest, sauna baths, shade of grey, socialites, south china sea, stormy winds, stretching exercises, two and a half hours