God surely knows why Autobiography of a Yogi is as popular in Nepal as it is in the West. But it may have something to do with by now quite similar patterns of superficial spiritual questing in a world overwhelmed by material considerations, here and there. If you can't give up the ties that bind, you can at least read a book about it.
Many visitors to the East do believe that the subcontinent possesses a germ of spirituality lost elsewhere. I find this notion hard to stomach when even our festivities smack of conspicuous consumption. If Nepalis did once exist in a state of pre-material spirituality, they have long since made the transition to a state of Obsessive Consumerist Disorder.
It's no surprise then that Nepalis reach out for copies of Yogi in an attempt to recapture the spirituality once available to them on tap. Indeed, as the atrocious cover story of the last issue of Nepal indicates, our spiritually harassed yoof are, far from rioting for a constitution while trashing the malls for free fakes, heading for a range of 'dhyaan' packages, offered by the likes of psycho-gurus Manokranti Matrix and the perennial refuge of the dulled, Osho. Or, as is increasingly the case, they turn to yoga.
Yoga is of course as much about physicality as spirituality. There is a tendency in the West to strip yoga of the latter so as to focus on the corporeal benefits (while still advocating meditation in some form). Many yoga programs this side of town have the reverse emphasis. But then what's a man from the East, equally sceptical of Power Yoga and the cancer-blasting ramblings of a cock-eyed teleguru, to do?
Tired of being told that I could damage myself (as opposed to my 'Self') irreparably if I relied solely on yoga books, I decided to find a living, deep breathing guru to show me the eight-fold path. I contacted a local practitioner of the famed Bihar School of Yoga, who promised to call me to confirm sessions. The call never came, and the promise of enlightenment proved to be mere illusion; once more I lapsed into couch-slouching.
Then media coverage of the latest yoga program to hit town (cue pics of expats in yogic poses in front of Kathmandu landmarks)began to get on my nervous system in a less than yogic manner. So I followed up on an ad from the the HBMC, featuring a full course from the afore-eluding guru.
"Hello? Are you still taking people for your course of yoga?"
"Um, is this for you? This course is for bideshis."
"How much is it?"
"Mahango chha. It's 180 dollars for the week."
Nirvana don't come cheap.
Cheaper, then, was the option then floated by a friend intent on attending an Art of Living course. A full 24 hours of intensive pranayam exercises for Rs 1500 seemed reasonable, despite my aversion to folks who take on multiple honorifics, in this case, Sri Sri Sri (excuse me if I missed any) Ravi Shankar.
But once again my inbred scepticism, this time about the potential ills of a breathing course that has been accused of forcing hyperventilation upon participants, stopped me. My friend sighed, accused me of laziness, plain and simple, and signed up.
She'd be sighing ever more deeply by midweek. Not only was the heavy breathing giving her headaches, she found Art of Living unusually keen on practices more reminiscent of corporate team-building exercises than meditative pranayam. Each attendee was part of a sub-group: she couldn't enter the building without all the group members being present. There were paper-and-pencil routines to divulge what you wanted from the course and what you thought of your fellow attendees. And if you decided to sleep in? You had to inform the group in advance. At which point the guru would take it upon himself to wheedle you (over the phone) into attending. My friend terminated her imminent induction into the One World Family with some relief.
So where did this leave me? In the beginning was the Word. For this incorrigible autodidact, it's back to book yoga (deep, relaxed sigh).
The solo trekker, BHRIKUTI RAI
In a journey of self-discovery, Sunil Tamang traverses Nepal from east to west on foot