The millionaire, the guru, and the lessons for the rest of us

March 12, 2016 09:13 am | Updated 10:56 am IST

Bengaluru’s two well-known sons are getting better known by the day. While Vijay Mallya is laughing all the way from the bank, Sri Sri Ravishankar is laughing on the bank (of the Yamuna). I am leaving, said Mallya, and left. I shall remain, said Ravishankar, and remained at the environmentally sensitive site in Delhi. If you pull off something large enough and stunning enough, you can call the shots.

Mallya makes a distinction between his personal fortune and his professional fortune (or lack of it); he is thus both a millionaire and a pauper. Businessmen before him have discovered that the greater the amounts of money involved, the more likely that banks look at you favourably and less likely that politicians rock the boat. Sadly, it often takes a media trial, with all its lack of finesse, to get the authorities moving.

I loved Mallya’s tweet, however: “Let media bosses not forget help, favours, accommodation that I have provided over several years which are documented. Now lies to gain TRP?” No one ever accused him of being subtle.

The no less flamboyant Ravishankar seems to be in the finest traditions of contemporary gurus in India: politically connected, business savvy, flush with self-importance and seemingly on the verge of solving the problems of the world.

Ravishankar sees spirituality in 35 lakh people trampling all over a river bank. He wants to bring the urban and the rural population together, he says with a beatific smile. More countries will be represented here than at the Olympic Games, he says, smile just as beatific. With the politician’s gift of seldom answering a straight question with a straight answer, he puts it about that he will leave the area a better place than he found it. Perhaps this time he hopes the navy and air force will help too.

You have to admire these modern Indian heroes. If the Mallya departure was seen as ‘fait accompli’, Ravishankar’s construction on the banks of the Yamuna was probably faith accompli – what you can accomplish with faith. Faith in powerful friends and in the impotence of government bodies. Both men possess that vital element which keeps the wheels of our society moving: Clout. It is not what you know that is important, but whom you know.

For all we know, Mallya might return to clear himself and Ravishankar might create a biodiversity park after cleaning up the mess both on the banks of the Yamuna and in the river itself (expected crowd - 35 lakh, number of portable toilets - 650. You do the math). And for all we know, the moon is really made of cheese.

Mallya is discovering how quickly friends drop you when you are in trouble. Ravishankar might discover he has fewer fans from among those caught in traffic snarls in Delhi. And from the families of the 40,000 people getting married there on Saturday. A beatific smile is a useful thing to have, perhaps Mallya should develop one. It goes well with the chutzpah.

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