We all have our happy place. We can close our eyes and go there when things get difficult. For the last century's child superstar Shirley Temple, her happy place was the Good Ship Lollipop where bonbons played on the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay and when you fell you landed on a chocolate bar. As long as human beings have existed they have imagined and sung songs about other places they would like to be in, good places, better places full of qualities sorely lacking IRL. At some point, human beings embraced nationhood and utopias started taking on well-defined borders. We all have our utopias but it remains in our head or in rhyme, unless you are Swami Nithyananda. Or our Minister for Home Affairs.
The well-known godman Nithyananda has been accused of a range of crimes, from rape to cheating to criminal conspiracy, and is widely understood to have skipped the country without his passport. In this kalyug, this incident would barely draw notice. One would have imagined that he would sooner or later pop up in central London in furs. However, Nithyananda has since decided to make his happy place real. He has announced via Facebook video that he has set up his own country Kailasa. Like your friend who causes extreme envy with her vacation on a virgin beach, Nithyananda is not sharing his coordinates on Whatsapp.
While Julian Assange had to settle for a small room in the Ecuadorian embassy, Nityananda reportedly bought a whole island from Ecuador to live in and broadcast from. Ecuador has sternly denied it and says Nithyananda left Ecuador in August 2019, perhaps for Haiti. With admirable startup-like mojo Nithyananda has set up a website for his cupboard under the stairs. It says Kailasa is 'a nation without borders created by dispossessed Hindus from around the world who lost the right to practice Hinduism authentically in their own countries.' One could imagine him singing 'Aa chal ke tujhe main le ke chalu/ Ik aise gagan ke tale' in the face of our resident triumphant apostles of Hindu nationhood. Only one chinna hitch in this music video. Nithyananda has indicated that his good nation may have its own passport, flag, free entry in all eleven dimensions and fourteen lokas but no Hindi. He has declared English, Sanskrit and Tamil as the official languages of his GPS-abhorrent island nation.
The website reminded me of Rihla, Neel Chaudhuri's excellent adaptation of Andreas Flourakis' play I Want A Country, in which a group of very young people continuously imagine and trade banter about the perfect country they wished they could run away to. Should it be a sunny country, one with snow, one without old people, one with rivers, one with the same language they already know, they ask each other. "Mujhe aise desh chahiye jo anth mein meri hathya na karein," says one gloomily contemplating the possibility that a country, new or old, could turn hostile too. Then they return to joyful imagining. One says: Mujhe aisa desh chahiye jahan koi kasar, migraine, nirasha, sardi-zukaam, TB or aatmahatya na ho. Chocolate bana sakte hein organic farm pe. The other, a contemporary Shirley Temple replies, "Haan lekin who safed wala nahin. Sirf dark."
Nithyananda has said in his latest missive that 12 lakh people have applied to become citizens in his jolly peppermint nation. Since he is not just beyond kanoon ke lambe haath, he is also beyond fact-checks, we dunno whether the people doing circumambulations in Hyderabad's famous Visa Balaji temple now includes those fervently praying for a literal entry to an Ecuadorian-flavoured Kailasa. The numbers I would pay a lot of chocolate to see is the number of people who voted for this government and have applied for citizenship elsewhere since. When I close my eyes, I imagine bhakts filling forms and singing the Talking Heads song, "Don't leave me stranded here/ I can't get used to this lifestyle."
To be fair to Nithyananda, he has recently said that Kailasa is not a place but a cosmic conception and tried to sound not crabby about all the Kailasa memes. To be fully fair to him, his comical idea of nationhood is off a piece with Home Minister Amit Shah's who is re-litigating historical grudges in his head, belonging as he does to the school of Management via Katti-Batti. As the journalist and political commentator Rohan Venkataramakrishnan points out: "Shah claims that India was divided by the Congress on religious lines, and was founded as a refuge for non-Muslims. This is a lie." But that is just a sad little fact and we have no room for sad little facts. Like the unpopular fellow who has come to his school reunion only to pick fights with everyone, no one can convince the HM that he should live in the present, in the deeply flawed but optimistic country he was born in. Instead, he is giving us a law that will incubate and accelerate the ugliest thought a human can ever have " I wish you were never born.
We could all learn from these two men and imagine our Kailasa with our own amended citizenship. One in which you could teach Sanskrit if you wanted to. One in which you don't get burnt on the way to court. One in which a group of men don't scheme to rape a stranded commuter. One in which the police do not shoot a group of men and declare them rapists in their afterlife. One in which our states do not build detention camps. One in which the country has plenty of jobs and the Finance Minister does not reply a la Marie Antoinette about inflation. One in which the government does not cut, even think about cutting Rs 3,000 crores from the next education budget. One in which children eat boiled eggs in school if they want to but don't need to because they are not in any danger of malnutrition. #MyOwnKailasa