Marketing the Mystic East
By Gita Mehta
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679754336, 208pp.)
Publication Date: June 28, 1994
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Beginning in the late '60s, hundreds of thousands of Westerners descended upon India, disciples of a cultural revolution that proclaimed that the magic and mystery missing from their lives was to be found in the East. An Indian writer who has also lived in England and the United States, Gita Mehta was ideally placed to observe the spectacle of European and American "pilgrims" interacting with their hosts. When she finally recorded her razor sharp observations in Karma Cola, the book became an instant classic for describing, in merciless detail, what happens when the traditions of an ancient and longlived society are turned into commodities and sold to those who don't understand them.
In the dazzling prose that has become her trademark, Mehta skewers the entire Spectrum of seekers: The Beatles, homeless students, Hollywood rich kids in detox, British guilt-trippers, and more. In doing so, she also reveals the devastating byproducts that the Westerners brought to the villages of rural lndia -- high anxiety and drug addiction among them.
Brilliantly irreverent, Karma Cola displays Gita Mehta's gift for weaving old and new, common and bizarre, history and current events into a seamless and colorful narrative that is at once witty, shocking, and poignant.
"A witty documentary satire.... Mehta embraces an enormous variety of life and death. Her style is light without being flip; her skepticism never descends to cynicism. [Karma Cola is] a miracle of rationalism and taste."
Sometime in the 1960s, the West adopted India as its newest spiritual resort. The next anyone knew, the Beatles were squatting at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Expatriate hippies were turning on entire villages to the pleasures of group sex and I.V. drug use. And Indians who were accustomed to earning enlightenment the old-fashioned way were finding that the visitors wanted their Nirvana now -- and that plenty of native gurus were willing to deliver it.
No one has observed the West's invasion of India more astutely than Gita Mehta. In Karma Cola the acclaimed novelist trains an unblinking journalistic eye on jaded sadhus and beatific acid burnouts, the Bhagwan and Allen Ginsberg, guilt-tripping English girls and a guru who teaches gullible tourists how to view their previous incarnations. Brilliantly irreverent, hilarious, sobering, and wise, Mehta's book is the definitive epitaph for the era of spiritual tourism and all its casualties -- both Eastern and Western.
"Evelyn Waugh would have rejoiced."
-- The New York Times Book Review