Rationalist in Action

Prabhakar Nanawaty

It is generally presumed that most of the rationalists are easy chair philosophers who never bother about what is happening in and around their surroundings. But this may not be true. There are many rationalists in present day India who are confronting the superstitious elements in the society and while doing so, are being harassed for their noble deed. Amongst such rationalists who are actively participating in the movement and agitations against superstitions and godmen claiming supernatural powers, Prof Narendra Nayak appears to be a star performer.  Almost for last three decades he is striving hard to imbibe scientific temper in the society by involving himself in the rationalist movement and contributing articles and letters to various periodicals and daily news papers describing his views and happenings in the field of rationalism. His book “Battle against Supernatural” is a compilation of such articles, and letters written by him while confronting the superstitions prevailing in the society.

Barring a few, each and every page in this book is an eye opener to the activists working in this area. Author’s multifaceted activities, his involvement in confronting the godmen in spite of risks involved, his strong views on the strategies to be adapted to progress rationalist movement further will be highly appreciated as one turns the pages. In fact he had many things to say and would have elaborated further on the issues involved. As such most of the articles are very short (and precise) due to the limitations imposed by the print media and responses given by the media at that juncture. He might have been forced to cut short what he wanted to say. The writings included in this book have been written during the period 1988 to 2006. The writings contain aspects like Satya Sai Baba (Aka Satya Narayan Raju as author wants to address him!) Mata Amritanand Mayi (Aka Sudhamani!), Benny Hill, an evangelist, Art of Living fame Sri Sri (!) Ravishankar, Kalki Bhagwan cult, psychic surgeon Alex Orbito of Philippines,  Radha Swami Satsang Beas (RSSB), astrology, future predictions, dowsing, misleading ads on nutrition, search for ESP, efficacy of cow’s urine, conversions, quack medicines like electrotherapy, electro homeo-therapy, magneto therapy,  reflexology, color therapy, gem therapy, Reiki, pranic healing, acupuncture, aroma therapy etc, misleading pendulum diagnosis, divine miracle exposure demonstrations, haunted houses, exposure of poltergeist, spiritualism, snake myth (related to sale of motorbike!) etc. Though the book makes very interesting reading, at the same time one will feel sympathy for the gullible public. As author modifies the quote of P.T. Bernum, it is true that there are 100 suckers born every second in India!

As B Premanand puts on the book’s blurb, Prof Narendra Nayak has actively spearheaded a crusade against superstitions often at great personal risk. He has debunked many a so called ‘myth’, miracles and ghost story. As a part of divine miracle exposure campaign Pro Nayak might have participated in hundreds of demos which involve materialization of Vibhuti from seemingly empty palm, lighting of fire in a yagnya kunda by yogic power, piercing of the tongue by a sharp pointed trishul. He not only demonstrates the trick as being claimed by the tricksters but also explains the scientific principle behind such miracles. There is a so called miracle of flame putting in the mouth. The scientific principle of the process by which a layer of water vapor protects the skin from burning – known as liedenfrost effect – is explained.  He has also publicly exposed the outrageous claims of miracle men and godmen. His mission appears to be divine miracle exposure campaign.

Like B Premanand Prof Narendra Nayak has also written many articles and letters exposing Satya Sai Baba of Puttpurthy. In spite of stark evidences of murder, cheating, exploitation, quackery, trickery, etc this so called godman is still flourishing and attracting thousands of innocent devotees and amassing wealth. Prof Nayak describes incident of Lokayya Pujari’s murder in the premises of a school run by Satya Sai Lokshikshan Trust, which caries on the cult activities of brain washing the students to believe in the godhood of Satya Sai Baba. Though there was hue and cry in the local press no one was punished and case was mysteriously closed by the bigwigs in the power to please their godman. In one of the letters written to the editor of Sunday weekly, Calcutta, Prof Nayak challenges Satya Sai Baba and his cronies to produce any object that Nayak asks for within 30 seconds, teleport an exact replica of a one rupee currency note which is placed in a sealed envelope, convert 5 litres of water in a sealed can to petrol, and disappear from the negative of the photograph taken along with him. . Obviously none came forward to exhibit their supernatural powers. Prof Nayak  blames the media for their irresponsible attitude to glorify the charlatan like Satya Sai Baba.

Similarly Prof Nayak exposes the hoax of Kalki Bhagwan and describes the cult promoted by Kalki Bhagwan and his wife as one of those extortionist organizations aimed at exploiting the innocent and filling their coffers.

Mata Amritanandmayi is one more familiar name in Indian spiritual (as well as philanthropic!) world, for her hugging blessings and huge ‘donations’ to the ‘social cause’. Prof Nayak traces her childhood history and her ‘miraculous power’ like lighting lamps without oil, curing a leper by sucking the pus and licking the wound (new medicine for leprosy!),  multiplication of food etc. If her supernatural power is really working, all the problems of this country will be solved within no time. The ‘Divine’ mother has a very long list of celebrities and political leaders as her followers. Rationalists like Prof Nayak may challenge her but their challenge will be in vain and will never be accepted.

Art of living fame Sri Sri (?) Ravi Shankar – a disciple of world famous (notorious!) TM specialist Mahesh Yogi – claims that he is doing social service. According to Prof Nayak  his so called social service is a fraud of the highest order. His Sudarshan Kriya Yoga claims that though it cannot make a poor man rich but it can make him happier man (without changing his economic status!). In fact for this social service, his cronies want him to be nominated for Noble peace prize.

The book contains many examples of this nature including local godmen like pilot baba, Varadaraj Pai etc. sometimes you feel very sad while reading these anecdotes which exploit the poor, common people  making poor more poorer and rich more richer.

Readers will be quite amused while reading the articles and letters written by the author on astrology and its downright absurd, tall claims. Prof Nayak has a very good sense of humour since he challenges the astrologers every time whenever they advertise in the press. Prof Nayak promises them Rs 50,000 and his personal belongings who testifies his claims and proves it in front of an independent committee.  No one has so far come forward to claim this amount and Prof Nayak still owns his personal belongings! He also challenges and announces the reward of  Rs 50000 to the election result predictors to guess the results in advance before counting date. So far no one has guessed the results perfectly.  The prize money is still in tact though a number of elections took place during this period. In one of his letters to press, he takes a case of demotion of planet Pluto and discusses the effect on so called ‘astrological science’.  He comments on astrologers’ habit of mixing astrology and astronomy and pretend that they can predict changes in human lives.

Prof Nayak narrates an instance of Valmiki Hanumanthrayappa of Tumkur dist who claims that due to power blessed by Shani (Saturn) he can name the playing cards without actually seeing them.  Prof Nayak makes a fool of him in public by exposing his Saturn power. At the end he agreed that he never had any such powers. Going by Hanumanthrayappa’s version, he is a much sought-after person in clubs and gambling dens. He had saved many from bankruptcy by predicting the cards with blessings of “Shanidevaru”.

Prof Nayak had come across many quacks in his life time; some of them faith healers, some performing bloodless surgery, some diagnosing using pendulum, etc. Alex Orbito of Philippines, a faith healer, claimed that not only sending the divine vibrations but also operating upon patients and removing parts without a drop of blood or pain. His hands enter the abdomen area of a patient and draws tumours and such evil forces. During the surgery there is no pain, no antiseptic, no anesthesia, and the bleeding is minimal. The crowd gathered is impressed. If rationalist like Narendra Nayak tries to intervene, he will be thrown out by force. However Prof Nayak demonstrated this trick on TV. The viewers consisting of doctors and medical students were struck with awe.

While explaining the theory behind such quack medicine and alternate and complimentary therapies, Prof Nayak remarks that the so called cures work only with psychosomatic disorders and self-limiting illness. One can get relief from such jinx by the placebo effect of any therapy. But in many cases faith healing can be dangerous. However the faith healers make money out of patients’ misery. Alex Orbito is said to have decamped with about a crore and half rupees collected from gullible people, many of whom hailed from economically weaker sections.

Benny Hinn is one more faith healer, an evangelist claiming that prayers can cure any disease including AIDs. The business of Benny Hinn, a multimillionaire with a fleet of jets, personal bodyguards and open display of wealth proves that what a good business religion can be. Benny Hinn’s arrival and his prayer meetings used to irk BJP and Sangh Pariwar. BJP claimed that he is here for mass conversion of Hindus to Christians through prayers during faith healing session without substantiating their statement. . Hence Sangh Pariwar wanted that rationalists should join them to condemn Benny Hinn. Hackles of Sangh Pariwar were the impertinence of a videshi trying to get into their business or rather their domain.  Prof Nayak states that it is not understood as to why a country with 33 crore indigenous gods require a foreigner to come and pray for us! Every time faith healers have been challenged they have taken to their heels without accepting the challenge on one or the other pretext.

In one of his articles Narendra Nayak criticizes the VHP-BJP-RSS gang for promoting cow’s urine as a cure all. The racket of selling the distillate of cow’s urine for Rs 100 per litre! The gang claimed that it is a  panacea – a cure for 148 diseases and a cure all – sarva roga nivarini! In fact cow’s urine distillate has been granted patent no 6410059 by the US Patent Office! However saffron gang proclaims virtues of cow – not any cow but the Indian cow to be precise. The whole article makes a worth reading which describes the ingredients of urine its ill effect. Even author questions why not dog’s milk. He pooh poohs the idea of Shivambu – drinking ones own urine. After reading such articles one can conclude that you can fool all the people all the time!

Prof Nayak is not only an ardent rationalist but also a consumer activist.  He had included a few articles on this subject viz; nutritional ads, proliferation of spiritual channels, orphanage racket, spiritualism as business etc. These articles make us aware of the greed of the concerned and how we as a consumer are being fooled.

Though most of the writings included in this chronicle are field experiences, there are a few thought provoking articles too. His comments on Naxalite movement, Superstitions as retardant of progress, Evaluation of spiritualism, Religious (in)tolerance, Challenges faced by rationalist movement, etc are very apt and makes us to think further. Prof Narendra Nayak reveals a plan of action for rationalist movement. This includes to develop a strong database, share the knowledge, investigate the phenomena, challenge the claimants, build support base, organize, use the media, react fast, set an example and do get involved.

With all his experience in the field and expertise on various aspects of rationalism author still feels that “have we managed to end the irrationalism inherent in people steeped with superstitions of centuries? Have we made the people more aware of scientific analysis of things before accepting them? The question is rather an open one. It is for us to see the challenges in the very broad perspective in terms of challenges for the next two decades; if not for longer while. “

Readers of the book will no doubt agree with these sentiments expressed by the author and act accordingly!

Battle against Supernatural

Prof Narendra Nayak

Skeptical Book No 25 (2007)

Price Rs 105; pp 288.