A ncient Indians discovered the Zero, but modern, cyber-savvy Indians everywhere are discovering the Zed. That’s Rajan Zed, a Nevada-based Indo-American statesman who modestly refers to himself as an “acclaimed Hindu spokesperson” in an endless series of press releases that are slowing down the Internet, or at least my home connection.
Email may have lost some of its urgency in the age of Facebook and Twitter, but there’s nothing I look forward to more these days than the newest pearls of wisdom from Mr Zed’s public-relations department. A Gmail search reveals the presence of no fewer than 82 such mails in my Inbox, with such headlines as “Hindus laud Hollywood star Thomas Jane for seeing the light in India’s value system”, “Tantra is not just sex, upset Hindus tell Hollywood” and “German diva Claudia Ciesla carries Lord Ganesha for good luck”.
Sanskrit tattoos are catching on in the West? Disney is bringing heroes from Indian mythology to the big screen? Naked yoga is turning into a fashion statement? Zed has something to say about all of this. He seems particularly interested in pretty women: Julia Roberts’ recent arrival in India for the shooting of Eat, Pray, Love has inspired a barrage of statements. In his latest, Zed urges Roberts to take up a “deeper study of Hinduism”.
You get the picture. The pattern here is that Mr Zed keeps a very close watch on the doings of Western celebrities and then finds that he is either deeply upset or deeply gratified by actions that in some way touch on “Hindu culture”. When an international filmmaker decides to portray something out of Indian mythology, he jumps in with the warning that “the final product should be the true depiction of the scripture and not a fantasized version”. I’m unsure what exactly he means by “true depiction”, but I suspect he may be thinking of the cardboard soap-opera TV versions featuring actors with Colgate smiles and arrows that assail each other in the style of Diwali firecrackers.
Now, being offended in itself is not a problem. The issue is that Mr Zed seems to believe that he speaks for Hindus of all colours and stripes, everywhere. Nearly each of his press releases includes dramatic sentences like “Hindus are worried”. Amusingly, some copy-editors take everything he says at face value and print the stuff verbatim. As Prem Panicker acerbically puts it on his blog (http://tinyurl.com/l9au2n), “A request to headline writers: ‘Rajan Zed asks for Best Bollywood Movie Oscar’ is correct. NOT ‘Hindus ask for Best Bollywood Movie Oscar’. There is a difference. Rajan Zed is a Hindu. Singular. He is not vast; he does not, to channel John Donne, contain multitudes.”
The stronger responses include one by the US website Film School Rejects (http://tinyurl.com/o92zyq), which refers to
Mr Zed as “the Indian version of Jerry Falwell”. You can’t get much more insulting than that.
Or can you? “It looks like there is a self-proclaimed pope-in-the-making for Hindus in America,” says the Just Jo blog (http://tinyurl.com/4eofkc), which is a scary thought indeed when you consider the vast number of fanatical NRIs lurking on websites like Rediff — all probably ready to sign up as Zed’s acolytes. It’s ironic too, for the last thing a religion like Hinduism needs is a Pope. As one commenter puts it, “Hindu dharma is all-inclusive. It is a way of life. This charlatan is defiling the name of Hindus and Indians!”
“Thankfully,” says a Sepia Mutiny (http://tinyurl.com/mjgsl7) poster, “Rajan Zed doesn’t get to issue fatwas. Anyway, I have washed my sins in the Ganges last week, and can satiate my tamasik (non-vegetarian) wanderlust free of guilt for another year.”