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Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East Paperback – June 28, 1994
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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
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However, Mehta was way too selective in what stories to tell, and she says nothing positive at all about spiritual search. Underlying her sarcastic sense of humor, there lies a basic exclusionary assumption: Mehta is against the mixing of East and West. Her irritation with such experiments leads to often unfair commentary (such as, contrary to what she claims, Bhagwan Rajneesh was never seen as a god by his Western disciples). Mehta ends up throwing the baby out with the bath water.
For more descriptive, less judgmental accounts on Westerner travelers in India, the reader may try Cleo Odzer's auto-biographical "Goa Freaks", as well as Anthony D'Andrea's "Global Nomads", both of which examining the lifestyle of Westerners in Goa and Pune.
This is the first time I've ever read a book about the move of Eastern thought into the West which was not written by a Westerner. In some ways sobering, it is also witty and at times poignant.
By the way, an earlier reviewer lambasted the author for attributing the wrong language to clerks from Kerala. That mistake has been fixed in the edition I have (Minerva 1997 paperback).
Ms. Mehta has a deep understanding of religion and culture, and the importance of knowing who you are and where you come from. She speaks of the confusion that ensues when people cross over and project their own meanings onto a culture of which they have very little true understanding, and she proceeds to explain the cultural differences that often cause confusion. She does it in a playful, satirical, and truthful way, and obviously with compassion for those who have become lost and whose lives have been destroyed.
Karma Cola is also very delightful to read and cleverly written, with some wonderful turns of phrase: the druggy Canadian described as "the chemically inspired dancer"; the warning that any Indian knows that "wheeling and dealing in Karma" is the most dangerous game of all. I found some small parts to be so intense, though, and so densely written that I almost gave up. I'm glad I didn't since the last few chapters were very beautiful and sensitively inspired, with a kind of poignancy and light shining through them.
Karma Cola, which is not very big, can be easily picked up at any place, and has chapters devoted to various types of experience. The stories are deeply human and offer rich variety.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The is an entertaining tongue -in-cheek look at the spiritual tourism business in India. The people in the book come from all walks of life and from a myriad of western countries... Read morePublished on January 25, 2013 by Lionel S. Taylor
This is an ironic, clever portrait of the American-British enlightenment seekers back in the 1960's. Read morePublished on November 17, 2012 by mark twain
An interesting, if somewhat disorganized, string of anecdotes about the strange ways in which Western materialism and Indian spirituality meet. Read morePublished on January 11, 2012 by Carno Polo
This lady can write! She writes as good as V. S. Naipaul in describing the behaviour of higher primates and the phalanx of mediocrity we call `the masses'. Read morePublished on November 18, 2011 by Moises Halifax
I've just reread Karma Cola (3rd time) and enjoyed it more than ever. Dropping onto this page I was stunned to discover how much rage had been kindled by such a light-hearted,... Read morePublished on September 5, 2010 by Steve Summers
I was eager to read this book about the hippies who descended on India in the 60's and since. Westerners tourists want the "packaged" Eastern exotics, with air-conditioned hotels,... Read morePublished on July 17, 2009 by B. Wolinsky
This book is a cautionary antidote to the foolish infatuation with Indian gurus on the part of gullible Westerners.Published on June 15, 2009 by David Kiebert
Gita Mehta's KARMA COLA, originally published in 1980, is a 1979, is a collection of anecdotes about the Western travelers that Mehta met in India in the 1970s. Read morePublished on May 7, 2009 by Christopher Culver