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Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East Paperback – June 28, 1994

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Editorial Reviews


"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."

-- Time

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

From the Publisher

"It is a sad, hilarious, rueful tale and Mehta tells it with a rich fund of irony, satire, acerbic wit and insight."--The Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 28, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679754334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679754336
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard Wells on October 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've come to this book a little late in its publishing history, and though the story is dated in terms of the mass of seekers who descended on India in the 60's and 70's westerners still seek the "wisdom of the east," and this Karma Cola has not lost its fizz. This is an angry, critical, sarcastic look at the rage for inner peace that has driven many seekers to psychiatric care, and many gurus to the bank. It's also a book filled with sadness as Gita Mehta both castigates and mourns - for her country's spiritual traditions stacked into the supermarket of the latest craze; and for the naive who believe hard won self-knowledge can be had with the touch of a teacher's hand - or a certain less visible appendage. It's finally true that if you can't find peace and love at home you probably won't find it in India either. Besides, six thousand years of spiritual and cultural history just shouldn't be toyed with.
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33 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Zen Nataraj on June 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read this book during my research about spiritual tourism in India. Mehta is a professional writer from a secular elite Indian family. Taking place in the 1970s, the author snipes at both Western New Agers and Indian gurus. The former are criticized for their blind naivete in searching for enlightenment in India; the latter are denounced for their shrewd manipulation of wealthy foreigners, for their own material (sometimes sexual) benefit. I witnessed similar situations.

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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Peter Theis on December 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is a must-read for those travelers bound for India, especially for those seeking enlightenment. I lived in Varanasi for a year, and I met many travelers who believed that India was some sort of textbook Hindu holy land. These people lived in their ideas, creating a shield around them that kept real India out. Karma Cola helps show that India isn't a book-ideal made up of gurus and yogis performing divine-inspired miracles on every street corner. It shows that India, like any other country, is made up of people: helpful people and crooks, prude people and perverts. If you go to India, don't go there to experience some sort of religious miracle. Go there to see real India and meet real Indians, and read this book before you go!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By on February 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
Karma Cola is definitely required reading for any westerner interested in things Indian or perhaps contemplating hitting the Dharma trail. Its recognition that misunderstanding goes both ways (eg. the anecdotes about gurus treatment of their Western students) is a good reality check for those of us whose spiritual search has taken us there. Ms Mehta gently reminds us that trying to absorb 5000 years of experience and living may take a little more than a few weeks of squat loos, and some Om Mani Padme Hums.
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).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gingko on April 25, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I loved this book the first time I read it years ago and enjoyed it even more the second time just lately. Ms. Mehta has some important, well educated, and deeply meaningful observations, and succeeds in presenting them with a great deal of wit and truth, and certainly with sensitivity and care toward the humanity involved. I did not find her writing to be mean or brutal in any way, as one reviewer said, and agree with the description on the book jacket itself, that she does not dip to those levels.
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.
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