The controversy triggered by Janata Dal (United) leader KC Tyagi’s questioning of Swami Ramdev’s ayurvedic product "Putrajeevak" is needless in a way, notwithstanding the fact that in Ayurveda medicines treating infertility are known by that name even though its exact connotation is for a child - boy or girl.
I have known Ramdevji since December 26, 2002 when I first met him at the home of one of his followers in Ahmedabad. This was just 11 days after Narendra Modi’s first spectacular electoral victory in Gujarat. That was the time when I used to smoke almost three to four cigarette packets a day and had been doing it for over two decades.
Being from a old and historic Maratha family from Gwalior, there was a great tradition of mouth-watering non-vegetarian delicacies in our family, from mutton shami kebab to mutton keema kofta pulao, murgh musallam (stuffed country chicken) and barbat, a mutton war dish made during military or hunting expeditions. And with my grandmother being from a landowning family of Konkan, the fish made at our home were equally mouth-watering. And I was a voracious eater of these delicacies.
Because of excessive smoking and voracious eating I had become obese, my body had become stiff and there was something about it that was markedly unhealthy. I was advised to meet Ramdevji by a friend - Arvind Bosamia - who had very early sensed Ramdevji’s yoga and ayurved prowess and his zeal to transform the society with these. I shall immensely benefit from my meeting with the Swami, I was told. On meeting him, I told him about my health problems. He didn’t read out a lesson to me but instead requested me to attend his next yoga shivir at Rajkot two days later.
On the first day at Rajkot, the experience I had was decidedly transformative. After the early pranayam-yoga session I started throwing out cough in huge quantity till it was almost a glassful. Following his standard pranayams – kapalbhaati and anulom-vilom and bhaamri amongst others – I felt I was throwing out toxins from my body that had collected due to years of smoking. The same experience I had on the next day and the third and the last day of my attendance at the shivir, which gave a great sense of relief to my body. From the fourth day on, it became a routine - increasing the urge in me to cleanse my body.
Exactly 18 months later, I quit smoking forever and after another two years, I left non-vegetarian food to become a pure vegetarian. I don’t have precise words to describe what I have achieved after purifying my body and mind through pranayam. I had set myself stiff public, social and private targets early in my life due to my knowledge of history and a certain sense of pride in our culture emanating from my intense reading of the life stories of great men like Shivaji, Rana Pratap, Bajirao Peshwa no less than great saints like Kabir, Ramdas, Tukaram, Eknath, Vallabhacharya, Madhavacharya and Rohidas. Today I can safely say after taking the pranayam route taught by Ramdevji and the resultant internal cleansing process, I have been able to meet most of these targets. This is because of the willpower I developed due to pranayam. The cleansing process brought about a transformation in my body and mind injecting missionary zeal in me, which enabled me to meet my targets.
In 2003, I did my first story in India Today on his health claims by doing a random independent survey from a list of hundreds of beneficiaries that I had obtained from him. I found almost a dozen persons from across India who had been fully or partially cured of severe heart, liver and even neurological problems due to his pranayam regime. Three of these were advised to undergo angioplasty but saw their arteries opening up after just a month of doing pranayam, resulting in the cancellation of the surgery.
As I have known him, Ramdevji is a man of his word. When he started his swadeshi movement over a decade ago, he had promised to take on the multi-nationals on all fronts and on equal terms. On a visit to his Haridwar ashram last month, when I went to his factory, I was convinced he was fast marching towards his goal. In order to verify his claim, I tasted a lot of his products - particularly biscuits of various kind by paying a visit to his factory that employs 10,000 workers. Some of the biscuit varieties were, in fact, superior in taste and quality to ones produced by MNCs. The machinery at his manufacturing plants was of top quality as was quality-control. He has hired the best of technocrats and professionals to manage the plants. What’s more is that these products cost less that those offered by MNCs. I won’t be surprised if his turnover touches Rs 10,000 crore in just a few years from now.
My wife has been using ayurvedic medicines for ailments since the day we got married. But she says the products of Patanjali are superior in quality and result. For example, the toothpaste "Dantkaanti" is simply superb for teeth and our entire family uses Dantkaanti. My daughter has now started using his cosmetic products, which she says are of equally high quality and don’t cause side effects. His missionary zeal to get back black money from foreign banks by building a nationwide campaign can only be appreciated.
I am a journalist first and then an admirer or a friend. And so it is also my duty to evaluate him critically. I felt some of his actions during 2011 Anna Hazare-led pro-Lokpal campaign were not appreciated even by his close supporters. One was holding parleys with the Congress in a five-star hotel. Another was coming to meet the Congress leaders in Delhi in a private jet. These, many felt, didn’t go very well with his swadeshi image.
But at the end of the day, few have used yoga and ayurveda to transform the society as this Swami.