Book Review: Karma Cola

Mehta's Book
Published the same year I was born, Karma Cola is piercing condemnation of the western hippies who invaded India and the Indians who happily took advantage of them.  With a sharp tongue and acerbic wit, Gita Mehta's work moves from the darkly comic to the downright horrifying.  Reading her chapters feels like flipping through a stack of negatives taken by an enterprising journalist- a cultural misunderstanding brought into sharp focus here, a glimpse of a slight of hand and bit of hustle on the street there.  To Mehta, the hippies coming to India in search of liberation are simply the detritus of one country blown across the Pacific Ocean to land in the gutters of another.  But she does not hesitate to excoriate those who eagerly step forward to meet them.  Her Hindu guru characters are generally unnamed, but none come off smelling like roses.  At best they're willfully ignorant; at worst they're downright abusive (and sometimes, even, homicidal).

And the cause of all of this?  A childish idiocy on the part of western seekers who leave any remnants of reason and common sense before they pass through customs.  And a rapacious justification on the part of spiritual teachers that pacifying westerners so money and influence continue to flow is more than enough (never mind whether spiritual teachings are actually helping anyone who has traveled across the world and spent years living in an ashram).  Mix in way too many drugs... and you have the addled reality revealed in Karma Cola.

Mehta's work is a bitterly funny rubbernecking at the car crash of late 70's India and hippie idealism.  I only wish she'd found something positive out of the whole mess (it's impossible that nothing interesting came out of all that bizarre cultural interaction!)  A definite must-read for those who like their history tempered with biting social commentary.  Thanks to Rajiv for the book suggestion!