Friday, November 14, 2014

Baba ... Black Sheep?

I don’t like to make any comments on ‘godmen’, spiritual leaders or faith healers. There are believers and there are sceptics. Baba Ramdev, who came into the limelight some years ago, has attracted enough attention from each category.  Apart from lessons on spirituality, yoga and faith healing, the Baba ran a line in traditional medicine. The medicines (like Baba) became a rage and soon news channels on TV were afire with the story that they contained traces of crushed human bones. It takes more than a scandal or two to destroy a success. The noise died down the way it always does.
Baba Ramdev has been called a rogue, a charlatan and a Casanova. He tried his hand at politics, but he made a quick exit. You can read about it here and on Wikipedia.
The Baba hasn’t made news in some time now. It turns out he makes much more.
Last year when my daughter had come home from Delhi she was on the lookout for a ‘Patanjali’ shop here in the Dooars (the tea growing region of North Bengal).  Patanjali, she informed us, sells a range of products including soaps and toiletries made with natural ingredients and free from harmful chemicals. And it is owned by Baba Ramdev.
My husband laughed outright. ‘Powdered bones,’ he said.  I didn’t want to take sides, and I kept my thoughts to myself.  My daughter had brought home a bar of Patanjali  ‘Multani Mitti’ (Fuller’s earth) soap.  It looked good, in that it really looked like clay, and it smelt wonderful. I washed my face with it after she asked me to give it a shot, and I was ‘converted’.  Now this is the dangerous part when the reader begins to think this is an ad, after all.

 I expected to see a price tag of Rs.85/- at least, because that is what fancy ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ soap bars sell for. This one was priced at Rs. 35/-. An ‘I told you so’ hung unspoken in the air.
Now, scepticism gone, we went in search of a Patanjali shop. To our surprise, there was one in Hamiltonganj, a small town close to the tea garden where we lived at the time. The shop had a stock of Multani Mitti and much more, including biscuits priced at Rs.10/- for 100 gms. Those biscuits were fresh and crisp. The ‘Neem Kanti’ soap at Rs. 13/- for the bar - around half the price of a standard bar of soap-  was even better than the Multani Mitti. One single use was enough to convert the husband.


   The gentleman at the well-stocked Alipurduar Patanjali let me take pictures.

I found it absurdly delightful that there was an outlet in Hamiltonganj, but there is one in Hasimara too, and that is an even smaller town. After my eyes were opened, I’ve seen shops all over the Dooars: in Binnaguri, Jaigaon and Alipurduar, in Mal Bazar, Chalsa and Oodlabari, all small towns dotting the countryside around tea gardens. Every shop has a large poster of Baba in orange robes with arm outstretched, as if calling out to customers while blessing them.  
We found an outlet close to my sister’s home in Chennai too, and we’d thought the Baba only ruled in areas where Hindi is spoken!
The shampoo and hair oil are every bit as good as the soaps and I’m saving money on these purchases as well as my dishwash and detergent bars. All our old brand loyalties have gone out the window. It’s simple: Patanjali provides  quality products at reasonable prices. Instead of pitching the product at a high price for the privileged few, it chooses to attract the common man – or the thrifty woman.              
There is one outlet in our part of the Dooars – no names - where we stopped to stock up last month. A shop assistant packed our stuff while his boss was busy dispensing medicine, advice and attention to a group of women who were hanging on to his every word. He had a good supply of words in at least three of our local languages: Nepali, Bengali and Hindi. His audience was giggling and shrieking with enjoyment. When my husband went up to pay for our purchases, he took the money and handed him his change without a break in the patter.
Make no bones about it, soft soap sells.