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Karma Cola

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  799 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
A wry account, by an Indian, of the quest for spiritual enlightenment that caused many people from the consumer societies of the West to go to India and seek fulfiment in the teachings and practices of Hinduism. Gita Mehta is also the author of 'Raj'.

'The scintillating flurry of anecdotes through which Gita Mehta describes the fools, knaves, wretches and occasional genuine
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 5th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1979)
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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. A westward-looking Indian (Cambridge educated), Mehta views young spiritual seekers with a combination of amusement and dismay. She highlights the absurdity that people looking for enlightenment and truth are falling for the rhetoric of gurus teaching such blatantly irrational doctrines. Whether it's some Europeans worshipping a candy-ea ...more
A bleakly, acidly funny look at the Westerners who went out to India in the 1960s and 1970s and the dance of mutual incomprehension and exploitation that resulted. Mass marketed Enlightenment, commodified exoticism, and gullibility abound here. Call it a darker, subcontinental version of "Hideous Kinky"--- and one that, as heroin replaces hashish amongst hippies and enlightenment seekers, gets darker as it goes.
Ashok Krishna
Poverty, Chastity and Piety – search for the basic code of conduct prescribed by any religion for its spiritual seekers, and you will find these three aspects standing out. While piety is more internal and is not for others to see or judge, the first two aspects are for all of us to view and verify. But, just as all things change with Time, these too are thrown in the wind and religion has got into the hands of those who have desecrated these principles and manipulated religions for their own se ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here we have a book about the development of “metaphysical tourism” in India. The term pertains to non-Indians, mostly Americans and Europeans, who come to India looking for spiritual guidance. Mehta’s book is a mosaic of episodes and observations held together with bits of philosophy and poetic prose. Some of the book describes how certain gurus exploit their foreign flocks as cheap labor, sexual opportunities, and sources of income.

But more than this, “Karma Cola” describes how Westerners dam
May 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hilarious! I read this in India, and it just perfectly summed up so many of the idiotic Westerners I was meeting there. ("Hi, I'm Sally? I've been a Buddhist for six months?...") It also was a good reminder for myself to have a sense of humor abroad and not take myself or my travels too seriously. Highly recommend it if you're planning on some sort of "spiritual journey" here or abroad.
Lori Theis
Feb 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East reads like a string of self-conscious journal entries. Nested inside each of Mehta’s anecdotes are metonyms within metonyms, fashioned out of poetic free verse, assonance, alliteration, slogans-turned-epigrams, ramped up hyperbole, fragments of dialogue, cosmic irony, and heavy doses of allusion (most likely lost on anyone under 30 years old). Throughout Karma Cola Mehta uses the figurative language of rock and roll to pen her tragically comic and cacophoni ...more
I was pleasantly surprised with Gita Mehta's effort in Karma Cola especially since my previous outing with her (The River Sutra) was a disappointment. Written in the late 70s when Mehta was probably in her 30s, Karma Cola is a kaleidoscopic view of the naivety of the Westerners who flocked to India in search of spiritual salvation in the 60s and of the bankruptcy of the Gurus who mushroomed all across the country to cater to this demand. While no Guru was explicitly named, I could only recognize ...more
Oct 05, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was nothing how I expected it to be. I found the timing difficult at first, but once I started to read, I enjoyed Mehta's story telling.

Mehta writes about the struggles that come with tourism and the Westernization of culture for sales and marketing. The stories of the Westerners who go to India to look for enlightenment and end up falling completely into the Void are interesting. Illusions lead to disillusions. Con men pose as gurus.

Mehta doesn't just hate on tourists, though. She d
A mildly interesting look at the sudden interest in eastern mysticism and religions by millions of baby boomers in the late 1960s. The Beatles might be partly responsible but Mehta does major literary eye-rolling at the influx of naive westerners traveling to India and other south Asian countries in search of knowledge. Even Steve Jobs succumbed to the pull of this nonsense. To this day, there are westerners afflicted with this desire to "find" themselves and become one with the universe or some ...more
il libro è del '79 e quindi un po' datato- ma l'incontro/scontro fra est e ovest e che spesso culmina con un fallimento totale è spesso esilarante. gita mehta, con penna caustica, sbeffeggia gli equivoci e le forzature che seguirono la grande scoperta dell'india negli anni 60 e portarono a un travisamento a volte totale e grottesco del suo misticismo e a ridicoli tentativi di "occidentalizzazione" di un pensiero così particolare. divertente- anche se mi ha profondamente irritato l'ottusità di al ...more
Nandakishore Varma
I totally agree with Gita Mehta's opinion of gullible Westerners falling for bogus Indian Gurus. It would be worth their while to memorise the following quartet by Adi Sankaracharya:

"Matted hair, shaven heads, hair tied up in tresses;
Saffron-clad - varied are their dresses:
Seeing, still the foolish do not see!
All these costumes are for filling the belly..."

Yes, indeed.


That said, the book was only a set of mildly funny and disjointed anecdotes that did not impress me much. May
Sankari Ni Bhriain
I read this while I was travelling around India and I laughed out loud and loved every page. I only wish now that I hadn't passed it on because I can't find it again. Next time I lay hands on this little wonder I'll keep it.
Dec 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
Not really about marketing, but about the interaction between Western hippies and Indian (particularly Hindu) society in the 1960s and 1970s. It makes a good companion-piece to Said's Orientalism, I think - more impressionistic and less ranty, but definitely addressing similar themes.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I need to read this again--I recall finding it very interesting. I loved the insights into the "other side" of the West's fascination with the so-called "mystic East." I picked this up after reading Mehta's A River Sutra in a college lit. class.
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eastern-thought
Karma Cola is a book of the 1970s and the hippies that came to India for enlightenment, for some time at the spiritual spa, before they were called spas. Remember the Maharishi, remember George Harrison, far out man. Om Mane Padme Hummmmmmmm
A bit slight, but a nice antidote to all that eating, praying, loving bullshit.
Richa gupta
I read this book in my college days, I want to read it again coz I ve forgotten most of it but I remember a line which said " never believe in a yogi with Adidas shoes "

Jan 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I first got started on it almost a year ago when a seminar discussion on Lucian's 2nd-century CE essay on the false prophet Alexander (translation here: took a turn towards discussing fake gurus in the modern world. So this book about encounters with faux religious tourists in India in the late 70's seemed to be a good thing to read. Well, given that it's taken me 10 months to finish 200 pages, one could say it didn't work out. Two things in particular b ...more
Sally Edsall
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour
I really loved this book. Sick of the psychobabble approach to the search for meaning indulged in by western hippies and dilettantes? Then this is the book for you. If you remain sceptically detached, then Mehta's bull's-excrement detector will appeal to you. In a world where 'altenatives' are equally as brand-labelled as major corporate product, Mehta turns the heat on the dipsomaniacs and freaks who are so successfully sucked in by the tricksters and con merchants in the great supermarket of ' ...more
Brian Richards
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dated but an excellent read on the hippy influence in India during the 1960s and 70s.
Rutva Shukla
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite book of all time.
Erik Akre
Aug 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: seekers attracted to India and "the spirituality of India"
Shelves: spirituality, history
Gita Mehta holds a mirror to the Western fascination with India and its spiritual heritage.

Mehta gives us a look at people's New Age quests to India for salvation, beginning in the 60's. So much is utterly ridiculous, even insane. We can generalize and say that embracing another culture's spirituality--without any cultural connection or deep experience with tradition--is like ditching your inner life for an impossible dream, which if you follow it far enough, will result in the surrender of all
Baal Of
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
That was disappointing.
Perhaps my expectations were wrong. I expected some kind of structure, some kind of coherent narrative. Instead this book came across as scattershot and unfocused. A loose collection of reminiscences with such a lack of rigor that I began to doubt how much was true, and how much was embellished. I think part of the problem for me was that Mehta never, as far as I could tell, was writing *for* anything. There was a lot of scorn and derision flung in all directions. But ther
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
I read this book because it's one of Lonely Planet's recommended books for travellers going to India. Having been to India, being of Pakistani descent, and also having loads of exposure to Indian art and music, I was curious about why they recommended Karma Cola. I see why they did, although I didn't love the book.

This book has some extremely witty bits. There were many "why didn't I write that?" moments. It is a very important work that exposes what is wrong with the mentality of "Occidentals"
Peter Fogtdal
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
My own next novel is about a devotee's farcical relationship to his Indian guru, so when a Facebook friend told me about KARMA COLA I knew I had to read it.

Well, after the first fifty pages I thought this non-fiction book was going to be another predictable work about how ALL Indian gurus are cheats (yawn, yawn), but luckily Gita Mehtha is more sophisticated than that. Yes, she's deeply critical of the Guru Business but open and knowledgeable enough not to pan it in the condescending way that's
Mar 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book on the continuing theme (my personal one) of the corrupting influence of religion. This book was first published in 1979 and this edition was published in 1991 so some information may be dated, but Gita Mehta's main thesis, the subtitle if this book is the marketing of the Mystic East and she shows clearly that as with all religion all that is being sold is fraudulent crap and in at least one case urine of the guru as having healing powers. The book will make you shake your head, it ...more
Katja Vartiainen
Jun 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
Any westerner been to India, can relate to this book. It is witty, funny, shocking, surprising, just like India. Some of the stuff I cannot interpret, while i was born probably after it happened, and the names, events, i never lived. The question remains has the west learned anything? Spiritual seekers still run around India, lot of them mistreated. History teaches us nothing? And for the East? Mistakes were made before, and it seems people still think they have to make them themselves..Anyway, ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a bad one or what we should say as the good one. It says fiction but it is written not in a novel or narrative style but in a documentary non-fiction style. It is Indian spirituality meeting west and whole spectrum of things around it like Beatles / rock groups coming to India for getting the enlightenment exp., drugs, hippies, Goa, sadhus, foreign disciples in India , and all the other stuff. It is written with a light touch but covers almost all the related topics. Its lighter style and hu ...more
Nitya Sivasubramanian
Often, when I mention to people that I refuse to go to yoga classes in America, they ask if I'm offended by the cultural appropriation of suburban moms chanting mantras. This book at least explains a bit of my concern, that in a quest for meaning, outsiders often ascribe more value to certain rituals than are necessarily intrinsic. I'm all for centering yourself and finding peace, but if you're surrendering yourself to a spiritual guide at the risk of your own health, is it really worth it?
Sarah Foster
Thought-provoking and a great introduction to the concept of cultural misappropriation, it's a solid read. That said, I feel that it misses at points and doesn't necessarily flow cleanly to the extent that it gets in its own way from time to time. I think it too frequently resorts to painting culture as an inscrutable thing that can't be shared effectively rather than simply highlighting the problem of cultural dilettantes claiming a tradition to which they've no connection.
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Gita Mehta (born in 1943) is an Indian writer and was born in Delhi in a well-known Odia family. She is the daughter of Biju Patnaik, an Indian independence activist and a Chief Minister in post-independence Odisha, then known as Orissa. Her younger brother Naveen Patnaik has been the Chief Minister of Odisha since 2000. She completed her education in India and at the University of Cambridge, Unit ...more
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“In a Cuban writers union, there was some confusion about what the toast should be? It was the Gita Mehta who solved the riddle and said,
"I purpose a toast to the health of the written words”
“There is that difference between being kicked in the teeth and reading a description of being kicked in the teeth. Some call it existential.” 1 likes
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