On Live TV, Mystic in India Tries to Kill Rationalist

The news pitch was so good — but the story so hard to do — that BPP asked producer Dan Pashman to forget the report and just try selling it live.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

One of the things we pride ourselves on here at the Bryant Park Project is transparency. We draw back the curtain on how we put this little radio show together. And it's not a little radio show. I'm looking at today's rundown. We have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven live guests. So every day, we have to come up with two hours of fine radio programming for y'all. We have a pitch meeting.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

We do. We all gather around and give forth. Promulgate the mumblings of our mind. Some are worth keeping, and some of them, maybe aren't so much.

STEWART: Here's an example where a pitch comes poorly. This is what you hear in the room.

(Soundbite of crickets chirping)

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Just dead silence. And then somebody says, OK, move on. Yesterday, though, we had a pitch that probably won't make it on the air, but gosh darn, the pitch was entertaining. So, just to give you a little peek into what our lives are like so that we may bring you radio, and informative and entertaining radio, let's go through the pitch process. It was courtesy of Dan Pashman. So, Dan, what's your pitch?

DAN PASHMAN: Hey, guys. Yeah. This is what I'm working on. Tell me what you think of this idea for the show. I've been reading this article about this pretty interesting incident that took place in India. Apparently, it all started when this woman Uma Bharti, who's a former chief minister, accused her political opponents of using tantric powers, sort of basically spells. I don't want to offend anyone, but it sounds like the Indian version of voodoo spells.

STEWART: OK.

PASHMAN: OK, to basically inflict damage upon her. Her uncle had passed away. She hit her head on her car door. She had a bunch of lesions on her legs. She said tantric powers are being used against me. So, some sort of Indian TV version of "Crossfire," "Point-Counterpoint" show invited one of the nation's premier tantrics.

MARTIN: Wait, just stop one minute. At this point, we're all thinking, what is the story? Can we just say? Please continue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PASHMAN: It just keeps building.

STEWART: You had me at "tantric."

PASSHMAN: Right. So, there's a "Point-Counterpoint" entitled "Tantric Power vs. Science," and it has one of the nation's premier tantrics and a guy named Sanal Edamaruku, who's the president of the Rationalist International, who's sort of this crusader against what he views as superstition and all of these special powers in India. And the two of them had an argument back and forth, whether or not this is real. The tantric took a pile of dough, put a string, circled it around it, and pulled the string as if it was tightening a noose around the dough, and said I could kill anyone I want in three minutes.

This is on live TV. So, Sanal Edamaruku, the rationalist, says, fine, kill me. Right now, kill me in three minutes. So, the tantric begins to chant the spells to kill this guy on television. They start chanting, "om linga linga lina, tilik tilik." I won't chant the whole spell because I don't want to hurt anybody here. But so, and nothing happened. Three minutes go by, five minutes go by, ten minutes go by.

STEWART: Kind of like this. Three minutes go by, five minutes go by, ten minutes go by.

MARTIN: You're killing me.

PASHMAN: It begins to escalate to the point that they now have to break out through the next - the show is supposed to end and they go through the next show and they put breaking news across the screen as this tantric - now he starts to touch the guy and the host says, whoa, you can't touch him, because that wouldn't be using a spell. And it goes on and on, nothing at all happens to this rationalist, OK? So, now he's smiling, looking very content. The tantric...

MARTIN: I cannot believe this is real, frankly.

PASHMAN: The tantric is very upset. And so, the tantric says, I have one more spell. One more spell, but I can only do it at night. So India TV cancels whatever they have for prime time that night and begins announcing a special live prime time show in which this tantric is going to pull out this spell of all spells to kill this rationalist on live television. And he brings out a whole group of tantrics and they're all chanting, "om linga linga," and they're throwing things into this big bonfire, and it's crackling and sparkling. And the rationalist is just sitting there smiling. Nothing bad happens to him.

STEWART: Are we booking an Indian TV critic? We do we...

PASHMAN: He's not - the show ends and they were not able to kill the rationalist, and he is still fine and dandy.

STEWART: So that was the pitch.

PASHMAN: That's what happened.

STEWART: And this is what happened after that.

(Soundbite of crickets chirping)

(Soundbite of laughter)

PASHMAN: So what do you guys say? Do you want to do it?

TRICIA MCKINNEY: I just have to say...

STEWART: This is editor Tricia McKinney.

MCKINNEY: So, I'm honestly with Rachel. I'm not 100 percent sure that this TV encounter actually happened. I'd love to know. I was trying to do a little digging.

PASHMAN: I sent away for the video of it.

MCKINNEY: I was trying to find out, you know, who's reporting on this? And I haven't found a lot of evidence, but I found all kinds of references to this guy, what is his name? The rationalist?

PASHMAN: Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Rationalist International.

MCKINNEY: He's even been on NPR. And, they had him on a few years ago when there was a rumor of a monkey man was running around New Delhi. I'm kind of now interested. Let me just be real. I'm interested in this story, because this is crazy. So, A, if this happened, I just want to talk about it somehow. B, this guy sounds interesting because apparently he's quite busy all the time, debunking myths and superstitions around India, and I just think it's sort of interesting that there's enough work for this guy to do. It seems like, like you said, it's a crusade for him.

PASHMAN: Yeah. Very personal.

MCKINNEY: I'm just quite interested in why there's the need for him. How much superstition and what he does, I don't know.

STEWART: That he can keep busy at a full time crusade against this.

MCKINNEY: Yeah. I just think there's something there. I'd like to talk to the guy.

MARTIN: This is what happens at the meeting. One seemingly - story that's going nowhere, all of a sudden becomes something that we actually might do.

MCKINNEY: I think we should explore it, anyway. At the very least.

PASHMAN: All right, BPP chasing Sanal Edamaruku.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: There you go.

PASHMAN: Take that, All Things Considered.

STEWART: You send that out, that email. Company-wide, there, Dan.

MARTIN: Thanks for the pitch, Dan.

STEWART: Dan with the pitch. Thanks, guys.

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