When I first read the story of Vivekananda at Chicago, I couldn’t understand it. Why was the line “sisters and brothers of America” special? It was only “bhaiyon aur behnon” in English. How could that excite people enough, It didn’t sink in that their applause, and it can have been little more than that, was the reaction of a culture unaccustomed to sentiment in public speaking. Further probing revealed that the Parliament of Religions was a body of kooks, and not the equivalent of a religious United Nations that we think it was. In his 20s, Vivekananda learnt mysticism under Ramakrishna at Belur Math. Ma Sarada’s shrine there has a board outside. It says she encouraged her husband Ramakrishna and others to put her chappals on their head. In 1890, aged 27, Vivekananda travelled around India for a year. “He began to assume various names in order to conceal his identity that he might be swallowed up in the immensity of India,” according to Advaita Ashrama’s biography. But this isn’t true. Romain Rolland wrote: “Like a diver he plunged into the Ocean of India and the Ocean of India covered his tracks. Among its flotsam and jetsam he was nothing more than one nameless sannyasin in saffron among a thousand others.” This is even less true. Vivekananda had no wish to be anonymous. He lived with nobility during this time, spending weeks at the palace of Maharaja Ajit Singh of Khetri, and then with Chamaraja Wodeyar, maharaja of Mysore. He was close to Bhaskara Setupati, Raja of Ramnad, who funded Vivekananda’s visit to Chicago. Common people did not interest him, and he spent his time with wealthy European socialites, urging them to give up sex. Vivekananda left for America in 1893, returning only in 1897. Coming from a nation that was 95% illiterate, whose people knew little about their history or culture before the British and Germans educated them, he lectured the West on the greatness of India. Should he not have addressed Indians instead? He left again for America and Europe in 1899, returning at the end of 1900, a few months before he died in 1902. One aspect of Vivekananda that shines through in his books is his vanity. He loved having himself photographed, preferably posing in studios. “Vivekananda as a wandering monk” reads a caption of him with a stage backdrop painted behind him. This is in Vivekananda: A Biography in Pictures. There are endless pictures of him playing holy man in full costume (like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) around the world, always posing: pensive, meditating, with his hand stuck in his robe, like Napoleon, and that famous cross-armed posture. He complains (Letters of Swami Vivekananda) on returning from America, that Indians force him to wear a loincloth and that has given him diabetes. He does strange things, like memorizing Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Why? We do not know and it would be interesting to find out. But we are happy to worship his photographs instead. So we Indians revere our leaders, but don’t read them. This comes naturally to a culture that worships physical forms, rather than ideas. But it means that the leader remains unexamined.