Is your mobile phone on?” Before you can say “Radhe Maa”, a woman snatches it from you: “Give it to me. Why is it so hot? Were you doing a sting?” Young men in red bandanas, guarding a short flight of stairs to a closed door-from cracks around which red,Is your mobile phone on?” Before you can say “Radhe Maa”, a woman snatches it from you: “Give it to me. Why is it so hot? Were you doing a sting?” Young men in red bandanas, guarding a short flight of stairs to a closed door-from cracks around which red light emanates-inch forward. Youths, standing near a coffee-vending machine, are suddenly closer to you than ever. Cell phones get confiscated, searched and checked. A humourless smile tips the corners of her mouth: “Mataji is sleeping. She did puja the whole night. No interview, no darshan. Have breakfast and just leave.”If all the world’s a stage, Mumbai’s Walkeshwar Road is where all the action is right now. At one end of the tony, tree-lined street-one of India’s most expensive-resides Lord Shiva in his 888-year-old temple. At the other end, there is the so-called ‘Durga incarnate’, Mamtamai Shri Radhe Guru Maa in her palatial mansion, the White House. But in a cynical, suspicious world, the lines are getting blurred between the mythic and myth-making: is she, or is she not, an avatar, playing hide-and-seek with mere mortals?”I hope you did not eat that breakfast,” shrieks TV celebrity Dolly Bindra, who was in Maa’s inner circle between 2011 and 2013. She had gone in the hope of becoming a mother, she claims. The “cure” was: “Eat my prasad”, or her leftovers (jhoota), Bindra alleges. “I was sexually tortured and targeted in the orgies that take place there, with people dancing to Bollywood music in the nude.” Bindra, who complained to the police, claims that Radhe Maa lures people with the promise of making them rich: “But once you enter her gang, you can’t come out. It’s very dangerous. My mind was f****d. Atma jhunjhuna gayi.” Radhe Maa’s aides, however, dismiss the charges as baseless.advertisementBut #RadheMaa is trending on social media. Television cameras are tracking her relentlessly. Reporters are stalking her with a new purpose. A Pandora’s box of toxic allegations are out: housewife Nikki Gupta alleges dowry harassment and torture; Sussex-educated lawyer Falguni Brahmbhatt has lodged a PIL for obscenity; advocate Ashok Rajput has filed a complaint for spreading superstition and black magic; Himachal priest Mahant Shyam Sundar Das is pointing a finger for financial irregularities, land grabbing and murder of her own guru, Ramadhin; the family of Maa’s late sister-in-law has accused her of abetment to suicide and of life threats to them.There is also the old allegation of big-money corruption from the past: how she had become the first woman in the last 1,200 years to be the mahamandaleshwar (chief guardian) of the powerful Hindu akhara, Juna, in 2012. Thrown out within days, the allegations against her by the akhara committee remain: she bribed her way to the top, had not taken ‘sanyas’ or renounced past life through pinda daan, has no knowledge of scriptures, and has not given up family life. What’s more, her guru was a Vaishnavite while the Juna akhara worships Shiva.August 17, Monday, 11 a.m. “Ask anyone where Radhe Maa is and they’ll tell you.” That’s the promise from Sanjeev Gupta, the man who has dotted Mumbai with her posters. But outside her abode, there is not a soul in sight, no bhakt chanting her name, nothing. But so what? It’s the ‘leela’, stupid. A knock on the massive door and a side panel opens a crack. A man peeps out, a white hanky over his head, one eye twitching spasmodically: “You have an appointment?” He disappears. One can hear hectic whispering. Aeons pass. A cool sea breeze scatters gulmohar leaves. A heavy perfume-Dolce & Gabbana?-wafts in the air. The scent of spirituality? Yes, right there, behind you, there’s her red bridal dupatta, on the backseat of a car-no, not her black Jaguar with red wheels, that hit the headlines for being registered under a fake address-just a greyish non-controversial SUV.The door opens into a lobby. There’s a blood red imprint of Radhe Maa’s feet on marble floor, encased in glass case and flowers. Chandeliers, mirrors and sleek white leather upholstery in an enormous hall form the backdrop. Upstairs, Maa lives in an urban cave, a ‘gufa’, with red walls, red velvet bedspread studded with precious stones. Three people sit in the lobby, looking very sad. “What’s their problem with her,” says an elderly gentleman. “Don’t mothers touch and kiss children?” The man with the handkerchief chokes with emotion as he describes how he first met Mata a decade back: “I saw on her face the exact image of my family kula devi.” They talk about her teachings: “So simple and sweet. She says, just go and do bhakti. Like your bank balance, your bhakti should be full.” She is like a child, they all agree: “Warm, open, giving everything to everyone.” But right now the public scrutiny is making her scared: “So many people are now after her. We feel very hurt. God knows why it all started.”advertisementIt all began with Rahul Mahajan, son of late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan. On August 5, he went on Twitter with a “Guess who ????” and three pictures of Radhe Maa lolling around in a pink miniskirt, boots, beret and plastic bridal bangles upto her elbows. Ever since, the nation has been obsessing over her. It’s not quite clear why. As devotee actor Rakhi Sawant says, “Why are people reacting like this? She’s just a modern Mata, with a different style.” Sawant had come out of her depression, thanks to her: “All charges are false. I love her. She is a miracle woman.”The nation can’t have enough of a godwoman who is 50 but looks not a day over 30, dresses in fierce red, flaunts piles of diamonds, wears her shiny black hair in teenybopper bangs-and-bouffant style, sports a pancake face. So what if Naga sadhus go around stark naked, smoking chillum? The moment Maa sways to the tune of Bollywood-smiling, eyes closed, with bhakts chanting “Bol Radhe Radhe”-the nation gets transfixed. Veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai believes that Maa is being “misunderstood” for her “happy childish moods”: “Her old devotees call her Gudia (baby doll) Devi Ma”.”It’s nothing but a frenzy of witch hunt,” says adman Prahlad Kakkar, the reason why even a non-believer like him has risen valiantly to Mamtamai’s defence. “In logic and in law, there’s nothing against her,” says Kakkar. He has known her for just a year and a half, though. “I noticed her for her funny dress,” he says, “as I kept bumping into her in lifts.” Was that a coincidence, he wonders. As he became privy to her inner circle, he found her to be a “very warm human being” who spoke to him “without being a Maa”. “She’s actually a very simple housewife who has nobody to talk to.” Most of her devotees are small-time business people, he points out, who believe that god is wealth. And she gives them hope: if you are good, god will give you wealth.Falguni Brahmbhatt doesn’t quite agree. “A whole lot of influential people of the business, entertainment and political worlds are fighting on her behalf,” she says. “They are working hard to hush up the cases against her.” That’s because Maa’s modus operandi involves celebrities: “They call celebrities for her events. Then they advertise. People come for the stars.” At every such occasion, she claims, “a lot of drama” takes place, people offer money, gifts, even gold, while she favours influential people with gifts or blessings. The Mamtamai Shree Radhe Guru Maa Charitable Trust, that organises so many events and collects so much money, is not even registered, Brahmbhatt has just found out through an RTI application.advertisementNo one really knows how she became a multimillionaire godwoman. But hers is the classic story of someone rising from rags to riches, with some grit and lots of imagination. Born and reared in penury in Gurdaspur, Punjab, Sukhwinder Kaur was bride to a sweet shop worker of Mukarian, Hoshiarpur, before she was out of her teens. By age 20, she was hard at work as a mother of two and a seamstress, to make both ends meet. She gravitated toward local satsangs of Mahant Ramadhin after her husband left her for the Gulf, in search of a better future. Her spiritual life took off when she got diksha at age 23.Did she also get her first taste of power in the male-dominated world of spirituality? She did start dressing up in finery and calling herself a goddess from around this time. With some Hindu organisations objecting to her ‘audacity’, Sukhwinder moved to Delhi and finally to Mumbai. That was around 2003. How she met members of the Gupta family, owners of the 68-year-old confectionery, M.M. Mithaiwala, and impressed them enough to get refuge in their Borivali home are again questions that remain unanswered. But for the last 12 years, the Maa-Mithaiwala union has worked, with both experiencing “tremendous growth by the grace of God”.Meantime, Maa is quietly getting angry. Earlier, she would use her mini-trishul to surreptitiously comb her billowing hair during public events. But now she is threatening to destroy this hapless world with the swing of her trident: “Mera trishul hilega to duniya hil jayegi” (If my trishul moves, the world will be shaken). She is particularly angry with journalists, or “totalog” (parrot people). Beware of the fury of the devi.