Anup Prasad, a young commerce student from the industrial town of Tinsukia in Assam, northeast India, was contemplating the deepening pink of dusk as he walked home from college in Bangalore. Suddenly, something caught his eye. It was something which would replace his spiritual doubt, and his disavowal of caste and religion with an entirely new conviction. “There was a cigar-sized object in the sky,” he recalls excitedly. “It gave off a bright light from its tail, and it was moving upwards.”

Anup thought that what he’d seen was literally unearthly; it seemed to throb and glow with both mystery and revelation. But his friends thought he was crazy. “They told me it must be a military jet. But I said, ‘Planes don’t move so fast, and not in that jig-jag manner. That’s not our science!’ ” Two years ago, while he was surfing the Internet for other sightings of strange, unexplained objects in the sky, he came across a text entitled “Intelligent Design.” “It was 400 pages long. I read it through the night. And all my doubts were clear,” he says.

This text was the bible of the International Raelian Movement, the “UFO religion” founded in 1973 by French sports journalist Claude Vorilhon. It recounts his encounter with a four-foot alien who disembarked from a flying saucer in a volcanic crater at Puy de Lassolas in the centre of France, and apparently instructed him to build an “embassy” to enable further possibilities of contact. From then on, Vorilhon, or Rael, as he renamed himself after that fateful encounter, said he kept in touch with them through a topknot hairstyle that functioned as a sort of mobile tower for extraterrestrial signals.

According to Raelians, these aliens – the Elohim – created all life forms on earth several million years ago, and will return to the planet of their making to teach their creations the science of cloning and mind transfer so as to facilitate eternal life. In 2003, about five years after Dolly the sheep was cloned, the Raelian Movement rose to fame – or notoriety – when one of its bishops, Brigitte Boisselier, claimed to have cloned the first human baby, a girl named Eve. She was, however, later unable to produce any proof of the supposed miracle.

A more common Raelian pursuit is scanning the skies for alien spacecraft, comet tails and meteor showers, which are taken to be the Elohim’s flashing semaphores. Raelians also take a keen interest in heavenly bodies on earth. They renounce both matrimony and religion, and believe that sensuality is a gift from their alien creators.

So while they may not believe that life began with a Big Bang, they like to end their days with a whimper, or better yet, a moan. Mornings, meanwhile, are devoted to sessions of “sensual meditation,” a slow, simmering discovery of the body’s “living toys.”

Anup Prasad, 26, works in Delhi as a software engineer and is also one of55 Indian members of the Raelian Movement. Four times a year, as a senior levelRaelian, he conducts “transmissions” in his one bedroom flat in the neighbourhoodof South Extension, to induct new members into the “UFO religion.”

Anup Prasad, 26, works in Delhi as a software engineer and is also one of55 Indian members of the Raelian Movement. Four times a year, as a senior levelRaelian, he conducts “transmissions” in his one bedroom flat in the neighbourhoodof South Extension, to induct new members into the “UFO religion.”

It’s not surprising then that the ultimate Playboy, Hugh Hefner, has been awarded with an “honorary” priesthood, as has, mystifyingly enough, the famously misanthropic French author Michel Houellebecq, who used their cloning cult as the self-annihilating prism through which he saw humanity’s post-nuclear apocalyptic future in his book, The Possibility of an Island. Its unremitting, soul-extincting darkness, borne out in phrases like, “Facing solitude with someone is consented hell,” is a far cry – or existential howl – from can you get rid of herpes the Raelian world of free hugs and “sensual pyjama parties.” Their mostly topless “happiness academy” is closer to Osho’s brand of ecstatic free love than anything remotely anhedonic.

“Osho plus UFO is equal to Rael,” agrees Anup, as he nibbles at a piece of naan in Bengal Sweets, a popular eatery in South Delhi. Beside him, wearing pigtails, a beatific smile, and a brooch with the Raelian swastika/ Star of David symbol, is a fellow Raelian from Tokyo, Licca, currently in town for the treatment of oesophageal cancer. Anup, as one of the two highest grade Raelians in India, and the only one in Delhi, is her host. The number of Indian Raelians hovers, like a particularly feeble spacecraft, between 30 and 55, with the majority hailing from Mumbai.

Anup is a Level 3 Regional Guide and gets to wear a heavy silver medallion which he sports while conducting “transmission” sessions to “baptise” new Raelian recruits. Raelians believe that anointing a fledgling member’s forehead with water emits that person’s genetic code to the alien creators. “Their DNA gets matched with the mother computer of the Elohim,” explains Anup. While Raelians are keen to recruit as many members as possible to reassure the Elohim they’ll get a peaceful and sensual welcome on earth, the prospect of scrutiny makes Anup anxious to ward off the sexually starved, a woefully common specie in repressed, conservative India.

“I have to be careful. If they are joining because we are open for sex, then during the Transmission, the Elohim will come to know everything. The computer will give output to them about the quality of Raelians in India.” Luckily, this is one specie that’s easily identified, says Anup. “They’ll say, ‘How many males and females do you have?’ Or when they see pictures of girls in the ‘Go Topless Day’ on my Facebook wall, they’ll say, ‘Can I meet them?’ ” With a sigh of resignation, he adds, “Even my friends tell me, ‘You’re so open to lovemaking. So why don’t you make me a Raelian?’ I say this is primitive thinking. You have to be dedicated, you have to understand your creators.”

The biggest hurdle of all, though, is the mockery episode hack of his friends. Some even sputter out their disbelief and ridicule him on his Facebook wall, calling him a worshipper of stupidity and paranoia who’s credulous enough to swallow whole an unpalatable mix of science fiction and world mythologies. “They make fun of me because we believe in aliens,” admits Anup, “but you know what I say? ‘You believe in Brahma, and Vishnu. They have two hands, three heads. They’re advanced, a bit different. Can’t we call them aliens? Then I ask them where they think all these 36 crore Hindu gods live. They point at the sky. And then I ask them,” he concludes, triumphantly, “Now, where is that?’ ”

Byline: Tara Gopalachari

Motherland is a bi-monthly magazine with a focus on contemporary and emerging Indian cultures.