|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
What started as an oddity kept snowballing until suddenly, in the middle of his book tour and awaiting the arrival of his first child, Patel was inundated by questions, messages of support and even threats. The influx was so heavy, in fact, that he put up a statement on his website referencing Monty Python's Life of Brian and categorically stating that he was not Maitreya.
Instead of settling the issue, however, his denial merely fanned the flames for some believers. In a twist ripped straight from the script of the comedy classic, they said that this disavowal, too, had been prophesied. It seemed like there was nothing to convince them.
"It's the kind of paradox that's inescapable," he said, with a grim humour. "There's very little chance or point trying to dig out of it."
There are many elements of his life that tick the prophetic checklist of his worshippers: a flight from India to the UK as a child, growing up in London, a slight stutter, and appearances on TV. But it is his work that puts him most directly in the frame and causes him the most anguish – the very things the followers of Share believe will indicate that their new messiah has arrived.
Patel's career – spent at Oxford, LSE, the World Bank and with thinktank Food First – has been spent trying to understand the inequalities and problems caused by free market economics, particularly as it relates to the developing world.
His first book, Stuffed and Starved, rips through the problems in global food production and examines how the free market has worked to keep millions hungry (Naomi Klein called it dazzling, while the Guardian's Felicity Lawrence said it was "an impassioned call to action"). The Value of Nothing, meanwhile, draws on the economic collapse to look at how we might fix the system and improve life for billions of people around the globe.
While his goal appears to match Share's vision of worldwide harmony, he says the underlying assumptions it makes are wrong – and possibly even dangerous.
"What I'm arguing in the book is precisely the opposite of the Maitreya: what we need is various kinds of rebellion and transformations about how private property works," he said.
"I don't think a messiah figure is going to be a terribly good launching point for the kinds of politics I'm talking about – for someone who has very strong anarchist sympathies, this has some fairly deep contradictions in it."
To say Patel – with his academic air, stammer and grey-flecked hair – is a reluctant saviour is an understatement. In fact, he rejects the entire notion of saviours. If there is one thing he has learned from his work as an activist in countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is that there are no easy answers.
"People are very ready to abdicate responsibility and have it shovelled on to someone else's shoulders," he said. "You saw that with Obama most spectacularly, but whenever there's going to be someone who's just going to fix it for you, it's a very attractive story. It's in every mythological structure."
Patel's rejection of his status as a deity does not seem to have killed off interest from Share's members. Indeed, the situation has invaded his everyday life, such as when two devotees travelled from Detroit – some 2,400 miles away – just to hear him give a short public talk.
"They were really nice people, not in your face, really straightforward – these people do not look like fanatics," he says. "I gave the talk, and they hung around at the end and we had a chat."
It was only then that the pair revealed that they were followers of Creme's teachings.
Patel said: "They said they thought I was the Maitreya … they also said I had appeared in their dreams. I said: 'I'm really flattered that you came all the way here, but it breaks my heart that you came all this way and spent all this money to meet someone who isn't who you think he is.'
"It made me really depressed, actually. That evening I was really down."
While he struggles to cope with this unwanted anointment, his friends and family are more tickled by the situation.
"They think it's hilarious," he said. "My parents came to visit recently, and they brought clothes that said 'he's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy'. To them, it's just amusing."