Raj Patel's desk sits in a dusty, cement-floored nook in his garage, just beyond a parked gray Prius, near the washer and dryer. They are humble surroundings for a god.
"It is absurd to be put in this position, when I'm just some bloke," Mr. Patel said.
A native of London now living on Potrero Hill in San Francisco, Mr. Patel suddenly finds himself an unlikely object of worship, proclaimed the messiah Maitreya by followers of the New Age religious sect Share International.
He was raised as a Hindu and had never heard of the group. He has no desire for deification. But he may not have a choice.
Mr. Patel's journey from ordinary person to unwilling lord is a case of having the wrong résumé at the wrong moment in history. For this is a time when human yearning to find a magical cure for the world's woes can be harnessed to the digital age's instant access to a vast treasure-trove of personal information.
I have known Mr. Patel for four years - he keeps an office down the hall from mine. He is charming, and as a graduate of Oxford, Cornell University and the London School of Economics, he is considered brilliant, although he is self-effacing. He readily admits to being imperfectly human.
People began to believe otherwise on Jan. 14 in London when Benjamin Creme, the leader of Share International, who is also known as the Master, proclaimed the arrival of Maitreya. The name of the deity has Buddhist roots, but in 1972, Mr. Creme prophesied the coming Maitreya as a messiah for all faiths called the World Teacher.
Mr. Creme did not name the messiah, but he revealed clues that led his devotees to fire up their search engines on a digital scavenger hunt that would lead them to The One.
About this time Mr. Patel was publicizing his new economics book, "The Value of Nothing." With blogging, biographies and talk show appearances, the details of his life and views permeated the Internet ether. Crowds packed his readings, his book debuted on the New York Times best-seller list, and he appeared on "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central.
The Maitreya clues - his age (supposed to be born in 1972; Mr. Patel was), life experiences (supposed to have traveled from India to London in 1977; Mr. Patel was taken on a vacation there with his parents that year) race (supposed to be dark-skinned; Mr. Patel is Indian) and philosophies - all pointed to him. Some believe Maitreya will have a stutter. When Mr. Patel tripped over a few words when talking with Mr. Colbert, it was the final sign.
"It became a flood," said Mr. Patel, referring to a torrent of e-mail messages that asked: "Are you The One?" He removed the contact information from his Web site, but dozens of pages, discussion groups and videos have emerged online proclaiming his holiness.
Mr. Patel has emphatically and publicly denied being Maitreya. Bad move. According to the predictions, "Maitreya will neither confirm, or will fail to confirm, he is Maitreya," said Cher Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Share International.
Ms. Gilmore said Mr. Creme would not say if he believed Mr. Patel was the messiah.
Ben Shoucair, 24, a college student from Detroit, does not need more convincing. He said he saw Mr. Patel in a dream, and then was stunned to find a YouTube video and discover his vision was real. Last week, Mr. Shoucair and his father spent $990 on last-minute tickets to fly to San Francisco to be in Mr. Patel's presence at a book promotion.
Reached by phone this week, Mr. Shoucair said meeting Mr. Patel had made him "happy." He said the Maitreya evidence was irrefutable. "It puts it all on Raj Patel at this time in history."
Mr. Shoucair seemed amazed when told that Mr. Patel did not believe he was the messiah and had never heard of Mr. Creme. "See how deep the spiritual world is," Mr. Shoucair said.
Mr. Patel said of their pilgrimage: "It broke my heart. They'd flown all the way from Detroit."
Share International's beliefs are rooted in the Theosophical movement popular in Britain in the late-19th century; it later evolved into New Age beliefs, said Ted F. Peters of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Messiahs have been declared before, only to disappoint.
"It's incredibly flattering, just for an instant," Mr. Patel said of his unwanted status. "And then you realize what it means. People are looking for better times. Almost anything now will qualify as a portent of different times."
Scott James is an Emmy-winning television journalist and novelist who lives in San Francisco.