By Uma Sudhir
“Swamy will be back with us. We are expecting that by Wednesday, there will be a miracle or it may take some time. But Swamy for sure, will be back with us,” the APSRTC bus depot manager was telling me very matter-of-fact. Just two days in Puttaparthy, I had long stopped looking wide-eyed with surprise when people told me what might otherwise seem like fiction or a figment of imagination.
Virtually everyone here relates incidents of ‘miracles’ that happened to them, not so much to impress you, as to simply share a detail of their life. I, in fact, got the impression that the devotees and followers were not even in any iota of doubt that the person they were sharing the story with may be sceptical of the stories and interpretations. If at all they were conscious of it, it didn’t make them defensive: it was only as if they were sympathetic that they know and I don’t. That is all the difference they saw.
Vijay Sai, the young proprietor of hotel Sai Paradise where I was staying, says the hotel was opened only four months ago.
“We have not yet finished all works but we had to open it for guests considering the demand. We had hoped to complete pending works in the three summer months when the Swamy is usually away at Whitefield and there is no visitor traffic. Wonder why the Swamy did this,” he wonders, adding almost to himself, “He should have at least told us before he left.”
I couldn’t help asking Vijay, “How come all of you here speak like this? How can you rationally expect that that is a possibility?” I got a smile for an answer, which seemed to say : “Here it is like that only for us.”
The town and its people identify so much with being subjects and followers of Satya Saibaba, it is almost as though there is a blurring of identities. Not just spiritually but quite literally as well. Everyone has Sai or Satya as a prefix or suffix to their name. Every hotel, shop, saloon, stadium, planetarium, health centre, school and college has a Sai connection in the name itself. Not surprising perhaps because everything after all, is directly or indirectly in existence because of Saibaba and his blessings.
The soul of Puttaparthy is Satya Saibaba and so is his body. But with the physical being of the presiding deity no longer here, will Puttaparthy be able to retain its fame and glory and the economic prosperity ushered in by the Swamy?
An emphatic yes, says Adikeshavulu Naidu, former MP and ex-chairman of the wealthy Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD). Naidu is a long time and close associate of Satya Saibaba. He shows me a huge laminated poster of Satya Saibaba with a dozen faces around it, including that of an elephant.
“Those are all my family members. The name for each one of them was given by Swamy. That includes my wife, children and grandchildren. So they all owe their very identity to him.”
When I evince curiousity in knowing about the elephant, Naidu tells me the baby elly was presented by his grandchildren and named by Saibaba as Satyageeta. “It was a replacement for Saigeeta who was with Swamy,” says Naidu.
Almost every follower or devotee I met shared what they called `miracles’, not of the vibhuti or lingam materialising-out-of-thin-air variety but a very personal experience where they felt the intervention of the Baba had made something impossible become possible.
Bhagyalakshmi had come from Kakinada with her daughter. She says a few years ago her husband, a bank employee suffered a serious road accident in which his skull was fractured. Doctors had said he would not survive. When he did, they said he would suffer permanent debility. That he would lose his sight.
But he recovered and she believes it is due to the Baba’s miracle that he is perfectly healthy and active today. “He needed to wear glasses before, now he has perfect vision.”
Jagdish says he has always been a follower of Satya Saibaba but for 30 years, his wife refused to be one. She was sceptical of “men of magic”. On their marriage anniversary, in April 2009, she wanted a darshan of Lord Balaji at Tirumala. After all arrangements were made, and they reached Tirumala, all darshans were cancelled for the day. They were about to return disappointed when they purely by chance met an old associate who worked in the TTD, who said the Baba appeared in his dream the night before and asked him to arrange for the couple’s darshan. Jagdish says his wife then understood the Baba’s mysterious ways.
From saving lives to arranging for tickets, from the simplest to the biggest wishes, anything that is answered, devotees tend to attribute to the Saibaba’s miraculous powers.
To me, the energy, goodwill and sense of service and discipline with which everyone in Puttaparthy seemed to be conducting themselves, towards visitors, towards each other, coming forward voluntarily to cook in their homes and kitchens and volunteer free food and drinking water so that those who have come for their last darshan, do not go hungry or thirsty, that can only come from a deep influence and inspiration.
A friend messaged asking if the Saibaba phenomenon was a social hypnosis and conditioning. I replied saying that if it can generate such a momentum of goodwill and positive energy, I don’t care if it was brilliant packaging and marketing. Saibaba deserves a big salute.