By Uma Sudhir
“Your Sai Baba followed me to Croatia !” A senior colleague who had been coordinating special reports on Sai Baba for NDTV before she left on a trip to Croatia called to say she was in a small shop in a town called Split there, when all of a sudden, an enthusiastic Baba devotee from the place accosted her. Excited that my colleague was from Baba’s holy land, out came some of Sai Baba’s famous vibhuti (sacred ash) from inside the Croatian devotee’s sling bag and was thrust straight into my rather shocked colleague’s mouth.
“It took me a while to recover and then I wondered what would have happened if it had not been a genuine devotee and that had instead been some shady drug or concoction that would make me faint, ” confessed my friend, who sounded like she had not quite gotten over the experience yet.
Providential coincidences is what most Sai Baba devotees talk about when they relate incredible stories about `miracles’ that have turned them into staunch, diehard devotees.
“Baba sent you to our house the first time and you must come again.”
That was Sai Krishna calling me from Puttaparthy this afternoon. The `first time’ had been a day after Sai Baba passed away in Puttaparthy on April 24. I don’t know if God or a Godman had anything to do with our landing at his doorstep, but Sai Krishna certainly was a godsend to several hundred devotees who were pouring into the town for a last darshan of their `living god’. No shops or hotels were open anywhere around and I was wondering if so many thousands who had trekked long distances and queues to get there, would have to go hungry, when I found another line serving hot `pulihara’ (tamarind rice) in small `ecofriendly’ cups stitched out of leaves.
The trail led us to the kitchen in Sai Krishna’s modest home, where his wife, sister, college and school-going daughters, niece were all bustling around getting fresh instalments of the tamarind mix and steaming rice ready. The men of the family and many in the neighbourhood were pitching in with whatever they could. I and my cameraperson also got our first meal in 24 hours in Puttaparthy and a cup of tea.
At that time, the family had shied away from being shot by our television camera. In fact, when I enquired about the family’s relationship with the Baba, the very emotional reactions I encountered from all the people around, left me surprised, touched.
“We feel completely broken,” the wife had said, unable to stop her tears. “He was our strength. But we can’t sit around crying because Baba would not have wanted so many people to go hungry. So we must do this for him,” she had said, trying to sound brave and composed. The self-undertaken mission of feeding so many people somehow seemed to be provide the solace, if not a distraction, from a grief they were unable to come to terms with.
Today Sai Krishna called to say he and some 20 families in the neighbourhood had decided to get together to call me because they were anguished and wanted to speak up before the world. He said some 2000-3000 devotees planned to sit on a dharna on Saturday before Prashanti Nilayam to say they have no trust left in the trust members. That they feel the Trust members have been unable to give satisfactory answers to allegations of money being siphoned off from Yajur Mandir, Sai Baba’s personal living quarters. That there were way too many contradictions and the stories simply didn’t add up.
“You wanted to cover the service we were doing then, madam. Now we want to ensure all the money donated by devotees for good work should not be squandered. That is why Baba sent you, ” another devotee Ramesh reasoned.
What they are demanding is for the government to abolish the present Trust structure and instead create a Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam-kind of setup, so there is more transparency.
I was in my neighbourhood park in the evening discussing these developments on phone when an elderly gentleman, carrying his grandson, suddenly stopped me to ask if I was discussing Puttaparthi.
“I am a Sai devotee,” he said, and even before I could ask any questions, I could see he was choking with emotion. “For years, we have conducted water camps, free food camps. Till 2008, every year I would go to Puttaparthi on his birthday. Now they are ruining everything.”
So will your social work continue or does the trust deficit mean you have lost belief and the spirit now, I asked.
“No, no that will continue. That is Baba’s work. It is all His doing. Even our meeting. Sai Ram.”
To me any motivation for good work is good enough. The world is in a huge need of it. And to that extent, I am willing to go along and not question any God or Godman who orchestrates a convergence of factors at just the right moments to inspire people to make the world a better place.
But the suspension of disbelief cannot be stretched beyond that. It should not be.