VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Satya Sai Baba is now reported to be in a critical condition and the battlelines to take over one of the wealthiest Trusts in the nation are being drawn.
The hysteria around Sai Baba’s health brings to mind an incident recounted in a book titled Begone Godmen! by the Sri Lanka-born rationalist, Dr Abraham Kovoor. He says when he once wrote an article mentioning about Sai Baba going through an appedicitis operation, many Baba devotees took offence.
Reason: they considered Sai Baba a godman who could not fall ill.
One devotee, who was a doctor, said that Sai Baba had not been admitted to the hospital to remove his own appendix but a diseased one that the Bhagwan had taken into his body from a suffering devotee.
Whether one believes such theories or not is immaterial because the fact is all men fall sick.
All men will die. And everyone is equal in death. Death does not discriminate, death does not disappoint. It will come. Be it godman or an ungodly man. Of course, supposedly, there are various types of deaths, but that is another matter altogether.
Then of course there is the soul, unseen, unexplainable, unbelievably overrated and exploited.
Before we go into the realm of the metaphysical or start talking of the netherland, we must notice the fact that while Sai Baba lies is in a critical state, so is the character of the people in his inner circle.
A few days ago, while Sai Baba was in the hospital, there were two groups having separate meetings the whole day. One comprised the family members of Sai Baba; the other were the trustees of the Satya Sai Central Trust.
It is being reported that there is a war brewing within the Trust.
The Satya Sai Trust consists of five Trustees—the Sai Baba himself who is the founder-Trustee; P.N. Bhagwati, the former chief justice of India; Indulal Shah, a chartered accountant; S.V. Giri, former central vigilance commissioner; V. Srinivas, former president of the confederation of Indian industry (CII); and Sai Baba’s nephew, Ratnakar.
There is so much distrust among the Trustees that electricity was cut off in Puttaparthi so people would not watch a particular programme on a particular channel relayed only by a particular cable operator as the programme being telecast was particularly critical of the Trustees.
Incidentally, Sai Baba’s nephew Ratnakar holds the cable rights to Puttaparthi!
But why this hullabaloo? After all, Sai Baba has said that he will leave his physical body only when he is 96 years old, that’s a good 11 years from now. Considering that people have put their complete faith in his hands, they should not worry. He should be back giving darshans soon.
During such trying times, it is disturbing to see a group of illustrious individuals, one of them a blood relative of the godman, indulge in mud-slinging.
Sai Baba once said:
“If there is righteousness in the heart,
there will be beauty in character;
If there is beauty in character,
there will be harmony in the home.”
Looks like there is trouble in Sai Baba’s home now.
It seems many years of exposure to the godman’s godly teachings has had no effect on the Trustees. Even more disappointing, these Trustees are closer to him than a regular devotee. So, one would think they would be much more righteous and immune to greed.
This is another example that God or godmen can never dictate morality.
We are taught that God is omnipresent and that God is always watching us and so we must be at our best behaviour at all times. But in spite of this 24×7 divine surveillance, the most God-fearing or religious nations in the world are the most corrupt, most immoral, most hypocritical and also most prone to violence.
Is it because religion has a provision for forgiveness? Is it because when convenient to us, God is all-forgiving? Is that why these nations have some of the wealthiest religious establishments? Forgiveness seems to be a big business.
While the Gods have gotten wealthy by dispensing forgiveness, godmen have gotten wealthy by peddling hope and filling the emotional void and indulging in spiritual reconnaissance.
At the same time, the equation between a Guru and his devotee is a personal matter, as long as it is within the legal framework of the nation.
When six boys were shot dead in Sai Baba’s residential area, the statement made by Indulal Shah was, “The matter is purely internal and we do not wish to have any law enforcement agency investigating into it!!!” Six people have died and an educated chartered accountant has the audacity and arrogance to say that law enforcement should not investigate? Even godmen are not above the law.
Yes, indeed many have questioned the legitimacy of godmen. In fact, Sai Baba who was termed Man of Miracles for materialising gold chains, rings and holy ash has been questioned many times. Most famously, for producing gold chains out of thin air which breach the gold bullion import regulations of India. That is, if he actually produced gold out of thin air.
Then there are questions such as, instead of producing gold chains and ash out of thin air, why doesn’t Baba produce food and water and save the poor?
Or even better, tie up with the Reserve Bank of India and pump up the national economy with gold.
We also ask, why don’t godmen, who claim to have telepathic abilities, communicate or visit their political and bureaucratic devotees in their dreams and tell them that they have to stop being corrupt and sadistic? Is it because all these acts are not miracles but well-executed stage shows?
In fact, there is the controversial footage of Sai Baba fishing for ‘something’ under a trophy that he was presenting to an individual and later that something turned out to be a gold chain! The controversial footage was never broadcast as back then Doordarshan was the only TV channel. Of course it is now back, thanks to internet and YouTube.
Whatever it may be, Sai Baba has found mortal ways to achieve what he cannot materialise. There is the water project that has provided water to 750 villages, and medical and educational establishments that have greatly improved the life of millions of people. His charity and tenacity has done what governments have not been able to do.
Yes, godmen or spiritual guides may be accused of manipulation and trickery which rationalists can prove and the law must deal with. But godmen deserve recognition for the work they have done for society. However, they will win us over completely only when they can change the character of their devotees, especially the high and mighty ones.
We wish they could convince their bureaucrat-devotees to work with the same vigour and whole-heartedness at government hospitals as they do at the “god’s” health centres.
We wish they could request their powerful devotees to bless public projects with the same pro-activeness and creativity that they so easily bestow upon holy projects approved by gurujis. After all, isn’t government’s work God’s work? Well, at least that’s what’s proudly proclaimed on the entrance of Vidhana Soudha.
Also, godmen will win everyone’s affection and trust only when they are open to enquiry, even by the highly critical, scientific and the most mundane.
For now, while praying for Baba’s health, we better start investing on real estate in and around Mandya. Why? Because in 11 years, Sai Baba is going to be reborn as Prem Sai somewhere in Mandya. This is going to increase real estate prices and after 11 years, it is going to be a fantastic return on investment.
For others who do not have money to invest in land, they need not be disappointed because with Prem Sai, we will have access to superior educational institutions and medical care. Of course, this will come with a heady dose of miracles and spirituality. But be warned. Take only what you need and only in healthy doses.
(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of the evening daily newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)
Photograph: Children take out a march for the recovery of Satya Sai Baba at Puttaparti, in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday (Karnataka Photo News)