Posts Tagged ‘Sai Baba’

I could never have imagined that a seemingly innocuous comment on Facebook relating to the late lamented Sathya Sai Baba would stir up a hornet’s nest of criticism from some of my close friends and lead me to revive my long-dormant blog, if only to put my own standing in perspective. I am not too sanguine (and neither hopeful) about the rebirth of the Baba for the third time, but I will give him full credit for reviving my blog from the dead. (Well, to be honest, the Baba deserves only partial credit for this, the other part due to my current position as a summer intern in the HR department of a multi-national corporation – the italicized words representing the perfect ingredients for idleness.)

What had happened was this: I had shared a link to a blog post by the journalist C.P. Surendran in which he recalls an encounter with the Sathya Sai Baba when, as a child he went to visit him with his mother. The article is most interesting, particularly the part where the Baba insists that the lady express a wish which he would fulfill, but is caught on the wrong foot when all she asks for is a ripe and succulent jackfruit, which the Baba, in spite of all his sagacity and sleight of hand, is unable to conjure. The article can be read here. The innocuous comment that I had attached to the shared link was as follows: ‘And to think that there will be a State Funeral for a confidence trickster! I would bet P.C. Sorcar is a better jackfruit-conjurer.’

To this, my friends on FB were scandalized and some even went to the extent of calling my comments ‘cheap’ and that I have no business to badmouth a saintly personality who has done so much good for mankind, and that too after his death. Looking back, I admit that my choice of adjectives could have been a tad less colourful and better chosen. I offer my sincere apologies to those who have been offended.

I have nothing personal against the ‘godman’ per se. In fact, I feel his unconventional hairdo was quite ahead of his time. Rather, my problem is not with the Baba, but with the kind of things he (and all other men of his trade) expects his customers to believe, and which take us back in time to the mediaeval ages. It is being pointed out to skeptics like me that great men from all walks of life – sportspersons, politicians and heads of government alike – have been ardent followers of the Baba, and hence he deserves to be held on a high pedestal in public memory in spite of the all the mumbo-jumbo that he claimed to do throughout career, including his claim that he was a reincarnation of the original Sai Baba, and his ability to regurgitate Shivlingas and the like. Examples of his philanthropic activities are also being brandished in the face of people like me (who do not believe in his miracles or the fact that he was anything more than a pretender) in the hope that we would stop criticizing someone who gave so much to the poor and needy.

Well, there is something fundamentally wrong in calling the Baba’s social activities philanthropy. The essence of philanthropy is giving without the expectation of receiving anything in exchange. Whatever good work the Baba did was in exchange for a belief by his followers and beneficiaries in the divine concept called ‘Sai Baba’. He purchased blind faith in his supernatural powers by giving poor and illiterate people in some villages essential commodities like food, water and electricity- things for which they can believe any incredulous and absurd nonsense that they are asked to. Had he done all this as an ordinary, mortal being sans any divine pretensions, I would have held him in utmost respect. But alas, all of his philanthropy was only an exercise to grow his popularity and feed his vain ego through the ignorance of the uneducated or else irrational masses.

If we are to measure his life in terms of the number of followers he gathered, then he is a very great man indeed. But if the measure of his life be his contribution to humankind in terms of spiritual, philosophical or religious output, I fear a close inspection would only reveal that whatever he preached was mostly banal, commonsense or restatement of the teachings of other men who have come before him. His life, in that sense, would be really insignificant. It is our great misfortune as a nation that sends spacecraft to explore the universe and swears by Satyameva Jayate or the ‘Triumph of Truth’ that we are glorifying and legitimizing the life and work of an impostor and an apostle of ignorance and pseudoscientific belief by according him a State Funeral. Were I to even believe in reincarnations, I would never wish another version of the Sai Baba on a thinking and rational populace.

There are many who say that spirituality is a matter of faith, and some have it while some don’t. To them, all I say is that if spirituality means, as Anil Dharker asks in his blog, ‘stopping your mind from thinking for itself and allowing it to do the bidding of someone else’, then I am happy to be non-spiritual. At least, I am doing justice to my intelligence and rational upbringing. The world, as Carl Sagan said, ‘is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there is little good evidence’.

According to me, the entire institution of the Sathya Sai Baba has been nothing more than a pretty story with little good evidence.

(P.S.: At the invitation of The NRI, an online magazine, I guest-posted a piece on the Sai Baba. I would urge readers to read it here.)


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: