They say faith can move mountains. While I have yet to find such unshakeable faith in anything — person, object, icon etc. — I can appreciate the faith and fervor when I come across it. A prime example of such exemplary devotion is my mother, and the object of such a faith is the recently deceased God-man, Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
I was a Bal vikas student when I was younger — this is a religion-agnostic spiritual group that seeks to inculcate the right values in children, and it is my mother’s belief that what I am today is because of the training that I received in morals, values and ethics as a kid. I believe that any sense of morality and right and wrong that I possess is thanks to my parents, and since Amma believes that it is thanks to Bal vikas, the law of transitivity applies here and I have Bal vikas to thank for my upbringing. What I failed to mention is that Bal vikas is run by the Sathya Sai Trust.
As a kid, I have paid many visits to Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi — Baba’s abode — and participated in a multitude of plays, dramas and celebrations — all through the umbrella of Bal vikas. I learnt some vedas, I learnt many scriptures, and any interest that I have today in spirituality and religion is thanks to what I learnt as a kid. I remember that initially I used to fight with my mother as she sent me along to Seema Acharya’s house (where Aunty conducted the classes), since the time used to clash with my cricket playing time in the evenings; but my mother never relented, for she had faith.
She had faith in Baba and his Goodness/Godness. She had faith in the ability of the Bal vikas course to inculcate values and morals in highly malleable minds. She had faith in the words and wisdom of a man who was born to an impoverished family and proclaimed himself to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba at the tender age of 14. She had faith. She still does. And its ferocity gratifies me, for this fervor, although unique to humans, is a quality that is wonderful to behold when seen in its purest form.
While my mother sees Baba as a God-incarnate, I have alternate opinions on the issue. My point-of-view is pretty straightforward. The first thing I do when I am acquainted with such God-men is gauge what contribution these men have made to society. Once I have seen what they do, I check what message they preach — how religiously harmonious they are, what are their opinions on controversial issues etc. This is because I am not a level where I can gauge the God-ness of any person. But I sure can gauge his contribution to society at large. If the person has made significant contributions to bettering society, I see no reason to revile the subject. And in my “acid” test, Sai Baba comes out right at the top, especially with his refusal to join the Hindu right during the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Apart from the message of non-violence, religious integration and simple-living-high-thinking that Baba preaches, he has made tangible contributions to society through his trust.
The Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT) runs the Sathya Sai University complex, the 220-bed Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, where he was rushed when he fell ill; a world religion museum, Chaitanya Jyoti; a planetarium; a railway station; a hill view stadium; a music college; an administrative building; an airport and an indoor sports stadium in Puttaparthi. It also runs a general and specialty hospital in Bangalore, several other hospitals, including two for eye care, and a network of dispensaries. The trust has also commissioned and funded several drinking water projects, including one for 731 villages in Anantapur district, and helped in lining the sides of the Kandaleru-Poondi canal to take Krishna water to Chennai.
There are also 1,300-odd Sathya Sai Baba centres across the world which run schools, health and cultural centres. Sathya Sai Baba’s Educare programme has founded schools in 33 countries. There is also the digital radio network-Radio Sai Global Harmony.
His recent passing demonstrated to me what faith my mother had in him, and how that faith is shaken when the object of the faith leaves his physical body. This is my way of chronicling a momentous occasion in my mother’s life, and to a certain extent mine — Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Thank you for all that you have done for my mother, me and the world at large. May your shining light show us the right path always.