Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shashi Tharoor's article about his 2002 darshan and interview with Sathya Sai Baba

Here is a Nov. 10, 2002, article by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Indian Member of Parliament, former union minister of India, and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations,, describing his visit around that time to Puttaparthi and his darshan and interview with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba,

I have presumed that Dr. Shashi Tharoor may not mind me sharing the Puttaparthi and Bhagavan related part of this article on this free blog, without any financial profit motive whatsoever. Here's that extract from the above article:

Late one night I set out on a four-hour drive with my mother to Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh. We arrived after 2 a.m. in a remarkably well-lit and orderly town. Buildings gleamed white against the streetlights; the sidewalks, patrolled by volunteers even at that hour, seemed freshly scrubbed. Puttaparthi, once a humble Andhra village like so many others, had become a boomtown as the birthplace and headquarters of the spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba.

My mother had been a devotee for 18 years, attending prayer meetings of Sai Baba followers around the world and singing devotional bhajans. I was a sceptic myself, but joined her amongst the early-morning gathering of thousands, all waiting patiently for a glimpse of the great man. Sai Baba emerged in his long ochre robe and made a stately progress through the throng. He paused here and there to accept a petition from a believer, or to materialise vibhuti (sacred ash) from his palm into the cupped hands of a worshipper. We were privileged to be invited through an ornate door into a small room for a private audience. There we were joined by two other groups that had been similarly favoured: an Indian family of three, and half-a-dozen Iranian pilgrims, wearing green scarves that proclaimed their Islamic faith. They looked up at him with folded hands, their adoration glistening in their eyes.

"Would you like something from me," Sai Baba asked me.

"Peace of mind for my mother," I replied.

"Yes, yes," he said somewhat impatiently, "but would you like a gift from me?"

"Whatever you give me is for my mother," I replied. He waved his hand in the air and opened his palm. In it nestled a gold ring with nine embedded stones, a navratan. He slipped it on my finger, remarking, "See how well it fits. Even a goldsmith would have needed to measure your finger." He shook some vibhuti into my mother's grateful hands before taking the Indian family into an inner chamber for what devotees called an "interview".

While they were gone, my mother expressed disappointment about the meagre quantity of the ash she had received. But soon it was our turn for a private interview, and no sooner were we alone with Baba than he materialised a little silver urn for her, overflowing with vibhuti. "It was as if he had heard what I wanted," my mother breathed.

I was not blinded by faith, but the encounter was indeed astonishing at several levels. In our private talk, Sai Baba uttered insights about my family and myself that he could not possibly have known. He has a habit, disconcerting at first, of turning his palm quizzically outward and staring off into the distance, as if silently interrogating an unseen, all-knowing source. Sometimes he scribbles in the air with a finger as if dashing off a note to a celestial messenger. And then he says things which are sometimes banal, sometimes profound, and sometimes both (if only because so much of what he says has become worn out by repetition and frequent quotation, including in signs on the streets outside). His manifesting gifts from thin air is startling; he "transformed" a metal ring worn by one of the Iranians to a gold one, then returned his original to him as well.

But a skilled magician can do that, and it would be wrong to see Sai Baba as a conjurer. He has channelled the hopes and energies of his followers into constructive directions, both spiritual and philanthropic.

Everything at his complex is staffed by volunteers who rotate through Puttaparthi at well-organised two-week intervals; while we were there, the volunteers were all from Madhya Pradesh, and it was to be Orissa's turn next. Many left distinguished positions behind to serve. ("I once asked a man washing a window where he was from," mused a visitor, "and he said he was the Chief Justice of Sikkim.") The free hospital in Puttaparthi, which I visited, is one of the best in India; many reputed doctors volunteer their services to him. Sai Baba has built schools and colleges, and is currently undertaking a project to bring irrigation to a number of parched southern districts.

--- end extract from Dr. Tharoor article ---

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