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(Image taken from Politickle, by Manjul)

The instant he began to speak, I felt like throwing up. He spoke in English. He was no schmuck – most of the suckers gathered there were white-skinned.

His Holiness, Sathya Sai Baba’s voice had a gravelly texture, his south Indian  accent laughably cringe-worthy. “Gaaad laoows you. He laoows yeevarybaaddy,” he proclaimed, to ecstatic cheers. The blondes in the audience didn’t care if they understood a word or they didn’t.

The lecture itself was a simple one. Aside from stressing on strict vegetarianism, Sai Baba didn’t appear to subscribe to any specific ideology. His words seemed flowery and vague, combining the symbolism of Hindu mythology with a dash of the Buddhist belief about all that transcending-worldly-desire crap. He added to that a table spoonful of charity that the Abrahamic faiths espouse and he had a winning brew.

Most of all, the Bhagwan sounded so corny. Here are some of his quotes that I’m definite he spouted that day….

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God is the Seed, The Universe is the Tree, Impulses and passions are the branches, Intelligence is the flower, Pure Consciousness is the fruit, Love is the sweetness in the fruit. 

Man’s many desires are like the small metal coins he carries about in his pocket. The more he has the more they weight him down. 

Love all. Serve all. Help ever. Hurt never. 

Every experience is a lesson. Every loss is a gain. 

Without God, life is like a school without a teacher. It is a wire with no current passing through it; it is a body with no soul.

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No kidding. That is supposed to be profound? Frankly, His Holiness needed a better quote writer.

In fact, a brochure we had been handed confirmed my impressions of the lack of an ideology. It stated that, ‘there is no new path that His Holiness is preaching, no new order that He has created. There is no new religion that He has come to add or a particular philosophy that He recommends. His message is unique and simple – that of love and compassion’. (Love – in very broad terms, I presume).

I admit that I found the vagueness of his message rather refreshing. His chatty tone seemed like he didn’t aspire to be anything but being like just one of us, warts and all. Judging by the prosperity that the Sathya Sai Organization has seen, that style has obviously worked. Today, followers of the Bhagwan are one of the most fanatical anywhere. They see his hidden hand in everything that happens on earth.

Behind me, a woman wailed and I turned – she was white, maybe around 30. Her eyes had a maniacal shine and her whole torso rocked back and forth ecstatically. Spittle dribbled from the corner of her lips. She was pretty but she looked as if she had stopped taking care of her physical appearance. Man, the woman really was out of it. Disgusted, I tuned out and waited gamely by Runadi’s side while she stared at the charlatan, mesmerized. She didn’t look much different from that woman, except for the rocking and the spittle dribble part. Ugh, I couldn’t wait to be some place else.

Such zombie-like followers in that ashram were in plenty that day. Stories of brainwashed believers of Sathya Sai Baba are legion if you care to check the internet – an American schmuck named Leland says that His Holiness came to him in the guise of a Tijuana (Mexico) traffic cop and then later on as a Japanese airline stewardess. An Argentinian woman gave up her Buenos Aires apartment and her medical practice after ‘Baba’ summoned her in her dreams. A wheelchair-bound cancer patient from Amsterdam – abandoned by her husband and living with friends who were Sai Baba devotees – saw a vision of the guru beckoning her. One day her friends surprised her with a ticket to India and she took off and remained in Puttaparthi till she ultimately succumbed to her illness. They say she died with a smile on her face.

Ultimately they all (barring a few hundred disgruntled, sexually molested ex-devotees) got what they were looking for. Maybe I am the sucker here, but if I wanted a blow job, a pot-bellied guy in an afro-cut and an atrocious accent is the last person on earth I’d go to.

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I don’t remember exactly how long the lecture went but when I came to, Runadi was shaking me. Our muscles creaking, we rose from the cramped cross-legged position by the door. Folks were crowding around the main aisle that led down from the podium, watching rapt, as His Holiness slowly made his way toward the exit. Runadi and I just happened to be standing right by it. Great!

Then as the Sathya Sai Baba neared us, something amazing happened.  He came to a halt right in front of Runadi and waved his arm around to signal to everyone to pipe down. He brought his gaze down and gestured toward Runadi’s tummy and told her, “Don’t worry, it’ll all go away in a few weeks and you will feel like new once again….”

Funny, even I found the voice strangely clear and reassuring, like he knew what he was talking about. The words were carefully vague – you could look at anyone who obviously looked stressed out and say those words, but Runadi was clearly moved. There she stood, shaking, tears streaming down her face. I didn’t know in what context he was saying she would be fine. Fine from what?

I didn’t know anything was wrong with Runadi, but that’s because I came to know of it only later that evening –

Runadi, though just 27 then, had very severe ulcers that had all but eaten away at her innards, thanks to years of eating very spicy food laced with hot chillies. I mean, she couldn’t eat if you didn’t put a bowl filled with those lethal red chillies right next to her thali. She said she had given it up and sought treatment but the damage to her stomach wall had been too extensive. This trip was a desperate last ditch effort to try and seek help from the supernatural.

A month after that visit to Puttaparthi, I got a postcard from Runadi and in it she was ecstatic. After nearly a decade of pain and suffering and blood oozing out of her bowels, her tests now showed perfectly healthy tissue, instead of bleeding ulcers. Her doc was amazed that recovery had been so complete and swift.

I am a man of science and I dismiss anything that cannot be explained by science. Runadi’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle and I am convinced that Sathya Sai Baba had something to do with it, though I have no idea how.

So, there you go – child molester to some and savior to others. Take your pick. But if he could heel just by a glance, isn’t building a superspeciality hospital an oxymoron?

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Runadi’s ulcers had undergone what medical science calls remission, a phenomenon that is described as the spontaneous disappearance of the symptoms of an ailment that is not fully understood by medical science. Through history, medically documented cases of remission are legion. Cancers have been known to have set in and then mysteriously disappear.

The first known cases of remission were recorded by the disciples of a certain carpenter named Jesus H. Christ. Of course, in Greek and Hindu mythology almost nothing can be explained through science. Gods and Goddesses routinely went a step further than just making ailments disappear – they made their surrogates immortal. But I am done with all that nonsensical mumbo jumbo.

Today, there is even a branch of science known as neurotheology (a.k.a spiritual neuroscience) – the study into the possibility of a neurological basis for not only the role of spirituality in health, but any subjective experience that cannot be explained by objective scientific observation afforded by pure science. It says that if a disease afflicted person believes strongly enough that he’ll get better, he actually will.

In Runadi’s case, I am certain that the chance meeting she had with Sathya Sai Baba convinced her that he had appeared before her for a purpose and that she could heal and that was entirely sufficient to completely cure her.

I am thinking of doing a PhD in neurotheology. That way I can convert a date with Scarlett Johanssen from being a merely subjective fantasy to an objective negligée clad reality.