This is an iconic statue, outside a home in our neighborhood, of Shirdi Sai Baba. He is a beloved swami/guru/holy figure who died in 1918 but who is well remembered and revered to this day by people all over India. He is not to be confused with the Sathya Sai Baba, who is still among the living, and who has been discussed in these pages before.
For the benefit of our Western readers, it is worth noting that as we move through India, we see Shirdi Sai Baba’s images everywhere: bumper stickers, car windows, commercial enterprises, houses, ashrams, anywhere. He is woven through the fabric of this society, even through the various religions (he was famous for working to bring the Muslims and the Hindus closer together), and is a far more tangible presence than is, say, Jesus Christ.
The guru Sai Baba owns Puttaparthi, really. He built most of it, anyway, from close to nothing, we hear. Schools, incredible hospitals, tennis stadiums, infrastructure of which the locals are justifiably and insistently proud. Prominent among these local institutional treasures is this, the Sai Baba’s musical academy.
One hopes the music is at least as inspiring as the architecture.
Actually it may be more so: when we saw the man they call Swami hold court in front of hundreds of adoring subjects at his lavish ashram, there were live musicians and singers leading the crowd in undending waves of song. It would build to a frenzy, settle down, change course, and build again, for hours, with no interruption from Sai Baba save the occasional motion of his hand bringing a small white handkerchief to his mouth.
. We are off to Puttaparthi for the weekend. We are traveling there with the people in the picture above: our maid, Rathnama (at right), her daughter, and grandson-with-no-name, plus our stalwart driver Bhaskar. Their native village is close by there, and Rathnama’s 12-year old son Harish (not seen in this pic) goes to school there at one of Sai Baba’s facilities. Will we see the man they call Swami? You will be the first to hear if we do.
. Harish is the 12-year old son of our 30-year old maid; baby-no-name is her 6-month old grandson, the son of her adult daughter (not seen in these pix).
Harish is on summer vacation, visiting his mother here from his school-and-village-and-ashram at Puttaparthi. He is being educated (programmed ?) by Sai Baba’s system there, and is full af wondrous tales of Sai Baba’s miracles: “Sooo many miracles, Uncle! He pulled 3 tons of lingam from his mouth! And if you dance really, really nice, Uncle, he will put his hand to his chest, and a golden chain will appear for you!”
Sai Baba has undoubtedly done well by his followers here in India, numbering 6 million or more: hospitals, infrastructure, water, food, and schools like the very one that Harish attends (worldwide numbers are hard to verify but have been stated to be between 5 and 50 million). However, he is also under the shadow of many scandalous accusations involving murder, sexual abuse of children, and plain old trickery. We can’t help but wonder if Harish’s innocent and enthusiastic good looks may lead him somewhere bad; and we also wonder where else he might otherwise be. It’s a tough problem. Despite the persistent accusations, Sai Baba is fairly untouchable here politically, due at very least to his tremendous number of followers in India and around the world.
As for baby-no-name, it is apparently not uncommon for the Hindu people to wait from 12 days to up to a year to name a newborn child here; at some auspicious date during that time, there will be a naming ceremony . I kind of like that idea: give the child some time to make his essence known, and learn what his name wants to be, rather than immediately impose a name that is more arbitrarily determined.