Sharing an article from daily O in published on 24th April 2015- ( (Please note it is not my article; just sharing the below post- )
How Sri Sathya Sai Baba saved India- By Vamsee Juluri
At the end of my book release event in New Delhi last month, a young man said something uncannily gleaned from an unspoken part of my mind about the subject of my next book: He saved India.
Have your say. You can comment here.It has been four years to the day since my guru, God, equivalent-of-a-thousand-mothers, left his physical form. With that distance, and after all the grief and resolve, I see his life quite differently from the elder figure I once knew and adored as much as I might have my own father. I see not the God of my prayers and of the fervour of those around me in the ashrams, but just a man in the history of this land whose impact went far beyond what even the hagiographies could fathom.
Have your say. You can comment here.I now see Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I suppose, like my young friend said, just as a man who saved India, a man who came when religion, caste, language all threatened to tear the nation in every direction, and left it still in touch with its common humanity somehow in the end.
Have your say. You can comment here.In 1986, when I first met Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I could not have imagined perhaps that I would one day come to perceive him like this. My plans then were simple: get into college and get a degree, get a job, get rich, have fun. His arrival into my family changed everything for me. For several years, despite my grudging affection for him, as guru, god, elder figure my parents could be counted on to listen to, he was still a massive diversion from what I thought were my desires and goals. At best, I thought of him in that easy way we all do when we are desperate for a miracle, as God. I prayed, occasionally, but beyond that, I could not see myself taking what he stood for seriously.
Have your say. You can comment here.And yet, now I do. I have come to believe that what he stood for was not irrationality, superstition and India’s feudal past, as my modern education (or much of the media circus around his death) might have easily led to me to believe, but its very opposite. After years of listening to his discourses in the direct poetry of his peasant elder Telugu, and finding resonance between his writings and those of many other great teachers and guides to the spirit, I see his life in very clear and almost non-mystical terms.
Have your say. You can comment here.What Baba spent his life for is not some selfish material goal, but for the very decency and dignity of life itself against the face of an enormously pernicious global culture that was teaching us violence, cruelty, and savage greed covered up in some cosmetic niceties about progress. I cannot speak about the mystique or extraordinary power devotees felt in Baba, but I can speak of the objective phenomenon that was also him; a cultural force of incredible magnitude, a force for good, change, agency, self-reflexivity, critical thinking, action, service, love, that only the most arrogant kind of ethnocentric superstition can presume to dismiss as the ignorance of the Indian masses.
Have your say. You can comment here.For one thing, honest historians and serious students of Indian culture would probably find a lot more to his legacy than the absurd clichés and motivated distortions that passed off for objective or rational analysis in parts of the press soon after his passing. Baba’s life and work unfolded in a specific time and place. It needs to be seen not just in terms of an individual, but as a part of India’s way of being, living, surviving, and still, somehow, going beyond merely surviving. After all, it was not just Baba who made this phenomenon, but the millions of people, rich and poor, from India and from abroad, who came all the way to the feet of a poor, lower-caste boy from an obscure village in arid Rayalaseema, drawn perhaps by a promise of magic but transformed, even if in part, by an example of service and love. We need to view the religiosity that surrounded him not through the simplistic and alien theory of a primitive past holding India back from some noble non-Hindu telos in the future, but as an expression of a cultural resistance whose value we have not even decolonised our minds enough to respect just yet.
Have your say. You can comment here.When a teenaged village boy named Satya renounced his ties and sat on a boulder in Puttaparthi to preach love and devotion, India was still a British colony. Its people lived poverty, inequality, injustice, and fear every day. What did religion, the popular, eclectic, universal, love-filled, culturally expressive religion of the sort that grew around Baba, mean in that context? We cannot forget that Baba’s life and career took place even as India was wobbling out of two long and rather unpleasant experiments with religion as imperial ideology, at best somehow cooling things down to a plane of civil, secular, co-existence after 1947. And in the decades that followed, even that secular co-existence got warped into a strange contempt for the culture of the spirit that the people of this land had created over millennia.
Have your say. You can comment here.We were supposedly democratic, and yet religious leaders like Baba earned the respect and admiration they did from the people in spite of official indifference rather than through state patronage. It is another matter that in the end, even the state paid its respects; his devotees could bring water to the villages and free health care for the poor when governments could not. His institutions functioned in a way that made those who saw them know that we had it in us, that given the right cultural leadership, given the cultural environment in which we could regain our self-possession, we could work and live in this way. In the messy, inept, postcolonial India of our ordinary experience, his world was a reminder that this is who we could be, if we truly ruled ourselves, if we lived, as he taught, in love.
Have your say. You can comment here.I see the historic context of Baba’s life in simple, rational terms now. On the one hand, we had, and still have, the reality of a global culture, and its national inflexion, of supposed progress, consumerism, and greed. We live in a world in which hundreds of billions of dollars are riding each year on selling one worldwide condition: our enslavement through our mediated senses to culturally shallow, ecologically expensive, economically unjust, and socially dysfunctional ideas about who we human beings are for the totality of our lives. The cost of our enslavement is beyond our everyday understanding, but we are seeing it; in the air we hardly manage to breathe, in the cost of the food we barely afford to eat, and in the lives of the poor who are still dying in villages and in the slums. Against all this, against this ever-encroaching shell of distraction, we had the voice of those who held an ancient civilisation’s way of seeing aloft still. We had those like Baba, who addressed us not as consumers, not as citizens, not as deal-makers with god (though we inevitably started that way), but as embodiments of love, as children of the immortal, as custodians of nature, society, and this world.
Have your say. You can comment here.The truth is that despite colonialism, and despite decades of cultural self-destruction disguised as secular education, India loves its temples, ashrams, and what we in our little Anglophone bubble have derisively learned to call “godmen.” The millions of people who live and struggle to go on in this real India protected, nurtured, and somehow taken forward from the colonial to the global age by gurus like Baba, are not there because they are fearful, greedy, or hypocritical as some recent Bollywood preachy-pop religion-phobic pictures have made it out to be. It is really amazing that a civilisation which has elevated the spiritual quest to sublime levels in poetry, music, dance, sculpture, and indeed in daily life too in spite of it all, should still be constrained by old colonial prejudices that prevent us from speaking freely and accurately about who we are and how we see this great and ancient world.
Have your say. You can comment here.On the anniversary of my beloved guru’s passing, I have to ask those who care if they will perhaps help India should take what is in its heart more seriously now, rather than put its religiosity away like some embarrassing relic from the past. I hope a hundred PhDs and a thousand term papers will bloom now in our schools and universities, where tomorrow’s minds can at least learn to look at the world they are in, and observe, reflect, and grow, without fear of having to say that the greatest cultural reality of our land is somehow an insignificant aside.
Have your say. You can comment here.Lest all this seems too obscure, lets not forget what has happened to the secular project all around the world in the past few decades. Our so-called secular breakdown hasn’t produced half a fraction of the fundamentalism, violence, and viciousness other places’ experiments have. Our so-called secular future will remain, and will grow strong, in the way we have lived, which is in respect for our culture, our religion, and all of the different names we have for it. We have to respect the fact that India’s religiosity is not just about superstition and con-men, as a few (or maybe even more than a few) criminals have made it out to be.
Have your say. You can comment here.In the Sai phenomenon, in his outpouring of powerful, incessant, and culturally rich teachings, we have seen that India’s religiosity is really about the very human and universal desire to transcend the unethical, the petty, and the vile. It is about losing one’s delusions before one incredible reality, that of the grandeur of this great world, and our chance to live in happiness and goodness during our time on it.