I have been asked this question incessantly over the last two days. Here’s my reply.
I was young when I joined the school in Puttaparthi. Too young to make sense of anything that was going on around me. My parents dropped a few hints, I loved the train journey, and before I knew it, I was in the school.
It was all a little too overwhelming at first. The mandir, the darshan, the bhajans, the lines, the lakhs of devotees. Before I could make sense, I fit in. There was a leitmotif of spirituality in everything in my life.
For ten years, my life revolved around Sai Baba and his teachings. I didn’t know if he was god or not. I didn’t have the time or courage to ask myself, and I didn’t feel the need to.
And then, I came out. It was when I realised there is a world beyond Puttaparthi. When I spoke of Sai Baba, they asked, “Which one? The bandana baba or the afro baba?” They asked me about my experience, and I could see the twinkle in their eyes.
“Does he create real gold chains?
“Did you get any?”
“Why doesn’t he create a huge oil pit so we don’t have to import it from Iraq and all?”
I began to question my own beliefs. Life took such a whirlwind spin after that, I barely had the time to think about such stuff. Somewhere along the line, I got disillusioned with religion, spirituality, and god.
It was not a conscious decision. I slowly realised that I only prayed when I was in trouble. Upon trying, I realised things turned out ok even if I did not pray.
I am not religious. Nor am I among those who say “I’m spiritual, but not religious”. I don’t know what that means. I just do what I like, and look for the maximum fun I can have while doing it. That pretty much sums up the philosophy of my life.
The years rolled on, and Puttaparthy became a fond memory. Of childhood, friends, and fear of sin.
Now, when people ask me how I feel about Sai Baba’s death, I don’t know what to say.
I don’t believe in God, but there are parts of me that have been irreparably influenced by Puttaparthi.
I never waste food. I am part of voluntary organisations that work for children. If someone needs help, I will do my best. Religion, caste and other such things don’t mean crap to me. I’m no Magsaysay nominee, but I will help a person in need, as much as I can.
Is he god? I don’t know. I don’t care. Is it even important?
It all depends on what you take away from someone’s work. While some say Sachin is the greatest batsman in the world, others say India loses when he scores a century. But haven’t we all called him god on our facebook status updates?
When I look back at Puttaparthi, it is not the huge mandirs that I remember. Not the string of dignitaries, the enviable fleet of cars, or the golden mandir in the ashram.
The image I remember is of a poor man waiting his turn in the general hospital. He is dark, his coarse hands folded in prayer, and tears flowing down his eyes.
I am educated, rational and pride myself for being responsible for my own fate. But that poor man?
His life has changed forever. His children and their children will have a livelihood. They will get access to drinking water, free medical treatment, and a good education.
If that man calls Sai Baba god, what is the harm??