Sai Baba and his tricks

Back when I was a kid, an annual “excursion” was to the Sai Baba’s ashram in Whitefield, near Bangalore (ok, back then it was “near Bangalore”. Now people claim it’s part of Bangalore). This would usually be in summer, when the Baba would descend on his “summer home” in whitefield. There would be lots of people there, with a large proportion of them being Caucasian. To other “devotees” of the baba (as they like to call themselves), the presence of fair-skinned people among the followers was proof enough that the Baba was not “fake”.

We had to queue up, get frisked, and sit down cross-legged for a while, before the Baba decided to bless us by appearing in front of us. He would wave, produce caramilk chocolates (I think from his sleeve, while my aunt claimed it was from thin air) and throw them to the crowd, which would go into a frenzy trying to catch this “Prasad”. My eldest aunt was especially adept at catching these chocolates and giving them to us kids. I remember my father never came in. He spent the time peoplewatching outside the ashram. He said he enjoyed that better.

One of my greatest fantasies when I was a kid was to expose the Baba. Somehow plan with a bunch of friends, and catch him in the act trying to pull caramilk toffees out of his sleeve. And then shoot the video and escape, well at a faster rate. I remember putting myself to sleep on several days thinking about a plan like this. Unfortunately I never really got to implement that. Thinking back, I don’t think I’d ever planned in any of these daydreams about how I’d get past all the security and the hangers-on to reach the Baba and expose him.

It seems I was not alone in these dreams. Several others thought of this too, and did more than what I wanted to do. Check out this video (HT: Amit Varma). It relies on publicly broadcast footage to show that the Baba is likely to be a fraud.

Of course his “devotees” would deny this. After all, they stand to lose any power and credibility they have in the “organization” if they were to come out. A few devotees who have dared to come out against the Baba (mostly on charges of paedophilia) have found themselves ostracized and hounded by the pro-Baba community. Once “in”, it’s never made sense for any of the “devotees” to turn against the Baba. Until now.

Following the Baba’s demise last week, commentators are predicting a succession war among people who are close to him. And therein lies the great hope. That one or more of the parties involved in his succession battle is going to spill the beans. So far it made eminent sense for all these worthies to defend the Baba at any cost, for they drew their (not inconsiderable) power by being in the good books of the Baba, and more power to the Baba meant more power to them. Now that the Baba is no more, the losers in the succession battle are likely to have anyway lost all their power. And now they have little to lose, and the adulation of the world-at-large to gain, if they were to expose the Baba. And if they were to admit that the Baba’s “miracles” were nothing but a bunch of simple magic tricks, they would also succeed in cutting to size the people who would win the Baba succession battle.

As Tony Greig would say, it’s all happening out there.

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