Very big recent news headlines:
Satya Sai Baba has passed away.
Winds of change are blowing strongly in
West Bengal, as will soon be apparent to one and all when the Assembly election results come out.
Is it because I have grown old and cynical, or is it that there is something lacking in my mental makeup that I simply cannot get excited when millions of others do?
If pressed, I would say that to me, the first item was of the greatest significance. Not because I liked the Sai Baba’s looks, his love of wealth and pomp, his taste in clothes or interior décor, his (or rather, his followers’) claims that he was God incarnate, or his penchant for magic shows.
I had a certain degree of respect for him because of the immense amount of good works that he had done in one lifetime: from bringing water to some of the most drought-prone areas of the south to setting up schools and colleges where a lot of young people got fairly good-quality education to his several A-grade hospitals where hundreds of thousands have got medical treatment for almost free. I have also seen the educational booklets that they use at his Bal Vikaas Kendras (a type of playschool, of which there are hundreds around the country), and found them eminently sane and relevant to a good upbringing of children: they teach very practical things about resource conservation and environmental protection, about good manners and social responsibility, and about relying on one’s own spiritual strength to tackle all the hurdles and challenges of life. Whether or not such ideas are spread with a religious backing, heaven knows that this country desperately needs to spread that kind of education among its young.
To all those who turn up their noses because he was regarded as a godman, I can only say ‘do more than he did for social welfare, then start criticizing him’. I know, too, about many kinds of unsavoury rumours and canards that go around about him – and all I can say is, with a millionth of his fame, I have suffered lifelong from the same insane rumour-mongering
ustry, so I know how much they are worth. Finally, for all those who consider themselves too ‘smart and scientific’ to revere godmen, all I’ll say is that they are calling all sorts of people from Mukesh Ambani to APJ Abdul Kalam, from Sachin Tendulkar to Manmohan Singh and literally millions of ordinary devotees (who include all sorts of highly educated professionals) superstitious fools. I prefer to be humble, and adopt an agnostic position, choosing to judge a man by his words and deeds. I have no idea whether Vivekananda saw God (I don’t even know what that means, after reading both science and religion all my life), but I respect him profoundly for the life he lived. ind
And I certainly believe that Vivekananda living or Sai baba dying matters considerably more than
Prince William getting married, or what the election results in West Bengal may say (about this last, see my comment on Tanmoy's blogpost).