A Day in the Life: The day begins very early – one must be up and queuing extremely early if one is to have any chance of getting anywhere near to the so-called ‘darshan’ area at Sathya Sai Baba ashrams. Being there can be very trying. Among the male invalids, who stand for up to 1 or 2 hours despite their frailty so as to get to sit on one of the too few uncomfortable chairs, there are pushers, line-cheaters and No 1 Egos who often succeed in running ahead to bag the best places day after day, leaving the weak, the blind and the infirm to stagger to a rear seat (if they are in luck!). Those invalids who still have enough physical stamina to march on the early morning bhajan-singing ‘nagarsankirtan’ cannot get to the front of the standing queue for the invalid chairs, for the queue will already be formed and long by the time they have finished. Invalids who are not selfish and who show respect for others’ problems almost always end up in in the rearmost seats. Inside the darsan compound, invalids are now relegated to most uncomfortable stone benches along the insides of the outer walls.
Of course, no one can take in so much as a pen or anything that could remotely be used in any way to cause any physical injury to…. well, to whom? Who would anyone want to attack precisely within the darshan compound? Good question! Both men and ladies are body frisked!
Dry dust is a major problem at Prashanthi Nilayam, especially when there is wind. Daily, however, sweepers with switches raise the dust with great thoroughness, so it pervades rooms and settles all over, even within zipped holdalls and locked cases. Germs are carried on it so that illnesses spread easily.
At Prashanti Nilayam, dogs battle it out in twos, threes or large groups – day and night – reminding somewhat of certain groups at darshan or in canteen and other queues. At intervals, when Sai Baba is away and there are very few foreign residents present, the dogs are netted and taken away in scores by lorry and dumped in the wild (it is said). Anyone who dares to take a photo of this trapping of dogs – they wail very loudly – can be blacklisted from future visits, as happened to a Romanian-Norwegian lady we knew in the 1990s. Dogs are supposed to be sacred to Shirdi Sai Baba and hence to Sathya too… so this treatment of them must be covered up, like any other matter which could show up the shams that are all too common there.
The women, especially the predominant mass who are Indians (but also certain Southern Europeans and Southern Americans), often stand up and trample their neighbours when Sai Baba approaches. So much so that Sai Baba once complained to his Seva Dal ladies for behaving like wild horses. Overweight females often block the view of others and one must be careful that they do not trample ones feet and hands. But other ladies can also be extremely persistent, they will squeeze into tiny spaces between people, then push for space and sprawl over people. Indian women are especially given to chatter during darshan. They can be extremely impolite and selfishly arrogant when approached about it, not a blush nor a batted eyelid. The men are more disciplined on the whole (excluding young Indian men and a number of Southern Europeans), where Italians probably rate highest as a pushy, selfish nuisances. A few of the itinerant sannyasins or their like smell so badly from their pungent breath and choking body odours that to sit beside – or even near to – them (which most will avoid at any cost) is a sort of torture.
The 60th birthday, when the dust clouded permanently up to and above the heads of the crowd, resulted in estimated 80% of those present getting influenza and/or severe stomach complaints with diarrhoea. Also very unhygenic are the open food waste bins which are visited by monkeys in troops and dogs which are ever leaving behind large curls and spirals of faeces as their ‘visiting cards’. The 70th birthday was also mostly celebrated within a huge cloud of dust…
See also AT SATHYA SAI ASHRAMS - 1