One cannot be but sorry for all those poor Indians whose livelihoods have been built around the popularity of Sathya Sai Baba, no more than one can be glad that the big money-making property tycoons – including Sathya Sai Baba family members and corrupt ‘officials’ – are suffering a major setback. The prospects for Puttaparthi have never looked worse – and this applies also to those other resorts Sai Baba frequented – the Whitefield ashram and college complex near Bangalore – has an economy based mostly on foreign and local visitors wanting to see Sai Baba.Even Sai Baba’s summer resort town, Kodaikanal, will struggle much from the absence of foreign income in the summer month or more it was crowded with rich visitors.
Reports on the situation after Sathya Sai Baba’s departure from it all – and the collapsed credibility of the Trust he left behind are several in the Indian press. India Today continues its article (see right) with the words “Puttaparthi is not a ghost town. Not yet. But there are telling signs everywhere. The bustling town in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh has all but come to a standstill. The locked gates at the private airport, the empty cavern that was once an active bus stop, the taxi and autorickshaw stand with vehicles but no passengers and the all-pervasive and omnipresent gloom in the town bear a silent testimony to the travails of the residents struggling to come to terms with the loss of their patron saint, Sathya Sai Baba.”
“The problem with Puttaparthi has always been that it functions around Baba. Even when he was alive when he travelled to live in Whitefield in Bangalore or the Kodaikanal ashram, Puttaparthi would become a ghost town. His devotees would follow him. That was our off-season. Now we have a permanent off-season,” says Dhanush, whose family has lived here for over 50 years. A month after Sai Baba’s demise, the flood of visitors has reduced to a mere trickle. In the past month, nearly a dozen Internet cafes have shut shop.” Most businesses such as Internet cafes, real estate companies, markets, Kerala ayurvedic centres and the quintessential handicraft shops have all been hit by the downslide after Baba’s demise. “During season, we earned about Rs 8,000-10,000 every day. We could afford to wait out the lean months. In the last month, we haven’t managed to make even Rs 100-200 a day,” says Dhanush, who works for a property developer.”
Vinod Kumar runs a family handicrafts business said: “Now there is absolutely no business. We are a family of 12 and the future looks scary.” As he waits for the odd customer, he remembers an old story: “Someone once heard Baba predict that after he passed on, Puttaparthi would be inhabited only by dogs and monkeys. At the moment that’s my greatest fear.”