A Serpentine Revelation by Arnold Schulman
A torturously pedantic critic recently argued with an editor of Exbaba.Com about an entry on the Wikipedia page about Sathya Sai Baba, claiming that the editor had improperly represented a quote by Arnold Schulman. This critic also uploaded a scan of the relevant page from Schulman's book in order to show the quote in full.
Personally, I thought that the argument was extremely petty and inconsequential since the difference in the quotes was minimal; since the Editor was being unfairly accused of various things relating to deliberate misrepresentations in order to feed negative ideas, intellectual dishonesty and the like, I thought that I had better put my views forward since it was claimed that the "erroneous" quote originated from an old essay of mine. For reference, here is the quote in full as provided from a colleague's scan:
"For every story of Baba's childhood there are any number of conflicting versions and, at this point, the writer discovered, it is no longer possible to sift out the facts from the legend. For one thing Baba has forbidden his family and devotees to talk about his childhood and 'they all live in terror of Baba,' as one of his most devoted followers told the writer. 'When they do something wrong,' the devotee said, 'he won't look at them or speak to them for days and it's agony for them ...
"In the beginning the writer was suspicious about the reasons for which Baba had imposed such severe restrictions to his followers, in referring episodes regarding his childhood, but afterwards he was brought to believe that it was not Baba's intention to suppress some information because he didn't wanted them to be revealed. On the contrary, that was the better way to prevent that Baba's followers, even the good-determined ones, could distort the truth. A little exaggeration here, a retouch there could have definitely polluted his own ‘reservoir of credibility’.”
It is clear from this that critics cannot claim to know very much about the mentality of Sai Baba's devotees, what to speak of the denial, rationalisation and cover-up that they regularly indulge in. I am unaware if Arnold Schulman was a Sai devotee, but his speculations as for why Sai Baba aggressively scotched discussions of his own past - even to the point of physical violence - sounds awfully similar to rationalisations and justifications of the Baba's "quirks" that are offered by various devotees. As for why Sai Baba indulged in such suspicious behaviour, I have discussed a few ideas and explanations in my essay with a couple of lesser-known stories from the early years.
If Schulman's speculations about avoiding distortions of the truth were correct, then I stand and mournfully observe how it hasn't worked very well given the fact that the current hagiographical ballyhoo contains a veritable pot-pourri of strange stories and assumptions. Just one example of this relates to the tale of a cobra, which allegedly appeared miraculously after Sathyanarayana Raju (Sai Baba's birth name) was born. As Schulman noted:
"One of Baba's two sisters, however, who claims to have been present at his birth, says that the cobra was not found under the blanket, but several hours after Baba was born a cobra was seen outside the house, a sight not uncommon in the village."
It is curious to see how this significantly differs from several "official" accounts of the cobra event. At the time of writing, I am aware of three major pieces of Sai literature that treat Sai Baba's birth with considerable depth:
- 'Baba Satya Sai' by Ra. Ganapati.
- 'Easwaramma - The Chosen Mother' by N. Kasturi, and
- 'Sathyam Sivam Sundaram', also by N. Kasturi.