81st Birthday Report (England)
First they got a couple of adolescent teenagers to introduce the show; him dressed in a suit and tie with a long and goofy hairstyle dripping with gel and a half-broken voice, her miles shorter than him and desperately trying to act and sound like an adult. Here's a tip: Do NOT work with children or animals! As anyone in showbusiness will tell you. Then some Indian lady took the mic and started talking energetically and telling fast-paced jokes in a lame bid to sound cool. And she was a bit on the plump side shall we say. She introduced a dance program to be performed by students from the Sai School of Harrow while the poor kids posed in their starting positions for a full ten minutes before they figured out that the sound system wasn't working for the music to start. Then they were taken off the stage so that the "technician" could fix the problem, and we were led straight into the next item: A live report on the birthday celebrations from Puttaparthi.
This means that she called someone there on her mobile phone and placed the mic to the speaker, so we could all hear about some basketball game that had been played in the new Indoor Stadium that had been built especially for the occasion. Whoop-de-doo, I am regularly informed about happenings in Puttaparthi and I knew about these events weeks in advance. Nothing new, it's not like they placed a call to Sai Baba himself or something! Your sound system is hardly working, you take the kids off the stage and then you yap your head off on the phone talking about some bloody basketball game. Cue more lame jokes about how the speaker should climb up on the roof of the Poornachandra Auditorium so that Sai Baba receives the goodwill and best wishes from the UK devotees. Aww sweet, not.
When the kids were taken off the stage, I couldn't help disguising my audible chuckle as a cough. I wasn't laughing at them but at the situation. Mixed with that chuckle was an undercurrent of indignation; I was reminded of why I had left Sai Baba and his Organisation in the first place, because his devotees are so hopelessly inept and disorganised that they couldn't even bring themselves to worship him properly. Presuming that Sai Baba is God, don't you think that his birthday celebrations should be planned and practised well in advance to meticulous detail? Did they even rehearse anything? What if Sai Baba had been personally present, would they have been so lacking then? Nothing has changed in the six years I have been an ex-devotee, I can't believe that these guys can sit there and act as if everything is happening by divine will. They were just so oblivious and apathetic to what was going on, silently tolerating the mishaps ("Swami says we should be unruffled by pleasure and pain, even on his burfday"). It is largely because of the conduct of devotees that I left Sai Baba, it is just so embarrassing to be associated with them when they act so foolishly trying to hold an event. And don't make me start on the non-existent philosophical debates!
So while everyone was waiting for the sound system to be fixed, the volunteers started handing out covered plastic plates of food. The food wasn't bad, typical Indian fare, but the fat lady wouldn't let up, asking various people to come forward and tell the crowd of some experience of Baba's presence that they've had. Now look, I've heard about it not being over until the fat lady sings but that doesn't mean that she has to yap her head off while we're eating! Every five seconds someone says something nice and the audience claps because of some wonderfully goofy experience they've had that "proves" Swami's "omnipresence". For Christ's sake, just leave us alone and let us eat! It was nice of them to provide food though. In past years it has ranged from nothing at all to a cheese sandwich and apple, so this was almost like a small meal which was quite nice considering that a lot of people had given up their evening (and probably their dinners) to come and sit here on the floor for hours listening to a fat lady squawking excitedly about some dratted basketball game.
The highlight of the evening was a concert by Ravi Nasery (aka Ravi Raj Nasery), a singer from India who has composed and sung many of the currently popular Sai bhjans. I've got to admit that I was interested in hearing him sing as I still have a couple of his tapes around somewhere, and he does have a very nice voice. In this way this birthday event was also different from previous years; the usual fare would be a bhajan session, a couple of dance and drama performances, a special guest or two waffling on and on about how they kissed Swami's feet before the whole thing ends and they kick us out. This event was almost all taken up by Nasery. The sound system did get fixed in time for the schoolkids to do their dance, but it looks like they had too many plugs in too few sockets which caused occasional power failures. At least three times during Nasery's concert the power went off and the mics became silent which made him look a bit of an idiot on stage, singing passionately while no one could hear him. And this even happened at the climactic moment of a song, sadly I couldn't help smirking about the ineptitude behind that too.
But on the whole it was quite nice. Nasery sang all the old favourites that I have on tape plus a few new songs. I couldn't enjoy them as much as I would like to have done because, after fours hours of sitting on the floor, my legs were shot to shit. Plus-sides included getting a photo taken of myself with Nasery as well as an autograph too. Just to stick the knife in, I also got photos taken of myself with top-level Sai devotees. ;-)
One of the most poignant things about this occasion is that, while Nasery was singing, a movie of Sai Baba was being shown on a large projector screen. I later found out that this was a very recent video brought by somebody who had just returned from the ashram a week ago. As such, it was a video record of Sai Baba's recent travels around South Indian cities by aeroplane and suchlike, as well as the usual darshan footage. As expected, this was also a record of a strange episode in the Avatar's life: his being wheelchair-bound. It was so damn strange to see him continuing as if nothing had ever happened and that everything was normal apart from the wheelchair. It also showed how devotees continue to pleadingly hold out letters to him for him to take, and he is being wheeled around by a small mafia of white-clad devotees.
Reports of Sai Baba's now being able to stand are exaggerated. Yes, he can stand and walk a few steps but only with the support of a student. Imagine a very old person walking and stumbling when they're without their walking stick? That's exactly how Sai Baba is when he uses a young boy as a walking stick (and probably for other purposes too). He has become a very weak old man, speaking haltingly and delicately, every move being supervised and planned. As I was watching the devotees in the movie still fawn on him adoringly, as well as the devotees in the hall with me, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell is going on in their heads? How can they deal with this, their beloved God, in a wheelchair and suffering like a geriatric? Doesn't it niggle them in their hearts, doesn't it nag away at the back of their minds? They drown themselves in self-serving platitudes about how merciful he is to take on someone else's karma, when the Baba has publicly revealed that he is not suffering anybody's karma except his own, reaping the results of his slip in the bathroom earlier this year.
It's one thing seeing the latest pictures from the ashram on websites, but it's quite another to see him on video. Sai Baba has changed for the worse, there is no doubt. While his plans to usher in the Golden Age appear to have been shelved, he sits and cries his eyes out about being an invalid. And his devotees continue to love him as before. Where have they left their brains and their critical thinking faculties? I feel nothing but pity for those who cannot open their eyes to see nor their ears to hear.
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