25 September 2005

The Joy of Betel

Before I get to the Gould subjects, I'd like to address a running issue regarding Sai Baba's personal habit of chewing betel. Much has been written about this over the years, with presentations about how extended chewing of betel over a long period of time leads to the development of mouth ulcers and cancers and various other tidbits. To be altogether fair, betel nut and leaves are offered to deities in various temples in India and later perhaps consumed by worshippers as 'prasad'. It is also believed to have some benefits such as aiding digestion. There is, however, no scope for denial about its potential to cause cancer. Prolonged chewing over many years also leads to reddened rotting teeth, which is a predicament that Sai Baba suffers from.

On a recent trip overseas, I discovered something unusual about this curious habit. Speaking to various friends who chewed the nut and the leaf, I happened to find out that the chewing of betel led to a significant feeling of lightheadedness. Comparable to the sensation of smoking marijuana, it appeared to be very much of a poor man's drug which probably accounts for why much of the low-income Indian popluation indulge in this habit. In other words, chewing betel makes you high.

This was a surprising finding, and as I was able to observe friends preparing their betel, I discovered that there was an extra ingredient that was not present in the betel-offerings made in temples. This ingredient was calcium. Proper white calcium, which was consistent enough to be a paste. I believed that the presence of this calcium paste was the active ingredient that enabled chewers of betel to attain that intoxicated feeling.

I couldn't help extending this finding to Sai Baba; it turns out that all those years of his betel-chewing not only rotted his teeth but kept him at a constant 'high' too! Don't believe me? Read the following:

Visitor: What is that?

SSB (in English): That is the nut. This is the leaf. See, the leaves and this is betel. This is not a bad habit. If it were a bad habit, Swami would not chew it. The leaves, their juice purifies the blood. The nut digests. Here, even with the little puppies, they mix the nut and give it for digestion. And the other thing that is put is calcium. The three mixed make red colour. This is Indian." (J. Hislop, 'Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba', p.19)

Who can say if Sai was high all those years, since he no longer chews betel. He only gave up the habit in 1984 or thereabouts, but one phrease that sticks out in my mind that originated from within the pages of Erlendur Haraldsson's 'Miracles Are My Visitng Cards', was about how he was constantly "munching and munching."

Copyright © Sai Baba EXPOSED! 2005-2007. Discuss this post!

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