Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 7- Puttaparthi

One thing I forgot to include in Day 4 was Dr. Susshela's belief that there are 500 year old men living in hundreds of caves in the Himalayas praying for good. They help to keep the world on an even keel, or something like that. She has never seen one of these 500 year old people, but she knows they are there, doing their thing.

I also forgot to mention something that will be of interest to Anna: on the last day of the camp they brought us a cervical fibroid cyst they had just removed from a woman. It was the size and apparent consistency of a coconut! I think they said they'd had to do the surgery in two stages, first to deal with circulatory issues, and then to remove the "coconut," but I'm not sure about that. They had had her in the hospital under observation for several days while they prepped and figured out what to do. Obviously there was no cervix left. It had probably been growing inside this woman for years.

After breakfast Dr. Rhoda and John took me on a tour of the ashram. Warning -- if you read further you are going to learn way more about the ashram and Sai Baba than you ever need to know. It is very big, perhaps bigger than the old city of Jerusalem. It seems to be funded by a variety of trusts and sub-trusts, about which Rhoda and John know little. They do know that the guy who owned Hard Rock Cafe donated $25 million fairly recently. Someone in the TATA family is also a big supporter.

There must be at least 100 buildings, more every year. Nice gardens, meditation areas and little shrines pop up here and there, but one wonders whether eventually they will cover everything with buildings. There are at least 2 massive buildings for ceremonial gatherings of thousands of people, such as the darshan. There is a book store that sells only books about Sai Baba, in about 60 languages. Devotees are encouraged to write books about their personal spiritual experience here, and there is an in-house press that prints them. One of the nicest buildings is the book depository across from the book store. There is a shopping center that sells food and clothing. There are separate hours for men and women to shop. Even the entrance to the ashram has separate lanes for men and women. There is a museum of religion and a fairly powerful radio station. There is a medical clinic for women named for the Sai's mother, a hospital, and of course the mobile hospital vehicles that we will be using when we go to the villages to deliver our screening services.

There are three places to eat: the western canteen, the north Indian canteen, and the south Indian canteen. Everything is vegetarian. We ate lunch at the western canteen. I had a bean dish, fried veggies and pasta. The pasta was terrible. The kifir drink was delicious. It all cost about $1, and this is the most expensive of the three canteens.

There are many 3 story concrete accommodation buildings. Rhoda and John borrow a unit from friends who have fixed it up nicely. They pay 40 rupees/day, which equals about $1. The units are allotted to people in some fashion, not owned in fee. Perhaps there is some "ownership" arrangement like in assisted living, but I don't know. There is A/C in their unit, which is rare. It is one room about the size of a large hotel room, western bathroom, plus a little western kitchen. They have had the walls paneled in a varnished wood, into which are built closets and drawers, very tidy. The units come originally quite basic, with only cold water, but you can fix yours up as you like. Their unit has all the creature comforts, including a cleaning lady whose two children are being put through schools by the owners of the unit. They have also set up a savings account for her into which they regularly deposit part of her wages.

The accommodations run from palatial for VIPs such as the Prime Minister to open concrete warehouse structures with bunk beds and mats on the floor. There is a fancy hotel on the grounds for important people; Goldy Hahn stayed there, but people like us could not. The Sai himself lives in a large, decorated, multi-story building with terraces; looks real nice. Several of these warehouse type accommodations were build this year for the celebration of the Sai's 85th birthday, to which certainly 100's of thousands of people came. The Sai discourages belief in the caste system, but as you can see the housing here is very hierarchical. Or you could interpret it as creating availability for all people, regardless of income level.

There are designated living units for volunteer pilgrims who come from all over to work at the ashram for 2 week stints. Many of these people seem to be Nepalese at the moment. They perform mostly security services, standing and sitting guard in the buildings, greeting everyone with a "sairam," and touching their hand to their heart. There is a lot of security all around and in the ashram. I had to go through a metal detector to enter and they did a very thorough manual search of my purse, probably because I was carrying a metal spoon. As I've mentioned, I don't like eating with my hands. Everything is painted yellow, Pepto Bismal pink and light blue.

The ashram is here because this is where the Sai Baba was born. He is the reincarnation of the prior Baba, who died eight years before Sai Baba was born. That avatar was born south of Mumbai, so that is where his headquarters remain, and he still has many devoted followers, perhaps more than Sai Baba. Eight years after the Sai Baba dies there will be another incarnation, which will usher in a period of love and peace on earth. It is a little like the Tibetan system for selecting Dali Lamas, except that the Sai Baba designated himself as the avatar of god, whereas others identify the Dali Lama as a child. His birth story is similar to the story of Christ. When his mother was pregnant she was hit by a bolt of lightning. Although she gave birth to him, he is not her child, but a god being. He acted differently from early childhood. At about the age of 9 he revealed that he was the avatar of god and incarnation of the earlier Baba. The Sai Baba is regarded as at the same level in the spiritual cosmos as Krishna, or perhaps even Jesus. The way of life he espouses is about doing good, doing no harm and loving. It is not seen as a separate religion, but is welcoming to all religions. In other words, you can be a devotee and still practice your own religion. There is great concern about what will come of his movement when he dies.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon writing up the three days I sent to you yesterday, sitting in the western cafe I described. It was very pleasant. We ate dinner there. Before dinner I went back to my hotel and managed to get my laptop fixed so I could use the Internet in my room. A very nice fellow changed the IP address and that seemed to do the trick. They also sent up a TV technician to check why I cannot get English language stations. He fooled around with it for a while, but the truth is the hotel has not invested in the package that includes such stations. One wonders why they didn't tell me that to begin with. Anyway, dinner was delicious. I had salad (this may be the only place in town that for sure washes veggies in filtered water) and pizza, and a tiny, first rate chocolate mousse. The restaurant features what may be the nicest western toilet in rural India, a separate reason to hang out here. The meal was relatively expensive - about $6. Deborah

1 comment:

  1. Largely known for being the birth place of legendary spiritual teacher Sathya Sai Baba, this small locale of Puttaparthi draws many of his followers every year. For accommodation,check out these hotels in Puttaparthi offering all the basic facilities.