FACTS FROM UNDER THE CARPET
Document date: 07-25-02
By: Robert Priddy
It is important that someone with personal experience and confidential contacts, at least, presents some of the many undisclosed facts about SB's ashrams, where the control of public information is very tight, well-censored and is maintained by insidiously strong social taboos on what can and can't be said or told. Since I have had plenty of personal experience of the life of the ashrams and knew some very well-informed confidential contacts, besides keeping copious notes every day, I try to do my bit. I leave the rosy writings to others now, having done more than my bit on that front before I became disillusioned!
A high government official in a civil service security branch - himself a Sai follower - with whom I was previously on the best of terms, told me many of his experiences of people around SB. These included a variety of close SB-devotees who were friends of his - including high officials in the Indian administration - and the various ashram and other Sai 'officials'. He said that people really believe that, once they have a place at Puttaparthi or Whitefield so they can spend their time near SB at darshan etc., they have done everything required for salvation! Because being within the area of 'divine vibration' ensures their spiritual development. They proceed to live lives empty of social or other useful meaning, waiting for heaven to fall into their laps like ripe fruit through gratuitous grace. In the rat-race to 'Swami's feet', otherwise fairly virtuous persons there become as vicious as piranhas, very jealous of those who get interviews or other 'grace', whom they defame through back-biting. (This view is supported by many talks SB has held, both in public and not least in very strict correctives to the assembles Seva Dal in the various ashrams. From public discourses we learn: 'Residents of ashram have derived little benefit' Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 27, p. 78: 'Residents at ashram who have aged but not grown' Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 10, p. 28: and 'Seniority imagined by long-term residents' Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 5, p. 306).
Newcomers who have read some of the many gushing, over-rosy books about SB's supposed perfection, purity and total overview and divine control of his ashrams and the intimate detail of everyone's lives, expect 'The Abode of Supreme Peace' to be either a paradise or at least a place where people are more virtuous, kind, fair and civil than elsewhere. I was once mislead enough to believe that SB would never have a deceitful washerwoman or coolie in the ashram... they would all be spiritual due to their proximity to God Himself! Ha ha! When several pieces of my clothing has been stolen by a washerwoman, I carefully inquired of the public relations officials. They told me that all the washerwomen and collies are thieves and liars! As time went on I learned that the proclaimed policy of 'first come, first served' is not practiced. There are many people who obtain privileges of many kinds... from jumping queues, obtaining chits for a special place at darshan, obtaining favoured accommodation, often in return for favours to staff (including bribery). The so called 'special guests', referred to generally and treated as 'VIPs' can walk to the front of food queues ahead of cripples and the blind, and they use this privilege constantly, though there seldom any reason for their haste. This is a cause for envy in many, but this is not at all what motivates this account! I mention this because SB-devotees believe that all who criticise SB are merely envious, jealous etc., as SB himself insists! (Presumably he imagines - or even hopes - that all are envious of his blessings!).
The pleading faces and begging postures of devotees - not least Westerners and a number of the VIPs themselves - show how true after all were SB's words about the majority of people coming for something they want from him. Some have gained favours by sitting inordinate lengths of time in the 'lines' before darshan to get a prominent place (regardless of others whom they thereby displace) month after month until SB could hardly fail to reward them without seeming very hard-hearted to all those who observe these sad cases. The thousands of hours of discomfort they undergo - and their blank faces or often piteous expressions in front of SB - says at least as much about their level of desperation and dependency as their faith. They continue this behaviour when they are made VIPs too! The fixation one observes in them and others shows what a personality cult the SB movement really is. Those who strive in all ways to become important in the movement are mostly self-important, self-seeking and often uncivil persons who I would definitely have avoided entirely had I not then been a devotee... they mostly recall the phrase, 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread'.
The foreigners who live long-term or permanently at SB ashrams develop an almost visible 'residential patina'.that seems to serve as protection against all the abrasions and scours that they receive regularly from the native powers-that-be, from members of the Seva Dal, other residents, visitors and the inevitable low caste workers of all kinds. Particularly vintage ashram ladies have this veneer, along with carefully adopted Indian traits like perfect use of saris, self-contained condescending attitudes towards newcomers. I have never seen or heard of more than an exception few of these people doing anything except take care of their own quotidian affairs... no service work, no proper study or self-discipline... just following the routines, always knowing how to 'cut corners' and generally get ahead of others.
The ashram is run, I have noted that my informer said, mostly by virtual goondas. He had heard from the former devoted seva worker and subsequent security chief, Vijay Prabhu (whom my friend had known for years before the June 1993 'incident' he supposedly master-minded') of brothels in Puttaparthi used by ashram staff, and of staff alcohol abuse. He had made efforts to cross-check this and found it to be a fact. Incidentally, when investigators had descended en masse after the June murders and executions, various journalists reported that drink, including bottles of rum, were turned up within the ashram. Not so surprising, really, but not what one is misled to believe, or would wish to think, about 'Prashanthi Nilayam'.
Vijay Prabhu, my informant said, was an honest man, decent like any of us, but he got overheated about the corruption... and SB "seems to have used him as a broom to sweep up some of the dirt in the ashram", by giving hints to support his attempt to remove the current administration. (SB's closest and power-broking valets were 'removed', though probably the fight was an unexpected, unwanted conflict for the intruders). SB had told Prabhu, said my informant, that as long as the world does not change outside the ashram, nothing would change inside either... and there was nothing that he (SB) could do about it himself. This was also the core of Vijay Prabhu's statement to the police when he gave himself up months after the incident to a neutral police force outside the Puttaparthi area. Vijay Prabhu's life was - and those of his family and various associates - were ruined by all this. Some who were well known to my informant were persecuted badly by the powerful clique that remained. One even had to flee India. (Incidentally, Vijay Prabhu was also firmly convinced that 90% of SB students did not believe that SB to be the avatar he claims to be!)
I was also informed that the core of the whole organisation of SB interests, being a Trust, is not legally required to have any rules or guidelines. SB delegates authority, and also changes the rules and sometimes the personnel, when he sees fit. So there is no structure or defined way of dealing with matters. (In 1995 he 'sacked' Col. Joga Rao for taking kickbacks from Tubro & Larsen and having bought an apartment block in Delhi he could not explain, and the previous head of the PN ashram, Narayanan, for financing a luxury villa in Bangalore with embezzled money). One asks, would omniscient and righteous God let a servant embezzle us all for so long and so much? If so, what kind of example does this set?
The same sins and fates awaited Nataraj, head of the accommodation office and Mr. P. Suri of the Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust, both of whom had been milking the system for years. In 1993, Suri was found with 25 lakhs of rupees in his room which he could not explain, he could produce no accounts whatever for the Trust of which he was the Convenor! Both were 'sacked' by SB in due course, but after their rascally practices had long been fairly common knowledge. Mr. Suri received 900 copies of the 1st ed. of my book, which was sold from the Prashanti bookshop for Rs. 50.- per copy (in 1994), for which no accounts were presented to me or anyone else! Al Drucker, Rita Bruce, Mr. Taylor (publisher of the 'Gufa Narayana' books) all suffered similar extravagances from Mr. Suri. The same practices apparently continue under Mr. Rajan, who has the profitable business now. One notable fact about the methods used is that, if you pay in too large a sum of money by mistake (as my wife unthinkingly did in 1998, due to a fault by the clerk who calculated wrongly and overcharged by hundreds of rupess!). They would not refund the difference even five minutes after payment! They have an iron rule, they said, to pay out nothing whatever. Instead, the difference had to be placed in an account with them. Any money you have on account with them you can never recoup, but they may sometimes send on some unwanted, unreadable trash books that they can't sell to make up for the amount!