Sathya Sai Baba: Dec. 12th
I am spending today in "Whitefield", home of Sai Baba, and customs clearance for Bangalore. Sai Baba is one of India’s religious gurus of some fame. He looks like a jolly old chap, has a huge Afro, and wears the obligatory saffron robes of a guru. Although I have some severe American skepticism with regards to his "miracles", I must admit that Sai Baba is one of the few gurus who have done genuine good for India. Sai Baba is by far the most famous of all the "holy men" of India. His devotees call him Bhagwan (God), and recognize him as "an avatar/incarnation of the absolute godhead (Brahman)".
On my first visit to Whitefield, Pratap took me to see his high school, which is affiliated with Sai Baba. To get into the right reference frame, I had to imagine that it was twenty centuries ago, and that I was about to get a chance to meet Jesus Christ in my lifetime. Whitefield being rural India, all you have to do is look at the people and their way of life, and a jump back of two millennia is easy to imagine.
Sai Baba is best known for his miracles, the "siddhis", which he claims as his calling cards and proof of his divinity. His most important siddhi is the materialization of sacred ash (vibhuti), of which he is said to produce more than a pound a day. People consider the ash sacred, and rub it on wounds, or eat it in small amounts. To me, this is a genuine act of faith. Sai Baba got into the guru game at an early age, and has had all the Joseph Campbell "rituals" associated with entry into shamanhood. At age seven, bitten by a scorpion, he fell into a prolonged trance, punctuated by bouts of ecstatic laughter, crying, and singing. At age thirteen, he awoke one day and apparently started to materialize gifts and sweets for friends and family. This he claimed he could do, because he was the incarnation of the great Yogi, Shirdi Sai Baba. Not aware of his previous self, Sai Baba said "Bye folks" and went on to build an ashram, and community of devoted followers. By age eighteen he was an established presence on the guru scene. If India had a TV channel devoted to gurus (OM-TV?), he would be its number one hit.
I have to admit that Sai Baba has not had the usual moral bankruptcy that so often accompany Indian gurus. He has built schools, hospitals, and ashrams. He has as followers the usual white hangers-on, including the owner of the Hard Rock Cafe, and a coterie of beautiful, spaced-out, white babes looking for love in all the wrong places. However, he also has as devotees the Indian middle-class, which are quite qualified to know what is truly genuine. Two of my uncles and aunts are devoted to him, and all around Bangalore you will see pictures of Sai Baba, smiling and offering darshan (blessings).
Bhakti, the act of constant love and devotion to a god, is the most popular of four Hindu paths to the liberation of the soul (moksha). Gurus who embody bhakti are easily accepted in Hinduism, especially amongst Krishna worshippers. Thus, Sai Baba’s devoted do not revere him as a moral teacher, or as a guru propounding a path to enlightenment, but instead believe him to be an embodiment of divine love. They are certain that he watches over them at all times, and that each of them is personally loved and cared for by this "avatar" of "brahman". Here, present in our lifetime, was not only Jesus Christ. Here in the worshipper's eyes was God.
On the other side of Whitefield, appropriately, is customs. This is the scene of one of the largest "functioning anarchies" in India. Nothing gets in or out of customs, without lots of expediting. Our movers are telling me that you can avoid paying duties, by paying 5 to 10 percent of the duty to the appropriate official. Here there are about twelve officials. They all wear very, very nice shoes. Bangalore, being the fastest growing city in Asia, I am sure they also have very, very nice homes. They can extract even bigger payments simply by not showing up, and therefore not being able to sign off your paperwork. This, my mover tells me, is regarded as a "natural calamity" along with floods, hurricanes, and dengue fever.

Natural Calamities and Customs: Dec. 13th
I wasn’t lucky yesterday. The cargo company in Los Angeles made an error in our shipping crate seals, and wrote down the incorrect seal numbers on the bill of lading and manifest. Consequently, the customs inspector accused the movers of smuggling, and trying to steal someone else’s goods. So now that a natural calamity has struck me, I will have to wait, while the various agencies, here and abroad, fix their paperwork, bribe the appropriate officials, etc. In another week, I can try again. My new estimate for our delivery of our household effects — three months. Poor Sue is in a funk, walking around the house all depressed. Oh well, I keep reminding her that we still have a life of luxury - running water (cold), showers (cold), and coffee (cold).