This and following articles tell about the legacy of facts and inside knowledge that I was left with by V.K. Narasimhan, a burden of unspoken truth and facts that will be very unpalatable and extremely disturbing to many, as they were to me at the time. Let me state at the outset that I swear on my personal honour that all I relate here is nothing but the truth to the very best of my understanding and recollection, which is based on copious notes made at the time (see links below). A series of blogs on V.K. Narasimhan and my relationship with him will detail the burdensome legacy of facts and inside information about Sathya Sai Baba, his institutions and prominent followers he left me. The unspoken facts were often most disturbing to me at the time, not least since these were given in private as confidences. Nothing I relate here is anything but the truth to the very best of my understanding and recollection, which is based on copious notes made at the time (links will be given to the appropriate scans of those notes, which come from a series of notebooks here).
V.K. Narasimhan was a famous editor of leading Indian newspapers, from The Hindu and The Deccan Herald to the Indian Express. Upon retirement he followed his wife, Jayalakshmi, to Sai Baba's ashrams, where they settled in 1980. He was charmed by Sathya Sai Baba and was asked to take over the editorial chair of the monthly journal 'Sanathana Sarathi' from N. Kasturi. He soon brought many of his contacts in the Government and the Indian elite to visit Sai Baba, for whom he became an unofficial spokesman. He was called by Sai to come to interviews, meetings and talks with students, often on a daily or twice-daily basis. He was one of the very few persons who was bold enough to contest Sai Baba's statements and opinions, which he did - though almost always privately - on numerous occasions. Even Prof. N. Kasturi never did such a thing, for he had been 'tamed' and cowed by Sai Baba for a major public chastisement for what was really only a bagatelle. Telling plain facts is in the spirit of truth that VKN had upheld even at the risk of his own life during the Indira Gandhi Emergency. However, once he had become resident and too dependent on the ashram, he too was subjected to a typical imperious telling off by Sai Baba for having allowed Antonio Craxi to publish some notice in Sanathana Sarathi (a trivial breach of the unclear editorial rules). Sai froze him out and took away his editorship for a long period (aged and worn out Kasturi had to return to his toil for many months). Thereafter, Narasimhan adhered to strict 'political correctness' in his editorship, having to allow - and himself write - encomiums and to avoid all criticism of any kind (except that which poured out in Sai Baba's own discourses). The fearless lion who had faced down Indira and Sanjay Gandhi got his teeth drawn finally when Sai Baba actually forced him to lie in an article about the Sathya Sai Central Trust! (He confided this to me of his own will and with a dejected expression).
Therefore I am so placed that I may shed some light on this conundrum... that V.K. Narasimham became a very troubled man who could not refrain from telling the truth to some people, but was unable to print a word of it any longer. This elucidation is necessary, because those who never met him and know little or nothing of the circle of servitors around Sai Baba in the 1980s and 1990s - and that is the great majority of all followers - would otherwise believe that VKN's true opinions are accurately represented only by his infrequent editorials in the journal he edited. Anyone who knew him much realized that the situation was far more complicated (for example, his two sons and a number of his contemporaries, including various foreign devotees like Indian Dr. Sara Pavan from Australia).
Despite his frequent public praise of Sai Baba, Narasimhan did not believe in all of Sai Baba's claims about himself, particularly about omniscience, omnipotence and being the avatar. He wanted to write a book about Sai Baba's claim to be the avatar of Vishnu etc., but he was never given the time to do it as Sai Baba certainly kept him as busy as possible. His occasional stiff and formal writings in Sanathana Sarathi, show that he soon learned that he had to observe 'political correctness' in the sense of only praising and never criticizing anything. I take the responsibility of making my information generally known, as my conscience demands. So far no one who knew V.K. Narasimhan - or anyone else with the authority that comes of long and close contact - has contested anything I relate about him [though a couple of persons in total denial - Gerald Joe Moreno and Lisa de Witt, both of evidently very doubtful qualifications - have set out to smear me throughout the Internet as a "blatant" or "shameless" liar, and not least about Narasimhan]. For those believers in Sai Baba as an avatar who will wish to doubt me, know that I am willing to stand by every word I have written about VKN, and there are a few others, in his family and elsewhere, and who have also learned of many of the same doubts held by him.
Scans of pages of letter from VKN and of pages from my voluminous notebooks recording every day I was at a Sai ashram are presented as evidence of my claims about V.K. Narasimhan - see letters here and notebooks here
V.K. Narasimhan in 1998 with Robert Priddy at Prashanthi Nilayam - VKN in his Prashanthi apartment - V.K.N with Robert Priddy - Brindavan 1994
I refuse to continue to observe Sathya Sai's directions to avoid absolutely all criticism of anyone but oneself. I reject the gag he imposed on followers - and which followers were and are induced to impose further on themselves - and am only concerned to tell the truth as it presents itself to me on a factual basis. I came to know very many important negative facts about Sathya Sai, his ashrams and organization, and not least from V.K. Narasimhan. This included information on the gravest kinds of criminal behaviour. Many others have, of course, made these discovery themselves and before I did. I admit to having experienced many instances of connected with Sathya Sai which are generally called 'paranormal', but I cannot say in honesty that these have proved fruitful for my life. I may have had some kind of indirect help from him, yet this is a matter of what one chooses to believe and not one of certainty as there is neither proof nor any confirmation from Sai Baba on it. Rather to the contrary, in fact. Gratitude I once felt for events that I then believed to be his doing - things for which I did much in return for about 18 years - has withered in the face of lies and deceits in which he has been caught out.
Sathya Sai has made a lot of propaganda about 'the truth'. He has insisted that the truth can never harm anyone (which seems highly unrealistic anyhow), though he also defeats himself by teaching that no one should tell true things about people which are 'unpleasant' or 'hurtful' for them. This duplicity - to conceal the truth on such a basis is to encourage the art of cover-up, whitewash and untruthfulness. Seeing that there is hardly a single fact about anything that is not somehow hurtful to someone, there could be no public debate, legal proceedings or any free speech if one followed this absurd 'teaching'. Sai Baba drew Narasimhan to him not least, doubtless, because the latter had a high reputation for fearless truth speaking (after his brave confrontation of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency of 1975-7). V.K. Narasimhan eventually became more and more unable to tell the truth about events in the ashram and particularly about Sathya Sai himself, that he was severely compromised but he was unable to constrain himself from critical comments in public (though never in written form), nor from telling me in confidence what really worried him.
When I wrote the book about my many experiences of Sai Baba up till 1994, VKN was very positive about it, not least because he said it gave the most objective account until then of the ashram. Yet he felt I had given a too positive account of the Sathya Sai Organization and he explained why, as my notes made at the time report (see here). That I praised Sai Baba as the universal world teacher and avatar of God in this age etc., must be put down to the fact that I was so positive with an open-hearted faith towards him as an omniscient, omni-benevolent Divinity. Yet I - and million of followers - were being entirely deceived by him (and also by his gullible and truth-concealing top office-bearers). I therefore tended to put the best possible interpretations on all that Sai Baba said and everything that occurred - however bad (and bad things were abu to mention).
VKN put under pressure to conform by Sai Baba: I asked VKN what had occurred when Sai Baba, sometime around In mid-1996, Sai had announced that he would hold one discourse every day for an entire year. He did this for less than 3 months and was extremely repetitive and said virtually nothing he had not often said before, then he stopped the daily discourses. VKN told me that he had been sure from the start that Sai Baba would not be able to keep it up and would run dry, which proved correct. When he was made to speak in public by Sai Baba before him, VKN sometimes used glowing terms about Sai Baba, yet he was more reserved in his lectures for foreigners and very much more so in private. He had been known for considerable verbal care and preference for reserving judgement, and ashramites and many visitors also noted this. Even then, I do not recall VKN telling the public that Sai Baba regularly made simple errors of fact and confused different incidents and persons in his discourses, which VKN had to correct or edit out altogether. Any regular ashram visitor knows the prevailing atmosphere of reverence and sanctimonious Besserwissen among many residents, and visitors will understand how difficult life would have been for Narasimhan if he had provoked their critical senses by telling anything that showed that Sai Baba was not pure perfection in all matters. He always favoured the idea that one should be free to believe what one wishes (and take the consequences), that faith anyhow is a fragile and positive quality, so he would not offend the public by anything but praise for their guru. That he was no longer free to express his true opinions except privately was perfectly evident to all persons to whom he felt he could talk sensibly. He had to be particularly careful about some of the ashram staff, such as Mr. N. Suri, who were his declared opponents and who he distrusted completely, along with various top Sathya Sai Organization VIPs.
My very first discussion with Narasimhan in the lecture room after he spoke left me perplexed, because he openly ridiculed those who insisted that Sai Baba was omniscient and omnipotent. This seemed like sheer blasphemy to me and I could not understand how he could be the editor of Sanathana Sarathi and write such positive things when he did not believe in these basic tenets of faith in Sai Baba. Later he modified his opinions saying that he experienced Sai Baba could pick up things to which he had not been present, but only if he focussed on them. Later, when he had become much more dependent on his life at the ashram seeing Sai Baba daily and himself being the centre of a wide circle of admirers and people interested in him, he tended to retreat into a kind of bland acceptance of things he had rejected earlier. Mostly he avoided difficult questions he might get by employing dissimulation or even silence (unusual for him!).
I had a good deal of private correspondence with him through the years and still have over a dozen of his long letters to me see VKN letter facsimiles, and he was always making profuse apologies for not writing more often. The fact was, he said that he had problems writing letters. He was always more of an editor than a creative writer, but I kept up a flow of letters, information and books that I knew would interest him.Karmic Inter-connections? When discussing Norway and Ibsen one day, Narasimhan asked me if I knew a Norwegian lady called Randi. She was married to a Mylapore Brahmin in the diplomatic service (Mylapore is a district in Madras from which many well-known Brahmins in India came, being of the highest caste in India). This Randi had befriended and fêted VKN on his week's visit to New York in the 1960s, taking him to see Ibsen's play The Doll's House. I had to say I did not, remarking that - though Norway is small - there are still over 4 million Norwegians. Over a year later, a lady I had met once or twice when she lived near our house about 20 years previously - applied to join the Sai group in Oslo of which I was then the coordinator. She is Ragnhild Aamot, who lived in the U.S. for about 13 years from the age of 9 and lived there for a while later too, and she was the selfsame 'Randi' who hosted VKN! She also knew relatives of his, for her previous husband was also a Mylapore Brahmin. This is one example of a number of such statistically extremely improbable co-incidental meetings in my experience.
After reading a book of interviews with Laurens van der Post that I had brought him, VKN was very impressed by its form and content and later suggested that I perhaps might write a similar book of interviews with him to which I readily agreed. (Laurens van der Post Walks with a White Bushman - In conversation with Jean-Marc Pottiez, Penguin. 1986 ). This did not come about due to other demands on his time, yet I must have conversed with him privately for well over a hundred hours all in all through the years. I always noted down interesting facts and any of his statements that I thought important directly afterwards and often referred back to the subject later for further clarification and confirmation. As one of India's former leading journalists, he was perceptive and accurate in his replies, relatively fearless in questioning mistaken opinions or stating facts that would be unpalatable to the 'politically correct' or ashram and other authorities in the Sai movement. However, from his unease when he unburdened himself to me on various occasions, there was clearly much that could not be said openly too. VKN often insisted on me accompanying him as he held forth while driving his decrepit old small blue car, which was invariably covered in bird droppings from the trees outside his flat in West Five block. This, even when he had lost the sight in one eye and had substituted the smashed front window on that side with a piece of hanging sack. He drove it around inside the extensive ashram (a privilege held by a select few) or at Whitefield and was proud that he still qualified for an international driver's license even with vision in only one eye. The car had an increasing tendency to stop, such as driving from darshan back to his flat, so Seva Dals would be summoned to push us down suitable inclines so he could start it by jamming it into gear. When it broke down fully in 1996, VKN reckoned on what chances he had of getting something for it, and he pointed out how well it had been driven constantly across the whole of India , and even from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. I remarked that this was hardly a selling point, but the fact that Sathya Sai Baba himself had ridden in the front passenger seat would be the thing. In 1998, the car was entirely reconditioned, what VKN called 'an expensive kaya kalpa rejuvenation'. One wonders if it will not some day fetch a large sum at a major auction, because in 1988, I witnessed VKN driving Sathya Sai Baba in that jalopy, up the main entrance and onto the sand around the grass plot in front of the temple, where VKN applied the brake so suddenly that both he and Sathya Sai Baba almost cracked their heads on the front windscreen.
Sathya Sai Baba's meetings with famous spiritual figures: Sathya Sai Baba also told VKN about unrecorded visits to various spiritual persons, emphasizing that he had had to give some correction to every one of them. This I heard several times too. (see one example of scanned notes I made). These visits would have taken place in the early 50s, probably when Sathya Sai Baba disappeared from Puttaparthi for longish periods. Sathya Sai Baba claimed that he had said to Ramana Maharshi that it was unfitting for him not to cover his body properly by wearing only a loincloth. He further said that he had told Aurobindo and the Mother that, though they were celibate, it was still wrong of them to live in the same apartment because of the common perception of this as setting an example. (Rather remarkable when he, long accused of pedophilia, openly admits to having three boys sleep in his bedroom!). That Sathya Sai Baba has never made public these claims suggests how unlikely they are to be true. There is no limit to Sathya Sai Baba's boasting about himself, as one can see in a majority of his thousands of discourses! His claim to be the fullest possible avatar of God, while all others are 'women' by comparison with him, should be sufficient to demonstrate the unlikelihood of his having been able to go as a youth and correct some of India's greatest and venerable spiritual figures, though he was doubtless precocious and cheeky. Later on, one visit to the spiritual guru Swami Shivananda (of Rishikesh) in July 1957 was photographed, as when Sathya Sai Baba visited him in Rishikesh. Sathya Sai Baba allegedly cured the elderly swami of an illness and materialised a special mala (necklace) for him, the necklace being seen in the photo. Interestingly, his Divine Light Society of Shivananda never made mention of this in any of their literature, either because the viewed Sathya Sai Baba as uninteresting or fraudulent, or else due to the normal competition for prestige of their particular guru between the various ashrams and followers (the latter being certainly so with most Sai devotees).
Suppression of facts at the ashrams: Like Narasimhan, perhaps, I was akin to a one-eyed man in the country of the blind, but still would not use it to see! (though Narasimhan was literally one-eyed then, despite Sai Baba’s application of vibhuthi to the inflamed eye before he lost the sight in it). When Michael Oliver and two US ladies died in the Spiritual Museum accident in 1990 (the dome caved in and crashed down to crush them), the next day Narasimhan asked me after he had given a lecture in the EHV building to speak about Michael. When I asked then, most of the audience had no idea that the dome had collapsed (which was clearly visible if one had looked) or that there had been any deaths (this was 24 hours later). So effective is the stifling of news of untoward incidents. So I related the facts as I knew them and people were relieved because they had not understood why Narasimhan was talking about these Americans’ service work in the Museum. Afterwards he said that perhaps Swami would not have liked that this came out! That shows how even he had become involved in the whitewash of bad news.
The question of just what motivated Narasimhan to retreat so much from the healthy evaluative views he had held when first I met him is a complex one. I have gone through my notes and all my many, many happy reminiscences of our times and discussions together. They have turned to bittersweet as I have had to recognise that his proud spirit was crushed by Sai Baba through his usual manipulations. Sai Baba employs both charm and repulse along with many unspoken influences through nonverbal and other indirect means (via third parties) which can work on the mind. Perhaps the most deep-lying reason for his close servitors to exercise great care in what they say is because, as he told VKN, "Those who break faith with me will suffer the most terrible consequences, and there is nothing I can do to change them". The 'true believer' without any doubts or reservations will see this as a simple statement of facts about the inevitable nature of the laws of karma. Of course, even this is typically illogical, for Sai Baba claims to be able to remove any karma he may choose to do from "his compassionate and boundless grace"! Would he not save those who have served him selflessly for decades? In retrospect, it is so obvious how Sai Baba makes use of veiled threats, anxieties and threatening vagueness to make them seem to apply to anyone. Also, Sai Baba is a master at bluffing people. It is, however, he who has broken faith with all his followers by deception, fraudulence, undoubted sexual activities and being an accomplice to murder cover-up.!
It has not been publicised (for obvious reasons), but it is an undeniable fact that in the 1980s Sai Baba's personal driver
burnt himself to death under the Shiva statue because Sai Baba had said that 'if anyone failed to follow his warning after the third time, they might as well set fire to themselves and die'! VKN told me of this in detail when I had heard of it and asked him if it were possible.
Sai Baba is known to have used fear very effectively on Kasturi and other officials, as the literature about him frequently hints, if not demonstrates. For example, Kasturi once told us at length in the old Lecture Hall how he returned from a tour of North India Baba had sent him on only to find himself ignored totally and excluded from everything for weeks, without explanation. When Kasturi approached Baba to ask what he had done wrong, he "raged like a terrifying lion" at him. for a mere bagatelle - one for which he was not even responsible.
This incident has been toned down by Kasturi to show Sai Baba less threatening in in his written account in his own autobiographical book Loving God (p.344ff). This occurs with all accounts that touch on Baba's so-called "human aspects". But Kasturi vividly evoked the fear he had felt and his extreme anguish for weeks until he was told the reason. His hosts had been flooded with requests to meet Kasturi in private, and they had set up interview times for them. Kasturi had agreed to it. THAT alone was his great sin! Sai Baba told him very angrily that it was only He who gave interviews! This kind of manipulation is typical of psychopaths and megalomaniacs… a clever way to cow followers and keep them in line… through naked fear!
Why Sai was so kind to VKN? Sai Baba's credibility in various influential Indian circles was improved by the presence of V.K.N and was no doubt very important in inducing many Indian political figures he knew well to visit Sai Baba. VKN had been at school with future Presidents and Prime Ministers and was a key channel in Sai Baba's observable insatiable reach for social and political power. VKN did not seem to fully allow himself to realise the implications… he was certainly flattered to be the centre of attention and made such a fuss of by all around Baba, especially foreigners and including the many students.
Most of what goes on within the inner circle of Sai Baba's attendants, officials and roommates are kept so well under wraps that they area total blank to devotees generally, even to top Sathya Sai Organisation officials. When I realised this more, I was somewhat astounded at the ignorance of certain VIPs I knew about things that had leaked out to me and the paranoia among those who are kept half in the dark by scarce information and unhelpful responses. It takes much time and involvement to get near to seeing behind the tight veil of secrecy. Such is also emulated by the top Sai Organisation officials, as in the case of Dr. John Hislop’s cover-up of the grave accusations of sexual abuse by Sathya Sai Baba he received around 1981. The same again when David Bailey's 'The Findings' emerged in 1999 and the flood of sworn statements by victims appeared. Great efforts were made to scare devotees off from even reading any of it.
VKN was not enthusiastic about the Sathya Sai Organisation, though he mostly kept this well under his hat. He corrected a falsely positive impression he thought I gave in my book ‘Source of the Dream’ with various damning information about Indulal Shah, Antonio Craxi and others. Through his strong Maharashtra clan throughout the India Diaspora, Indulal Shah literally managed to reverse Sai Baba’s order to put the Central Office above him. (see scans of my notes recorded at the time) VKN expressed shock at hateful and vicious personal slanders he had ever known by Craxi towards Pietro Marena and others. Some of the other struggles to wresting control of positions and influence with Sai Baba were very disappointing to learn about. [Antonio Craxi was also known to be involved with the Italian Mafia, but he was one of Sai Baba's favourites for many years. His brother was the convicted criminal ex-Prime Minister Benito Craxi who fled justice to Tunisia to avoid a 28-year Italian prison sentence and huge fine for corruption until he died in 2002] .
VKN knew Jiddu Krishnamurti since well before the war, originally through the court case that The Hindu fought on behalf of Krishnamurti's parents to regain their parental role from C.W. Leadbeater and the Theosophical Society. They had met thereafter through the years, but VKN had become gradually disillusioned by Krishnamurti's teaching, which developed into a kind of non-teaching, without any direction or definite content. Narasimhan said that Krishnamurti made a hurtful comment to him when he had said that he had become a supporter of Sathya Sai Baba, holding up his hands in dismay. Later, however, while staying at his temple, Sundaram in Madras , Sathya Sai Baba had actually called in at Adhyar and met Krishnamurti under the famous banyan tree there, said VKN. He related how Sathya Sai Baba said he had told Krishnamurti off curtly for talk of burning scriptures as useless, saying that Krishnamurti had himself never even read the great Indian scriptures (a fact of which Krishnamurti had actually boasted!). These teachings, however, maintained Sathya Sai Baba, were of great importance and solace to millions, therefore Krishnamurti had no right to denigrate them. Sathya Sai Baba had concluded by pointing out that Krishnamurti had not included his own supposedly spiritual writings in this recommended auto da fe. This view on scriptures is known from various statements Sathya Sai Baba has made in the past, such as, "No one has the right to talk patronisingly of the Vedas or disparage them." (Professor N. Kasturi Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram Volume 2, p 43.) Corroboration of Sathya Sai Baba's rather negative relationship to Krishnamurti is found in his letter to Rajagopal in 1989 supporting him in pursuing the truth through his litigation against his previous life-long companion, Krishnamurti, reproduced in Baskin's book (Diane Baskin Divine Memories of Sathya Sai Speaks new ed., p. 234). The latter not only tried to dispossess Rajagopal of any share in what he had built up after decades of selfless, unpaid services (penning all the many Krishnamurti books) but had also lived in a secret sexual relationship with Rajagopal's wife for decades. (Radha Rajagopal Sloss Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti. London 1993). This book was also dealt with in a rebuttal volume of biography by Mary Lutyens (Krishnamurti and the Rajagopals).
It may be said that Krishnamurthi's books were hardly scriptures, but rather consist mainly in insights into psychological self-development, emancipation from religious superstitions and freedom of the individual to develop through understanding of oneself and others in the world in which we actually find ourselves. All this is anathema to Sathya Sai Baba, who often denies that there is any such thing as 'freedom' (which he never defines), mostly preaches that all normal worldly engagements are futile and whose account of reality contains many traditional Indian superstitions. No wonder that Sathya Sai Baba attacked Krishnamurthi as he claimed he did to VKN.
Common sense & diverse Sathya Sai Baba claims: VKN sought both knowledge and understanding of worldly matters, but also sought spiritual insight. He was not given to naive judgements, hasty conclusions, or over- exaggerated reports. As I got to know him in various situations, I came to regard his perceptions as very largely credible, not least because - despite all the good sense in Sathya Sai Baba's activities, he always harboured doubts about Sathya Sai Baba's extravagant assertions. Though he doubtless never said so in public, it was he who pointed out to me that Sathya Sai Baba "always multiplies by 10" when counting heads. He told me of a number of such instances. One example, the less than 300,000 (absolute maximum) who were present on the 70th Birthday were said to be three million by Sathya Sai Baba himself. Several persons I know heard Sathya Sai Baba actually say this.
This was no isolated case of such multiplication by Sathya Sai Baba, for VKN told me of others, such as when, in 1990, Dr. Samuel Sandweiss had tried to interest 120 psychiatrists to come to Prashanthi, (from a conference they were attending in New Delhi) Russians . Only 12 had actually planned to come, though even they did not arrive. The 12 psychiatrists (on an official State visit) who had wanted to come were stopped in Delhi because they would not accept the ordinary tourist visas they were offered, for - being invited delegates to an Indian psychiatric conference - they were expecting official treatment instead. However, after hearing of the 12 psychiatrists from Sandweiss in the interview room, Sathya Sai Baba himself announced on the porch outside to students and others that 120 psychiatrists were coming to see him. VKN himself heard Dr. Sandweiss tell Sathya Sai Baba of his mistake, and Sathya Sai Baba became very angry with Sandweiss and told him to leave the ashram immediately and return to the USA . (Of course, those still suffering under the Sathya Sai Baba delusion will say things like, "this was Swami's wonderful compassion" or "it was somehow for Sandweiss' own good". Wonderful - but also dangerous - how the mind can turn everything around when it has adopted one powerful unprovable assumption around which it bends itself!). (Note: originally a mistake arose in my report, instead of 'psychiatrists' the 120 potential visitors were described as 'Russians', but this was incorrect. There may have been Russians among them, however).
VKN on money and Sai Baba: He told me a few times that Sathya Sai Baba has on occasion turned down very large sums of money from sources that were unacceptable. One day Sathya Sai Baba had received a telegram from a very rich Indian in Calcutta , a Mr. Singh, offering the equivalent of millions of dollars. Sathya Sai Baba handed it to VKN, asking what he thought of it. VKN replied that it seemed very positive. Sathya Sai Baba then said that the money had come from such sources as horse racing and could not be accepted. He requested that VKN write for him commending the good intention, but gently refusing the money by saying that the would-be donor himself could set up a trust fund for good works or else donate to another worthy cause. VKN told me of another such instance where Sathya Sai Baba had refused to receive the personal fortune of a businessman from Madras , including some properties. Sathya Sai Baba had also asked that person if he expected to pass on to him the tedious job of collecting the rents.
The lions' share of the funds of the Central Trust apparently come from known donors (as far as is known!). Contributions have in recent times sometimes been announced at public festivals or are praised in discourses by Sathya Sai Baba in person (A friend of the US donor of hundreds of millions, Mr. James Sinclair, told me that he was very shocked to hear his name announced and his large donation to the Rayalaseema Water Project stated in public by Indulal Shah at the 70th Birthday celebrations!). His Trust has, however, also accepted considerable sums of money from big Indian businessmen and political manipulators who are known for their ill-gotten gains, some of whose names have even been announced in public before Sathya Sai Baba (beg. at his 70th Birthday celebrations in Hillview Stadium). This has also included known criminals in the liquor trade (alcohol being illegal in many states of India) and in other related activities. These matters disturbed VKN, who pointed out to me that Mahatma Gandhi used to refuse all funds obtained from betting, alcohol and other crimes as being tainted or blood money.
While some of the largest banks around the world have accepted vast sums of money from international criminals and crooked heads of state, notably many Swiss banks, for 'whitewashing', Sathya Sai Baba has in recent years to some extent also accepted such money as donations which have apparently been used to good ends, such as the Rayalaseema Water Project. The virtues of the water project are in question, however, since it was bungled so that Sathya Sai Baba could present it on his 70th birthday. Besides, inferior materials were used, contractors failed and the result fell short of the goal etc., as VKN informed me. How far short, no one can now tell... all is in the lap of the voracious AP State bureaucracy!
VKN deplored the financial corruption and mafia-like activities that he said were virtually universal at all levels of Indian society such that few in business or politics were able to escape involvement. Under those circumstances, one might contend, most money in circulation gets some taint. On the other hand, since Sathya Sai Baba can employ - through his Sathya Sai Central Trust - large sums of money to good purposes in building up educational institutions, hospitals, the provision of pure drinking water and so on, perhaps it loses its taint and rather sets an example to help stimulate a non-corrupt economic cycle, he thought.
V.K.N. on the Sathya Sai Hospital and Airport: At first he had been critical of the first Super-specialty Hospital built at Puttaparthi as being a vast money waster; simple health care for the same money would do far more good, he insisted. But later on his attitude shifted somewhat due to an incident: one day he had shed some tears by seeing Sathya Sai Baba lifting a poor village boy from where he had laid down on the floor underneath a bed, not imagining that the bed could be for himself. Sathya Sai Baba told the boy it was for him, lifted him up and placed him on it. Narasimhan began to agree with Sathya Sai Baba's view on his hospital then. However, I was unable to discover from Narasimhan just how patients are selected to the hospital. Both the present hospitals are privately run, and the general public - though they may apply to the confidential selection committee under Sathya Sai Baba's directions - certainly do not seem to be admitted to the extent that believers in Sathya Sai Baba himself are, including well-to-do and prominent followers. Oddly, these hospital buildings are often reported as seeming half-empty, yet one would expect the demand in India to be overwhelming.
Wastefulnesss worried VKN. Many Sathya Sai Baba building projects - including two massive constructions at PN devoted mainly to his own glorification - were hardly to VKN's taste. He told about the meeting in 1990 where he was present when Sathya Sai Baba convinced Indian Airport authorities to finance and build a large airport near Prashanthi Nilayam, telling them that they would earn 10 lakhs of rupees in the first year. There were no earnings whatever for many years, however, as VKN pointed out. The frequency of traffic, at best about 2-3 flights of medium jets per week for several years at periods when Sathya Sai Baba was in residence, can surely not have paid the way of the airport since. It has been virtually closed much of the time in recent years. It is hard to rationalise such a huge waste of funds in such an impoverished land, but I find that one almost acceptable reason to be that much of the money went to local contractors and some fraction would have trickled down to very poor labourers in this poverty-stricken region of the country. Still, much more of it would certainly have disappeared into the pockets of contractors and the bottomless Swiss bank vaults of the corrupt politicians. VKN complained of financial irregularities in the ashram, especially by Mr. Suri, then the Convener of the Sathya Sai Baba Book and Publications Trust, whose embezzlements he knew about and discussed with Sathya Sai Baba. He was very satisfied when Sathya Sai Baba much later on dismissed Mr. Suri from his post and ignored him totally from then on where he still sat on the veranda.
VKN's scepticism of omniscience, omnipotence: The first time I spoke to Narasimhan was after one of his lectures to ask him if he had received an article I had submitted to him as editor of Sanathana Sarathi. One of the first comments he made in a lecture he gave in 1988 surprised me, was that all the talk of Sathya Sai Baba (hereafter Sathya Sai Baba) as omniscient was exaggerated! Afterwards he shocked me further in private by saying that talk about Sathya Sai Baba being all-knowing or omnipotent was sheer absurdity! He embroidered this theme with some examples, even though he saw that I already believed in this. However, I did already realise that no one could actually know that Sathya Sai Baba could be omniscient - not without themselves being able to check all of his knowledge (thus also being omniscient themselves). At that time I eventually managed somehow to reason how the various facts he related about Sathya Sai Baba did not disprove his claim of omniscience, for he could be concealing his knowledge of many things which he appeared not to know or to be mistaken about. The more I got to know about Sathya Sai Baba, however, the more difficult it became to maintain these rationalisations. Eventually, Narasimhan and I could agree that Sathya Sai Baba was able to become aware of things - apparently almost anything in a person's mind or life - as soon as his attention was drawn to them, but that he certainly does not possess full knowledge in the normal, worldly sense of the word. I had a number of experiences which tend to confirm this, but I am no longer convinced that he was so capable of 'mind-reading' as I once believed. He certainly had a very wide network of secret informers about those who came to the ashram and those he chose for interviews. He also received much information through the many thousands of letters he took from the hands of devotees who poured out their hearts, their problems and much else about themselves. He was also a very accomplished 'cold reader', meaning a person who learns about his subject through many subliminal cues, subtle body language and verbal testing which often reveals a lot to the trained 'cold reader'.
After submitting my first articles to Sanathana Sarathi, VKN said, "we want to ask you to write for Sanathana regularly." He eventually published about 26 articles that I sent him, often on request. It took some while before I realised that he was an unusual fellow, not so much because he was Sathya Sai Baba's trusted editor, but rather because of his charming disposition, his mind, and all that he had seen and done in his life prior to coming to Sathya Sai Baba. Besides he had known many personages, not only having been educated together with India’s President Dayal Sharma and other top Indian leaders, but also a wide range of other interesting persons from Annie Besant to teenaged Prince Charles. VKN had many friends, and was friendliness itself towards most people. He and I had in common a very large segment of English and colonial culture, no longer known to but very few people, as I had read widely in the literature and journalism of his contemporaries and I shared many of the fields of interest and thought that he knew. During my years of closeness to him, he related to me - rather as a father would entrust his personal history in all its details to a son - all the notable events of his family, personal and professional life... most of it several times over, and engaging each time. If he thought I might be taking leave of him because of some visitor or other he had, he would get a firm hold of my hand and not release me until we were left alone again. He even sometimes delayed visiting Sathya Sai Baba when called so as to finish our conversation.
VKN's ridicule of miracles: VKN was generally reticent about conversations he had recently held with Sathya Sai Baba, which was evidently due to Sathya Sai Baba's wish, not to say 'divine demand'. However, in course of time I heard some interesting things, but also gradually more and more disturbing things too. When first I knew him, VKN distrusted - and in private actually ridiculed - all talk of miracles! He minimised their significance, despite his having seen Sathya Sai Baba in action for about 15 years by then and having received a large number of accounts from devotees writing to him as editor and his having already experienced many of Sathya Sai Baba’s ‘manifestations’ of ash, amrit, rings, lingams, jewels. He wore a ring with three white diamonds given him thus by Sathya Sai Baba. His reserved attitude to the miraculous nature of many observable events around Sathya Sai Baba seemed extraordinary to me. We discussed the issues for all sides a lot and his view gradually shifted and softened, for I was always an eager proponent of faith in Sathya Sai Baba, as my articles in Sanathana Sarathi bear witness. He read my book Source of the Dream for the second time in 1994, where I tried to analyse and describe with accuracy these manifestations, what significance they can have and so on. When I saw him at the time of its publication, he had surprisingly about-turned his view of miracles and said that he had come to consider them a very important factor in awakening the spiritual impulse, comparing them to their role in Jesus' ministry as it is believed to have been.
Buttonholing Sathya Sai Baba: Unlike all the many who actually cringe around Sathya Sai Baba, Narasimhan was the only one I saw who was able to buttonhole or actually say things that amounted to contradicting him. He is also the only person I know has been seen to go up and interrupt Sathya Sai Baba while sacred arathi was being offered to him... and also get an answer. I always had the feeling that Sathya Sai Baba was so dependent upon Narasimhan's good name and offices that he could not afford to try to get him to bow and scrape. I have several times heard him relate how he reacted against Sathya Sai Baba's repeated discourse claims for the advaitic doctrine that nothing is real, the world is as a passing cloud, there are no differences of any kind and so forth. VKN argued with this, saying that he considered this doctrine of advaitic otherworldliness was the bane of India 's history, for it had engendered and sustained insensibility and passivity on all social questions and was even used by ordinary people to justify the acceptance of the terrible ills that India still suffers on a huge scale. Moreover, he told Sathya Sai Baba that, since he says he created this world and is immanent in it everywhere, then to assert that it is not real, an illusion, is to deny himself too, asking that, if the world has to be saved by an avatar, is not the avatar also therefore unreal, saving something that is unreal? The very next day, Sathya Sai Baba held a discourse in which he said: "Do not tell students that the world is an 'illusion' (mithya). It is real, intensely real so long as we are present here. Let people live lives with an intense interest in the process." ( Sathya Sai Speaks new. ed. Vol. 15, p 112). Sathya Sai Baba even also later claimed it was 'sinful' to call the world unreal! I defended Advaita, pointing out that arguments from analogy are not logically valid, and 'unreal' can mean various things, such as simply 'impermanent'. (see scan of my notes on this recorded at the time) VKN held Sathya Sai Baba's oft-repeated analogy about the 'real' screen and the 'unreal' images on it to be absurd, for "if there are no images, what is the screen for?" He felt that advaitism had made too many Indians too otherworldly and that this has led to passivity and an unworthy neglect of real worldly problems, in which India still abounds.
By becoming a follower of Sathya Sai Baba, he had in fact resigned his right to publish whatever facts he thought fit, if such facts were unacceptable to Sathya Sai Baba, his claims and his teachings. That he accepted this, despite doubts, I can only explain by VKN's intense desire to see the Indian populace lifted from its social degradations and economic ills and endemic corruption. I often heard VKN tell how strongly he felt that, after the many depressing worldly experiences as a journalist and the cynical attitude it engenders, Sai had around 1980 changed his life and given it meaning that it would otherwise have lacked. Though VKN harboured doubts about many of Sathya Sai Baba's various claims, he was certainly charmed, enthused and heartened by the person, his teaching and works. He was not least skeptical as to whether Sathya Sai Baba's work really was leading to the actual improvement of corrupt practices or to a better educational system... he had little enthusiasm from the standards of Sathya Sai Babas college graduates. Yet he evidently considered that on balance Sathya Sai Babas work was for the good and better than nothing in this land of so many calamities and massive shortcomings. So he often held forth on the benefits he believed Sathya Sai Baba's works to be bringing to India. One notable example being in a talk before Sathya Sai Baba, his students and guests at Kodaikanal in 1992 (recorded on tape, April 24). VKN loved to talk - he did not need the cue of any 'drop of a hat'. He told me, however, that Sathya Sai Baba had advised him to talk less, whereby he would be able to be much closer. Still, even amid all this, VKN told me in camera one day that he felt so isolated, that he seemed to be almost the only 'doubting Thomas' among so many blind believers (including his very Sathya Sai Baba-devoted and religiously-inclined wife)!
VKN and Sathya Sai Baba's 'manifestations': VKN made no secret of Sathya Sai Baba manifestations of objects he had witnessed. When Sathya Sai Baba took him with some students on a picnic, he materialised the jewel he said that Krishna had worn on his forehead. After it had been handed round, he gave it to VKN and would not take it back. He told VKN to put it in his trouser pocket, which he did. Some time later Sathya Sai Baba asked for it again, but it had disappeared, causing VKN some very nervous moments, before Sathya Sai Baba laughed and said it had been returned to the place he had borrowed it from. In an interview with six persons where VKN was present, he told me that Sathya Sai Baba somehow produced a small golden vessel full of amrit and then a small golden spoon. He served it to all present, saying that those who received it would not have to be reborn again. VKN's response was to ask why he should be allowed to return with the Prema Sai incarnation. Sathya Sai Baba only looked at him silently.
While I was staying at Brindavan in 1994, VKN told how during a talk by Sathya Sai Baba he had just been at with Whitefield students, Sathya Sai Baba had brought forth a truly huge diamond which he told them was, at 1000 carats, the largest diamond in the world. Shortly after, it was then no longer seen, as if it had disappeared. This would have meant the largest cut diamond, for some time later Sathya Sai Baba is said to have produced a diamond during a picnic discourse for students in a forest in Kodaikanal, and said of it that it was not fully cut, and bigger than any other diamond known to humanity (Sanathana Sarathi June, 1994, p. 154). This must have exceeded 1000 carats very considerably to be the biggest known uncut diamond. What exactly Narasimhan made of these manifestations he never made quite clear, at times he would speak of them as if they were almost normal occurrences, especially in his later days, but seldom did I hear him refer to them as if they were miracles. Like many other, he did not claim to know what was involved in these phenomena.
Some questions to which Sathya Sai Baba replied: VKN put to him questions on various matters, including esoteric 'philosophy' like that of karma and its consequences. Sathya Sai Baba insisted that all karma is individual and never collective, nor therefore can karma be transferred or 'taken over' by one person from another. (And I would add that this is the only satisfactory solution of this question from a logical-philosophical point of view). VKN asked how the Jews could have shared the collective fate of the Holocaust. Sathya Sai Baba said that each person still only experienced the results of their own past actions, despite collective appearances to the contrary. It is well-known that Sathya Sai Baba has said that, since he is the Godhead itself, he can alleviate the effects of karma and even sometimes that he himself directly takes over some devotees' karmic sufferings like heart attacks and other injuries. On the other hand, VKN was told by Sathya Sai Baba that when anyone close to him breaks faith with him, there is nothing he can do to avert the consequences that follow. One such instance VKN cited was that of Sathya Sai Baba's driver, who - after decades of service - was rejected totally by the ashram authorities after having driven down and killed a villager while testing Sathya Sai Baba's vehicle (in the mid-80s). The man had already been warned three times about speeding by Sathya Sai Baba, so he then took his own life under the Shiva statue in the Hillview Stadium by pouring petrol over himself and lighting it.
One of VKN's neighbours at the Prashanthi ashram had a sweet little child who was severely brain-damaged, either from birth or shortly thereafter. VKN felt compassion for this sweet child, who would come to his door now and again, and also sorrow at such a plight. He related that once he asked Sathya Sai Baba how God allowed suffering and deprivation to occur. Sathya Sai Baba replied that the child was a reborn brashta yogi, that is, someone who rose high in yogic development in a previous life, yet who had not overcome the senses fully and had fallen from eminence through some sinful acts. A yogi is traditionally thought to fall further than ordinary persons, there being further to fall and the sin being the greater for those having been blessed with yogic abilities. (One can therefore but speculate on how the avid homosexual appetite and activities of Sathya Sai Baba will play out and play back in the long run!)
VKN's views on avatarhood: Narasimhan was always talking about a book he was trying to write on the question of avatarhood. The fulfillment of this wish eluded him, he was kept too busy by Sathya Sai Baba until he no longer had the energy for writing.
One of the consequences of the excellent understanding between us - and the fact that I was not part of the ashram set-up or among the VIPs - was his speaking his doubts about events and people in the ashram, leaders of the organisation and not least also about Sathya Sai Baba himself. He often weighed his words nicely with the perspicacity of a top editor... yet in private he did not conceal his aggravation that it was a matter of course for him to regard much of what is written and said about Sathya Sai Baba - including a fair measure of what Sathya Sai Baba himself says - as without any foundation. Some of this was naturally disturbing to me and especially, not long after we had established a rapport, the fact that he denied that Sathya Sai Baba was omniscient and omnipotent. He said in rather tart way to me that this was an absurd idea and that anyone accepting this claim must be a poor, misguided person. Yet I then tended strongly to believe that Sathya Sai Baba was as infallible as he frequently claims to be, and as convinced of his omniscience and omnipotence as reason could allow, though I could naturally not help questioning various aspects of this claim.
Then as now, I hold that only if we were also omniscient, could we know infallibly whether this is possible or what it involves. Clearly it does not include worldly knowledge in Sathya Sai Baba's case, there are just too many examples of his ignorance of facts, even in his published discourses. VKN told me - and I also heard him say it before others - that it was 'ridiculous' to attribute knowing everything to Sathya Sai Baba. He gave me examples of how he constantly must edit out incorrect statements or confusions of facts by Sathya Sai Baba in his discourses. He insisted that his frequent experience of Sathya Sai Baba would not fit in with all-knowingness, though he admitted freely that Sathya Sai Baba seemed to be able to know whatever he wanted about a person's thoughts, words and deeds once he set his mind to it. VKN thought that there must be a difference of degree between the omniscience of cosmic atmic consciousness and the avatar's consciousness, which had first to be directed towards something in order to know.
As to his being, as Sathya Sai Baba claims, 'the doer of everything', VKN told me that Sathya Sai Baba had said to him, "There is one thing I cannot do, and that is make people do good". Further, when the President of India wanted to visit the 70th birthday celebrations, and VKN pointed out it would be better to deny him due to the severe disturbances to crowd control and life-threatening crushes the Presidential Black Beret guards had caused at some previous event, Sathya Sai Baba had said to him, "What can I do? He is the President!"
VKN was fond of quoting Dr. C.E.M. Joad, an outspoken theologian who was much on the BBC in my teenage and whom VKN had once been present to hear address the Oxford Union on the subject of omniscience being incompatible with omnipotence. (C.E.M. Joad God and Evil, London 1942). An all-knowing deity, VKN quoted Joad, could not be all-powerful... and vice-versa, on the grounds that a God who knew all the things that went wrong would have had to do something about them, if only on the grounds of compassion. I then suggested that omnipotence did not imply using this power in all possible ways and that free will would then be abrogated and we would all be sheer automatons, slaves governed in every detail by past events. But as to omniscience, I had to agree more and more that Sathya Sai Baba made quite elementary mistakes about all kinds of subjects. I even suggested - perhaps a bit disrespectfully - that perhaps VKN was 'too close to the light' and was somewhat blinded? It seemed that Sathya Sai Baba might be making a play of being just like you and I most of the time, as did Krishna with Arjuna? But VKN would not accept this... though he had become more open to the possibility the last time I saw him, eighteen months before he passed on.
See also bibliographical and general information about V.K. Narasimhan - a requiem