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"Mr. P. Partasaraty is a well-known business man of Madras, being part-owner of a company connected with shipping. He told me that he first met Sai Baba in 1942 when the latter came to Madras to stay at the home of a neighbour of his. Soon after that he and other members of his family went to Puttaparti.
He stayed there a whole month and witnessed Baba's levitation up the hill to the wish-fulfilling tree, seeing both a bright halo of flame around the young Sai's head and a shaft of light from his forehead between the eyes. He says: "All the time in those days Baba was full of laughter and fun. He would sing songs, and many times a day he would perform some miracle - often as a prank, such as making a clock run backwards, or holding people to their seats by some invisible force. At picnics he would tap empty dishes, and when the lids were removed, the dishes would be full of food, sometimes hot as if straight from the kitchen. I have also seen him multiply small amounts of food to feed big crowds.
"These outings were very happy events always. Often Baba would turn some wild tree at hand into our Kalpataru tree: any fruit we liked to name could be picked from its branches"
Mr. Partasaraty had been suffering from asthma for many years and, soon after his arrival at Puttaparti, Baba materialised an apple with a wave of the hand and told him to eat it as a cure. He has never had another attack of asthma in the quarter-century since that day.
But he says that the most important miracle of those early experiences was connected with his mother. She was completely blind with cataracts when the family first met Sai Baba. His treatment of her was simple as simple as the paste of clay and spittle that Christ used on a blind person. Baba put jasmine petals on the woman's eyes and held them in place with a bandage. Each day he changed them for fresh ones and at the same time insisted that she should go daily to the bhajan. This went on for ten days, and when he took the bandage off for the last time she was able to see again quite clearly. "She lived for ten years after that," Mr. Partasaraty told me, and had no more trouble with her sight.
Mr. G. Venkatamuni was a leading figure in the fertiliser business in Madras when I used to talk to him about his early experiences with Sai Baba. Unfortunately he has since died, but his son Iswara, also a devout devotee, carries on the same family business. Baba, when in Madras, always stays at least part of his time at the Venkatamuni home.
An honest, matter-of-fact person, Mr. Venkatamuni, far from exaggerating, was inclined towards understatement in all his descriptions. This I found out when I checked some of his stories with other witnesses present at the time. I give here just one or two of the many incredible experiences he had with Baba; as he told them to me.
In the year 1944 he began hearing strange stories about a wonder boy in a village of Andhra Pradesh, the state from which his own ancestors had come. He decided to go and see for himself what truth there was in the stories.
On the day of Venkatamuni's arrival at Puttaparti, Satya Sai, then seventeen years old, took him with a small party to the sands of the river. As they sat there talking Baba put his hand in the sand and took out a handful of sweets, distributing them among the party. "They were hot," said Mr. Venkatamuni, "as if just out of an oven. I had to let them cool before I could cat them." From this he knew that what he had seen was no mere sleight-of-hand trick.
He stayed on at the village, hoping to see further wonders. His hopes were more than fulfilled, he said, and he described the same copious stream of marvels witnessed by the early devotees.
"I was young then," Mr. Venkatamuni said, "and it was all great fun. I used to go swimming with Sai Baba and the other young men, and it was then that I saw the Samku Chakram on the soles of his feet."
"What is that?" I enquired.
"It's a circular mark - you might call it a birth-mark. Hindus believe it's one of the signs of an avatar."
Mr. Venkatamuni and his wife became close devotees of Sai Baba, going to his ashram regularly, and having him stay for days or weeks at their home in Madras.
But it was in 1953, nine years after the first meeting, that they experienced some Sai magic that was in its way unique. They had set off on a global journey that was to begin in Europe and include the Far East. Travelling by air, their first stop was Paris where they planned to spend several weeks.
While out walking in the streets on the first day, they decided to change some traveller's cheques and go shopping. Mrs. Venkatamuni was carrying the folder of cheques in her handbag; or at least she thought so until she opened the bag and found they were not there.
Both decided that she must have put them in her suitcase after all, so they went straight back to the hotel. But the traveller's cheques were neither in hers nor her husband's suitcase. After a more than thorough search, a repeated combing through all their belongings, it became painfully obvious that the precious folder was lost. Where it was lost, they had no idea. Mrs. Venkatamuni had last noticed it, as far as she could recall, in her handbag some time before they left Bombay. It was an awkward and very unhappy situation. Here they were in a foreign city at the beginning of a world tour with hardly enough cash to pay their first hotel bill. They sat depressed and forlorn in their bedroom, wondering what they could do.
What they did would seem utterly crazy to anyone except a close Sai Baba devotee. To him it would seem the only sensible thing to do. With the few francs they had brought to France in cash they sent a cable to Baba asking for his help. After that they felt better, knowing that assistance would come in some form. But they hardly expected what, in fact, happened.
A day or two later they went window shopping again. Mrs. Venkatamuni decided to make a list of the things she would buy when she had some money. She opened her handbag to take out her pencil and notebook, and her heart gave a great bound. There, right on top of everything, lay a folder of traveller's cheques. They proved to be their own. It was the folder dropped or left behind in India. Mr. Venkatamuni told me that his wife's handbag was a medium-sized one, and that they had both searched through it many times, emptying everything out on the bed to do so. There was, under the circumstances, no possibility whatever that they could have overlooked the folder if it had been in the bag earlier. Mr. Venkatamuni had no doubt that Baba had teleported the folder from wherever it had been lost. A most useful miracle!
They sent another cable from Paris - one of thanks. When they returned from the enjoyable world tour, they were able to tell Baba personally how deeply grateful they had been for his timely and super-human help. He just smiled, saying nothing - and they asked him for no details.
A well-known and highly-honoured citizen of Madras who confirms what others have said about Baba's early miracle-phase is Mr. V. Hanumantha Rao. This man, now retired, was Transport Commissioner of Madras Presidency (which then included part of the present state of Andhra Pradesh) when he first met Sai Baba in 1946.
The relationship between Baba and this grand old philanthropist and his wife is a moving story, involving aspects other than the early miracles and pranks of the fun-loving Sai. I will tell it in another chapter where it belongs. But here I want to mention an interesting little story that may throw light on the modus operandi behind at least some of Baba's phenomena production.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Hanumantha Rao have often told me about the wonderful celestial quality of those early Sai Baba years when he used to drive with them in their car, how he would sing beautiful songs and ask them to name whatever food they wanted, or whatever out-of-season fruit they fancied. Then with some gesture he would produce instantaneously the things they had requested. And how when he stayed in their home he was as natural, spontaneous and care-free as a child, and yet seemed to have the power to command with his will all the forces of the three worlds.
Once, they said, on the birthday of Lord Krishna Baba was walking aimlessly, it seemed, about the sitting room of their Madras home. Suddenly he turned to Mrs. Hanumantha Rao and remarked: "There are some devas (angels) here waiting to give me a bowl of sweets."
As she looked, seeing nothing, he held out both hands and took from the air, as if from some invisible person, a large, carved-glass bowl.
The bowl seemed suddenly to materialise. Baba handed it to Mrs. Hanumantha Rao. It was filled, as they described it, with "divine-tasting sweets of many varieties from different parts of India."
After this incident Satya Sai asked for an apron. When it was brought he put it on and began singing lullaby songs. He acted the part of a nursemaid carrying the baby Krishna, and soothing it to sleep. Then from the folds of the apron he took a carved sandalwood idol of Krishna which had certainly not been there, or anywhere else in the house, before.
Mr. and Mrs. Hanumantha Rao showed me, when I visited them, the glass bowl and the Krishna statuette, two treasured items brought long ago into the home of the transport commissioner by some mysterious method known only to the young Satya Sai. But it seems from his remark that he has beings of another plane of existence under his command for such transportations.
Mrs. Nagamani Pourniya, who lives in Bangalore, is the widow of a Government District Transport Officer and the mother of the popular novelist Kamala Taylor, who is married to an Englishman and lives in England. Nagamani first met Sai Baba in 1945 and spent many long periods at his ashram. I found her always happy to talk about Baba and she helped fill out my mental picture of the early period, confirming the main features and adding some new ones to the bright tapestry of those years.
Nagamani has herself written a book on Sai Baba, but there are one or two of her experiences that bear repeating here. Many have described to me Sai Baba's miraculous production of figures - usually statuettes of Hindu or other gods - from the sands, and I have seen it myself. But Nagamani told me that on one occasion when a party went with Baba to the sands of the Chitravati river she saw idols rising up out of the sand themselves. Baba simply scraped away a little sand to reveal the top of the head, then the figure itself began to rise, as if driven up by some power beneath.
First, she said, came a figure of Siva, then his consort Parvati, and then a lingam. As each rose a few inches above the sand Baba pulled it out and threw it quickly to one side. This was because the objects were made of metal and were quite hot - too hot to hold for more than a second. After they had cooled, he took them back to the old Mandir for puja (ritualistic worship).
But one of the most striking of her many fantastic experiences has to do with a surgical operation by Baba. I have had from devotees several descriptions of such operations, but Nagamani reports the earliest one of which I have heard.
A man and his wife came to stay at Puttaparti. Nagamani observed that the man had a bulbous, tremendously swollen stomach. He spent all his time lying down, either in his room near the old Mandir or outside in the open. She heard that he was not able to eat anything, nor even to take coffee. This latter seemed the "last straw" to Nagamani, who loved her coffee. She went to Baba and asked him to cure the man.
But the days passed and nothing happened, so she said again: "Please do something for that poor man, Baba!" He smiled and answered: "Do you think this place is a hospital?"
Then one evening all the devotees were going with Baba to the sands of the river bed. It was not a very large party, and each of the women decided to take some item of food for a picnic. Nagamani took the coffee. She also left a pot of water on an outside wood fire, not far from the Mandir. With this warm water, she said, she was hoping to bathe Baba's feet on their return from the sands.
At the river bed they all had a wonderful time singing songs. Baba told them beautiful stories about the gods, occasionally producing some appropriate object from the sand. All this kept their spirits at a high level, so that when three wild cheetahs came near them to drink at the stream they felt no fear whatever. The cheetahs seemed to regard them as friends and went about their business unperturbed.
When they returned to the Mandir, Nagamani went to stir up the fire under the pot and Baba disappeared into the room of the sick man. After a while he came running towards the fire, asking her for some warm water to wash his hand. She looked and saw that his right hand was all red.
"Have you been painting, or something?" she asked in fun.
"It's blood," he replied.
Then peering closer in the fading light she saw that he carried in the blood-smeared hand something that looked like "a dirty-coloured ball of old banana leaf." This he tossed away, and then washed the blood from his hand in the water she gave him. "Well," he said teasingly, "you've been insisting that I turn this place into a hospital, so I've just done the necessary operation on the man."
Was he joking? She had seen blood and something horrible that he had thrown away. Had he removed a growth from the man? Sai Baba, apparently reading the queries in her mind, handed her a roll of cotton wool and said: "Take this and help the man's wife put a fresh bandage on him."
She went to the door but remained outside. She wanted very much to see what had happened but somehow felt afraid to go in. Presently Sai Baba came and took her into the room. The man was still lying down, his wife sitting beside him. Baba went and pulled up the man's shirt to show her the operation. There was no bandage, but across the stomach was a thin mark, like a cut that had already healed, and the stomach was no longer large and swollen. Both the man and woman were looking silently at Sai Baba as if he were God. No word was spoken. Baba led Nagamani out again, and finally permitted her to bathe his feet.
Next morning, dying to know just what had taken place, she returned to enquire about the health of the patient. He was sitting up eating a hearty breakfast. He told her that Sai Baba had come into the room on the previous evening; and waving his hand, produced from the air a knife and some other instrument. Next he produced some ash and rubbed it on the sufferer's forehead. This seemed to act as an anaesthetic because the man lost consciousness and knew no more until the operation was over, and Baba was telling him that all was well. The cut had felt just a little sore, but now it was quite normal.
Nagamani wanted to know how it had healed so quickly. The wife told her that Baba had simply held the opening together with his fingers and it had heated up immediately. Then he had smeared some vibhuti on the wound, held his hand there for a while, assured the patient that he would be all right, and left.
Nagamani realised that Baba's instructions to her the evening before about a bandage were simply to give her an excuse for going to see the patient. She was surprised that he had been pleased to satisfy her curiosity, but perhaps it was because she had shown concern for the sick man. She felt no amazement, only awe, at the discovery of this new wonder. Nothing Baba ever did surprised her any more; everything simply added to her profound love of him.- Om Sai Ram