Puttaparthi is missing its soul

For a town known to have been the abode of Sathya Sai Baba, Puttaparthi is experiencing life after (Sai Baba’s) death in the last 12 months that have gone by, grappling with adversity it never knew of for decades that its best known resident lived.

Puttaparthi in gloom

A year ago, on April 22, 2011, thousands of devotees congregated on this spiritual town, praying in groups for the recovery of their living divinity, Sathya Sai Baba who, just two days later, died of a cardio-respiratory failure after having battled for life in his own superspeciality hospital for 28 days.

The residents were immersed in immense grief, with just a tinge of worry. A year down the line, that twinge of worry has grown into insecurity that has gripped Puttaparthi with almost all businesses having gone into some form of a slowdown and citizens exploring other options.

Even some of the devotees, who seemed too ardent to indulge in discussions regarding Baba a year ago, are caught in debates characterised by doubts.

Devotees still flock to Prashanti Nilayam, the ashram which is the final resting place of Sai Baba now. But the numbers have dwindled. For thousands of Sai devotees who had made Puttaparthi their home, the situation is unimaginable.

“Any mention, or even the thought of Baba’s departure from among us would send shivers down our spine even earlier. In fact, even his absence for a couple of weeks used to be frustrating,” said Vijay Kumar, a devotee running a business here. Terming Sai Baba’s death as his ultimate ‘leela,’ another devotee Ramesh Reddy said: “the incident had shattered us beyond explanation.”

The feeling of insecurity has slowly begun to sink in. Things are not the same here anymore. Almost all commercial establishments have seen a slump. Although it is not deep enough to cause panic, the pattern is something they had never witnessed earlier.

Puttaparthi Builders Association Secretary Jothi Keshav said: “We have been able to do only 10 per cent of what we did in 2009 and 2010. The demand is just not there.”

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