December 04, 2000 Issue

  Test of Faith
As India's most enduring god-man enters his 75th year, his spirituality rests uneasily with controversy.


Operation Jungle Storm
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu make a renewed bid to catch the outlaw. But unless the Centre helps, it won't be easy.


The Big Foul-up
Violent protests against a bid to shift polluting units leaves the Government groping for an alternative.


Fifth Column
by Tavleen Singh
Rape of the Law

by Jairam Ramesh
After IT, Time for T

    Economic Graffitti
by Kaushik Basu
Soliciting in Public

    Right Angle
by Swapan Dasgupta
But We Are So Different

by Dilip Bobb
Word Association
Other stories
  Jammu & Kashmir  
  Temples of Doom  

Power Pull


Small Mercies


Hope for Orrisa



P.C. Sorcar: "Baba's a bad trickster"
A step by step magician's view of how Sai Baba performs his miracles

Sacred ash. Or little ball?
P.C. Sorcar considers Sai Baba's vibhuti feat a "common trick" conjured with an ash capsule and a repertoire of make-believe "mudras" to fool the human eye.
SALT FOR ASH: Baba produces vibhuti with ash. Sorcar wets salt to form a small mass or ball pressed firmly between his fingers for later.
THEATRICS: To make salt (or ash) appear out of thin air, a flurry of deft hand gestures, never once giving away the ball, will follow.
LAST ACT: The hand is held out and the salt mass quashed between fingers to pour into a powdery heap.

Gold from air. Or robe?
Sorcar attributes this to a technique called palming - "holding an object in such a way that the palm does not look loaded" - to help appearance/ disappearance.
OFF THE CUFF: Sorcar carefully tucks the object under his sleeve or in the furrow of his palm in quick motions. The flowing robe is a clever cover.
HANDS FREE: In the palm, the object is invisible, seen at certain angles "only by close Baba aides". Swift moves conceal.
GOLD GIFTS: Tricking the mind's eye, Sorcar brings forth the object out of his palm or easing it out from his sleeve.

Shivaling. Or mouth match?
On Shivaratri, Baba produces a green crystalline Shivaling from his mouth. Sorcar calls it mouth-ball production. "Anybody can do it, and repeat it too,'' he says.
MATCHING UP: Using a matchbox, Sorcar uses the palming technique, all the time ensuring hand gestures distract the eye from the object.
FAKING IT: Sorcar uses both hands, one concealing the object, the other to cover his mouth, in preparation for the final act.

SPILLING IT: In the "high drama", Sorcar grimaces as his palm discreetly supplies object into and out of his mouth.

Factsheet Sai Baba

The village boy from a middle-class home now meets ministers and runs an empire of the soul

Origins: Born on November 23, 1926, to Pedda Venkama Raju and Easwaramma. He is named Sathyanarayana Raju.

The boy Sathya

The early years: "Materialises" candies and pencils for schoolmates. At 14, declares himself reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi, the town in Maharashtra whose saintly figure died in 1918.

Evolution: In 1944 travels to Bangalore. His first journey as a savant. Gives up striped shirt and dhoti for a robe, initially greyish-white, then saffron.

Coming home: Between 1948-50 builds Prasanthi Nilayam.

Sai Baba's politics: To date, he has not asked his 25 million-odd followers to vote for anybody. But he has immense political clout and many disciples from among administrators.

Who's close to him: From P.V. Narasimha Rao and S.B. Chavan to P.N. Bhagwati to T.N. Seshan. In Andhra Pradesh only NTR stayed away.

The upshot: Job requests, going back 20 years for foreign secretaries.

How is Puttaparthi run? The SSS Central Trust manages Prasanthi Nilayam, Music Academy. The Medical Trust runs the Rs 300-crore hospital. The Education Trust runs the deemed university and two schools. The Sai Baba establishment's total investment in the town is Rs 2,000 crore, it owns 600 acres of land.

Other homes: Sai Baba has ashrams in Whitefield, near Bangalore, and Kodaikanal. Spends March-June there.

MNC: Has 2,560 overseas Sai Centres. Sai bodies run 75 schools. Surprisingly, Sai Baba has gone abroad only once: to Uganda in 1968.

Among The Believers, There's A Fund Of Faith

"Baba says matter is energy. If you will anything, you can create it."
Shivraj Patil, Former Lok Sabha Speaker

"I was introduced to Sai Baba by S.B. Chavan. Baba helped me preside over the Lok Sabha for a full five years (1991-96). Whenever the House would get unruly, I would shut my eyes and think of Baba so that I did not lose my cool. Such thoughts of Baba would inevitably lead the House to order."

"Baba appeared in a dream and taught me to wait patiently for my time."
Jette Madsen, Postwoman, Denmark

"When I first came to India in 1977 I was 19. After my relationship with an Indian broke off, I told the Baba that I had left it all to him. I have been here since November 9 for his birthday and even had a 'carshan' as he moved in his car. He waved to me and our eyes met. I am sure Baba will find a spiritual Indian companion for me soon."



Material Women
When seven designers experiment with Raymond fabrics, gentlemanly dons clearly eclipse women's outfits.

Looking Glass


Delhi: Music

Chennai: Store

    Web Exclusives

Orthodoxy in economic thought is as odious as obscurantism in the socio-religious context. INDIA TODAY Associate Editor, V Shankar Aiyar, offers a contrarian take on the stock markets and the cause and the impact of policy and practice. Au ContrAiyar.


A study reveals that the use of fertilisers on the west coast of India and their runoff in the Arabian Sea are producing dangerous levels of nitrous oxide or laughing gas. And rising temperature is just one of the effects, warns INDIA TODAY Principal Correspondent Subhadra Menon in


Full coverages
with columns, infographics, audio reports.

1971: The Untold Story
Veerappan Strikes Again
Mission Impossible
The SriLankan crisis
The Kashmir jigsaw
The Nepal Gameplan


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