SB's Constant Exaggeration of
From: Robert C. Priddy
The ex-editor-in-chief of the Sai Baba journal, Sanathana Sarathi, V.K. Narasimhan (VKN), was a truth-seeker both of worldly facts and spiritual insight, with a critical sense and high standards, certainly not given to naive judgements, hasty conclusions, or exaggerated reports. I got to know him in various situations, not least since he was ever asking me to write articles for him. I came to regard his perceptions as very largely credible, not least because - despite all the good sense in many of SB's activities, he always harboured doubts about SB's more extravagant assertions.
Though he seldom mentioned it in public, it was he who pointed out to me that SB repeatedly exaggerates figures wildly. On the 70th birthday SB had predicted that there would be 3 to 4 million visitors, said VKN beforehand. The ashram engineer, Mr. Ashoka, told a Norwegian engineer (whom I knew well and who was planning an ashram water project) that he calculated that, at any one time, the entire accommodation facilities of the ashram and Puttaparthi in (1995) were less than 50,000 persons. About 250,000 maximum can occupy the Hillview Stadium, where the entire crowd was present at the main ceremony. The ashram was as empty. Even when largish areas with tents and outside camps are accounted for, the figure of 500,000 persons is reckoned to be much greater than had been present in the area on the Birthday. An American friend, Robert Bruce, who I have known for years, was told by SB in a brief interview after the celebrations that there had been 3 million persons present! Others reported similar statements by SB. (Some, unable to make SB's figures add up, argued that - "since Swami is never wrong" - this perhaps was intended to include disembodied souls visiting God!). To this, VKN replied, "Swami always multiplies these numbers by ten." He was well placed to know, if anyone was! In the preceding year to the 1995 birthday bonanza, SB had told one interview group that there would be 7,000 Japanese there, but in fact the registered number was 75! A group from New Zealand led by Mr. Arthur Hillcoat were informed by SB that he wanted 5,000 service workers from their country present in 1996 at the Birthday. (I then heard Mr. Hillcoat also tell that Baba told them that radiation pollution from French nuclear tests would cause great havoc, ecological destruction and deaths in N.Z. and other places thousands of miles distant. This has evidently not occurred as far can be judged). However, the largest overseas delegation, that of the USA, was only 750 persons. The ashram accommodation office, which handles the passports of every foreign visitor, stated after the birthday event that there were at total of 8,000 delegates from 137 countries, but omitted the fact that every single visitor from abroad present, whether believer or not, was given delegate status. I shared a room with others, one of whom had never even had been to darshan once! This exaggeration is but one instance among many others. This was no isolated case of such multiplication by SB, for VKN told me all important birthday attendance figures had been hugely overblown. He reckoned as an absolute maximum 400,000 at the 60th birthday, when millions were also said to have been present, but the engineer's estimates made even this far too many.
Robert C. Priddy