THE MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR QUESTION (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
By: Robert Priddy
From the website: Sathya Sai Baba - Extensive Information and Viewpoints
Part 2 - "My experiences as a donor"
In 1986, my wife and I had two interviews, two mornings running (22nd & 23rd December). During the first private interview with us two, SB said to her, "He worries about money." True enough, at times, I admit. Yet there are few indeed who do not at some time or other. I was not worrying at all at that time, however, for I replied, "Swami, I have so much money now, more than I ever had". This was so, for I had recently inherited some money from my mother, but rich by common Western standards we certainly were not. I added that I wanted to donate money. He said I could choose what for, the medical or educational trusts, "It is not for me, but for my students," he added. Shortly after, he pointed to me and told my wife, "Good, good... very good man"!
Directly, he examined my hand and asked if not the ring I had was my wedding ring (it was on the right hand 3rd finger, but it was not the usual type - being of silver and gold with small inset malachite stones. A skeptic would say in retrospect that SB had been sizing up the thickness of my finger for the ring to be 'produced' next day. A minute later he said he would call us for another interview next day when he would give me a ring. Shortly after that he waved his hand before my wife as she exited from the private interview room and a silver amulet appeared, which he gave her. I have described the main part of that and the following day's interview at length in my book where I did not mention the financial aspect, for I had been led to believe that any talk about such matters involving SB was very wrong.
That I had already donated by post £3000.- was discreetly not mentioned by me, nor did SB mention it. In my desire to believe in his omniscience, I thought that he must already know! It seems likely to me now that he did not. If he did, he could have been informed by his staff that a person who donated this sum was presently at the ashram. In that case he could have given us interviews because he reckoned he might extract another donation. I do not say he did so, but that it is highly possible.
The leader of our Danish group, who sits on the veranda & spoke with SB several times before our first interview - a gullible and not very astute person who tends to swallow whole everything he is fed by SB - spoke to SB on the veranda a few times about our group and a possible interview before it took place. This leader was always very tight-lipped about what went on, and has since firmly proved his active engagement in the cover-up of scandals surrounding SB, having shown that he is a conniving, unreliable person (i.e. reliable for SB only). Therefore, I suspect that he may have provided information about me and my profession to SB (even unwittingly). In short, there is no evidence whatever to suggest that SB had any data from 'omniscience' in this instance.
During the first interview, SB had said to me twice, "Be Ready!" I did not know to what he was referring, but later realised that it must have been about the money he was then expecting. Next day in the private interview, Baba soon asked me "How much money are you going to donate?" I had not thought of this at all in the interval! A sum came to my mind - "£6,000, Swami," I said, knowing that this would make £9,000.- in all. This amounted to well over half of my inheritance. I added that the money came from my mother. He asked what her name was and I told him. He said, "I will build an indoor sports hall for the students and hers and your name will be put up on the wall." I then believed SB's claim that - due to his being omnipresent in the inner heart of everyone - he knew (or could know) all things. I did not think that he could not have known her name, but that seems fairly obvious to me now that I am convinced of his fallibility. The typical devotee will assume that SB was just pretending that he didn't know her name. This is one of SB's smartest ways of duping people, to pretend that he knows all, but behaves as if he does not! But the problem is that he pretends so much about so many things so often that he loses all credibility. There is no reasoning with a person who is ensnared in the system of excuses that surrounds SB and absolves him of everything imaginable in advance! (I was once rather like that too.) Of course, SB never did put my name or my mother's up anywhere, and I have never regretted it. I was not at all keen on the idea anyhow but would have accepted it 'if Swami wanted it'! I have always disliked boasting and telling what good things one has done... as SB used to teach and once almost followed himself. Now he has demonstrated firmly that he is the biggest braggart in the world!
Incidentally, in the second day's interview, SB simply took a ring with a white (clear) stone from somewhere - it was between 1 and 3 carats (the SB standard 'smaller diamond ring') and proved to be too small for my finger. "Never mind", he said. My wife and I were then taken into the private room again with SB. When we came out, he produced the white stone ring again and sent it around to some ladies. He asked an Indian lady to describe it. She said it was a diamond set in a gold lotus ring. He confirmed both points. He then asked what I wanted and I said I did not know, so he said, "I will make you a better ring". He blew three times into his closed fist - in which he had been holding the white stone ring - and when he opened his fist, another ring with a larger green stone was there (about 5 or 6 carats). Whether this ring is a genuine diamond or not has not yet been confirmed, but it will be tested when I manage to arrange this with recognised diamond experts, and get this filmed by an independent media company. No such test of a stone alleged to be better than a white diamond has been done under expert and public scrutiny so far. These green stones in SB rings are believed by the great majority of devotees to be extremely rare and valuable diamonds.
Though it crossed my mind at the time that SB seemed so eager to draw me into donating and so perhaps the whole set-up was another extremely clever Indian way of deceiving people into giving money, I immediately rejected the thought as sinful! After all, does not SB do so much for the poor, his students etc. (Since then, I have come to know that his students are mostly from well-to-do middle-class, and often power-broking rich, families, not least sons of 'top people' from abroad). No, I put all my trust in SB and his assurances that "not a single naya paise is ever wasted", unquestionably a lie, (and one repeated brazenly even after the Central Trust was found sadly wanting in its incomplete accounts in 1993). Later during this visit which lasted for 3 months until March 1987, I came to know quite well a genuinely honest elderly gentleman of the Seva Dal who was working in the ashram. He told me how various workmen (e.g. those who were re-painting the temple (mandir), easily swindle sums from the ashram through overpricing materials used etc., which my friend was ever trying to stop and therefore he went to Bangalore to buy paint for the temple himself eventually. How naive I was, misled by all the books and fine talk to think that the massive corruption and dishonesty that marks India out among big nations were magically absent from anything to do with SB!
Having received by post from my bank in Norway the cheque for £6000 for SB I brought it with me to darshans to 'be ready' whenever there would be a chance to hand it over. By accident I left the cheque in a plain envelope behind at darshan one day. It was collected up and delivered to the public relations office as lost property where it was returned to me when I went there searching for it.
There was a follow-up to this. I went to check with the head of the ashram (Kutumb Rao) on whether my former donation of £3000 had been received. I had received no confirmation by post, no receipt. He told me that they did not issue receipts, but to come back later and he would tell me if the money had been registered! He borrowed my own bank's receipt for in payment of this previously-sent cheque to help him see whether the donation was registered. When I came to check this, he told me he had lost my bank's receipt. But I produced another (which he had evidently not suspected could exist). This he also borrowed and 'lost' before I finally got a positive (verbal) reply. He had most likely been hoping he had destroyed my evidence of having sent that cheque. (But unknown to him, my Norwegian bank would supply any further copies I may request).
Before we left the ashram in March 1987 I was given a chit by the public relations office to sit in the front row (they knew, of course, about the present cheque that was still to be delivered). SB came straight over to me that day and took the letter, but as he took it he had one of those quite ugly facial expressions that are often seen.
A few days later I inquired whether the latest cheque was in fact cashable by SB, since it was actually made out to me and countersigned by me, (I admit that I had been rather amused by his fumbling and unconvincing behaviour), whereupon he reacted most angrily and half-shouted that my current donation cheque would not be accepted but he did not give me the cheque back when I asked for it either, but waved me off just like he would do to a troublesome coolie. But I persisted and asked, "Did Swami say so?" "'Yes!" he blurted, apparently taken aback at my impertinence for asking this (I felt he was lying.)! I do not believe SB actually did reject it, for there was another problem: the cheque was made out to me, not Sai Baba or the Central Trust, and - though I had countersigned it - it was probably not cashable into another account!
My bankers in Oslo became very agitated about the irregularity when I told them I no longer had the cheque (Mr. Kutumb Rao had refused point blank to return it, even though he would not accept it either (Probably, SB still had it!). Such good manners from the head of the ashram called 'The Abode of Supreme Peace'!). My Oslo bank set about investigating, and - more to their relief than mine - got the money refunded and changed back from sterling to Norwegian kroners again. Incidentally, the exchange rate had improved and I received back the sum plus the equivalent of the interest I would have lost otherwise. This was registered by me then as a typical SB leela. It may have been, yet now I am no longer quite so convinced. However, the fact that my money had been returned made me the more keen to donate it later, which we did! It has been alleged by a person who was employed in ashram security to be a standard practice there, to refuse money first... thus increasing the eagerness to contribute (and usually more too!). This kind of 'double-bottomed' scam is typical of clever crooks in India, where on outsider can fathom the depths of deceit that are common in this place of a constant often desperate struggle for survival.
As to where our money actually went I could never get an answer. Even if you have sound reasons for suspecting that officials have embezzled your donation - such as by avoiding or - if asked - refusing to give a receipt or in other ways you are supposed to accept it as "part of Babas plan. He knows." In short, if you feel reason to question almost anything said or done by officials (not to speak of by SB himself), you will often be put off with a gruff affront or a threatening hiss (as if from a snake).
Only in recent years were any kind of receipts issued for donations received. Incidentally, it was said by SB in discourses that receipts are always given for donations, but we did not get any until in 1998, when we registered as flat-donors and received proof by receipt from the European Sai Org., which by then solicited for and handled all such donations!
Some time after the incidents described at length above, we re-donated the £6000.- by sending it from Norway, but did not get any note of receipt from the ashram. However, since I thought it wrong not to follow up whether the money actually arrived where it should, I asked the new Head of the Ashram, Mr. Narayanan, about it several times during our next visit there. At length he gave me a verbal confirmation. Apropos, when years later I asked V.K. Narasimhan why Narayanan was not any longer head of the ashram, he told me of his being 'sacked' from his post and from the Central Trust in 1994 by SB due to having built a luxury villa for himself in Bangalore with undisclosed funds. This was also told me independently by a VIP, the honest and decent Robert Bruce, whose word I do not doubt, and who knew this from top US leaders 'in the know', such as John Hislop or Michael Goldstein.
In 1994 we donated 900 copies of the first edition of my book to the Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust, but could not ensure that the money was delivered to the Central Trust this time either, despite having written to them on the advice of V.K. Narasimhan to avoid embezzlement by The Convenor. Shortly thereafter, when the press descended on Prashanthi Nilayam after the murders in the ashram and began to dig into things, The Convenor, Mr. Suri, was caught with the equivalent sum in his rooms to that taken in the sales of my books (mainly sold 'under-the-counter')! He could present no accounts for the Publications Trust whatever! Still not having learned, my wife and I in 1998 donated a further US$6,000.- for the 2 month-per-annum use of a room at the ashram. It took such a long time before the meaning of what I had found out sank in!
I only hope that at least some reasonable proportion of what we and uncounted others have donated actually does go to the needy and suffering in India. Some evidently does... but no one can estimate the wastage in the form of paying for useless buildings, statues, solid gold and silver cricket cups, free education for sons of very rich Indians and all the other underhanded 'overheads' that have become more and more a feature of the ashrams and the Central Trust.
Next posting will be:
Part 3 - Sizing up likely donors, and diamond gifts to soften them?