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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Death of Sai Baba - An Enigma To The Last

Obituary: Indian guru Sai Baba

Sai Baba Sai Baba was estimated to have millions of devotees around the world

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Sri Satya Sai Baba, India's revered spiritual guru who counted presidents, prime ministers, judges and generals amongst his millions of followers around the world, has died at the age of 84.
Until the last, he was a man who inspired passionately conflicting emotions (as I discovered when I made a BBC investigative documentary about him in 2004 called Secret Swami).
To his devotees, Sai Baba was an avatar, an incarnation of God in human form, who appeared on Earth to preach his inspirational message in one of India's poorest corners.
To his critics, he was a fraudster dogged for years by controversial allegations of sexual abuse yet protected from prosecution by virtue of his powerful political sway.
Whatever he was, there was no doubt that over time he rose in prominence to become India's premier "god-man", eclipsing the likes of Maharishi and Shri Rajneesh who had first drawn Westerners east in the Sixties and Seventies.
A petite, softly spoken man dressed in full length saffron robes and perpetually sporting a trademark afro hairstyle, Sai Baba's appeal was not limited to Western hippies but cut across Indian society from its lowest to highest echelons as well as spreading to many other countries beyond.
'Immaculate conception' Satya Sai Baba was born Sathyanarayana Raju on 23 November 1926 in the remote village of Puttaparthi in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, although like many born at this time, there is no proof of his date of birth.
Stories abound of the early signs of his divinity.
It is said that his mother claimed her son was born out of an immaculate conception just as Jesus Christ had been, another messiah who Sai Baba often identified himself with.
On another occasion, he was alleged to have survived a scorpion bite and on his recovery, was miraculously able to speak Sanskrit, a language he did not know before. Indeed, throughout his childhood, he was said to have been abnormally gifted in artistic pursuits such as music, dance, drama and writing.
Supporters of Sai Baba Sai Baba had a huge following
When he was 13 years old, the young boy announced to his family that he was the incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, a 19th century Indian holyman who had been equally venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike. Changing his name was a key spiritual metamorphosis.
The teenage Sai Baba soon began to attract followers and by 1950, had constructed an ashram called Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of Peace) near his village to accommodate them.
It heralded the start of the transformation of Puttaparthi into a Sai Baba wonderland spread over some 10 square kilometres; the vast complex of hotels, resorts, university buildings, speciality hospital, airport and enormous ashram thronged with devotees that I witnessed while making the documentary.
Non-dogmatic Part of Sai Baba's huge global popularity may be explained by his non-dogmatic, non-doctrinal approach to spirituality.
In contrast to many sects, followers were not required to give up their previous religious beliefs as the guru stated that he believed in the one God that lay behind all religious paths.
Certainly, Sai Baba inspired love and admiration.
During our time spent filming at the ashram, devotees from around the world would volunteer stories about how Sai Baba had visited them in a dream or had called to them though moments of curious serendipity.
In addition, his mystical ability to manifest vibhuti (holy ash), food as well as jewellery and watches out of thin air was often cited as further proof of his divinity and akin to the 'miracles' ascribed to other past prophets.
His opponents, however, refuted this to me.
In the Secret Swami, I was shown how these manifestations could easily be explained by illusionists' techniques and sleight of hand tricks.
A hospital built by Sai Baba A hospital in Puttaparthi set up by Sai Baba
For decades, various scientists, rationalists and magicians have in turn, attempted to challenge the guru to perform his 'miracles' under controlled conditions.
Sai Baba always refused to submit to these tests, once saying: "Science must confine its inquiry only to things belonging to the human senses, while spiritualism transcends the senses. If you want to understand the nature of spiritual power you can do so only through the path of spirituality and not science."
Sexual Abuse The most damning allegations against the "god-man", however, concern the sexual abuse of young boys and male adults during private interviews with him.
Damaging rumours have circulated since the seventies of the guru's sexual exploits but have always been dismissed out of hand by the tightly controlled Sai Baba organisation.
We interviewed the Rahm family in America who had been Sai Baba devotees for years. Both father and son stated that they had been subjected to Sai Baba rubbing oil on their genitals.
"He took me aside," said Alaya Rahm, "put the oil on his hands, told me to drop my pants and rubbed my genitals with oil. I was really taken aback."
Former Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee with Sai Baba Sai Baba counted former Indian prime ministers as his followers
Dr Michael Goldstein, chairman of the international Sai Baba organisation, admitted he had heard rumours, but told us that he did not believe them. He said: "My heart and my conscience tell me that it is not possible."
Sai Baba was never investigated on this issue. All attempts to prosecute him failed.
Nor was there any satisfactory resolution to the gruesome killing of four male devotees in 1993 who allegedly entered Sai Baba's bedroom, armed with knives.
The police claimed they had been shot in self-defence.
The lack of any legal proceedings against the guru was perhaps not surprising in light of the level of influence that he commanded.
A previous Indian prime minister, Atal Vajpayee, once issued a letter on his official notepaper calling the attacks on Sai Baba "wild, reckless and concocted".
Since 2005, Sai Baba's health had been deteriorating. Although he once predicted he would die in his mid-90s, he also claimed he could choose the moment of his death.
In death as in life, he remained an enigma to the last.
Tanya Dutt is a London-based radio and television broadcaster and writer. She made Secret Swami, an investigative documentary on Sai Baba for BBC Two.

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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Update on our local swimming scene

Thursday June 5, 2008

National record for Marellyn but not an Olympic berth

SABAH swimmer Marellyn Liew can be forgiven for not being in a celebratory mood after breaking the national record in the women's 100m butterfly at the Batu Buruk Swimming Complex yesterday.

The 19-year-old's mind was already on improving her time further when she competes in the same event at the Singapore Open, the final Olympic qualifying event, tomorrow.

Marellyn's time of 1:01.82 erased the previous national record of 1:02.08 set by Luisa Los Santos at the Korat Sea Games last December. Although she cracked the record, Marellyn was disappointed that the time was slower than the 1:01.43 needed to qualify for the Beijing Games in August.

Marellyn Liew splashing her way to a new national mark in the women’s 100m butterfly event of the Sukma swimming competition at the Batu Buruk Swimming Complex.

“I consulted my coach (Lim) Keng Liat immediately after the race and he told me that I could have done better in the final 50m. I need to concentrate more on my way back to the finish line,” she said.

“Although I am happy to have won the gold as well as set a new national record, the fact that I managed to post a personal best swim just before heading to Singapore is more important. I hope that I will do a better swim and qualify for Beijing on Friday.”

Marellyn will miss the final day of the Sukma competition. She left for Singapore last night.

Four Games records also fell on the penultimate day competition. Olympics-bound swimmers Khoo Cai Lin and Daniel Bego set the pace in the women's 400m freestyle and men's 100m butterfly respectively.

Cai Lin was out to break Nurul Huda Abdullah's 20-year national record of 4:17.86 and she came within a second of pulling it off with a time of 4:18.94. But the Selangor swimmer can take some consolation in breaking Lew Yih Wey's 2006 Games record of 4:24.43.

Splashing success: (From left): Sarawak’s Ling Neng Ching, Eric Chang, Brian Lim and Daniel Bego after breaking the Sukma record in men’s 4x200m freestyle in Kuala Terengganu.

Sarawak's Daniel, who created a new national record in the 200m freestyle on Sunday, settled for a new Games record in the 100m butterfly. His 55:27 finish bettered the 12-year-old 56:24 record set by Anthony Ang at the 1996 Games in Kuantan.

“I feel good with my performances in Sukma as I am in the midst of gearing up for the Olympics. To earn one national and one Games record in my two individual events showed that my preparations are on the right track,” said Daniel.

The 19-year-old then anchored the Sarawak men's team to win the 4x200m freestyle gold medal. With Ling Neng Ching, Eric Chang and Brian Lim in the side, Daniel touched home in 7:57.81. Daniel was also a member of the Sarawak quartet who created the previous record of 8:05.94 in Kota Kinabalu in 2002.

Chan Kah Yan, who has collected five silver medals in Kuala Terengganu, finally nailed the elusive gold, anchoring the FT women's team, who also comprised Heidi Gan, Tania Lee, Chong Siew Mun, to victory in the 4x200m freestyle.

They won the race in 8:41.04 and their effort erased the previous Games record of 8:46.63, set by their FT predecessors in 2002.

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Sunday, 23 March 2008


What an incredulous three weeks it has been for all of us since we all went to the polls on March 8 this month.

The drama that has been unfolding right before our very eyes has been unbelievable!

Tomorrow a brand new MB gets installed in Terengganu who is not our PM's choice. This, despite the fact that our PM had said on national television only about three days ago that he was confident that everything would soon sort itself out to the BN's favour.

This was obviously not what he meant or had in mind, surely. And it would be very interesting to see what he has to say about this tomorrow after the swearing-in ceremony of the person he didn't anoint.

It must be very difficult on our PM; not to mention, also embarrassing.

Penang CM Lim Guan Eng, meanwhile, continues to make positive ripples in everyone's lives.

I read in the newspapers how he slipped in and out of a local church on Good Friday to share in with Christians and their celebration of Easter this weekend.

That itself would have made a splendid lesson of humility and tolerance for all the worshippers.

The Star said the Chief Minister had no bodyguards but came into the church alone.

This next week is certainly going to add more hot and sizzling politics into our lives.

For now, that seems to be the only thing we can be sure about in this new political landscape that had bulldozed its way through on March 8.

2:30am Easter Sunday

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Arthur Clarke Dies At 90

Here is a man I had admired, now gone. aNt

Writer Arthur C Clarke dies at 90
Sir Arthur C Clarke
Sir Arthur C Clarke was famous for his science fiction writing

British science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke has died in his adopted home of Sri Lanka at the age of 90.

The Somerset-born author came to fame in 1968 when short story The Sentinel was made into the film 2001: A Space Odyssey by director Stanley Kubrick.

His visions of space travel and computing sparked the imagination of readers and scientists alike.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse paid tribute, hailing the writer as a "great visionary".

Since 1995, the author had been largely confined to a wheelchair by post-polio syndrome.

He died at 0130 local time (2000 GMT) of respiratory complications and heart failure, according to his aide, Rohan De Silva.

Far-seeing scientist

"Sir Arthur has left written instructions that his funeral be strictly secular," his secretary, Nalaka Gunawardene, was quoted as saying by news agency AFP.

She said the author had requested "absolutely no religious rites of any kind".

A farmer's son, Sir Arthur was educated at Huish's Grammar School in Taunton before joining the civil service.

A great science fiction writer, a very good scientist, a great prophet and a very dear friend
Sir Patrick Moore

He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and foresaw the concept of communication satellites.

Sir Arthur's detailed descriptions of space shuttles, super-computers and rapid communications systems inspired millions of readers.

When asked why he never patented his idea for communication satellites, he said: "I did not get a patent because I never thought it will happen in my lifetime."

In the 1940s, he maintained man would reach the moon by the year 2000, an idea dismissed at the time.

He was the author of more than 100 fiction and non-fiction books, and his writings are credited by many observers with giving science fiction a human and practical face. He collaborated on the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey with Kubrick.

'Great prophet'

British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore had known Sir Arthur since they met as teenagers at the British Interplanetary Society.

Sir Patrick paid tribute to his friend, remembering him as "a very sincere person" with "a strong sense of humour".

Tributes have also come from George Whitesides, the executive director of the National Space Society, where Sir Arthur served on the board of governors, and fellow science fiction writer Terry Pratchett.

His writing inspired many people to wonder what might be possible
Pratik, California

The author married in 1953, and was divorced in 1964. He had no children.

He moved to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka in 1956 after embarking on a study of the Great Barrier Reef.

There, he pursued his interest in scuba diving, even setting up a diving school at Hikkaduwa, near the capital, Colombo.

"Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered," he recalled recently.

"I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these, I would like to be remembered as a writer."

A statement from Sir Arthur's office said he had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel.

The Last Theorem, co-written with Frederik Pohl, will be published later this year, it said.

Sunday, 17 February 2008


Pix 01: Malaysian police have broken up a demonstration against alleged government discrimination by about 2,000 ethnic Indians in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Pix 02: Demonstrators carried the portrait of Malaysian King Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin and carried roses to symbolise what they said was a peaceful demand for justice.

Pix 03: Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse Saturday's protesters, who had gathered despite a government ban.

Pix 04: Chemical-laced water was sprayed on some protesters. They argue the government systematically favours the Malay majority in jobs and education.

Pix 05: More than 120 people were detained, although most have now been released.

Pix 06: The demonstration was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force, which is demanding the release from jail of five of its leaders.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

BBC ONLINE: Police Break Up Protest

Malaysian police break up protest
Ethnic Indians at a rally in Kuala Lumpur, 25-02-08
The protesters carried roses to symbolise peaceful demands
Malaysian security forces have used tear gas and water cannon to break up a protest by ethnic Indians in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

More than 20 people taking part in the banned march were detained by police.

The demonstration was organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force, which is demanding the release from jail of five of its leaders.

Activists say policies granting economic advantages to the ethnic Malay majority discriminate against Indians.

The Malaysia government has rejected claims of unequal treatment.

Detention without trial

Some 2000 protesters defied a ban on public gatherings, and carried roses to symbolise what they said was a peaceful demand for justice.

A heavy police presence kept them in the city centre - preventing their planned march to parliament to give the flowers to the Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi.

The protest was meant to be led by a group of about 200 children. There were no reports of any children being injured.

Police used water canons thought to be laced with chemicals and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The group behind the demonstration has become increasingly effective at rattling the government, says the BBC's Robin Brant in Kuala Lumpur.

It was behind a large demonstration on the streets of the capital last November which saw 10,000 people gather.

That rally exposed increasing unhappiness among some of Malaysia's minority Indians who feel they have fallen behind after decades of government policy which gives preferential treatment to the majority Malays, our correspondent says.

Five rights activists were arrested at that rally - the biggest protest involving ethnic Indians in more than a decade.

They are being held under a rarely used security law that allows indefinite detention without trial.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

BBC ONLINE: Ledger Died Of Accidental Overdose

Ledger took lethal mix of drugs
Heath Ledger
Prescription drugs were found near Heath Ledger's body
Hollywood actor Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of six different types of prescription drugs, New York authorities have revealed.

The Brokeback Mountain actor, 28, was found dead in January in an apartment he had been renting in Manhattan.

The city medical examiner's spokeswoman said Ledger died "as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects" of the different drugs.

They include painkiller Oxycontin and anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax.

Some of the prescription drugs were found near his body when it was discovered by his housekeeper.

Ledger's body has been flown home to Australia for a private burial, while a public memorial service is planned in Los Angeles.

Film suspended

Last week, his former partner Michelle Williams spoke publicly for the first time since the star's death, saying: "My heart is broken."

The pair met on the set of their Brokeback Mountain, in which Williams played Ledger's wife.

The couple, who had a daughter Matilda, now two, split up last September.

The makers of Ledger's most recent film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - directed by Terry Gilliam - have suspended production.

Ledger had completed filming in London just before his death.

The star also plays The Joker in yet-to-be-released Batman film The Dark Knight.

Also last week, US TV shows Entertainment Tonight and The Insider pulled a video they had planned to show of Ledger at a Hollywood party saying he used to smoke cannabis.

The star is apparently heard saying he "used to smoke five joints a day for 20 years".

The shows released a statement saying the footage, believed to be have been recorded in January 2006, would not be shown.

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