With the passing away of Sathya Sai Baba, there is a huge concern regarding the future of the temple town called Puttaparthi in Ananthpur district of Andhra Pradesh. Puttaparthi was always bustling with activity every time Baba was there and today with this passing away the biggest worry for many vendors and businessmen is whether the economy will continue to remain the same or would it diminish. Although devotees swear that they will continue to visit Puttaparthi even with the passing away of Baba, it appears unlikely that this would be the case. Puttaparthi witnesses lakhs of devotees all through the year most of them being foreigners. It is the foreigners from across the globe who form a big part of the economy of Puttaparthi as they are the ones who stay on the longest at the Ashram.
Now with the passing away of Sai Baba it becomes clear that the number of foreigners who visit the place will come down drastically. There is proof of this since these foreigners always followed Baba wherever he went and now that he is not there, it is unlikely they will stay on for long at the ashram as they used to do before. Baba spent most of his time at Puttaparthi and during the summers he spent time at his ashram at Kodaikanal and also Whitefield in Bangalore. When Baba left Puttaparthi for the above mentioned ashrams, Puttaparthi almost cleared up with all the foreign tourists following him wherever he went. They say that they come to listen to the discourses by Baba. It will not be the same here without him as we will not be able to see him in person anymore. His soul will always be with us, but it was a different feeling when we got to see him in person says a devotee from Australia who is part of the funeral at Puttaparthi.
This is exactly what has been worrying the establishments in Puttaparthi which has a population of just 10000. They feel with Baba gone, the number of foreign tourists will diminish and it would have a direct impact on their business. A majority of the Sai Baba empire has been built on donations. The super speciality hospital, the educational services are all free of cost and hence there is no income that comes from that.
The entire temple town revolves round Sai Baba. The hotels, the shops selling his pictures, pendants, CDs, books and a host of other religious material, flower shops, restraints and internet cafes form a large part of the business. In addition to this over the years some persons have opened up hotels catering to various cuisines. This was done keeping the foreign devotees in mind and today these establishments fear that with the passing away of Baba, their businesses may suffer.
The internet café owners too are a worried lot. Harish who runs a café says that the Indian devotees hardly use the cafes as they come here for a short visit. It is the foreigners who spend most of their time at the cafes and this was our biggest source of income. However now we feel that they may come less here and also spend very less time in Puttaparthi.
The faces at the book shops too are very grim. These persons too relied heavily on the foreign tourists and at an average each of these stores earned anything between Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 per day. However over the past couple of days there has been despair at Puttaparthi with Baba in the hospital and business has been really very bad. There were times when we could not even make Rs 500 per day. We are sure that it will pick up in the coming days, but we are not too optimistic that it would like before with swami gone.
Everytime Baba left Puttaparthi during the summer, almost all the establishments in Puttaparthi remained shut. There are hardly 1000 people in the town at that point of time and the hotels too offered tariffs at less than half the price. This only goes on to show the importance of Baba being around for these businessmen. Now with him gone, the situation is un-thinkable for these vendors and businessmen.
Another cause of concern is the real estate around Puttaparthi. Many realtors had started investing around Puttaparthi since the town was really developing. The town is very well connected, by road, rail and even air and hence investing in real estate was probably a good idea. In the outskirts of Puttaparthi several villas and apartments had come up. Now this is only a thing of the recent past and such developments were non existent until five to six years back. These apartments and villas were built keeping the foreigners in mind since most of them had a wish to settle down in Puttaparthi. The queries had started to pour in regarding the real estate, but since the news of Baba’s bad health broke out the inquiries have come to a stand still. There is a big cloud over whether these projects would even kick off.
The days to come will be a big challenge for the residents of Puttaparthi town. There is a huge transition that they will all need to make and they all feel that their livelihoods would only depend on the divine blessings of Sathya Sai Baba who passed away yesterday at 7.40 AM.