The one abiding image on the road to the Prashanti Nilayam complex in Puttaparthi, where Sai Baba’s body was placed before his funeral, was of devotees from all over lugging their strolleys. The last mile for the final darshan had to be covered by foot since no vehicles were allowed. So, on a two-lane road, with not even a tree for shelter, people walked and walked, resisting even a short break. Even on reaching their destination, they had to stand in a kilometre-long queue before entering the Sai Kulwant Hall to get a last glimpse of their lord.
In the crowd, there were the young, the old and the infirm, the lettered and the unlettered, the class distinctions evident from the clothes. The poor had greater choice when it came to food and water. Charity stores supplied water and food packets, and they had no inhibitions accepting their offerings. It was the relatively well-heeled who were at a loss on what to do: where to stay the night, where to drop their luggage and, importantly, where to leave their footwear before entering the hall, because it looked nearly impossible to recover them from the mounds already collecting outside the ashram complex.