Before the world at large witnessed and believed the unsual powers of Sathya Sai Baba, it was his childhood friends who stood testimony to his out-of-the-world deeds. For many of his contemporaries and childhood friends, he was a prodigy and a cut above the rest.

Though Ratnakaram Satyanarayana Raju-turned-Sathya Sai Baba is the last of the five siblings of Pedda Venkama Raju and Eeswaramma to leave this material world, he still has several childhood friends in Puttaparthi. They recollect the days of their friendship with Sai Baba as the happiest phase of their lives.

“We were close friends like any high-school or higher secondary school friends nowadays and we used to meet almost every day on the Chitravati river bed outside the village,” Keshappa (82), who retired as a school headmaster. “I am very fortunate to be associated with Sathya Sai, who became a God to millions across the globe.”

Many other contemporaries, including Ramalingamaiah (79), Susheelamma (80), Shakuntala, Laxmidevamma and Jayamma, too were in a state of shock when The Hindu approached them for some glimpses into the Sai Baba's early life.

“Association with Sathya Sai was thrilling in every respect. He had his band of 5-6 close friends and I was among it. He used to recite slokas in Sanskrit melodiously and continuously,” Mr. Ramalingamaiah explained while dwelling on the past.

After reaching the banks of the Chitravati river, Sathya Sai first used to scale a ‘kalpavriksham' (a tree) and meditate there for some time. “He produced mangoes many a time and gave them to us. We savoured those sweet fruits. He also used to produce ‘laddus' as ‘prasadam' after taking some sand in his hands,” Mr. Keshappa recollected.

Even though Sathya Sai started giving discourses to groups of his believers in his early 20s, his friends kept in touch with him when he entered the 40s and they used to meet regularly. But there came a gap once Sai Baba became famous. “He used to invite us and present us with new clothes and would speak affectionately on his birthdays every year later,” Mr. Keshappa said.

Sathya Sai also had 3-4 girls as close friends whom he used to meet on the Chitravati bed when they went to fetch water. “Once, when we were heading for a percolation pit on the river bed for water Sathya Sai told us to remove sand at the point we were standing, and we found abundant water there,” recollected Ms. Susheelamma.

Keywords: Sathya Sai Baba

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