William Aitken’s Sai Baba Book. Major Flaws Says Scholar
Posted by Barry Pittard on January 20, 2008
The following are some quotes from Brian Steel’s article Bill Aitken and Sathya Sai Baba. A Writer’s Dilemma.
Retired Spanish language expert and lexicographer from one of Australia’s top universities, Steel critically assesses a book by William McKay ‘Bill’ Aitken: Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Life (New Delhi, Penguin Books India, 2004. Paperback edition, 2006).
Aitken’s Methodology Badly Flawed, Says Steel
Aitken’s style of reporting often shows a judgemental bias in favour of Sathya Sai Baba, somewhat akin to the devotee’s habit of rationalising any doubt or inconvenient information about the guru. Nowhere is this clearer than in the few pages where he makes an attempt to explain away SSB’s clearly documented errors and exaggerations (pp.131-136)
This biography contains other errors and omissions which suggest that Aitken was over-selective in his sampling of the vast hagiographical literature on SSB.
Equally disappointing for the general reader is the author’s superficial treatment of recent controversies. On more than one occasion he issues blanket condemnations of all criticisms of Sathya Sai Baba, dismissing them out of hand and even implying interference by “certain rival missions” (p. 189) or speculating that someone “could be a paid informer of the missionary lobby”. Also, Aitken’s preoccupation with the sensational, headline-grabbing sexual allegations (by Tal Brooke, or David Bailey, for example) does not leave him time to deal with more serious aspects of past and present critical research on Sathya Sai Baba …
disappoint many non-devotee readers (especially researchers) simply because any account of Sathya Sai Baba’s life that ignores, misrepresents or makes mistakes over relevant available evidence about that life (especially the copious amounts freely available in SSB’s Discourses, the available literature and on the Internet) can hardly be seen as a complete or impartial work.
In spite of his professed neutrality between “the hype of unhinged devotees and a howling pack of detractors”, some parts of Aitken’s eulogy, ‘Awareness of Divinity’, written for The Week (27 November 2005) on the occasion of SSB’s 80th Birthday, are no different, in essence, from what a Sathya Sai Baba apologist would assert, especially the blanket dismissal of all criticism as inherently baseless and extraordinary generalisations like “the critics are so intemperate in their dislike that their vituperation now comes across as almost near comical in its predictability”, as well as the permanent blind spot for serious Internet criticisms of Sathya Sai Baba that have not been refuted.
See Barry Pittard’s article Sai Baba Researchers’ Huge Debt To Scholar Brian D. Steel
- A look at Robert Priddy’s articles on William McKay ‘Bill’ Aitken
- Barry Pittard looks at Steel on Aitken and on other topics