The foremost Indian rationalist, Basava Premanand has died, aged 79, of cancer at Podannur, Tamil Nadu (17 February 1930 – 4 October 2009).
Premanand’s close colleague Professor Narendra Nayak has just informed me of his death, and I am deeply saddened. Premanand and I had an extensive correspondence over the years, joined eventually by my trusted colleague, Robert Priddy.
Premanand, the late Glen Meloy of the USA, and I maintained contact during the making of BBC television’s “The Secret Swami”. See: In Memoriam – Glen Meloy (“Standing up for truth and goodness”). This contact strengthened in the difficulties of international co-ordination, which were considerable.
Amid sadness on receipt of the news of Premanand’s passing, I briefly smiled, as memories began to course back, at how some, but happily by no means all, of the members of the international former Sathya Sai Baba network, got upset by my contacting Premanand – but what a priviledge they missed out on! This was a man who vividly lived the principles about which some but speak and genuflect, their eyes upraised.
The word “warmth” is one of the words that I cherish when think of Premanand, and this quality shows in the words of a glowing tribute at Glen Meloy’s death, when he said: “Glen’s death was a great shock. I wanted him to live till Sai Baba was arrested … I am missing a great loving friend whom I came to know from the BBC film production.”
With Premanand, Robert Priddy and I worked on some research, analysis and written work. Together, we were able to expose – including with some Interpol and Indian police follow-up – an extensive attempt at penetration of the networked exposure of Sathya Sai Baba and core colleagues by one of his former college/university teachers.
Had it not been for the economies of telephony, I feel sure we would have spoken more between India and Australia, but were restricted to emailing. In recent months, I was tempted to try, with the assistance of his aides, to set up a Skype link, but, realising that his cancer had struck back again, thought the better of it. About three years ago, Premanand and I spoke on the phone for about an hour, when he was staying with his sister in Bangalore. His warmth of greeting when he answered the phone was touching and palpable. Throughout the conversation, I was aware of his wide grasp of issues, graciousness, and of a sense of stern purpose lightened by a gentle humour.
I don’t know that Sathya Sai Baba will be arrested. He ails considerably, despite his declaration that he would not age after his 60th birthday. Premanand was his great and unrelenting foe in India. Alas, the forces of corruption in India, which Premanand so courageously faced for so many years, are almost unimaginable. Of course, to let any notion of mountainous difficulties seep into consciousness would be to ensure that any light in the world snuffs out fast. Premanand had those rare blessings – innocence without naivity, and the warrior spirit that fights for goodness and gentleness. Premanand was one of those voices that cry out in a wilderness of superstition, fear and apathy. However, I learn that there is a feisty younger generation who support his work. So he will not die.
Perhaps attempt to educate and warn, rather than the jail scenario for Sathya Sai Baba, will be the one that triumphs.
I have wondered whether Premanand would have achieved some of his ends if it were not for the terrible dereliction by those calling themselves religious. A foremost Hindu leader wrote to me:
“There is considerable concern among the Hindu Community, especially among the educated. It is very hard to get any action from the temples as they do not wish to cause difficulties with the Sathya Sai Baba groups. People are starting to distance themselves from Sathya Sai Baba. It’s going to be gradual process of education. The biggest impact it appears was the ‘The Secret Swami’ … it seems it has had a tremendous negative effect on Sathya Sai Baba”.
Perhaps if there were to be a Heaven after all, and Premanand, of course, find himself in its halls, one rather thinks that he would find the company, although illustrious, rather too few.
Goodbye, good man …..
Barry Pittard, Australia
See Wikipedia entry for Basava Premanand
See tributes to B. Premanand by Professor Nayak, Premanand’s successor and president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, and others: