Sunday, December 18, 2005

Believe it or not: strange stories of 2005

Alongside tragedies, wars and natural disasters the year just ending brought its share of unusual, outrageous and tragi-comic and just downright silly news items.

A selection of the stranger items:

- The authorities running the village cemetery in Puttaparthi were bemused to find tourists beating a path to the grave of a 24-year-old British soldier who died in fighting 68 years earlier. His name, engraved on the headstone, was Harry Potter.

- A German devotee had the idea of placing a specially adapted cellphone in the coco rolls of the Prashanti bakery. That way devotees could get around the strict darshan rules and speak to their relatives under the pretence of having a snack.

- In Japan, police were so upset to hear that a Bal Vikas student who was caught up in a traffic accident had to get to an important EHV exam that they gave him a full escort with sirens, arriving with 10 minutes to spare.

- Puttaparthi Accomodation Office lawmakers threw out a proposal that would have banned young male devotees from wearing low-slung trousers, in clear defiance of the 'trousers only' rule. "Rules are there for a reason," said the ashram official who sought the measure. "Besides, Swami would get overly excited and fall out his wheelchair."

- A man and woman living in adjacent rooms of the ashram apartment blocks made a hole in the wall through which they managed to have sex and produce a child, papers said. "The [ashram] rules say that males and females cannot associate with each other in their rooms after 9pm, so what else was I supposed to do?" the man asked. They got a four-month ban for damaging ashram property.

- A taxi-driver found a pouch containing 350,000-dollars' worth of diamonds left in his cab. The driver, a village bumpkin of Puttaparthi, simply handed them in to the police.

- Workers in the Puttaparthi post office thought they had a bomb on their hands when a parcel for Sai Baba began vibrating and making strange noises. It turned out to contain an inflatable sex toy.

- Before setting off to to the private quarters of the Easwaramma High School students, Sai Baba chanted ancient spells that he believed would make him invisible. He was blocked and mobbed by hundreds of devotees trying to touch his feet and pull his hair after being seen by them, or rather failing to be seen.

- Sai believers in Bangalore flocked to a roadside advertising board after a stain that was said to resemble Sai Baba appeared on it. A graffiti artist then scrawled "Faggot" over it, before the city authorities had the whole thing painted over.

- A top official with the Indian national cricket team took the opportunity of his retirement speech to complain about vocal grunting by players, which he said was getting ever louder and a cause of excitement for Sai Baba.

- Educational authorities in the Blue Mountains, Australia, protested when the state board of studies (majority Sai devotees) proposed making meditation into a high-school diploma subject.

- The Puttaparthi Westerners Accomodation Office said that devotees being snapped for ID photographs should no longer smile or wear vibhuti on their foreheads because it messed up their biometric recognition technology.

- A Puttaparthi bumpkin who enjoyed a night of love with an American devotee in her room got into hot water because of his bad English. He had apparently decided to say "Yes" to whatever she requested -- which worked fine until she thought to ask him, after the fact, whether he had AIDS. "Yes," he answered -- erroneously as it later turned out.

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