Tatya Kote Patil occupies a special place in the history of Shirdi and Sai Baba,
and many of his descendants are active in the local community. Sometimes referred
to as Baba's "pet" devotee, Tatya had a unique relationship with the saint and was
under his wing from the age of about seven. While most devotees were attracted to
Baba because of his powers and what he could give them, Tatya related to Baba in
a personal and human way.
Tatya's parents had been among the very first to recognize Baba's greatness, although
Baba had the appearance of a fakir and, to many, seemed to be a madman. The moment
Baba saw Bayajabai, Tatya's mother, he said, "She has been my sister for the last
seven births." For her part, Bayajabai was immediately drawn to Baba, even before
his powers or saintliness had been revealed. Having once met him, she would never
eat without having first fed Sai. At that time Baba was roaming in the fields and
every day Bayajabai would go and search for him, carrying food. Baba never forgot
this service, and took loving care of her son. Later, when Baba was begging regularly
for his food, the Patil's house was one of the five to which he usually went.
Bayajabai was Baba's "sister", and Baba loved her son like his nephew. As a child,
Tatya addressed Baba as "Mama" or "Uncle" and they would play and romp together,
with Tatya climbing on Baba's back and sitting in his lap. As Tatya grew up, the
affection also deepened. Sometimes they wrestled together and played practical jokes.
While Tatya was dozing, Baba might hide his towel, and then, in all innocence, pretend
to help Tatya look for it. At other times, he would push the sleeping Tatya outside
the mosque and gleefully wait for his reaction upon waking. Bleary-eyed, Tatya would
wonder how he had got there. Sometimes he would twist Tatya's body into odd contortions.
In return, Tatya, who was tall and stocky, would sometimes pick Baba up and run
with him over his shoulder, with Baba yelling laughingly to put him down and go
more slowly. Once he put his own turban and cloth on Baba and showed him his reflection
in a mirror. Baba immediately began mimicking Tatya and teasing him.
Being so close to Baba, Tatya had various privileges that few, if any, shared. For
example, only he and Mhalsapati were allowed to stay with Baba in the mosque at
night. The three of them would lie like spokes on a wheel, with their feet touching.
Baba would lie in the middle with his head pointing west. For fourteen years, Tatya
slept like this until his father died and household responsibilities compelled him
to be at home. When the chillim was taken out, Tatya would light it and take the
first puff. Before the Chavadi procession, it was always Tatya who would come to
the mosque and persuade Baba to move. Tatya was the only one whom Baba allowed to
adorn him with expensive cloth for the occasion.
Sometimes Baba and Mhalsapati would massage Tatya's tired farmer's body, which upset
Tatya as he felt it was inappropriate for Baba to do this service. Once, Tatya was
so annoyed with Baba for doing this, that he kept away from Dwarkamai for several
days. When Baba called out to him as he passed by the mosque, Tatya replied sulkily
that he was not going to have anything to do with Baba! Later, Tatya was mollified
by Kakasaheb Dixit and persuaded to come back to the mosque. Only Tatya treated
Baba in this way.
Baba took care of Tatya's material welfare, giving him thirty-five rupees a day
(a government employee's average salary was about this amount per month!) and instructing
him to use it properly as capital and not to squander it. As a result, Tatya became
a wealthy landowner and acquired a prominent social standing.
In 1916 Sai Baba privately predicted that Tatya would die two years later. At the
time foretold, when Baba himself was ailing, Tatya fell seriously ill. One day,
Baba summoned Tatya to the mosque. Tatya was so weak that he had to be carried.
After feeding him a little milk-rice, Baba told him, "Tatya, at first I got two
cradles ready for both of us, but now I've changed my mind. I don't want to take
you now. I'm going alone. Go home!"
With that, he applied udi to the forehead of his beloved devotee, and watched for
a long time as Tatya disappeared down the road. That was the last time Tatya saw
his Gurudev alive: two days later Sai Baba passed away, while Tatya went on to recover
and lived a further twenty-seven years. This has lead some people to believe that
Sai Baba sacrificed his own life for Tatya's. Others, however, point out that such
an exchange would not have been necessary for one of Baba's calibre - after all,
he had saved lives before and even raised people from the dead. In Tatya Kote Patil's
life with Baba, what stands out most is the immense and solid love and friendship
between them. Its legacy provides us with both an inspiration and an aspiration.