Get a Grip
updated 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Couldn't the woman Deepak Chopra calls a living saint just wave? Or offer a collective blessing? "Hugging helps them to unfold and to awaken their true nature," Ammachi explains. Back home, says Sbalakrishnan, city editor of the country's largest newspaper, The Times of India, "she has a huge following, and there are always huge queues of people wanting to see her."
Her brother Suresh says Ammachi showed her saintly side early by giving away family possessions—without her parents' permission—to the less fortunate. "Since she loved all beings equally," he says, "we felt she was crazy."
Ammachi asks for nothing in return, but the grateful often give her money and jewelry. Through a charitable trust, she and her volunteers reportedly feed an estimated 50,000 poor Indians monthly. "She has set up hospitals, homes and hospices to relieve people's suffering," says Sbalakrishnan.
"She makes me believe in love," says Cynthia Jenkins, 36, who got a hug. Adds husband David: "I know this sounds wild, but when I pray to her, she answers my prayers." They also received a smudge of sandalwood paste on their foreheads, a shower of rose petals and a Her-shey's Kiss—a token Ammachi offers exclusively to her U.S. devotees.