Air of uncertainty
Ahmed, not being a devotee, does not feel the need to mince words, but others in the town, many of whom are believers dressed in the trademark white-and-white, try to paint a more optimistic picture.
The popular refrain is that even after "Swami's" death, people are still coming to Puttaparthi but instead of staying for weeks and months, now return after a couple of days, especially if they are Indian visitors.
To be sure, the air of uncertainty that enveloped the town in the immediate aftermath of Sai Baba's death has given way to resignation and even hope among the faithful that better days are ahead.
But even so, the fall in visitors has taken a heavy toll on Puttaparthi's various businesses.
Among the worst affected is the hospitality sector.
CH Janaki Ram, a long-time devotee of Sai Baba, opened Hotel Sai Paradise near the main entrance to Prasanthi Nilayam (as the ashram is called) in December 2010.
Up till the following March, the 29-room hotel enjoyed occupancy of 90 per cent.
Ram had invested Rs 3.5 crore in the hotel and with business booming, he hoped to recover it over a couple of years.
After Sai Baba's death, though, occupancy plummeted to as low as 20 per cent.
The hotel manager, M Shaffy, says after the nadir of 2011 and 2012, occupancy had now climbed to 50 per cent but the revenue is still only enough to cover salaries and maintenance expenses.
"We've reduced rates by 20 per cent and even then, devotees bargain aggressively for discounts. Earlier, we could ask them to take it or leave it," says Shaffy.
With devotees thinning, it has also become easier to get accommodation at the ashram, which further eats into the revenue of hotels.
At Sai Maa Hotel, up the road from Prasanthi Nilayam, manager Ramesh Acharya says occupancy continues to be in the 30 per cent range, while at Hanuman's Hill Rock Cafe, popular with foreigners because of its continental fare and decor, manager Upamanyu Sharma says sales have halved from the Rs 15-20 lakh the restaurant used to earn a month. Image Courtesy
: ShambLady, Flickr