The University Chancellor and his Schoolboy Stories (Amended)
Brian Steel December 2002 and August 2004
Copyright © Brian Steel 2002 & 2004
On Convocation Day (22 November), SSB, as Chancellor of his deemed University (the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning), welcomed the President of India, who gave a stirring speech to the staff and students describing his vision for a developed India. President Kalam, a Muslim and, as he reminded his audience, a leading nuclear scientist, made no specific references in his speech to the alleged Avatarhood of SSB. Instead, he referred to SSB much more objectively as a "Guru" and a "divine personality who has been transformed from religion to spiritualism by Thapas". (One wonders what SB and the SSO hierarchy thought about that description.)
In fact, the speech contained a courteous sprinkling of uses of this positive but also rather fuzzy or ambiguous adjective "divine". Since this word can mean "of, from, or like God; devoted to God" (according to the The New Oxford Dictionary of English), a whole range of different concepts can be labelled "divine". Therefore, it would not be justified to assume (as most devotees probably will) that the President's liberal use of this word in connection with SSB and his environment indicates his recognition of SSB's Avatarhood.
This semantic blur fits in with the current SSO style of referring to SSB. Further evidence that, in a spiritually more sophisticated and more competitive world, specific and confident references to SSB's special "Divine" nature and to his "Divine" powers are being toned down, particularly for non-Hindu audiences. In such an environment, "divine message", "divine environment", and "divine mission" (as used by the President) and other uses of 'divine' in reference to SSB may, increasingly, be meant and interpreted in different ways: by SSB, the SSO, and unconditional devotees of the alleged Avatar on the one hand, and, on the other hand, by President Kalam and most other people.
Since the post of Chancellor (unlike that of Vice-Chancellor) is an honorary and non-academic position, it is quite proper for SB to be the Chancellor of his own University (which is funded by contributions by his devotees and SSO money). What is much less appropriate for an honorary University Chancellor is that SB has chosen, on at least four occasions in the past five years to tell one of his legendary schoolboy stories in which he boasts of cheating (and making miracles) to help two less intelligent friends pass the Elementary School Leaving examination (ESLC). The irony of this alleged anti-authoritarian and irresponsible behaviour is that from evidence in the contradictory versions of the stories and in LIMF, it is almost certain that SSB has invented parts of the story, presumably to impress his listeners (like the other story recently revealed by his associate Anil Kumar about illegally obtaining a driver's licence at the age of nine). The basic evidence for these assertions follows.
Firstly, the basic ingredients in the confection of these story variants are:
1. SSB had many school friends. Some of these sat beside him in the different schools he attended, especially in Kamalapuram (June 1940-April 1941), Bukkapatnam (July 1941- April 1942) and Uravakonda High School (1 July 1943 - presumably October 1943, the date of the alleged second Declaration). The indispensable Love is My Form (Vol. 1) documents all this (see especially pp. 40-41, 68-69, 128-129, and 132-133). Although there are many other conflicting anecdotal references about SSB's schooldays in the SSB literature (notably by N. Kasturi and M. N. Rao) this relatively new (2000) documentary evidence, together with other scattered clues, seems sufficient to disprove the longstanding official date of the beginning of SSB's Mission (1940), which should therefore be amended to 1943. (In a recent posting, Hari Sampath has pointed out his strong view that SB's two alleged Declarations did not take place at any time, which is of course a possibility, given the haziness which surrounds SSB's early career, but I have no evidence to support this theory.)
2. In the Old Mandir (December 1945-), SSB had several dogs, some given to him by devotees. During the visit of an aristocrat, one of SSB's favorite dogs was run over by the aristocrat's chauffeur and it crawled back to SSB's feet before dying. A memorial plaque was placed in the Mandir grounds. (LIMF, p. 271)
3. The ESLC (Elementary School Leaving Certificate)
The best documented version of the Elementary Leaving Examination (in LIMF, p.129) is that: "Sathya's school records at Bukkapatnam indicate that, in 1942, he was not allowed to take the ESLC examination as he did not have the minimum required attendance at school." The photocopy of the school register is also offered as evidence on page 69. The researchers go on to say that "All the 41 students, who attended the ESLC, failed. (Sathya joked that they had all failed because they had gone to take the exams without him.)." [The editors do not give a reference for this alleged remark.] So in the boasting to be seen below, is SSB trying to cover up for a scholastic failure? (In the SSB literature there are other vaguer references to SSB's attendance at Penukonda for this exam and being the only pupil from Puttaparthi to pass.)
After an unexplained biographical gap of nine months (for which plausible theories have been offered), SSB was taken to Uravakonda in early 1943 by his elder brother, the teacher, Seshama. In March he underwent his long trauma before allegedly making his Shirdi Baba Declaration in May. He enrolled in the High School on 1 July for the few months preceding his alleged second Declaration on 20 October 1943.
In SSB's hands, these three basic strands (schoolfriends, exams, and dogs) grow and intertwine, and, like SSB's annual references to Jesus, his conflicting versions of the early life of Shirdi Sai Baba (or even some of his etymologies), acquire new and sometimes conflicting variations.
To show the extent of SSB's inventiveness and his recurrent habit of varying and embroidering his stories with attractive personal details (sometimes during the frequent Discourses given during the busy festival period of September-October), let us take the NINE different versions of a complex story about his later schooldays (1940-1943) and the Old Mandir days (December 1945-).
Version 1: (1949)
Vijayakumari (p. 217): SSB told her and others the following story in 1949:
"I had four very good friends. After school, we would assemble under a tree and offer worship to Shirdi Baba. Whatever my friends wished for, I would take out of my bag and give them. During the exams, I would tell the four of them what questions would be given in the question paper. Once, when one of them did not attend the exam, I answered the paper in his handwriting. Later, for High School studies, I had to go to Uravakonda." [Italics added]
In the same talk, SSB added, "In my thirteenth year, coming to know that I had become a 'Baba' and had left home, one of my friends became mad. It seems, he went away somewhere, crying out 'Baba! Baba!' Another friend jumped into a well and died." (p. 218)
Version 2. c1978
Hislop, Conversations ..., p.125:
Hislop records SB telling him of two unnamed boys, who sat on SSB's school bench, of whom one committed suicide and the other went mad.
Note: The following versions are from Discourses. From what we have learned about the significant differences between SSB's original Telugu version and the translated and edited official versions, we cannot be sure of SSB's exact words in the Discourses quoted below.
Version 3. Discourse 20 October 1990 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXIII, 29:248- 253)
Following SSB's major alleged Declaration in Uravakonda, two unnamed grieving schoolfriends had a tragic end. The Sheristadar's son, on seeing SB board a bus for Puttaparthi "lost his mind and fell into a well" saying I cannot live without Raju. The other unnamed boy, the Revenue Inspector's son, just cried his name and refused to eat or drink. But SSB gave no more detail except to talk about the "tragic end" of these two friends. SSB gives the name of the School Headmaster as Lakshmipathi (confirmed by LIMF).
Version 4. Discourse, February 1997 (Sathya Sai Speaks, XXX, 4:34-36)
Old Mandir (December 1945-) An English couple staying there gave SSB two puppies, called Jack and Jill. They slept in SB's bedroom.
The Maharani of Mysore visited the ashram with her chauffeur. Jack was sent to guide the chauffeur back to the car and slept under the car. In the morning the driver started up the car and ran over the dog. It limped back to the ashram and expired at SSB's feet. Jill stopped eating and died a few days later.
Version 5. Unknown date (pre-July 1997)
This untraced but interesting Discourse is posted on a Russian web site, <www.vinnica.ua/~sss/ssd_engl.htm>. It purports to be part of a booklet prepared by the Japanese SSO in 1997. That booklet mentions the date 19 February 1984 (a Discourse which is no longer publicly available). Or it might be from the videotaped Discourses of 3 June 1991 or 7 December 1995 which are listed as extra sources of SSB's youth reminiscences quoted by LIMF.
The reason for the muddled character of this (alleged) version is hinted at in the compilers' introduction: "It is not possible to deliver the beauty and grandeur of the Divine messages as spoken in Telugu, but effort has been made to translate and bring to readers nearly every word recorded in the deteriorated cassette tape. The text is not edited in order to preserve the original script of the message and the meaning as meant by the Divine. This is the reason for some apparent differences in grammar and composition."
SSB is at Bukkapatnam School and has to take the ESLC exam at distant "Panwarda", but this name then changes to Penukonda. SSB is the only one of the local boys to pass and to get first class. All the others failed. He then left Bukkapatnam School and was taken by Seshama to Kamalapuram, into the Third Form of the Middle School. [LIMF shows school records which indicate that the order of schools (after Puttaparthi Elementary) was the reverse: Kamalapuram, Bukkapatnam, Uravakonda.] His deskmates are named: Ramesh and Sudhir.
The two friends: one committed suicide and the other went mad, but, in Uravakonda, after the FIRST (alleged) Declaration (Shirdi Baba) in May  - when SSB wasn't yet enrolled at the Uravakonda school.
It should be noted that there are other references (for example, by Kasturi and M. N. Rao) which indicate that the Penukonda visit was merely to take a qualifying test to proceed with Elementary schooling and that it took place two or three years earlier in SSB's school career. Also, when LIMF (p.76) states that "... he appeared for the [ESLC] exam (probably as a private student) the following year ...", this might have been at Uravakonda before he was able to enrol in the High School in July 1943.
Interestingly, this plausible LIMF reference could partially explain why Sathya Narayana was not in school from April 1942 to February 1943, when his teacher-brother, Seshama, took him off to distant Uravakonda to begin his High School studies. However, that more prosaic reference to the ESLC examination by LIMF would seem to contradict SSB's frequent boasts (in Versions 6 to 9 below) of using special powers to cheat at the exam to help his two friends, and of them all passing with First Class honours! Therefore, according to the principle or law of 'Parsimony', it is much more likely to be closer to the real truth about this examination than the other flights of fancy we are about to examine.
Version 6. 11 September 1998 (Sanathana Sarathi, August 2000, pp. 236-241)
The story begins in Class 6 in the High School at Uravakonda with the ESLC exams. Ramesh and Suresh are not very bright and SSB writes their examination answers in their handwriting (note the claimed miracle). They sit in seats 6, 60, and 600. SB completed his exam in 5 minutes; the results were announced 10 days later.
The story ends with a note about Ramesh and Suresh in Kamalapuram (a couple of years previously).
Version 7. 18 October 1999 (<www.eaisai.com/baba>)
SSB miraculously cheats on behalf of his dim schoolfriends, Ramesh and Suresh, in the ESLC exams (in the High School at Uravakonda). The results are announced a week later. No mention of tragic deaths.
Version 8. 1 October 2000 (Special Issue of Sanathana Sarathi for November 2000, pp. 327-330; Discourse for 1 October 2000) Here the strange story undergoes a further expansion:
Ramesh and Suresh and SSB had to go to Uravakonda from Puttaparthi (140 km). SB cheats for them and all three get a first class result. The seat numbers are 9, 300, and 200. SSB finished his own paper in half an hour; the results came out the next day: all 3 received First Class. So, apart from claiming a considerable personal feat (and a miracle), SSB, the Educator, the University Chancellor, is once more condoning cheating and dishonesty. (Once more, the Headmaster, according to SSB, was M. Kameshwar Rao.)
But SSB's story continues. When SSB left Uravakonda after his Declarations, Ramesh ran and jumped into a well; Suresh went mad and was institutionalised in Bangalore. Ramesh and Suresh were reborn as Jack and Jill to SSB's 2 dogs Lilly and Billy. Jack was crushed in the automobile accident and Jill died a few days later. (Ramesh's father was an officer.)
The carefully researched LIMF volume had only just been published when Baba gave this full new version of his story. The encyclopedic LIMF makes no mention of these companions, Ramesh and Suresh/Sudhir, although it traces many other schoolmates of SSB. However, as on a few other potentially embarrassing occasions, having provided convincing contradictory evidence to SSB's story, the editors of LIMF try to reduce its importance but merely succeed in compounding the suspicion of inaccuracy on SB's part with the following statement: "In a number of Discourses, Sri Sathya Sai Baba has referred to His classmates under various names, such as 'Ramesh', 'Prakash', 'Suresh', 'Sudhir' and 'Paresh'. Our thorough search failed to locate their existence in any of the four schools in which Sathya studied as a boy. It is possible that Sri Sathya Sai Baba chooses not to disclose their real names, in order to protect their privacy." (LIMF, p, 61, footnote 8) This is possible, especially since they seem to have lived in distant Uravakonda, but surely unlikely since most of SB's schoolmates appear to have been described and pictured in the 600-page large format book which only covers the years 1926-1950.
Version 9. 20 October 2002 (<www.sathyasai.org>)
(The new FULL version, again.)
The exam cheating story again, involving SSB, Suresh and Ramesh. After the major (alleged) October (1943) Declaration, when SSB was leaving Uravakonda, Ramesh fell into a well and died. Suresh went mad and was institutionalised. When SSB went to see him he died. R. and S. were reborn as puppies: Jack and Jill. Jack was run over by the Maharani's chauffeur and crawled to SSB to die. Jill stopped eating and died days later. [The Headmaster: again, Kameshwar Rao]
In another recent Discourse anecdote (31 August 2002), SB places these friends Ramesh and Suresh in Kamalapuram with him (1940-1941). This time Ramesh's father is described as Sirasthadar (The Revenue Officer). SSB says that Ramesh and Suresh were there with him when the Polish psychic, Wolf Messing, allegedly arrived by train in Kamalapuram (on his world tour) especially to see and worship the child prodigy. In the 1980 version of this story, SB had claimed this was in 1937 but according to the internal references of his story and the evidence now available from school registers, this would have been in 1940 or 1941; and, according to Messing's sparse biographical details, his visit to India was in 1927. So, according to SSB's story-telling chronology, Messing seems to have come to Kamalapuram to see him either when he was one year old and in Puttaparthi (or, possibly, before he was born). Furthermore, according to what we know about Messing's biography, in 1940-1941 the psychic performer was living in Moscow and is not known to have travelled to India at that time. Incidentally, in the 2002 version, SSB also makes extraordinary new claims about a visit by Messing to Bangalore 20 years later (?late 1950s or early 1960s) during which Messing allegedly took a Kirlian photograph of SSB. Also according to SB, they met, Messing proclaimed himself to be SSB's "instrument" and SSB taught him "all that had to be taught" over a period of ten days.
Once again the gross inconsistencies and incongruities in SSB's boastful stories about his distant past highlight the urgent need to re-examine, rewrite, and re-assess this very obscure early part of his official biography, especially the period 1940-1945.
In view of all the new evidence that is piling up to prove that SSB's story-telling ranges far beyond fact and strays into areas of self-contradiction, confusion, and error, it is surely time for devotees and their spin doctors to realise the total inadequacy of their dismissive assertions that everything about SSB (particularly unwelcome information) is a 'Divine leela'.
Why SSB chooses to invent and vary details in some stories which are freely available on the official (edited) record is open to conjecture. The fact that he does so, and that he can be shown to do so in stories like the above examples, has implications regarding the credibility of other SSB stories of a non-verifiable nature, such as those in which he invokes his claimed omniscience, or makes other references and assertions in support of his claims of Avatarhood.
NOTE: For the full version of President Kalam's Convocation Day Speech, click here.
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