20 October 2006

Sai Baba's School Records - A New Light 2

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Criticisms of Sai Baba's Bukkapatnam school record usually employ a tactic of avoidance, the noted characteristic to deflect attention away from Baba's (then Sathyanarayana Raju) details by focusing on the details of others. In this way, the school record has suffered criticism over the untenable birthdates of other students. For a start, ten of the 12 students listed (in the cropped image, the full record lists sixteen students) all share a birthday of July 1st, that is, July 1st in the years 1925, 1926, 1933, 1934 and 1935. Along with this, the surname of 'Frakrodeem' (student no. 470) is 'Puttaparthi'. Critics contend that since Puttaparthi is the name of Raju's home village it cannot also be a surname. While Raju is listed as being admitted into the 8th Standard, every other student is shown as being admitted into the 1st Standard with two students listed as being 3-4 years older than Raju. In the words of the critic, "that simply is not possible!"

It is a clear improbability for 10 students in a small backwoods village to all share the same birthdate. Considering this along with some other minor discrepancies, considerable doubt has been thrown on the authenticity of the school record itself. In my opinion that is going too far, because the photostat of the school record is a true and correct scan of the original that is kept in the records of the Samithi Elementary School, Bukkapatnam. This doesn't assist in solving the puzzle of Raju's recorded birthdate of Ocotber 4 1929, and so the following extract from LIMF has been offered by critics and sceptics alike in an attempt at explanation:

"Sathya's date of birth in school records, however, is recorded as the 4th of October 1929 - and not the traditionally recognized date of the 23rd of November 1926. Talipineni Kesappa, son of Talipineni Ramappa maintains that Sathya was one year senior to him at school; therefore, Kesappa's date of birth being 11th of June 1927, Sathya's year of birth definitely is 1926. It has long been a practice in the schools to record a date of birth as being much later than the 'actual' date of birth - in order to facilitate career prospects. Sathya's parents wanted Sathya to become an educated officer. This, possibly could be the reason for the discrepancy. In addition, in 1926, people in remote villages like Puttaparthi, in pre-independent India, were not very particular about dates and birth registration was done much later." - LIMF, p. 68.

Critics have drawn attention to remarks made by Littler Mendelson Bacon & Dear PLLC (an India-related law firm):

"School records and 'birth records' issued by a hospital or church are insufficient substitutes for birth certificates ... Prior to 1970, however, reporting of births was voluntary."

All that may sound impressive but these are yet more devices to apologise for Raju's traditional birthdate (Nov. 23 1926). Critics also allege that since Raju (as 'Sathya Sai Baba') has made only one overseas visit to Africa, his passport would show a birthdate that can be held to be true since it is generally assumed that passports contain correct legal information. This is not strictly true: a member of my own family has an incorrectly recorded birthdate and their passport reflects this. This was most probably due to the pre-Independence situation in India when birthdates and other information were not strictly recorded, but the fact remains that this error has been perpetuated. In the same way this poor argument works negatively against Sathya Sai Baba; if people were really disinclined to record information correctly, who is to say that November 23 1926 is the correct birthdate since Raju and his family never recorded it as such?

All of these problems have a solution. :-)

Due to the pre-Independence situation of not keeping records correctly, is it at all surprising that that ten students share the same birthdate with differing years? Who knows whether the families of the students were not in posession of the knowledge, or whether it was down to a lazy school clerk who just rubber-stamped the papers and put them in his outbox?

Is it really that important if Frakrodeem's surname is 'Puttaparthi', the name of the village? Perhaps Frakodeem and/or his family wished to be known as in ancient times according to the land of their birth; 'Frakrodeem of Puttaparthi', as exists in classical literature. Alternatively, the sad situation in third-world India is that many poor people are largely illiterate and have no knowledge of their own family background and social strata, so it is again unsurprising that poor Frakrodeem may not have known his surname and just agreed to be known as a resident of the village. Or it could be that lazy clerk again who had deadlines and targets to meet.

When critics point out the discrepancy in the record of the difference between the 1st and 8th Standards, the reveal their appalling ignorance of conventional Indian education standards. I guess you just have to be brought up in India to know that the 8th Standard is also known as 'Form One', and that this is what is noted in the Bukkapatnam school record when other students are noted as being admitted in the "1st Standard". '1st Standard' and 'Form One' are two different things altogether. This is supported by the details in LIMF, and a fuller analysis of Raju's school years will be carried out at a later date. One would also be wise to note that, unlike in Western educational systems, students are not always categorised and taught by age but by educational achievement. In India it is entirely possible to be 'promoted' and 'demoted' according to exam results and other factors, and to be in a class with students of assorted ages. Of course the general trend is to 'maintain' one's position along with one's peers and to graduate and pass to the next class accordingly, as demotion to study the class again with the junior chaps would be humiliating. However in a backwoods and illiterate poor village like Puttaparthi and Bukkapatnam, the students cannot be expected to be as fastidious.

Anyhow we may note that the majority of the criticisms have been neutralised. All that remains is to explain how and why October 4 1929 is the true birthdate of Raju aka Sathya Sai Baba.

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