“Did you have ragging in your college?” asked my friend. “Er.., No! Not really” I blurted. Last week, I was sitting with two friends, when one of them asked me which college I was educated from. I said I studied from Sri Sathya Sai University, in Puttaparthi, India. The question that followed took me by surprise. People who know of Sai Baba and his institutions have many expectations from them, but the last I expected was about ragging.
His question suddenly and forcefully drove a realization from the depths of my mind to its topmost surface – My College was different. There are many other colleges across the world that constantly and consciously try to differentiate themselves from the pack, but my college was and is so completely different that it has difficulty in seeing the reason to differentiate itself.
Ragging is not part of the culture, not because there are draconian disciplining laws against it, but the thought process of the students is so drastically different. Senior students take it as their duty to make the juniors, who are probably first time away from their parents, to really feel at home. When parents come to drop their son in the precincts of the calm and serene portals of the hostel, they are in all probability worried that their son now needs to take care of his own needs, will be away from their loving care and are prepared to leave with a heavy heart. That is when they see some of the senior students taking the luggage from the hands of their son and leading him to his room lovingly. That’s a reception that should be envied by the best in the hospitality industry. That is when the realization hits the parents that their son’s college is different.
When I joined hostel, I missed this reception, not because the seniors forgot to do it, but because I chose to be late in joining and I joined the hostel while the students were attending their classes. The hostel housed students from higher secondary school and the college. And though it was first day of the school and the college, there was not a single student who stayed back from attending classes.
As I walked to the classes, I saw no one in the grounds and no one in the corridors. I was in white dress, because the institute took enough care to let me know in advance that I had to be in white uniform from day one-but it was a different uniform, no tie, no tucking in of the shirt and no shoes even. I left my sandals outside the class beside other sandals which were left in neat orderly lines. I joined the class which wore white dress and complete silence. I realized then that the institution is “in deed” different.
In the evening I had to go to hostel stores to make a few purchases and it was right below my room. And yet when I asked how to make purchases and a senior student whom we called ‘room leader’ personally took me to the stores and guided me. Oh yes, we had two room leaders for our room which is a dormitory of 14 students. Each of us had a cupboard built into the wall, a metal foldable chair. Total space was 6 by 6 feet, which meant, if all of us spread our foldable mattresses on the floor in the night, we had enough a space for one mattress between each other. Room leader was a title which meant they had to take care of the discipline, duties and disputes in the room. But these leaders did not throw their power around, but were perfect examples of servant leadership. That evening, the other room leaders swept the entire room with a broom and let us know that we had to take turns to keep our room clean. I am sure the world is yet to see such clean bachelor’s rooms. My college is austerely different.
All this discipline should make these students docile and probably very passive. I would have embraced that theory whole heartedly had I not seen, even before I joined the college, photos of dare devilry by these very students during their annual sports meets. But I was surprised to note that they do not take many years of practice for all these stunts. Soon enough I realized that the preparation for sports meet starts only during the last weeks of December, while the sports meet is scheduled for January 11 every year. Students perform for thousands of devotees of Sai Baba and Sai Baba himself. During my first year, one of my roommates was part of yoga show. He had less than a month to prepare and he did not even know basics of Yoga. I was told that the entire team had similar talent or lack of talent. I, being a student of Yoga, was a non-believer that these students would be capable of putting up any show worth its while. But I was astonished to see the final result, where a group of student performed not on ground but on ropes, where they got in and out of tough yoga postures perfectly in synchrony with each other.
There were moments when we astonished outsiders who are masters in their own field. I remember during one of the run ups for the sports meet, when I was part of motorbike stunts team. Most of the team just barely knew how to ride a bike. Our instructors were from the army and one of them made a statement on December 24th, which was second day of practice, “We learn for years. In fact, for one full year, we only practice riding the bike, without any stunts. Do you think you can perform with 18 days practice?” But we did perform, and we performed so well that the officers from military were awed by the one of the ramp jumps. It was the longest they had ever witnessed in their experience.
This was not an isolated incident. We had similar praises from surprised outsiders every year during the sports meet. We learnt that, all it takes is to focus our energies and we are ready to meet any challenge in life. My college is surprisingly different.
( Please click for videos of Sports Meet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZZzF5fpao4
Every student in the college was part of something other than studies and sports. Either they managed one of the facilities in hostel – stores, computer center, photo copier, fruit stall, maintenance, and dispensary – or they were part of groups like Vedam chanting, music group, band group, bhajan singers. Every one of us was engaged in something and we learnt very early what living for society means, without any expectation of rewards. Also, we had social service activities like distributing food and clothes for the poor, and more. And we have experienced the joy of sharing, first hand. Nothing in this world can ever remove from us the firm belief that this joy has no parallel. My college is caringly different
Thus there was unending activity which we voluntarily participated in. And so much activity in all other forms, must have affected our studies, definitely. Going by the marks we had received during the college and remarks we received during our careers, we did really well and we continue to do so. One may wonder how that happened, until one notices that we had no distractions others have during their college life. We did we not waste time in travel, since our college was next to the hostel, neither did we spent time in shopping since all we need was available in our own hostel. The only drinks we consumed were fruit juices and the aerated ones. We did not even spend time going to theaters or parks. All we had was a movie every weekend in our own park, our hostel quadrangle. During the remaining days, evenings were meant to be for study, where we had strict study hours. And we did focus our energies during this period. My college is purposefully different.
People now would like to address the moral bankruptcy in society so that our banks can be saved. They would like to imbibe values in the industries so that their valuations can be improved. But we were taught morals and values much earlier in a stage in life when they make everlasting impact-during our college. My college is valuably different.
Today, wherever I go, if someone asks my college, I am hesitant to utter its name, not as much because there might be those who might have heard negative rumours about it, but because I am worried if they have heard of its glory and I may fall short of living up to their consequent expectations.
Posted by BVS Prathap,
Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School 1991-93
SSSIHL- Brindavan Campus 1993-96
SSSIHL- Prashanthi Nilayam Campus, 1996-98