Last updated on 2nd Sept 2016
In the context of some recent posts of mine where I shared some nasty (verbal) attacks on me including one attack about me not being Ph.D., on Facebook, I thought some readers who are not knowledgeable about Indian Computer Science academia may wonder why I was teaching lab. courses in the Sai university though I am not a Ph.D. in Computer Science or otherwise educationally qualified in Computer Science. So I thought of putting up this post explaining the situation.
Well, I did not join Sai university/SSSIHL for an academic career. I retired from commercial work in Aug. 2002 and came to Puttaparthi in Oct. 2002 with an objective of focusing on my "spiritual career" at Prasanthi Nilayam/Puttaparthi if Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was willing to accept me for such a role. To cut a long story short, in January 2003 my offer to provide FREE SERVICE to Dept. of Mathematics & Computer Science in the Sai university, SSSIHL was accepted, based on my industry experience of 18 years in international software industry (and not based on my educational qualification). Note that Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, Late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, which is what others and I are using for the main social media conversations on this matter (verbal attack on me, and my reaction/defence), all three of these iconic software industry figures did not complete their graduation (forget about PhD). So I am more qualified than them educationally as I am a graduate!!! What matters is their industry achievements/experience. Academia is not the only place one can learn software development. The software industry is a superb place to learn and practise software development, perhaps far better than Indian Computer Science academia as it is now.
Educational qualification wise, I am B.Sc. (Physics) from Bombay University (passed out in 1983). I had joined M.Sc. (Physics) in Bombay University but due to money problems decided to drop out of my M.Sc. after around six months. A few months after dropping out of M.Sc., in March 1984 I was into the software industry as a trainee programmer in my first software company, Datamatics, Mumbai. My biodata can be viewed here: https://ravisiyer.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/ravisiyerbiodata.pdf, and details about my software industry experience can be viewed here: https://ravisiyer.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/raviiyerindustryworkexperience.pdf.
At the time I joined SSSIHL I had no demands whatsoever about designation. But I think the official designations provided by Principal, Prasanthi Nilayam campus, SSSIHL to me of Honorary Staff, Honorary Faculty and Visiting Faculty over my nine year stint, were fair. Later, as I studied UGC norms for such matters, I realized that the right designation for me from UGC norms point of view would be "Visiting Faculty". [In fact, in Prasanthi Nilayam campus, they used to use a term "Regular Visiting Faculty" to describe people like me who were staff doing teaching function (for FREE typically) for the whole academic year, to differentiate us from other Visiting Faculty who would visit the university for a few weeks in a year, typically (for FREE).]
Now, I could have chosen to do Computer Science research and publish academic papers on it, which would have made me PhD equivalent in Computer Science (5 published papers of certain degree of standing is considered equivalent to Ph.D. as per UGC norms, if I recall correctly). As part of my Seva, I used to act as technical consultant for M.Tech. projects and have published two papers as a co-author along with the student and another Visiting Faculty from the USA who was a regular academic Professor. I did that work only to help the student and the department (as it counts towards the department research profile).
If I wanted to publish these 5 papers to meet UGC requirement mentioned above for PhD equivalence, I surely could have done it. Please excuse me about blowing my own bugle, but I have to say that it would not have been a problem for me at all. But I had NOT come to Puttaparthi for an academic career in Computer Science! I had come for a "spiritual career". So I consciously chose not to spend time on doing Computer Science academic research and publishing papers in it (except in the above mentioned two cases to help the students & dept.) My expertise was on software development side - implementation side. I preferred to limit myself to that role which was perfectly OK for my role of teaching software development lab. courses and being technical consultant on software development aspects of M.Tech. (Computer Science) projects.
My main interest in using my spare time after my teaching and technical consultant FREE SERVICE in the Sai university, was in spirituality & religion. I preferred to do a lot of reading in that area instead of doing Computer Science research. I think I have read far more books from the Sai university Prasanthi Nilayam campus library on spirituality & religion, than I have read books from that library on Computer Science or any other subject/field!!!
Very unfortunately, the Sai university did not have, at the time I was associated with it (2003-2012), any dept of religion or comparative religion or even philosophy. If so, I would have really enjoyed interacting with the faculty of such a department.
Readers may also want to read my blog post, Is a PhD in CS/IT Necessarily a Good Teacher?, http://eklavyasai.blogspot.in/2011/09/is-phd-in-csit-necessarily-good-teacher.html, dated Sept. 2011.
Given below is a pic of page 1 of my file copy of the letter I gave to Bhagavan in end 2002/early 2003, requesting for Honorary Seva at Prasanthi Nilayam. Swami graciously accepted the letter during Darshan (I had to use token lines Darshan then as I was not staff) after testing me for some time and making me pray intensely to Him to accept the letter. [Update on 21st Aug. 2016: I now realize that I tried to give this letter to Bhagavan for a few days but it was not accepted. The copy of the letter that Bhagavan accepted is given in later on in this post.] [To see documents in pics below in full resolution, use mouse right-click followed by Open in new tab/window.]
Here's pic of page 2 of the letter:
And here's the format of general letter I used for formal application for Honorary Seva at various PN institutions (including Sai university) then (end 2002):
In response to a comment on associated Facebook post of mine, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1779562312260338, "Relax buddy don't stress Pls", I (Ravi) wrote:
--Name-snipped--, didn't get the stress part bro. I am sharing all this stuff as I feel that it may help other people who are in similar shoes to what I was in 2002 when I was wanting to move from regular life to ashram life. It is more of a chronicling of what happened in my journey rather than a stressed out response.
Here's a small extract from an older blog post of mine that deals with Bhagavan testing me for some days before accepting my letter to him (file copy given in the first and second pic in above pics), Some people felt more connected to Shirdi Sai than Sathya Sai; Impact on followers is a big legacy of a spiritual master, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/07/some-people-felt-more-connected-to.html, dated July 2015.
I should also add that it was my personal experience, in late 2002 or early 2003, when I was not staff and having darshan of Swami along with the general public (in Sai Kulwant Hall, Prasanthi Nilayam/Puttaparthi), that intense prayer to Swami, resulted in Swami taking special notice of me by looking at me for some time and accepting my letter even though I was seated two or three rows behind the front row. Whereas, in the earlier weeks when I was regularly attending Darshan, sometimes with a front row seat and clearly holding my letter in my folded palms for him to see, he would not only avoid taking the letter but either not look at me or just cast a passing glance at me.
My view of this experience was that earlier I was not praying hard or praying intensely to him and so, even if I was seated in the front row, he did not show much interest in me. But when I prayed intensely, Swami's heart melted and he responded to me. It was almost as if Swami was teaching me that if I wanted God to respond to my prayer, the prayer MUST BE intense and from the bottom of one's heart/being, and not casual.
--- end extract from my blog post mentioned earlier ---
Found a stapled set of papers related to my application to SSSIHL in Nov/Dec 2002 and my Seva (FREE SERVICE) being accepted officially in Jan. 2003, with informal designation as Systems Manager and formal designation as Honorary Staff. One important difference in these papers dated on or after 26th Nov. 2002 as compared to what I have provided earlier in this post, dated Oct. 2002, is that I have omitted a request for accommodation if possible. If I recall correctly, there were two reasons for this:
a) I had found a small room (suitable for sadhaka/spiritual aspirant type person) in outside ashram Puttaparthi (on Samadhi Ist Cross road) for something like Rs. 600/- a month (if I recall correctly) and would have been taking South Indian canteen food (Rs. 6/- for a meal then, if I recall correctly). I would have found that all this was affordable with my budget and so I did not need support from the ashram for the same.
b) I was told that the chances of my application for Seva being considered positively was much higher if I did not mention any need for accommodation or other support (e.g. free coupons for food). I would have been very keen to become staff as then I would have the PRICELESS and BIG PRIVILEGE of sitting in the University staff allocated part of Kulwant Hall, and have darshan of Bhagavan from a very close range, every day that Bhagavan was in Puttaparthi and I was in Kulwant Hall when he was giving Darshan (or attending some program in Sai Kulwant Hall)!
Here's the earliest (date wise) paper in that set: Copy of my application to the Vice-chancellor, SSSIHL dated 26th Nov. 2002, given to Prof. G.V. Prabhakar Rao (to be given to appropriate person in SSSIHL)
Copy of my letter to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, dated 27th Nov. 2002, seeking his blessings for the application I had made on 26th Nov. 2002 to AI laboratory, DMACS, SSSIHL.
The last two sentences of the application were, "I will consider myself extremely blessed if You accept my Seva for the AI laboratory, Dept. of Mathematics & Computer Science, SSSIHL. I earnestly pray to You to consider my application, and if You feel that I will be suitable for Seva there, then please grant me this opportunity of serving You."
Bhagavan accepted this letter on my intense prayer to Him to accept this letter, around November end (a few days later perhaps) according to the jotting I have made on the copy of the letter.
Copy of page 1 of application for Seva in the AI lab., DMACS, SSSIHL given to Prof. C.J.M. Rao, then Head of Department (HOD), DMACS, SSSIHL on 25th December 2002. Note that Prof. G.V. Prabahakar Rao was associated with the AI lab which was the software lab. for DMACS. He was the key person in DMACS who interviewed me and assessed my software development capability. Later I came to know that he is a PhD in Mathematics from an IIT (Madras, perhaps) who moved to the field of Computer Science from Mathematics. Prof. C.J.M. Rao, I later learned was also a PhD in Mathematics from an IIT (Madras, perhaps but am not sure) who was focused on Mathematics and did NOT associate much with the software lab. I mean, he was not viewed as having moved to Computer Science field. He was viewed primarily as a Mathematician and not a Computer scientist.
Copy of page 2 of above application.
Copy of letter from Dr. A.V. Lakshminarasimhmam, Registrar of SSSIHL, dated 28th January 2003, to DMACS HOD, Prof. C.J.M. Rao, copy to Principal, Prasanthi Nilayam campus (Prof. U.S. Rao was principal of PN campus then) informing him (HOD) that he (Registrar) was directed to inform him (HOD) that he has been permitted to utilize my services. Quite bureaucratic but that's how SSSIHL Administrative block was (and perhaps still is)! The presumption was that the vice-chancellor was the person who directed the Registrar to pass this information on to the HOD (who then passed a copy of the letter to me) and principal, PN campus. BTW the vice-chancellor then, if I recall correctly, was Shri S.V. Giri (not an academic but a distinguished Indian govt. official from the IAS cadre) who later became a trustee of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. I also clearly recall being told by people in the know then (University staff) that my photo and application were shown by the vice-chancellor Shri S.V. Giri to Bhagavan (chancellor of SSSIHL then) in the interview room. I was told that Bhagavan gave his nod to accept my services in the university.
A handwritten letter by Prof. C.J.M. Rao, HOD, DMACS to me dated 29th Jan. 2003, detailing my role in AI Lab., DMACS. He wrote the designation (informal designation) as Systems Manager. He put down the initials of two staff in DMACS then, RS (Raghunatha Sarma) and BKM (B. Krishnamoorthy) and orally told me that they will assist me. The handwritten letter only has their initials. While my application to DMACS emphasised my software development expertise part, this letter emphasised the management of AI Lab. part (heavy responsibility actually) but also clearly mentioned software lab. courses and M.Tech. projects. ... In a short period of time (some months) after I started doing this role, it became clear to me that Systems Manager was a very heavy responsibility role with accountability for Assets in the AI Lab and maintenance of Asset Register and Consumable Stocks register. Such accountability surely could not be given to somebody who was not a regular employee. I mean, the vice-chancellor and other top administrative authorities would want an accountable person whom they could hold responsible for the assets of the AI lab, and not a volunteer service person like me. ... Further, in June 2003, if I recall correctly, Dr. K.S. Sridharan took over as HOD from Prof. C.J.M. Rao. I don't think Dr. Sridharan was even passed on any copy of this informal role note given to me by Prof. C.J.M. Rao. Now Dr. Sridharan had done his PhD in Electrical engineering from Anna university if I recall correctly. He had moved to the Computer Science field from the Electrical engineering field. ... Over time, Sri Raghunatha Sarma (later he got his PhD and so is now Dr. Raghunatha Sarma) ended up handling the key responsibility for the assets in the AI lab (I think he was doing that work prior to me joining AI lab). I was helping him in this task and we got along pretty well. I did not sign a single document related to Asset management in the AI lab. However, I did help Sri Raghunatha Sarma to prepare such documents, which probably got signed only by the HOD, Dr. Sridharan. I also handled some part of Systems Administration of AI lab. role jointly with other younger staff of the department as well as senior students (M.Sc. and M.Tech. students). Of course, I taught Software lab. courses and provided guidance to project work of M.Tech. (CS) students and also computer software project work of M.Sc. (Mathematics) students. ... From Jan. 2008 onwards (till March 2012 when I terminated my association with SSSIHL) I stopped doing the Systems Management role, and provided ONLY FREE SERVICE of teaching of software lab. courses and guiding project work of M.Sc. and M.Tech. students.
Copy of my letter to Principal, Prasanthi Nilayam campus (Prof. U.S. Rao) on 29th January 2003, stating, "This is to inform you that I am joining the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science as an honorary staff with effect from 29th January 2003." It also has references to two letters one of which is given above (copy of Registrar letter). I don't think I was given a copy of the other letter referred here (Letter of Prof. CJM Rao to Registrar). I don't recall the entire situation then but I think I was told by Prof. CJM Rao to write this letter and was told what the contents should be. Prof. CJM Rao would have specifically mentioned the term, "honorary staff" as that would be the formal designation that he would have wanted to be given to me by the appropriate authority, which would be the principal, PN campus, Prof. U.S. Rao. [Please note that the formal designation recommended was NOT Teaching Assistant!!!! An informal Systems Manager designation cannot be mapped to a formal Teaching Assistant designation!!!]
The pic below is the I-Card that was issued to me in Jan/Feb 2003, if I recall correctly, by Principal, PN campus, SSSIHL, Prof. U.S. Rao (my photo part of I-card is cut out from the pic as I prefer to not show my photo publicly). Note that the designation is Honorary Staff and NOT Teaching Assistant or Lab. Assistant as some Muddenahalli group promoters who are attacking me allege. [Or as Teacher-Drohis (those who do harm to teachers) former HOD DMACS, SSSIHL, V. Chandrasekran and former and current Registrar, SSSIHL, Naren Ramji alleged (Teaching Assistant).]