Brief Observations on President Kalam's
Convocation Day Speech
By: Brian Steel
Copyright © Brian Steel 2002
On Convocation Day (22 November), SB, as Chancellor of his deemed University (which is funded by contributions by his devotees and SSO funds), welcomed the President of India, Dr Kalam, who gave a speech to the staff and students. In this address, the distinguished guest politely praised the Institute of Higher Learning, its emphasis on human values, and the "divine environment" created by SB for his charitable works.
President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
The President also spoke at greater length about his own vision and his quest for a fully developed India, to which he expected the University's graduates to contribute. He gave a detailed description of his own contribution, as a leading nuclear scientist, to the design and development of "certain missile systems" from 1982 to 1992 and his sense of national achievement when the 1998 nuclear tests took place. As well as highlighting India's need for greater economic and political power and the need for progress in education, health, and technology, Kalam offered his view that India also needs to aim at 70% self-reliance in defense capability within a decade.
President Kalam, a Muslim, made no specific references in his speech to the alleged Avatarhood of SB. Instead, he referred to SB 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.) Kalam also referred to other Indian spiritual personalities, including the Abbot of Tawang Monastery and his (equally) "divine message": "when you remove "I" and "ME" from your mind, you will eliminate ego".
In fact, the speech by the illustrious politician and scientist contained a thoughtful and generous sprinkling of uses of this positive but also fuzzy and 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 labeled "divine". Therefore, it would not be justified to assume automatically (as most devotees probably will) that the President's liberal use of this word in connection with SB and his environment indicates his recognition of SB's Avatarhood.
It is not surprising that the conveniently wide semantic range of this word (of which most devotees seem blissfully unaware) makes it particularly attractive to the SSO and its branches in many countries in their current publicity references to SB. For them, the word 'divine' is especially useful, in today's spiritually sophisticated and competitive world, to continue to suggest SB's 'Divinity' to devotees while replacing (especially for non-Hindu audiences) previous more specific and confident assertions of SB's exclusively "Divine" nature and "Divine powers". Therefore, "divine message", "divine environment", and "divine mission" (as used by the President) and all uses of 'divine' with reference to SB will, increasingly, be meant and interpreted in very different ways: by SB, the SSO, and unconditional devotees of the alleged Avatar, on the one hand, and, on the other, by President Kalam and most other people.
(To view the President's Speech, see http://sathya-sai0.tripod.com/Birthday/kalam.htm)
1. There are two large official SB websites which report (like the official SSO magazines and books), in their translated and edited form, most Discourses by SB (including the muddled ones). As far as I can see, neither of these websites has yet considered the President of India's sophisticated and interesting (but not obsequious) speech sufficiently important to print a full copy for devotees to read. Instead, as a perfect proof of the point I made above, in the few lines of an inadequate report of the President's speech, one of the official websites proudly and predictably quotes the "divine personality " phrase used by Dr Kalam - but not the rest of his description (quoted above)!
If official SB websites fail to report adequately on this important event of 22 November by not allowing their readers the opportunity to read for themselves Dr Kalam's eloquent and respectful words, intelligent readers' and observers' concerns about the content of these official websites will only increase. Such concerns will be further increased by the reproduction on that same official website within a day or so of publication of a surprisingly bland and outdated introduction to SB in the prestigious New York Times (1 December 2002), which will attract many dissenting views from American and other readers.
[I will amend this observation if I become aware that the FULL text of Dr Kalam's speech is printed on one of the two official websites.]
2. See also "The University Chancellor and His Schoolboy Stories", forthcoming on my website: http://bdsteel.tripod.com.