Seventy-four university degrees at the age of 50 seems an unattainable task. Dr Patnala Sudhakar not only has these many degrees under his belt, he is also looking at making it a 100 before he hangs up his boots.
The degrees are in disciplines including constitutional law, media, psychology, human rights, social work, music and theatre. Add to that a good measure of motivational public speaking and civil service work and we have in Sudhakar a veritable knowledge bank.
A maverick with a penchant for exams, a numbers man with an eye on the Guinness book of records, an inspired soul who wants to demonstrate how the limits of human endeavour can be stretched — Sudhakar is all this and more. What makes him more of a phenomenon is that he accomplished all this the hard way.
Born to illiterate Dalit parents who worked as landless farm labourers in Andhra Pradesh and unable to afford a formal education, Sudhakar washed utensils at a roadside eatery and worked as a construction labourer to finance his education through distance learning programmes. “My mother Kanthamma inspired me to believe the most impossible of dreams can be actualised,” he says.
He passed on this motivation to two sisters and a brother, and financed their education. All of them are now Masters and doctorate degree holders in more than one discipline.
Along the way, he delved into the life and philosophy of Babasaheb Ambedkar, immersed himself in Telegu Dalit literature and imbibed strength from motivational writers like Dale Carnedgie, Norman Vincent Peale and Napolean Hill.
Sudhakar sat for the Indian Information Service exam, worked for AIR and the Press Information Bureau, and also as the Defence Ministry’s PRO. He authored 10 books (there are 10 more in the pipeline), delivered innumerable lectures and engaged in social work. He heads the voluntary organisation Bharat Manav Sewa Samaj, which works for the rehabilitation of widows and the economically weaker sections.
Recently, the University of Italy honoured him with a doctorate.
Today, the boy from Andhra’s ‘Dalit Basti’ stands shoulder-to-shoulder with top-notch intellectuals and professionals. But he says he has miles to go yet. “My task has just begun. I need to educate and empower my Dalit brethren and touch their lives to the extent I might be capable of.” As for himself, he aspires to be elevated to a constitutional post some day.