by Florine Roche
TN, Feb 18: Old, simple, frail, emaciated, bearded, clad in a simple white dhoti and shirt - Paalam Kalyanasundaram can be easily mistaken for another old lower middle class next door neighbor who might need some help during his old age. Looks can be deceptive and that is Palam Kalyanasundaram for you, an epitome of humanity, charity, selfless service and a man who dedicated his life in the service of the society especially to provide education to the needy children, expecting nothing in return.
A simple man with meager needs who worked as a librarian for a living and then donated every rupee he earned for charity rightly deserves to be called the richest man on earth despite not possessing any material wealth. The unconditional love and respects he commands due to his charitable works makes him ‘rich’ in the hearts of all those who have been benefitted by his largesse. Paalam (means bridge) the NGO he runs has been like a bridge to that cares for the needy children and those who need genuine help and care. In fact some people had even recommended his name for this year’s Bharat Ratna Award considering his altruistic service to humanity.
Kalyanasundaram gave in charity his entire life’s earning which was almost Rs. 30 crore that included the salary he earned, award money and retirement benefits in the last 5 decades , for philanthropy and that is what sets him apart from others who are into the similar field. Not that he was rich or had a thriving business or that he gave away after spending for his needs. Kalyanasundaram who worked as a librarian in Kumarakurupara Arts Colletge in Tuticorin District of Tamilnadu followed this motto to give and give even as he dedicated his life in the service of humanity. Even his frail age of 79 does not deter him from working for the cause of those who he feels is in need of his services. Above all this service to mankind makes him the happiest man.
There is more to this man than what is being told so far. People may wonder how he met his personal needs if he donated his entire salary to the needy. To meet his simple needs this man worked as a server in a hotel after his normal office hours. He underwent a punishing schedule day after day to earn that extra money. After college he worked as an honorary professor teaching students Gandhian studies and then from 8 to 11 pm he worked as a waiter. The hotel owner who knew his background wanted him to work as a cashier but Kalyanasundaram refused because he wanted to emulate his mother who worked as a waiter when she was young. To keep his needs basic, simple and to carry out his service to humanity Kalyanasundaram chose to remain a bachelor.
After his retirement he devoted his full time for charity work and lives on his pension even as he continues to help poor children’s educational needs and reaching out to all those who are in need of help. Taking into account the inimitable achievements of Kalyanasundaram the United Nations named him as the ‘most extraordinary individuals of the 20th century’. An American organization conferred “The man of the Millennium Award” on him in recognition of his social service with purse of Rs. 30 crores which he promptly donated for charity. Kalyanasundaram credits his illiterate mother for imbibing in him the early seeds of the joy of sharing and caring.
Kalyanasundaram was born and brought up in Melakaruvelangaum in Tamil Nadu. Though his father was a rich landlord he had a tough childhood having lost his father when he was one year old. It was his illiterate mother who imbibed in him the early seeds of dedicating his life in the service of society. A gold medalist in Library Science he completed his Masters degree in Literature and History from Madras University and then began working as a librarian in a college.
As a teenager Kalyanasundaram even contemplated suicide as he was ridiculed by his classmates for his feminine and shrill voice when voice of all his friends cracked. A greatly disturbed Kalyanasundaram who was 16 then went to the editor of a Tamil writer whom he held in high esteem and poured out his feelings saying he was fed up with his squeaky and high pitched voice. The writer who understood the agony of the young boy counseled him saying “it does not matter how Kalyanasundaram speaks. What matters is what the society speaks about Kalyanasundaram. Live such a life that would make people talk about you”. With those encouraging words proved to be the turning point of his life making him what he is today.
There was another turning point in his life when he had a chance meeting with Chief Minister K Kamaraj which in turn brought him in contact with a Tamil magazine Editor Balasubramanian. It was Balasubramanian who challenged him to donate his own earnings for the cause of the poor and come back after 5 years. He took up the challenge and continued to donate his salary without telling others about it. Even after doing this for 5 years he did not go back to Balasubramanian as he did not want any publicity and wanted to go ahead with what he was doing all these 5 years.
It was in 1990 when Kalyanasundaram handed over the salary arrears of Rs 1.11 lakh he had received to the Tuticorin District Collector and asked him to use it to the Orphans - the charitable work of Kalyanasundaram became a big news. The district collector sent the news to the media and felicitated him so as to serve as an inspiration to others. That is how the world came to know about the selfless service of this great man.
After his retirement in 1998 Kalyanasundaram set up a NGO which he named it as “Paalam” meaning bridge and donated all his retirement benefits and his share of family property for social cause. Thorugh Paalam he expanded his services to reach out to a wider section of the society. Paalam serves as a bridge between donors and beneficiaries as it collects money and materials from donors and distributes the same among the needy.
As the unsung hero Kalyanasundaram certainly deserves our appreciation. It is impossible even to think that Even though emulating him would be next to impossible doing whatever little that we can is the best way to say thank you this simple living and high thinking modern day hero.