Monday, January 7, 2008

KUMAR - A Man of All Levels


On the very first day of my short stay in Alampoondi, Kumar started to talk with me by telling one of his principles for living. The principle that he revealed was quite natural, normal, usual and more than that very easy to follow according to him. The principle was;

“Accept and don’t adjust.
Because adjusting is painful
And accepting is blissful”.

He had a small example to explain his principle. Quite simple. He told me to suppose that I am traveling in a bus. A fat person sits besides me. It is a seat for two persons and he occupies more of its space and I have only a little space to sit. Then I start feeling uncomfortable. I may even get angry on that person, but I may not express it. I will try to adjust with him and the whole journey will become a miserable one. Now Kumar enters with his principle, instead of adjusting with that fat person he advises to accept the presence of that man. That is, just think that the stranger as your father or as your uncle. That’s it. There ends the misery. In this stage we will be happy / comfort with the small space that we have because it is our father/uncle sitting besides us. I have a practical example to elaborate the principle, from Kumar’s life itself. In one of the day of my stay there, I happened to go with him to the market place of that village. It was an evening when we were about to reach there, some quarrel was going on in front of a tea shop. Out of public interest he went to that place to see what is happening and I followed him. Two persons were trying to attack each other and others were trying to make them apart. In those two I recognized one, a Rajendran, who is working in GRRC. The other one was the tea shop owner (Palani is his name that I came to know later).

As he saw his staff quarreling in a public place, Kumar lost his temper and shouted at Rajendran and ordered him to go to his home. Rajendran obeyed Kumar, took the cycle and went away (He is physically disabled and has one artificial leg). We followed Rajendran to make it sure that he is going to the house and not coming back to quarrel again. After making it sure that Rajendran is on the way to his house, we returned back to the quarrel place. Kumar started enquiring about the incident. A worker of that tea shop started telling about the whole story. Palani, the tea shop owner was beating his wife, as he was drunk. Rajendran interfered to stop Palani from beating his wife unnecessarily. Then Palani got angry on Rajendran and pushed him out of the tea stall. As Rajendran has one artificial leg he could not resist Palani pushing and thus fell down. His artificial leg turned somehow into a wrong direction with others’ help he managed to correct that and to stand up. There started the real quarrel. While hearing about Rajendran’s falling down and discomfort, I saw Kumar getting emotional.

Now his anger turned towards Palani. He went there in front of the tea shop. Palani was sitting there. Kumar started shouting at him with a great anger and told him that if he commits these types of blunders again then he can’t be given assurance of what will happen as a consequence. When Kumar was shouting, almost all the people over there were looking at him with a great surprise.

The reason for their surprise, I came to know on the very next day. Next day morning, as usual we were on our morning walk. A new person, who was introduced to me as a physical trainer in a school, joined with us. He asked Kumar about that last evening’s problem and he continued that some of his friends told him that it was the first time they happened to see Kumar in such an anger and also shouting in such manner.

It was a new morning and Kumar was in a fresh mood. He had already come out from that incident. He just explained what are the things happened as a third person. Then we talked many other things. When we were about to reach the end of our walk (the same market place), Kumar wanted to drink tea. (Having a tea is regular after the morning walk). As usual I was walking towards our regular tea shop and then Kumar stopped us. Instead of going to the regular shop he entered into Palani’s shop, whom he scolded last evening, and ordered for three teas. We drank tea there, Kumar paid the money to Palani and said to him “Ok, Palani! See you again”.

I was very much surprised by his act, he shouted at him last evening and next morning having tea from that same man’s shop, telling him a blissful bye as nothing has happened. So strange. I looked at Kumar with a great question in my eyes, he understood that and started telling me “of course, I shouted at him last night because he was wrong, but today it is a new day and he is a new person. My anger was over when I shouted at him. I don’t want to prolong it and to treat him as an enemy. If we do keep all our hatred and enmity without forgetting them, then we can not build up our relationships and also we can not continue the relationships”.

The story never ends here, the very next day, we were on our bike going somewhere and one woman stopped us. It was Palani’s wife; she was standing in front of her house. She started apologizing to Kumar for her husband’s misbehaviour and told him not to keep anything in his mind. Infact Kumar had already forgotten. He consoled her not to worry about that and enquired about Palani. Palani was in the house as he was sick. When Kumar came to know that he is sick; he stopped the vehicle and went inside the house to see Palani. He asked Palani about his health and advised him to go to a doctor. Then he somehow came to know that Palani was not having enough money to go to hospital. Thus he gave some money to his wife (by knowing it very well that he will not get it back) for getting medicines.

In this juncture Palani lost his control over tears and apologized to Kumar “Anna! (brother), I did really a wrong thing and am very sorry for that”. I saw tears also in Kumar’s eyes at that time.

By wiping his eyes Kumar came out of the house and uttered a few words in a great despair “I should have not shouted at him. When he called me ‘Anna’ I felt ashame for having shouted at him”.

An impossible transformation

I have a small thought to share; some words that I happened to write, consciously or unconsciously or subconsciously that I am not very sure. Let me rewrite those words as such.

‘Though they do different things or things differently; a stranger can not realize their distinctness just by looking at their mode of function. Because they are all normal people and they do things for doing’s sake and it is the leader who tries to make it different or we can say that who brings the difference. The vision of differentiation may have not been spread among the workers. There comes an another question, whether it is necessary to spread the visions (for example the concept of fair trade) to the workers who are seem to be incapable of understanding or realizing the visions of the leader’.

This particular thought came to my mind when I was observing the workers of GRRC.

Let us here take an example about the concept of fair trade. GRRC is engaged in fair trade for so many years. There need no questions about Kumar’s understanding of the fair trade concept.

He wants all GRRC workers to understand the concept. He tried several times in several meetings to share the concept with other workers. He has a very strong feel that the people who produce must know how their products are being evaluated and have been priced. Inspite of all his efforts, the workers are not very much aware of the fair trade concept.

Here I wish to share another incident. There were three French girls, doing their Masters degree in France, staying in GRRC when I was staying there. They wanted to study the functioning of GRRC on the basis of fair trade concept. Once they wanted to interview some of the workers and also to visit their houses. In a morning five of us went to a nearby village for this purpose. Kumar was translating for the girls. All the workers (that we met) were asked about the concept of fair trade. Almost all of them were unaware of the concept. Kumar could easily accept this and translated their answers to those girls as such without any manipulation. He feels that the workers are unaware because of their incapability in perceiving things but still he tries to make them understand in all the ways that are possible. I would like to share some of my direct experience in this phenomenon.

Once Kumar decided to distribute a particular percentage of export sales among the workers, especially among the weavers who produce. Here we need to know one thing that the workers of GRRC are availed with so many benefits/ incentives apart from their regular wages. Then this new benefit was an additional income for them. The organization need not distribute this income among workers and could keep it for further investments on organisation’s development. But Kumar wanted the workers to get maximum benefit. Thus he charted out a plan, to distribute the income. It was in a manner that there would be three groups classified according to their service in GRRC. Each group will get the income distributed on a certain ratio. It had been worked out and the income was distributed. All the other workers (i.e. Weavers) went back to their work by getting their share-except one.

In that afternoon, when I was in discussion with Kumar, that old woman (who stayed back) entered into the office. She has been working for GRRC for a quite long time and she is the senior most weaver there. The problem that she raised was quite idiotic. She was dissatisfied as because she was classified under a group which included weavers who are quite juniors to her. As a senior most she wanted her to be classified as a separate category and to be given with a higher share, (atleast 50 Rupees more). Kumar did not loose his patience and explained her calmly about the management part of it. She was very much reluctant to understand and to accept. She went on telling her dissatisfaction. Kumar tried a lot to make her understand, but she was not ready to perceive. Then he shouted at her to go to work, she left the place by cursing Kumar.
When she left he looked at me and could only give me a smile which I had returned to him.

On another instance, I saw him trying hard to find a solution on an important issue. He called some of his staffs and discussed with them. Nobody was ready to find a solution for that and all of them wanted the management, which means Kumar, to take the decision. They were also making it sure that any wrong decision would be criticized by them. They wanted to be in a safer side and to leave the management alone with its own practical difficulties.

I could end up this with another incident. There is a mentally disturbed woman (called Esamma) working in GRRC. She is doing a few little things here and there in the campus of GRRC. She has nobody except her mother, who is also mentally ill, with her. The little money that she got as a share from her ancestral property was her only asset. As she could not manage that money Kumar has taken over the responsibility and made an arrangement to lend the same to others. The interest money he gets out of this lending is used to pay the hotel owner who provides food to Esamma in the mornings. Afternoon she eats in GRRC which provides a free lunch to all the workers and she is also allowed to carry some food with her for the night. Apart from all these things she gets a salary from GRRC.

One day I happened to see her talking with some stranger in the street. She was telling to that woman, who seemed to be not interested in Esammas words, “I am working hard in GRRC and it provides nothing to me, I am totally dissatisfied with my work there”.

I know that we could easily rule out the words of Esamma by considering her mental illness.

But other workers and their attitudes towards their organization, management, etc., need to be transformed.

For me it is an impossible transformation, but Kumar still trying for that. Hope and wish that he can and he will.

Sharing is Life

It is an ultimate fact that the whole life is in sharing. Our Kumar is also a great believer of this fact. He could share many things with many people. We are not going to get into this idea more deeply. But I would like to note down a particular feature that attracted me while I was in his house. That is the number of people who eat in his house in a day and the amount of food cooked in that house. The food cooked there was not only for the house members. I am very sure about that and I am still unknown about the persons who were all eating from that house. I happened to see several other persons having food from there on several occasions. Thus we could say one thing that who ever goes to Kumar’s house at anytime will surely get food.

He doesn’t think that he is very generous by providing food to others. He sees it as a duty. He himself told me two incidents which affected him and thus made him to take a decision that he would be sharing his food with whoever is possible.

Both the incidents were the occasions in which he ran away from his house. First time it was to Chennai. Chennai is somehow near to his village and it was attracting him with its Cinema and with its imaginary / illusionary picture as an opportunity provider for all and everything. The reality was entirely different. He could manage only 6.25 Rupees from his house as it was the bus fare to reach Chennai from his village. He was not having even single paise with him. In cities no money means no food. He did not get food for 5 days and could only drink water from public taps and struggled hard for the survival. One day he got fainted and fell down on a street. At that time some persons from a nomad group sprinkled water on his face and gave some drink to him. Thank God that they were nomads and thus they could save their humanity. Our present civilization (urbanization) reveals that man becomes a machine if he settles down in a place.

On the 5th day he happened to meet an unknown person who had taken him to a Pentecost Public Prayer meeting where they were providing food. Then he somehow managed to get another 6.25 Rupees to come back to his village. He still remembers the name of a village, Manimangalam, and has a great wish to visit that village at least once in his life. That is the village of that old man who took him to the place where they provided food.

Another incident happened when he was quite a young boy in his teens. This time it was to Bangalore with 20 Rupees. He went there with an expectation to stay with one person who was also from Alampoondi. This time he was a bit equipped. He had the office address and phone number of that person. When he reached Bangalore he tried to find his fellow villager in the office address given to him. He came to know that his fellow villager was on leave on that day. As it was a Saturday it became impossible to meet him before Monday. Kumar was in a great disappointment and fell into a great sorrow. Then a Tamilian living in Bangalore happened to take Kumar to his house and provided space and food for 2 days until he found his villager there.

He still remembers both these incidents and asks himself why those people helped him and provided food to him. He feel indebted to them and as an act of thanking them he never says no to anybody who asks for food.

Before ending up this I need to include one more incident in this part. As I told you in the first incident, he managed 6.25 to come back to his village. He happened to change a few buses to reach his village. In between this journey, he helped a stranger by giving 10 paise to him as he was not having enough money to get the bus ticket.

Then he himself had a shortage of 10 paise to continue the journey from next bus station. Thus, he simply walked for 4 kilometers from bus station to the next bus stop, to fill up the shortage, and got a bus from that next stop to his village.

A real coming back…

Learn from reality

He has a strange approach to make others understand about certain values. Once he happened to narrate an experiment that he has done with his staffs.

One day he called all his staffs to have a meeting and in that he told all of his staffs to take out the money that they have and hand over it to him. When all did that he told them to go into the village and earn some how 2 rupees and they would be given 3 hours for that. He told them certain conditions in earning that 2 Rupees. Such as, they should not get it from neighbours, relatives etc., and they need to really work to earn that money. And also the work they do need to be worth paying 2 Rupees (this happened so many years ago).

Most of the staffs came back to him with empty hands as the conditions had become a barrier. They admitted that they could not earn 2 Rupees within three hours.

A staff, who is now the accountant of GRRC, came with two Rupees. When he was asked how he managed to earn that, he explained that he went to catholic sisters and did some small works and got that two rupees. He himself is a catholic and it was easy to him to manage two rupees from those sisters. The religious factor had its influence here. Kumar naturally rejected him. Another staff came with one Rupee, he happened to work with potters who could pay him only one rupee as they themselves have very little income for their work. Instead to his working hard he got only a single Rupee. He was advised to evaluate the capacity of the work in remunerating the worker. The lesson was one need to evaluate the work which could remunerate optimally. Another boy came with 9 Rupees and told Kumar that he worked with somebody who were cleaning the groundnuts and got some money as wages and a little quantity of groundnuts in kind. He managed to sell those groundnuts in the market and thus earned a total amount of 9 rupees. He was accepted by Kumar.

Then Kumar started telling to his staffs, how important their work is and how lucky they are to have a job which is optimally remunerative in a place where they could not find a single job to earn mere 2 rupees. Thus he made his staffs realize about the importance of the organization and the work they are doing and also the need for sincerity and seriousness to be there in their work.

He believes that people learn more from the reality than from the books.

Night Schools - Adult Literacy

He had been running so many night schools in nearby villages in his initial stage of social work. He faced several difficulties in that period. Men folk of villages were against him as he taught women literacy. Some of them even tried to attack him, some set fire to the roof of his centre. But he was very firm in his mission.

He remembers that it was the experience he got in those periods, in the mission of adult literacy helped him to learn more on how to relate with people. In one instance, some people gathered together in a village to attack him when he enters their village. He came to know this from a person of that village, who also advised him not to go to the village. But in spite of his warning Kumar went there, he could see those men who had gathered there to attack him. He directly went to the leader of that group and started telling, “ Anna I am very hungry and I want to eat in your house today. Then only I can have my classes, what’s the menu for tonight’s dinner!?” The leader could not even react and could do only serve some food to Kumar and allow him to continue with the classes. Now he tells that we don’t have to be afraid of human beings. They are our own people and he could prove it.

The trick he had executed with those villagers has his whole philosophy of how to relate with others. He has another small story behind this approach. He tells that he has learnt this from 2 small boys. He narrates it as follows. Once he happened to see a boy doing something wrong and thus tried to advise him not to do that again. The boy responded negatively and did the same again in front of him. By seeing that Kumar got angry and beat him. The boy managed to come out of his hold and ran a little bit before turning towards Kumar again. When the boy turned he shouted at Kumar by using some bad words and then ran away.

Kumar really wanted to change the wrong attitude of the boy and could not do it as he feels the approach was wrong. Next time when a similar thing happened with an another boy, instead of scolding and beating Kumar tried to make him understand by speaking with him in his language and by going down to his level. This time the approach had love in it, a non violent strategy. That boy accepted his wrongness and still salutes at Kumar whenever he sees him. Thus he feels that if we have real compassion towards others and earnestly wants to make them understand then we need to use the force of love and not the force of power.

This was his strategy for adult literacy. A participatory approach. Teaching and learning should be reciprocal. We need to communicate by speaking in their language and by using the force of love.

One might get surprise by seeing Kumar responds to all the people salutes at him, as a form of wishing. He remembers that this type of wishing, by saluting, was introduced by him among the students of his night schools. When other people saw them wishing at Kumar by saluting, they also started doing the same. Now several people do that as it has become a habit, something like a ritual. If we try to count the number of people wishing at him in a day then it would even go more than 300. The notable feature in this is he responds to all those 300 people. He is a man for all people and a man of all levels.

So, if you happen to see him some were, you need to do nothing but just give a salute of wishing to him.

Sense of equality – A Man of all levels

Once he shared his views on simplicity with me. He has his own understanding on that. He does not feel that having no property, use minimum, simple dress / food, live in small houses, etc., bring simplicity to oneself. Instead of that he tells simplicity means the ability of one person to treat all the people as equals. Thus according to him a simple man is a man of all levels.

I wish to trace out a small incident that I happened to observe. One day, when we two were about to start from the office to go to the home for lunch, the mason (construction of a new building was going on in GRRC when I was there) came to Kumar and told him that he needs some chalks to mark on the iron rods. Though Kumar accepted to bring, somehow he forgot to buy and returned to the office with no chalk. When he saw the mason near the entrance he remembered about the chalk and stopped the vehicle near to him and told “Sorry, I forgot the chalks, and now I will go and get them”. But there was another person waiting for him. One Madam Dublique, A French lady living in Pondicherry. She had come there to buy some textile materials that GRRC produces. A big deal than the chalks. He talked for a little while to that lady and made one of his staffs responsible to show her the materials and to deal with her. I was surprised why he is in a hurry, as he does not need to go any were in that afternoon. He himself could deal with that lady as it seemed to be an important deal. He managed to relieve himself from that and came near to me and told “If you wish you can come with me. I am going to buy some chalks from any nearby shop”. I accompanied him. We went and got the chalks. He handed over it to the mason and told one more ‘sorry’ for being late. Then what! Madam Dublique was still there; he just went and engaged him again in that important deal. Of course, he had no hurry to go and buy a chalk anymore.

Here we can tell that, he is simple according to his own definition.

You get and thus give back

Once he narrated an interesting incident happened in his house garden. There is one Badam tree in his garden with lots of big leaves. One day he observed a tailor bird doing something with the leaves of that tree, which he could not understand initially. It continued on the next day also and he started understanding that it was preparing a nest for it. Finally it could manage to have a beautiful nest by stitching some leaves together. The small bird lived there, laid eggs in that nest, when small ones came out it nurtured them and it was happy there. At one stage when all the small ones were able to fly they left the nest and the mother bird also did the same. Next day after their leaving, Kumar was as usual looking at the tree. He could not see not only the birds but also the nest. There were no birds and no nest. Yes, before leaving the mother bird took out its stitches and left the leaves as they were before. He realised this by seeing some small holes in a few leaves on a particular part of that tree where the nest was situated. It used and also remembered to restore those leaves. He still has the surprise created by that small bird. He admires the great brain inside that small head.

Then he continued that we human beings get all the things from this nature and don’t think to contribute back something in any possible means. We believe that we are the composition of five elements of nature and we use all these five elements for our survival and thus it is our responsibility to safeguard it and also to restore.

On another occasion he shared another experience that he got in Kerala. He was taking bath in a river there; with all its natural beauty. He saw an old man taking bath near to him and started chatting with him. At one stage he asked that old man, “Why you Keralites always go for strikes against big industries and raise flags against all and everything?”

The old man replied very calmly “If we do not do that, then you people would have not come here to enjoy the natural beauty and especially you could have not taken bath in this river as you are enjoying now”. There he had a nice lesson that if necessary we need to assert to protect our environment. I could realize the words of that old man that any body could do. As I have been brought up in a town which is famous for its garment factories and dyeing units I had a chance to see an evolution of a river to a perennial drainage as the cost we happened to pay for our development .

While talking about rivers, we remember the problem that we are going to face in the future on the issue of water scarcity. Once Kumar was telling to me that we had perennial rivers, lakes, ponds, wells, then came public water taps…. and now we are getting water in bottles and packets. He was very much upset as he fears about our unsurety on what we are going to leave for the next generation.

In one of the centres of GRRC, I happened to see a small card with some good words. It reads like this,

“We don’t inherit the earth from our fathers, were borrow it from our children”.

Let us hope that Kumar’s Badam tree will have more tailor birds to spread this message over humanity.

“You get and thus give back”.

Conflict Resolution

I am stating here the situations where arise some conflicts between two or more. According to Kumar if there is a conflict between two, then, both of them are responsible for that conflict. There can not be one fully on the right side and the other is fully wrong. He opines that both of them would be wrong in some points and also right in some means. Thus the right side of them needs to be justified and the wrong part need to be punished. Thus both deserve punishment and that punishment needs to be constructive so that the right part can be explored. Conflicts need to be resolved in a way that enmity will not be there in their minds afterwards and if possible make them friends. He states some examples for that, once he saw two ladies quarrelling with each other for something and they wanted the local leaders to solve their problem. There enters Kumar with his simple solution. In Tamilnadu, we have a tradition of sprinkling the water mixed with cow dung over the front yards in the mornings. Kumar advised the local leaders to punish them in a way that both would sprinkle water in front of other’s house for the next ten lays. He feels that this particular act will bring a bond of friendship between them and there would be no question of conflict.

As an another example he says, if two persons are fighting with each other on any piece of land, then we can tell them to grow some coconut trees together in that particular piece of land. He says then there will be no conflict on land and then will be getting benefits out of coconut trees. Life seems to be very simple to him.

Once he was telling about a punishment that he had given to two boys who were quarrelling with each other in GRRC. He told them to put their hands on each other’s shoulder and ordered them to go around the looms for 10 times. In first round both of them did not talk with each other and were very serious. But when the rounds continued they started talking some interesting things happened in their homes, school, etc. and laughing together. When they finished 10 rounds they had become very good friends.

That is his view on conflict resolution. Even the punishments should be constructive.

Existence of the child-inside

I admired one thing in Kumar’s nature that he still keeps his child-inside alive. He is very emotional and sensitive too.

Once he was telling to me that, one Kumar is not enough to live this life. He needs at least 5000 Kumar’s. He admires how much liveliness is there in life! Then he adds that he himself feels that he is not a single person and has so many Kumar’s inside him. Still he wants more …

Another time he explained some of his doubts that he gets frequently and never shared with any body as they seemed to be childish. One is, what will be there if there is no light and no darkness? Another doubt is, how the world would be if there would have been no Kumar?

He remembers that in his childhood he had a dream to have a garden where all the fruits would be available. Now he realizes that it is not possible. But still he tells that he used to have such wishes and preserves it with himself without sharing. I feel personally it is good to preserve our child and childish wishes within ourselves. If the world comes to know about it, it would do nothing but simply kills our child-inside. Children are the dangerous links for the society. In another occasion he happened to tell me that he used to get smile when he sees himself with a detachment and at the same time he become very sad and even gets tear if he thinks of a life without any attachment.

When I write about tears I remember another characteristic of Kumar, that, he is very much emotional. He gets tears easily. I wish to write about two occasions of Kumar’s tears. Once I went with him to his family deity’s God. There they killed one goat as sacrifice. He was a very strong man even a moment before the priest’s knife fell on the goat’s neck. The moment when the head was separated from the body of the goat, tears appeared in Kumar’s eyes. For your kind information, that, he is a non-vegetarian.

In another occasion he was telling me about his Kerala experiences (His wife is a Keralite). Its natural beauty, festivals, onam …. When it came to onam we remembered Mahabali, the Asura King who was ruling Kerala and believed to be drowned by Vishnu into the hell. But before he was being done so, he requested to the lord to bless him with a boon. It was a very beautiful thing that he asked for. He wanted to visit his people at least once in a year to see that all of them are doing well. When Kumar was explaining about this particular request of Mahabali, he just lost his control over tears and words. Both the tears and words started speaking to me together.

He concluded by saying that Mahabali was the real ruler and that was the love we need to have towards our people. In Kerala we used to have some persons making them up as Mahabali and visiting all the houses in their place as a sign that the real Mahabali visiting them. I started imagining Kumar - with a big moustache, silk dress, a lot of ornaments and so on - as Mahabali. Of course it suits him very well.

He had a dream in his younger ages that is to stay in all the states of India at least for two months as one month in villages and one month in cities. Then it was the money problem hindered him and now he feels himself responsible to the family and the child-inside still keeping that dream.

When we saw the child-inside Kumar, we get only one message that each and every child of this world shares with us. Life should have no limits, and try to fly with your own wings. Our wings are infinite.


In his view modern management doesn’t consider about moral values. It is more mechanical and time addict. He also calculates, but he envisages a different way in taking important decision and in managing events. He tells that there will be different solutions for a single problem. Thus treat the same problem in different ways and find out all possible solutions. While you want to select an appropriate one among all those solutions he tells to select the more human one.

He once narrated an incident happened years before. The story reads like this. There was one Marianathan, got trained in making appliances for handicapped people. He himself is physically disabled. GRRC works with physically disabled people for their upliftment. Thus it decided to help Marianathan. Other members in the organisation made a proposal to start a separate unit in GRRC to produce special appliances and making it as such; the unit earns its income through selling the produce and Marianathan can be employed there. Kumar thought in a different way, that, another business unit needs financial investments to start and also needs regular investments for its maintenance. It was also not sure that it would earn enough money and with that Marianathan could be paid etc..,

Thus he advised the board members to assist Marianathan financially to start his own business separately and even the organisation lacks fund in the future periods his business will help him to survive. He need not be made dependent on the organisation.

The board members accepted and they helped Marianathan to manage initial capital by availing him some loans and providing him some financial assistance. Marianathan started his own footwear shop near the bus stop of Alampoondi. He is a bit developed now, self-sustainable and independent for his survival. Though he is physically disabled he can stand in his own legs now.

This is what the approach Kumar wants to have in managing a difficult situation. Decisions need to have sustainability and managing events in a humanistic approach.

Contractor and Calculator

Kumar has a very good calculator in his mind. He calculates always. If he takes a decision then we can easily tell that he has done a detailed calculation in his mind before taking that decision. He lists out the positives and negatives, adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides and finally arrives at the solution, of what need to be done or what decision need to be taken on that particular issue.

Once he asked me, how long I will use a wrist watch. I was not having any idea about that. He told his answer that he uses a wrist watch for 2 years. He gives his calculation. A wrist watch costs 1000 Rupees. 2 Years means 24 hours x 365 days x 2 that mean 17,520 hours that mean you use that watch at the cost of nearly 5 paise per hour. In two years you get the maximum utilization out of it. Then it is better to give the watch to somebody and buy a new watch. That is his theory and he does it. He tells that in two years he gets the benefit more than what he spent on it and by giving it to an another person the receiver also gets a great pleasure.

In his earlier stage he was working with one of his uncle who was a contractor for public works. His uncle used to get contracts for laying roads, building public infrastructure, etc..,

There he saw the real face of our development works. He had a chance to observe the Government officers getting a certain percentage for sanctioned amount of a contract. His uncle himself was illegally taking money from the fund that he was supported to use for public works. Thus only less than fifty percentage of the total money was used for real work. On the other side he saw the labourers were paid with low wages. Before knowing these realities he also wanted to become a contractor himself. But when he saw the money concentrating only in certain places and the poor are still being poor in this system, he left the idea and took a decision to improve the life of the people who get minimum benefits and work hard.

When I was there I used to travel with him in a road which was laid down on years before. Kumar once told me that it was his uncle who had taken the contract to lay down that road and he was working with his uncle at that time. Though we call it as a road we could only see more pits in that path instead of a metal road. Those pits can not be filled up by the money which had been taken over by the Government officials and by the contractor. Kumar feels good as he had not become a contractor.

Yes he did not become a contractor but he has become a good ‘calculator’. A ‘human calculator’; which works by getting the charge from heart.


Kumar tells that, earlier he used to run here and there for the works of his organisation and the staffs were not taking active part in the functioning. But now he has provided them with different responsibilities and do never interfere unless if there is a necessity.

He proposes a good system for framing rules. He allows his workers to frame the necessary rules for their organization. Once if it is framed then he says he would be very strict in implementing those rules. As it is framed by the workers themselves they have no excuse of defying the rules.

He shares the important matters about the organization’s functioning only in the staff meetings and not with any particular staff personally. He feels that if he shares so, it may lead to the staff misusing this opportunity of getting information earlier. He may try to dominate over other staffs. Once if it is formalized and made into a structure he feels that it is better to share with the staffs as a whole and do not give priority to any particular staff. He says all the staffs are important in their own ways and they need to be treated as equals. I could see his staffs, in less important matters, able to take their own decisions to proceed the things. He opines that if they are clear with what are the works they need to do then it is very easy to get the works done, i.e., to manage.

Thus he says only a single thing is very much important in this process of decentralization of management. Every aspect of the management need to be communicated properly. Proper communication refers to the situation in which the receiver perceives a message in the same manner how the sender intended it to be. Communication plays an important role in Kumar’s idea of decentralization.

He has one more golden rule to follow – “Do work by your own if it is possible to do by yourself, i.e., not to depend on other staffs for getting petty things done”. He does follow it. Once I saw him waking up early and going to the office. It was to spray water on the newly built roof of their new building. He did it himself. He does not feel that it is a work need to be done by the watchman or any other labourer of his organisation. At that particular moment he forgets that he is the director of his organisation. For him decentralization means not just distributing works to others and sits on the top by doing nothing – but to perceive every work as a task to be completed by all together. Thus, he never feels shame to spray water on a newly built wall in front of a watchman who just watches at him.

Community Development, External Funds and Voluntary Organisation

Kumar has two important principles for ‘Development’.
One – Development should not be imposed.
Two – Development should not be destructive.

Let us start this with a story. Once Kumar went to a village where there was water problem. They decided to dig a well in the village. GRRC was ready to help them in digging well. The calculation was made on the expenditure to dig a well in that village. It came to few thousands. Though the organisation could bear the whole cost to construct a well, which was of a great social necessity, he decided not to dig the well by only spending the organization’s money. He wanted the people of that village to contribute 50% of the cost to dig that well as it was being constructed for their benefit. People denied contributing their share. They wanted to get the well at free of cost. Kumar did not want to encourage this attitude. He told the villagers that the organisation would also withdraw from that project and he had no necessity to dig a well in their village and withdrew the organization’s effort from digging a well there. He was very strong in his point that unless and otherwise the villagers contribute their share there need no well to be dug up. In that instance our ‘calculator’ gave a simple calculation to the villagers.

It was an estimation of a year’s expenditure that the villagers spend in buying cigarettes, liquors and toxics. The amount that all the villagers spend together on this type of items was several times greater than the amount that he demanded from the people as their share in digging well. Then it is up to our conclusion that what would have happened after that.

This is his strategy. He tells that if the people are happy with what they have then, just leave them as they are. He does not favour the imposition of our concept of development on them. At the most we can try to create a situation in which they can help themselves and can develop by their own. Instead of that, he says, our development activities should not take them away from their bases and then in any case if we lack funds to proceed our so called development we could do nothing but just leaving them in a halfway. Then that will be the most vulnerable situation which can not be helped by anybody and hinders all the chances for a further development. He is very sure in saying that, only if we understand our weakness we will be able to rectify it. Yes, mere understanding of our weakness provides us with the strength to confront it.

He is completely against the concept of training people on a target basis and also providing stipends to them for just attending the training. He wants the trainings to be conducted on people’s needs and if possible in their own places. He wishes the people who want training should at least contribute a certain share of the total cost in conducting that training.

He says that at least they can provide food to the trainers in their houses. He favours in the development process which provides people with ideas and visions and not just giving money or material. For him mere economic development is not the real development.

He visualizes a development which covers all the aspects of the life and not only the economic part. He wants the development activities to have its focus on the whole and not to any separate parts. Then the development makes itself as a sustainable one.

To emphasize more on people’s participation he sites one more incident that he happened to see… Once some NSS volunteers of Loyola College went to a village to stay there for 15 days. It was their annual NSS camp. They saw the local pond of that village dry and lying without any maintenance and thus it can not store more water if it rains. In that 15 days they did hard work and deepened the pond and also cleaned it. Finally it was ready for use, and only a rain was needed to restore it. Then, an old villager came to see the staff in-charge of those volunteers. Instead of praising for their hard work, he started telling, “of course you have done a good job but before doing it you could have asked our opinion. Because it is not the time for monsoon and thus your work is not of any use to this villagers. The monsoon starts only after a few months, and within that time the pond will become as it was before you cleaned it. Thus we all will get together a few days before the monsoon starts and clean it again and we may need only one or two days for that cleaning”.

There are a few things to be taken from this incident. One is to ask the people about their need before doing anything for them and do not decide their needs in our own. Second one is that the work for which the volunteers had taken 15 days to complete can easily be completed by the people within few days, if they come together. Thus before wasting our energy, try the possibility of bringing the people’s energy together. Lastly, do not deepen the pond when you have no monsoon coming near.

Kumar observes that a single method of development can not be applied in all the places as all the villages are different and unique in their own way. Thus he advocates for a development process which will spend more than 50% of its energy in changing the attitude of the people which will automatically lead them in the path of development.

Here I wanted to discuss, about a common phenomenon of current NGO’s who are claiming to do a lot of development works. It is the concept of getting funds from outside and spends it luxuriously for the people’s (!?) development. In this juncture we need to take an important opinion of Kumar about getting funds. He says that most of the funding agencies, which are sending their funds for carrying out developmental works, are established by a certain group of people who came together out of their public interest and contributes a small share of their income to form a common fund and thus helping other voluntary organisations to carry out certain developmental activities.

He points out that the same thing can be done at village level. If they could save a certain amount of money for their social development they could develop their society without getting any funds from outside. He quotes a good example for the accumulation of funds at the village level. Generally we think that the villagers are poor and they can not spare their income for any common purpose. Here he has an objection for this opinion. He points his fingers towards the temples which have been built in our villages. A single village would be having several temples and on their walls there would be a lot of scarved black stones by mentioning the names of the villagers who have contributed towards the construction of that temple. If you try to calculate the total amount spent on the construction of a single temple it may even reaches to certain lakhs. This is what he wanted to reveal, if the villagers with their meager income could contribute lakhs of rupees just to build a temple, then why do not they can contribute towards any social cause and which is for their own development.

He firmly believes that it is possible to develop the villages with their own resources by almost avoiding external funds.

He is not against getting funds but he finds it is unnecessary in most cases. (GRRC in which he is the director is a self-sustained voluntary organisation working among people). Even if we get funds from external agencies it needs to be spent in an optimum way.

I want to quote an incident here. Once Kumar was made responsible to conduct a 15 days camp in a village for 30 youth, in which 15 were from other places as volunteers and 15 from that same village. He got 5000 rupees to spend for the expenditures in conducting the camp, i.e., food, utensils etc.., for 15 days and with 30 youth, 5000 rupees seems to be very less for covering the expenses. But to our surprise he has sent back 368 rupees as it was balance after spending over those 15 days. How could he manage with that minimum amount was an interesting thing. I can give you a single and simple example ….

They were planning to buy banana leaves from the nearby market-for serving food. He made his calculation in that; 30 persons x 10 paise x 3 meals x 15 days and it came 135 rupees. He went to a utensil shop and asked for the price of an aluminum plate. It was rupees four per plate. Thus 30 persons x rupees 4 it came rupees 120/-. He bought 30 aluminum plates. After 15 days he went back to the shop and asked the shop keeper if he gives the plates back how much he was ready to pay. The shop keeper took the plates back for rupees 3 each. That means Kumar got back 90 rupees. In this expenditure head he spends only 30 rupees in the place of 135 rupees, which would be the cost for banana leaves.

This is the way he wants to use the external money and feels that it is our responsibility to do so.

When he talks about a voluntary organisation working among people by getting less external funds, he foresees a structure for a good voluntary organisation.

There need to be one committee of policy makers who should be very much rational and functioning from the heart. Than there should be a working committee which includes active persons, i.e., the persons who are not irresponsible and believes in collective effort and there need to be a leader or a co-ordinator with a right kind of vision who will thus co-ordinate these two groups of people through his actions. The leader is supposed not to take his own decision in the matters concerned with organisation before consulting with both these committees. What is more important is one committee should not interfere in the free functioning of the other and need to work within their frontiers which would be demarcated clearly before. There happens no overlapping of boundaries.

This kind of organisations needs to work ‘with’ the people and not ‘for’ the people. Only then the coinage of community development really senses according to him.

Chennai, cinema, drama…

Kumar is a great fan of ‘Shivaji’ Ganesan, a Tamil actor. He thus had a great attraction towards cinema field. He himself wanted to be an actor or something else in that ‘dream’ world. He says that he has learnt many things from Shivaji’s films

For getting into that field through any possible means he happened to stay in Chennai for sometime. It seems that Chennai always attracted him. If you remember the incident in which he ran away from the house for the first time, it was to Chennai.

When he was working with adult literacy he directed and acted in many dramas. He still remembers many of the dialogues of those dramas. We need to make a point here that these things happened before one or two decades. In the evenings of my stay there; if he is in a fantasy mood and also has time he used to deliver his old dialogues from his dramas. I had really enjoyed those moments. I even used to think that he can become a good orator than an actor. But he had his interest in cinema. He still believes that if he would have tried a little more he could have got into that field. For him the aims are achievable through hard work.

He also imitates Shivaji. He had a very small experience of acting in a film. He says it was a panchayat scene in that film and he was made to sit among others as a local VIP.

He is a bit worried about that incident as he was not given any dialogue where the person who needed to deliver the dialogues in that scene was making continuous mistakes in delivering the dialogue. You will really surprise if I tell that Kumar still remembers that dialogue which was supposed to be delivered by that actor and he was spelling it out very clearly with great modulations to me. Instead of all these things he is now leading a life in which he has no space for acting.

He can not act but only react. React to the life from the heart.

In one of his stays in Chennai, he was working with the slum dwellers of that city as a social worker. There he observed a basic reality about the slums. The people of the slums are coming from the villages as they are not having any employment opportunity in their places. Thus if villages are made capable enough to provide employments to all of its people, then the slums can be avoided. When this thought came to his mind he left Chennai and went back to his village to work among the people so as to create more employment opportunities in their village itself. Still he works for that purpose and thus trying hard to stop his village from sending its people to the slums of the cities.

Cinema made him to go to Chennai and slums made him to come back to his village. But, still he loves cinema.…

Fair Trade

There were three girl students from France, as I have written already, to make a study about GRRC as a fair trade organisation. They made an interview with him. There was one question raised to explain the concept of fair trade.

As usual he was quite simple and clear in explaining his view. He told fair trade is a concept in which both the producer and the consumer are not exploited but mutually benefited. He continued by telling that in this concept we are trying to avoid the middle men and the percentage of money spent on them –unnecessarily- to a possible extent.

He says in fair trade the producer gets the optimum benefit that he deserves too and also the consumer is being saved from being exploited by the middlemen.

In India in his opinion this concept of fair trade can easily be adopted. He tries to remind us the concept of barter system which existed in our country even in the period before a century. He sees fair trade as another incarnation of that baster system where both the persons have been exchanging satisfaction.

Once he happened to quote the example of ‘Uzhavar Sandhai’ , a kind of daily market especially for vegetables. It was introduced by the Government in Tamil Nadu. It provides the infrastructure, the space, to the farmers to fix a common and reasonable price by themselves and sell their goods directly to the consumer.

The party which came into rule after that has just closed down all ‘Uzhavar Sandhai’s. It happens in Indian politics. But Kumar tells that a space needs to be created so that the producers can sell their goods directly to the consumers by eliminating the middlemen. By space he means not only the infrastructure but also a mental space, a change in our idea of marketing goods. He says that he could see it happening in Kerala … and believes that it is possible every where.


Once Kumar asked me, that, if he gives me a single grain of paddy; will I be able to make it into 50. I told him it’s impossible. Then he added, “But the nature does it”. The combination of 5 elements could make a single grain into countless grains. We are also the combination of 5 elements; even then we can not do it. That is why he wanted to believe in a supreme power which is according to him designing our life. That too, to grow a plant we need air, land, water, fire (sun) and more important is we need space for its growth. For Kumar space is the most important element. All the other 4 elements contained in this single element called space.

He then says that he does not want to believe in others’ ways and also does not want others to follow his way. Everybody can realize the ultimate facts if they make a try to look deeper into us and into the nature, he concludes.

In another occasion he happened to share some unordinary events happened in his life. Once he visited a village and felt something unusual there and told the villagers that something bad is going to happen there. Within next two days a person was murdered in that village. The way the murderer adopted was very strange; he used electric power to kill. In another occasion he happened to wake up suddenly as he felt as somebody has beaten him hardly on his foot. When he woke up he saw a scorpion coming near to his foot. It was about to touch his foot and he suddenly moved from there. He still wonders who had beaten him and woke him up.

Like this, he had different extraordinary experiences which are persuading him to believe in a supreme power and in a predesign. He could not make his point very clear about his beliefs.

As he believes in a predesign, I asked him about the need for prayers and all. He gave an escaping answer that if we are inside the system we need to believe that it is true and if we are ready to be detached (most probably after retirements, he laughs) we can treat everything as an illusion.

Though he is not so clear with his words in explaining the functioning of supreme (if there is any) I feel he has a clear thinking on this matter. He admits that he is a devotee, he prays to god etc., If something good or bad happens, he tells us to remember one thing that, that moment will also pass on.
Of course life goes on…

Politics and castes

In India, according to Kumar, election creates caste discrimination. He does not want to talk about the elections at national levels and big party politics. He tells about the elections at panchayat level (Local Governments at village level).

He was elected as a ward member in the panchayat election a few years ago and faced several difficulties in doing something good to the people. As remembering his principle he did not want to adjust with the system and could not accept it too. He was always contradicting with panchayat president and with other senior ward members.

After that tenure, in the next election he contested for president post and got defeated. The main reason he was defeated was that the opposite moved with caste politics and Kumar belongs to a caste which had only 2 families in that village. That created a kind of frustration in him and made him to decide not to get into any public service through politics which is exclusively caste based.

He had thus only a bitter memory about public service through a government system. He could now only dream about an election system which will not be based on caste but on values… we can also join in that dream if we have a real wish to make it realize.

God smiles…

Kumar helps everyone. By telling ‘everyone’, I literally mean it. He knows very well that the money that he gives to others will not come back. He himself observes that everybody knows how to get money from him. He continues, “They come and say, my daughter is ill, or my mother needs an operation, or my father met with an accident, or my daughter is going to get married, etc…etc… and simply gets money from me and then go”.

I myself happened to see him several times, putting his hands into the shirt pocket take out 50 or 100 rupees and giving it to somebody who assures him that they could give it back in few days. He knows very well that they are not going to give it back. But he says, he can not control his hands from going into his pockets, if somebody asks for help.

Once he told me that, god smiles when a doctor says to any patient, “Don’t worry I will save you”.

In the same way if anybody goes to Kumar and says, “I am in an urgent need and give me some money. I will surely give it back”, he also smiles. But inspite of that smile you can see his hand goes into the shirt pocket in search of money. I suppose that God again smiles…

Need for a personal income

Once we were discussing about the persons who start NGO’s and become rich very soon by using the funds they get for public works. There are lots of NGO’s now and in some of them the funds were used for personal purposes. This happens because the person who functions with his voluntary organisation pretends to be a pure social worker and does not indulge him in any other income generating activities. Thus for their well-being he has no other go rather than putting hands in the funds that he gets for his so called social work.

Here Kumar says that if a person, who have indulged in social work through any voluntary organisation, has some other means of income he may not be having the necessity to take money from NGO funds. He finds no wrong in finding some time to earn for them apart from doing social work. He has an opinion that the same kind of dedication one has in doing social work need to be given for the well-being of his own family also.

If a social worker does only service and earn nothing for himself, then at the time of his failure or his falling down, others will come and only provide their sympathy for a few days and do no help to rescue him from that difficulty. He is very clear in his point by saying that for a social worker, it is equally necessary to take the responsibility of his own well-being – as doing social work.


Kumar feels that education is the important tool to inculcate values. Apart from imparting values education for him means not just injecting knowledge into the minds of the children but to provide them with a space in which they do search and learn many things by themselves. He says making one to search for the ultimate is the objective of education.

Education in his opinion is a life long process. He says that still he learns. Thus he has no hesitation to admit his ignorance about anything which he really does not know. He spells out one 3 ward mantra coined by a popular sage, i.e., be unique, be alert and be receptive. That includes the whole philosophy of learning.

He states one another important issue which is being discussed for a quite long time. That is to include sex education in the curriculum of general education. He feels more than 50% of the human problems are evolving out of disturbed sexuality. This shows the lack of proper education in that aspect of life. He gives several examples of different religions which are having sex education as their part.

One day when I was discussing with him in the office a person came to visit him and started telling his worries. He was not able to send his daughter for higher education in colleges as it needs more money which is beyond his earning capacity. After he left the place, I saw Kumar having some tears in his eyes and he said to me with a deep sorrow, “All of us need to be ashamed for our educational system which creates such a sorrowful parent”.

Attraction of the opposite

He remembers in his school days he used to go to school with girls instead of going with boys. He tells there was some kind of attraction which led him to be near to the girls. He adds that he used to help other girl students of the class by drawing different diagrams for their homework. He was good at drawing and it helped him to be near to the girls.

He went to Chennai and stayed there for some time as we know already. It was not only to get into the cinema field but also in search of a Malayali girl whom he happened to meet somewhere and somehow came to know that she stays in Chennai. Now all these things brings smile in his face. What a stupid things they were, he surprises.

But his list grows with different names, Nanditha, Prema, Padma, Isabel…

Once I was with him on the upstairs, discussing about several things and somehow got into his love affairs. He started telling about one Isabel, with whom his relation was about to be confirmed, both had a wish to marry and some how it did not happen. But still he has contacts with Isabel. He says that, once in a while she used to visit his family and she is now engaged in some other social work. I saw him getting into a kind of deep emotion while telling that she is now affected by arthritis and suffering. After telling this he kept silence for some minutes. I was trying to imagine that Isabel’s face. Both of us were in deep moods with our silence. Suddenly I saw his wife coming upstairs. When she reached us, she said to Kumar, “There was a phone call from Isabel and she wants you to talk with her”. He calmly listened and told “yes I will call her tomorrow”.

Yesterdays always meet with tomorrows.

Social Acceptance

Kumar has worked more on afforestation and has planted several trees in and around the villages of his area. He has done these plantings through several projects of his own organisation and also by engaging his organisation with other line departments (Government Departments).

GRRC itself has planted thousands of trees at its own cost, he gives the account. Why I am stating all these things is just to narrate a small incident that took place when I was there. GRRC has a piece of land nearby a canal. The place is meant for agriculture and it is surrounded by several trees. As they felt the shadow of those trees will be a hindrance for farming they decided to cut them down. Kumar told the workers to cut those trees which count nearly five or six. When they cut down the trees some persons had sent complaints to the panchayat office and block union that Kumar has cut down public trees which were on the banks of the canal and taken them away with a vehicle.

The next day we happened to go to panchayat office for clarification. There he was told that they received at least 15 phone calls by complaining about his cutting trees. While returning he told me that, when he was planting thousands of trees there was nobody to tell a good word about that but now when he cut a few trees there are 15 phone calls for complaining against him.

When he confront certain situations he feels very much frustrated and even thinks to leave all these social work and to look after only his own life. But again he consoles himself by telling “If there is one person out of ten who work against me there are another nine who need me to work with them. I need not care about this single person and thus continue my work for the other nine”.

There ends his sharing. He falls down several times but always manages to stand up and continue his work with the people who may even work against him.

He may lack the social acceptance for his works but he accepts the society as it is and still works in it.

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