A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s driver over two decades ago, 56-year-old V. Kathiresan is now an assistant professor at Arignar Anna Government Arts College in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the former Indian President’s motivation.
V Kathiresan had to drop out of school to support his family. Years later, working for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as his driver, he was encouraged to restart his education. Today, he has a Ph.D., has written two books, and is an assistant professor at the Arignar Anna Government Arts College in Vadachennimalai, Tamil Nadu. Anything is possible or shall we say nothing is impossible. V Kathiresan’s story proves that.
“I can never forget the role played by Kalamayya (sahib). I worked as a driver with him for five-and-a-half-years, and during those long drives I used to talk to him about my aspirations and dreams. One day while driving, Ayya suggested that I should resume my studies. He told me that the best way to go about it was through the distance mode of education.”
It wasn’t easy for Dr Kathiresan. After working a 10 to 6 job, he would come home and study to catch up on all those lost years. His struggle against the odds has become an example for his students. One of his students, Santhosh Mani, says his teacher’s story is like a fairytale. “We complain so much about work load and the other burdens of life,” says Mani. “Today, I look up to him and tell myself that anything is possible. It is just a matter of dedication and effort.”
Dr Kathiresan lost his father very early in life and had to support his family. Though he was always fond of studying, financial problems compelled him to drop out of school. “It was one of the most painful decisions of my life, but I accepted it as a way of life.” He trained as an electrician and joined the Indian Army in 1979. His first posting was in Bhopal, then Sikkim, followed by Hyderabad. He first met A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, in the 1980’s. Kalam was the director at the time and Kathiresan was deputed as his driver. Kathiresan caught the former Indian President’s attention when Kalam saw him reading newspapers, magazines and books. It was then that Kalam encouraged and motivated him to study further.
“I must thank the Almighty that I was given such an opportunity,” says Dr Kathiresan. “If not for Kalamayya’s inspirational words, I would have never been able to achieve this. Even after Ayya left DRDO, I continued to ponder over what he said about the importance of education.”
With the help of Dr Kalam, Kathiresan learned English, the subject in which he failed in his Class X. He reappeared for his Class 10 exams and cleared his English paper. He then appeared for the Class XII examinations and went on to obtain a B.A. (History) from Madurai Kamraj University through distance education. He later completed an M.A. in Political Science.
He quit his job in 1996 to focus on his higher studies and joined the Chief Education Officer’s Office in Tirunelveli as a supervisor. “I wrote to Dr Kalam to inform that I quit DRDL and joined the CEO’s office. I was touched when I got a reply. By then, he had become the President. I still have the letter with me,” says Dr Kathiresan.
“I noticed that as the days passed, the urge to pursue higher studies started creeping into my system. I did my B.Ed. followed by a M.Ed. from Madras University and then an M.Phil. from Kamraj University. I then did law and finally a Ph.D. (History) from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University.”
“After completing my Ph.D., I called Ayya. The kind words and the appreciation that he gave me are more important than anything else in this world. He had faith in me and I did not let him down.”
In 2001, Kathiresan passed the teachers’ recruitment exam, and was selected on merit. His first assignment as a teacher was at Kovilpatti. He was soon posted in Virudhunagar district collectorate, where he reported to the collector and worked as a coordinator of teacher training programmes. He was soon appointed as an assistant professor in Government Arts and Science College in Athur.
Apart from this he has written four books on history and a travel guide for Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu.
Dr Kathiresan cannot forget the role his wife Kasthuri played in his entire struggle. A teacher herself, she was a rock through his difficult times.
Grateful that he had Dr Kalam as a mentor, Dr Kathiresan now wants to help other students who have not had a chance to complete their education. “I would be only too glad if I could pass this on to several students who have the urge to learn and strive to be the best.”