An Excellent Example of Nishkaama Karmayoga (Selfless Service)
Practising what he preaches…
“We cannot sustain ourselves, unless we contribute to the society in some way or the other. I strongly feel if even one person does his bit towards social good, there will be some change.”
A will to serve combined with a sense of social justice has been the guiding principle of P. Kalyanasundaram, who has spent over 45 years in social service. A gold medallist in library science, he is also an MA in literature and history. During his 35-year-career as a librarian at the Kumarkurupara Arts College at Srivaikuntam in Tuticorin district (India), he gave away all his salary for charity and did odd jobs to meet his daily needs. He has also come forward to donate his body and eyes to the Tirunelveli Medical College.
The Indian Government has acclaimed him as ‘The Best Librarian in India’. He has also been chosen as ‘One of the top ten librarians of the world’. The International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, has honoured him as ‘One of the noblest of the world’, while the United Nations Organisation adjudged him as ‘One of the Outstanding People of the 20th Century’. He also received ‘Man of the Millennium‘ award and ‘Life Time of Service‘ award from Rotary Club of India in 2011 for his outstanding act of donating his entire salary from the first day of starting his job as a librarian till the last day of his service. He donated the award money of rupees three million that he received along with rupees one million worth of pension money to charitable causes.
Even after retirement, he worked as a waiter in a restaurant in exchange for two meals a day and a meagre salary so that he could continue to donate to orphanages and to children’s educational finds.
Mr Kalyanasundaram founded a social welfare organisation, ‘Paalam’ (Bridge).
Simplicity in life and exemplariness in practice has been the hallmark of Mr Kalyanasundaram. Born on 10th May 1940 at Melakarivelamkulam in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu (India), he lost his father at a very young age. It was his mother, who inspired him to serve the poor.
When he was at college, the Indo-China war broke out and he contributed his gold chain weighing 65 grams to the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Kamaraj, for the war fund. He thought the publication of the news in ‘Ananda Vikatan‘, a popular Tamil magazine, would encourage more donations. So he went to meet Balasubramanian, Editor, ‘Ananda Vikatan‘. Balasubramanian challenged Kalayasundaram saying that providing for other people, using ones ancestral resources (money from parents or grandparents) is not true service. Although Mr Kalyanasundaram had been doing this for 10 years, this was not a true measure of philanthropy. He said “when you start working let’s see if you continue giving to others”. This fired up Kalyanasundaram and set him on a path of service for mankind his entire life.
Ever since he got a job as a librarian in Tuticorin, he has contributed all his salary, pension benefits and ancestral property to social welfare. It was not until his retirement in 1998, when he received his pension arrears, which was about a million rupees, and contributed it to the Collector’s Fund, that the then Tiruneveli Collector felicitated him, despite his protests.
Floods ravaged South Tamil Nadu districts in 1992 and people lost everything. Kalyanasundaram chose a demographic of kids who had lost their books, school uniforms and stationary. He travelled to several villages and donated books, school uniforms and stationaries to 10,000 children. The legendary Carnatic singer M S Subbulakshmi was so moved by this extraordinary philanthropic deed she invited Kalyanasundaram to her house and felicitated him.
When the legendary Carnatic singer M S Subbulakshmi was offered a payment for her performance in editor of ‘Ananda Vikatan‘ Balasubramanian’s family wedding, she requested him to donate it to Kalyanasundaram’s organization and gave the forwarding address.
Balasubramanian had by then completely forgotten about his first meeting about 3 decades ago. He personally wanted to give the check to this organisation since the acclaimed, nationally renowned singer M S Subbulakshmi had recommended them.
When they met, Mr Balasubramanian felt that he had met this person before (recognising the voice) and Mr Kalyanasundaram had to remind him that it was his advice and challenge back in the day that had changed him. Mr Balasubramanian was moved to tears and was overwhelmed by the achievements of this one man. This led to the editor publishing a cover story in ‘Ananda Vikatan’ on Mr Kalyanasundaram and his work.
The ‘Paalam’ serves as a bridge between donors and beneficiaries: it collects money and materials from those willing to donate and distribute them among the weaker sections.
He has even slept on pavements and railway platforms to find out what it is like to be poor, without a roof over your head. It wasn’t easy for him as he was born into a rich agricultural family and wasn’t used to such life.
Kalyanasundaram says money does not impress him at all. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than being able to donate money for charity out of your own earnings.”
Kalyanasundaram lives a simple life all on his own in a small house in Saidapet, Chennai. He never married for the simple reason that he wanted to spend all that he earned on charity.
He does not wish to own anything as he believes that we don’t take anything with us when we leave this planet.
Remember: The money that we earn doesn’t belong to us; only that which we actually spend belongs to us.
When we die, we leave intact all our monetary riches for others to desire and fight over.
What stays behind is only the fragrance of the good use of the honest wealth we acquire.
What we take with us are only our karma-s (actions), whether positive or negative, our skills and talents, spiritual knowledge we gained and the spiritual practices we did. So we need to accumulate more of that which we can take with us.
The real measure of a man’s wealth is what he has invested in ETERNITY.
Who is the poorest and who is the richest person?
The one who has everything but lacks happiness and health is the poorest person.
The one who is happy at all times, in all places, in all situations, circumstances and environment, whether favourable or unfavourable, and has a good psychological and physical health is the richest person.