Sri kalyansundram librarian

Practising what he preaches

“We cannot sustain ourselves, unless we
contribute to the society in someway or the
other. I strongly feel if even one person does
his bit towards social good, there will be
some change.”
Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam
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, 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 Union 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’.
An American organisation has also selected
him as the `Man of the Millennium.’
Mr. Kalyanasundaram, who has founded a
social welfare organisation, `Paalam’, shares
his experiences in a chat with Prathiba
SIMPLICITY IN life and exemplariness in
practice has been the hallmark of Mr.
Kalyanasundaram. Born in August 1953 at
Melakarivelamkulam in Tirunelveli district, 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
to the then Chief Minister, Kamaraj, for the
war fund. At this time around, he went to
meet Balasubramanian, Editor, Ananda
Vikatan . “He sent me away, saying he would
write about me the day I donated something I
had earned myself. I did not speak a word to
anyone about what I had done. I took it as a
challenge,” Mr. Kalyanasundaram recalls.
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 1990, when he
received his pension arrears and contributed
it to the Collector’s Fund, that the then
Tiruneveli Collector felicitated him, despite
his protests. 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. It has also contributed to the
cyclone relief funds in Tamil Nadu, Andhra
Pradesh and Orissa, and has helped the
earthquake victims in Maharashtra and
Gujarat. “We cannot sustain ourselves, unless
we contribute towards the society in
someway or the other. I strongly feel if even
one person does his bit towards social good,
there will be some change,” he asserts.
Mr. Kalyanasundaram feels that one must
achieve something in his chosen field. His
contribution to library science is immense. A
thesis he submitted as part of his post-
graduate course to the Madurai Kamaraj
University fetched him distinction. He has
also hit upon an easy way of tracing and
accessing books in libraries.
His ability to strike a rapport even with
youngsters is remarkable. He cites the
instance when he started wearing khadi. At
college, he was required to take classes on
Gandhianism. “I had to speak about
simplicity and everything Gandhi stood for,
but I was clad in expensive clothes. That was
when I decided to switch over to khadi,” he
relates. Since then he had always practised
what he stood for, making himself a role
model for many youths.
He was popular among college and school
students, and many of them have joined his
He has long-term plans for his organisation.
One is the setting up of a nationalised digital
library with modern equipment, which could
be accessed by people from all walks of life.
He also wants to set up an international
children’s university in Tamil Nadu, with
foreign aid. However, he says, a mission has
a meaning only when the right people are
involved in it. The Directorate of
Libraries should recruit people with a library
science background to be librarians, he says.
“And good librarians should have a broad
knowledge of everything.”