Translation of an Interview with “Mugavari” Ramesh, by Kanagalakshmi published in ‘Namadhu Nambikkai’ magazine, February 2014 issue.
(Even before starting, Mr. Ramesh gently insists not to publish his photo, if he’s not part of a group! He expresses his desire that his “Mugavari” should be established only as a joint-effort!)
My name is Ramesh, Founder of the Charitable Trust, Mugavari. Mother: Pattaththal. Father: Kuppudaiyar. I have 2 siblings. We are agricultural ‘wage-laborers’. We belong to a small village in Attur Taluk of Salem District in Tamilnadu. About 300 families make our village. I completed my B.Sc. in Maths from Namakkal Arts & Science College. Then, I was preparing to attack CA exams. That was the time when I was laying the foundation for my life.
That I had helped one girl for her education, brought many more students to me, which I could not simply refuse. At that time, I did not think of creating any set-up for this purpose. But realising that if I didn’t help them, their future may be rendered waste, I started to run around seeking help on behalf of them. This put paid to my CA dreams, even as I suffered financial difficulties. I worked in an Auditor’s office for some time.
Now, “Mugavari” is my full time profession.
You created this Mugavari when your life itself was in great difficulty. Please explain about it and about your early life.
My younger brother and myself were twins. My sister was elder by 12 years. Actually we brothers were named “Rama” and “Lakshmana”! It was always difficult to differentiate between us. Its only the mole on my right hand that came to people’s rescue! My father sold off the land he owned to help my maternal uncle complete his education. As my parents could not buy back the land, they relocated to Chennai to work as construction workers. We were born along with penury. We brothers never grew under parents’ care and affection. It was our sister, aunt (mother’s younger sister), and grandparents who took care of us. Once in a while our parents will visit us during festival days, that too only if we had holidays. When my sister took me to join in a school, somehow she mentioned my name as Ramesh instead of Ramar.
As identical twins we brothers were a big problem for the class teacher who decided to send one of us to the 2nd standard while the other would study in the 1st standard! My brother wanted to join in the 2nd standard, to which I agreed. Our people used to say that I possessed an inherent nature to adjust even as a kid. Why I’m pointing this out is because my brother compensated for my sacrifice at a later date on an important occasion. When our family could support only one of us to continue our studies, my brother volunteered “You study. I’ll work to earn!”
I was an average student in college. We were wallowing in poverty when in school. We had to walk 5 kilometers to school. We had no good dress to wear. We won’t be allowed to enter Physics or Chemistry laboratories without footwear. We used to borrow footwear from friends for the lab classes. When my younger brother was in 12th Standard and me in 11th, we both had to do with just one set of uniform. After he wrote his exams in the morning, I’ll wait form him to come home and give the dress to me so that I’ll write my exams in the afternoon. Our school life went on like this.
I attended my first day in college, with the full pants lent by my friend Pandurangan and the shirt lent by Rajendran ‘anna’. For about 20 days, I didn’t tell this to my parents. My father bought me some new clothes with the money earned as stone quarry worker. After that, I wore only those dresses. I passed out of the college as “best student” and College Topper. Poverty never succeeded in deterring me in my studies and career.
When I was bagging the Best Student award, Alumini Association award, and Topper in our course awards one after the other, my bad luck brought the bad news that I had failed in one subject. It was shocking for me. There was no instant re-totalling provision then. So, I applied for re-totalling and waited. Though many leading universities offered me seat for my Post-Graduation, I could not accept any. Everyone in my batch had joined courses for further studies. I could do nothing, but wait. But what hurt most was the jeer, taunt and sneer that I had to endure. People made fun saying the Best Student of the College had actually failed in a subject! That six months I stayed back in hostel as I could not even go back to my home, for want of funds.
My sister’s heart problem was the reason we fell into very bad days, financially, as my parents’ income was barely sufficient to meet her medical expenses. Amidst these problems, I received my re-totalled marks. Before re-totalling, I had secured 26 marks, but the re-totalled marks showed 76, hence I had cleared all papers. But, that one year I had to endure a lot of pain and agony mentally. My sister’s heart condition worsened. I cannot forget the number of markes I got in re-totalling – 76, as that was the number of days I stayed with my sister in the hospital during her treatment. But, she died.
During my stay in the hospital I observed something. A few patients got quick and priority treatment as they came with “recommendation” from VIPs. I felt my sister’s treatment was delayed, as we after all, were mere common men. If someone from our family or relatives was a doctor or VIP, my sister could have been saved.
When you yourself was going through a tough time during your early years, when did the idea took root, to help others?
I was doing my CA then. There was a girl in our relatives circle who had secured good marks to pass her 10th. Her family was financially handicapped to help her pursue her studies. Keeping in mind her good 10th marks, I joined her in a private school. At that time, without realising the importance, I casually told her “you got good marks in 10th. If you continue securing high marks, we’ll make you a Doctor”! She scored 1136 marks to clear 12th standard!
I actually forgot about my promise. So, when she stood before me with her marksheet, I told her, “you got good marks. Why don’t you go for Teacher’s training?” She simply reminded me that I had promised to make her a doctor. Her words landed like a sharp slap on my cheek. I decided that she must not be let down at any cost, even though I had uttered my promise very casually, without meaning it. But, those words had actually motivated her to score such a high marks. Her sincere efforts actually motivated me. Plus my sister’s death, which determined me to help someone known to become a doctor. I decided to make her a doctor.
My parents had an in-born tendency to help others. I had grown seeing that in them. In our small village there used to be fights between families. When no one else cared to intervene, my mother always took the initiative to bring peace between the fighting families. She was foul-mouthed by others, for her such efforts. She cared a hoot for all that. She always wanted her neighbors to live happily. Similarly my father sold his properties to educate my uncle, who became the first graduate of our village. But, that man never helped my father when he was in dire financial need. Still, my father brushed his attitude aside saying “We sold our land only to educate him. And, he got education. That’s enough”.
So, my nature to help others is not due to some miraculous forces. Its purely the type of people whom I came across during my formative years, whose attitude to help, got imbibed involuntarily in me.
You are not wealthy, yet you’ve started an organization of this type. Have you ever felt like winding this up? If Yes, how did you manage such a feeling?
When we were staying in a rented house at Dhandeeswaram in Velachery, many students came to our “Mugavari” as their last hope. Still, I could not find sponsors for all of them. Due to our own financial difficulties, we could not pay rent. As I had no savings for myself or my family, there was difficulties in our family too. When all these peaked to unmanageable proportions, I confessed to a “Mugavari” student, Mr.Vetrivel.
He reasoned while there are many who can pursue CA, I had the perfect attitude for charitable work like “Mugavari”. Many students will benefit from my work. He in fact pleaded with me to not discard “Mugavari”. I accepted his reasoning.
Vetrivel not only advised, but went on to take all initiatives to guide “Mugavari” into a proper path. In fact he along with Mr.Boopathy Raja, whom he brought, are the two eyes of “Mugavari” in running its affairs.
Your activities revolve only around education. What’s your outlook towards education?
That’s a good question. In fact I did not consciously decide to help only for education. It happened in me. As I told you earlier, when the girl aspiring to become a doctor approached me, there was this film “Ramana” released in local theaters. That film left a deep impact in me. I believed the film’s director Mr Murugadoss would help in Mugavari’s cause and hence, I approached him. I also got help from him. That girl got admission in Chengalpet Medical College. This event became the talking point in our place. The fact that a girl with absolutely no wherewithal did pursue medicine, made many others to decide to continue their education. So, more people approached me to clear their doubts about education and related matters.
I too felt deeply that it was the right journey for me, though it formed on its own. Because, education brings about a broad outlook in a person. It imbibes understanding. You can offer water for the thirsty; wish others well; live a life not antagonising the nature. All these are typical charitable work. We don’t need to sacrifice anything big or make extraordinary efforts. Just live in vibe with the nature. That itself is great charitable work. But, God destined me to express my natural desires in the field of education. Hence, I answered my inner voice to make my choice of field, better.
Moreover, one who surpasses hurdles to achive leadership, those with pioneering spirit can impact positive changes. Those with good attitude, character and outlook can bring about a great future if they’re given the all important education. This is my firm belief. My work makes me believe that the right education to the right person can bring about huge social change.
You’re running a non-profit organisation. This field attracts harsh criticism. How do you face such challenges?
Criticism as such, depends on one’s outlook. The jibes, jeers, and taunts that my work initially attract usually end up as envy and helplessness. So, criticism can be seen viewed differently by different people. Those who criticise views my work through the lens of their own knowledge & wisdom. I face such criticism in my own level of understanding. History tells us, those who are deified as geniuses today, actually were stoned to death, once. This is but natural. If we are clear about our goals and the path leading towards it, we can always ignore such criticism to forge ahead. When we achieve success, it will be those who criticised us who will need to criticise themselves that their views were wrong.
Its not that such criticism along with the demoralising comments hasn’t affected me. I too am only an ordinary human being. In fact, some of the students whom I had helped, have criticised me! But all these have only taught me this: The bigger the problem, the bigger the solution I find. If the problem is small, I get to find only a similar insignificant solution to escape from it. I reach newer and newer dimensions in life, only through problems.
The person who impacted you most?
I would rather say that its not a man but only my Guru who impacted me the most. Because,
I ‘ve always felt as if He’s handwalking me through every minute of my life. In February 2005, I attended Isha classes, but did not feel any great change in me. I continued doing it. I reached the high level class of “samyama”, after which I got a chance to meet our “Sadhguru”. At that time, I barely understood what was spirituality. I did “samyama”, a second time. Each one of the student in that class was unique. Many achieved the pinnacle of “shakthi” stage. When Sadguru was graduating the students of “samyama”, I was sitting in the front row. I felt peace all over me. I could see the non-stop tears from the eyes of Sadguru. For nearly one and half hours, it didn’t stop. He kept on wiping it off with a cloth. This scene shook me to the core. In this selfish world, why should the Sadhguru shed tears of joy for our well-being? By graduating us, he wants us to live happily. But, why should he shed tears of joy? But, he did. This became the undercurrent of all my future activities in life.
Likewise, you asked me which was the book which affected me most. I never had book reading habit. But, I used to see a lot of movies. I learnt even this habit only from my mother. She watched a lot of movies. Like a screenplay writer, she will guess accurately the next scene. At the time when I helped that girl study medicine, there was this film “Samurai” running in local theatres. The heroine of the film studied medicine. There was corruption. The heroine will pressure the hero to raise questions about the corruption. When the hero answered that he would have taken up such issues if the affected was his relative, the heroine will die with the parting words “I’m your lover and I’m dying. Now, go and take up the issue”. This was the theme of the movie. Probably movies like that along with the movies Ramana, Lagaan, Stalin inspired and instilled a sense of purpose in me.
There are such successful people who’ve become sponsors and philanthropists travelling with you in your journey. How did this become possible for an ordinary man like you?
You need to have belief in what you do. This belief may not happen overnight. In fact you may have to bear demoralising retorts, jibes, taunts, etc. I have travelled long distances on foot to find sponsors. Some have made me meet them 100 times before agreeing to sponsor. Sometimes I have waited from early moring 5 am to 8 pm right at their doorsteps. “Is it always like this with you”? asked people in dejection. Once Mother Teresa received a contemptuous spit on her extended hand, from an industrialist. She extended the other hand saying “you’ve given that for me. Now, kindly give something for those who’ve come to me seeking help”.
Even if I could not reach such levels, I always try my best even by torturing my body, to connect to a sponsor. If a girl or boy gets education from such an effort, that’s my victory. That victory infuses an unexplainable confidence in me.
Sometimes, others infuse confidence and belief in you. But, the self-confidence is achieved only with our own strenuous efforts, when culminating in success. This cannot be received from outside. Hence, each of my success instigated me to seek further success, which further fueled my self-confidence. Though I’ve struggled to meet many sponsors, there are others who’ve appreciated my purpose and had readily agreed to sponsor. This motived me more.
Continued efforts. To meet the potential sponsors in good mood, I use to gift them Sadguru’s books and CDs. This brought about a conducive atmosphere. Now, there are over 200 students who gets education through Mugavari’s efforts. What started as a small step, now surprises me when I look back. The reason is honesty and transparency. And, most importantly gratefulness. The ever growing list of people whom we should thank profusely includes Film Director Murugadoss, Chennai Corporation Mayor Saidai Duraisamy, Chancellor of SRM University
Dr. T.R.Pachamuthu, Managing Director of Surien Pharmaceuticals R.Krishnamurthy, Balaji Rubber Chairman Mr. Vaithiyalingam among many others. The basis of Mugavari is gratefulness. Nothing further else was planned. I don’t have any background to speak about. Transparency, honesty and gratefulness are the only traits I practice.
Your future dreams?
My Sadguru used to say “If you plant a Mango seed, don’t expect to eat its fruits in your lifetime. Believe, its for the future generations.” Likewise, my dream doesn’t confine to the present. If so, then its no dream at all. Only if you dream big, its benefits will reach even generations further down the line. The students who’ve benefitted thru Mugavari are in good positions in life. Such former students should come back to Mugavari to help its cause. They should contribute a small portion of their income, so that more students enjoy the benefits of Mugavari’s efforts, like they did. This should form and grow like a chain reaction in Mugavari students. This is my dream. This generation enjoys the patronage of a few sponsors. But, Mugavari should stop leaning on outside sponsors to continue and expand its mission. Today’s student should support tomorrow’s.
Based on this idea, a new setup called “Vanavil” (rainbow) has been formed by former students of Mugavari. This effort is being implemented by successful Mugavari students. Moreover, those who complete their education through Mugavari should join this Vanavil to help future Mugavari students. I am indebted to the 7 Mugavari students, Ragupathi, Boopathiraja, Vetrivel, Karthikeyan, Vinothkumar, Vigneshkumar and Durga, who are behind Vanavil. These have given life and form to my dream through Vanavil. Today’s 7 should become 70 and 700, and further. This step-by-step growth of Vanavil is my dream.
Named Ramar, I became Ramesh because of my sister. And, when I named the charitable institution as Mugavari, “palam” Kalyanasundaram sir was so pleased that he addressed me as “Mugavari Ramesh” for the first time. That name stuck. In the future, only “Mugavari” should be remembered while my name Ramesh fall off in the long journey, to help create thousands of students with heart.
So concluded “Mugavari Ramesh, after explaining his dreams beyond generations. Our best wishes for his dreams to come true.
Mugavari Foundation is presently being guided by the joint efforts of the following 15 Trustees –
- Mr. K.Ramesh, Chief Functionary, Mugavari Foundation, Chennai
- Mr. D.Sundaramoorthy, Secretary, Thai Foundation, Tirupur
- Mr. R.Saravanan, Director, Ainthinai, Salem
- Mr. D.Jaishankar, Associate Professor, AMET, Chennai
- Mrs. Gowri Krishnamoorthy, Correspondent, Sri Krish International School, Chennai
- Mrs. Sangeetha Mohanavel, Executive Director, Acacia Builders, Chennai
- Dr. Parimala Krishnamurthy, Chennai
- Mr. A.Sankaranarayanan, Auditor, G.R & Co., Salem
- Mr. Pavan Kumar Gandhi, Law Student , School of Excellence in Law, Chennai
- Mr. V.Siva, Student, UV Physics Academy, Hyderabad
- Ms. K.Santhiya, MBBS - Pre Final Year, MMC, Chennai
- Mr. M.Vetrivel, Superintendent, Govt. Agricultural Marketing and Agri Business, Tirupur
- Mr. P.Selvarasu, Technical Leader, KPIT Engineering Ltd., Bangalore
- Ms. A.Dharani, B.T. Assistant (Teacher), Govt High School, Thengiyanatham, Kallakurichi