What started off as a challenge made by colleagues became a way of life and a steadfast habit for 73-year-old activist Palam Kalyanasundaram. Not in his wildest dreams did he imagine he would become a palam (bridge) that connects the needy to their donors. Through his organisation ‘Palam’, Kalyanasundaram serves society through various charitable activities.
“I never thought of becoming a social worker, it happened accidentally. While working as a librarian, my colleagues posed a challenge, asking if anyone would donate a year’s salary for the education of poor children! I thought of it as a trivial thing to do, but later took up the challenge, and haven’t stopped since,” says Kalyanasundaram, a gold medallist in library science.
“I started donating my entire salary for the education of poor children. Though I was bankrupt, I didn’t take any money from my family. To take care of my daily needs, I worked in a restaurant as a waiter,” he adds.
Hailing from a wealthy family of agriculturists, he could have easily lived on the family income — but he refused to. “My salary was `140 and my family income was Rs 3 lakhs. What is so great about giving away such a small amount for charity, when your family income is in the lakhs? I realised that the donation becomes great only, when the amount is everything you have,” says the librarian, who worked for 35 years at Kumarkurupara Arts College in Thoothukudi. An MA in literature and history, he donated his entire salary until his retirement.
The world came to know about him later, and has honoured him. An American organisation bestowed upon him the ‘Man of the Millennium' award and a prize grant of Rs 30 crores which he completely distributed to the needy, as usual.
Moved by Kalayanasundaram’s passion to help the needy, even Superstar Rajinikanth adopted him as his father and asked him to move into his house. “I stayed with him for a month, but not more, because I found that life very luxurious and lavish, which is quite suffocating for me,” he quips!
A person who loves to live a independent and incognito life, Kalyanasundaram also runs a Tamil magazine called Anbu Palam based in Adyar.