In this week’s Princh Library Blog post, guest writer Dr. Gopal Mohan Shukla shares the story and achievements of the ‘Librarian of the Millenium’, Palam Kalyanasundaram.

Palam Kalyanasundaram

Palam Kalyanasundaram, an 82-year-old retired librarian and social worker is often admired for his exceptional dedication in the field of social work. On the eve of republic day, the Indian Government has declared to award him the ‘Padma Shri’ Award for the year 2023. The Padma award is one of the highest civilian awards of the Republic of India. Kalyanasundaram will receive the award from the Honorable President of India, Smt Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhawan for his distinguished contribution in the field of social work.

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The Story of Palam

Palam Kalyanasundaram, was born August 1940 in Melakarivelamkulam in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Naidu, India. He lost his father at a very young age and was nurtured by his mother Thaayammal. He was inspired and motivated by his mother to help the poor and needy. Kalyanasundaram pursued his education from the University of Madras. He is a gold medalist in library science and also holds masters in literature and history. After his 35-year-long career as a librarian at Kumarkurupara Arts College at Srivaikuntam, he retired in 1998. During his service period, he willingly and regularly donated his entire salary towards charity, and did odd jobs to meet his daily needs. Even after retirement, he worked as a waiter in a hotel in exchange for two meals a day and a meagre salary so that he could continue to donate to orphanages and children’s educational funds. Kalyanasundaram, with the aim to serve people in need, was a bachelor and dedicated most of his time, efforts, and money for the welfare of the needy.

After his retirement, he established a non-governmental social welfare organization (NGO) “Paalam (bridge)” in 1998, which initiated a slew of activities for those in need. Presently, Kalyanasundaram lives in a small house in Saidapet, Chennai and maintains a very simple life. He comes to his office at Adyar regularly, even today, and does whatever he can to uplift the underprivileged people. Kalyanasundaram looks lean, frail, emaciated and sporting a shy smile. But once you get to talk to him, the firm determination and commitment shines through in his words.  Kalyanasundaram speaks in a childlike manner and his voice is high-pitched too, but as you listen to him, you are awestruck at the services he has done for humanity. Kalyanasundaram strongly believes in the words said to him by Thamizhvanan, a writer of self-improvement books; “Don’t bother about how you speak. Strive to make others speak good about you”. These words were used by the great writer to bring Kalyanasundaram out of the discouragement of his own voice.

Kalyanasundaram visited a slum in Triplicane, Chennai, during his graduation. He was deeply disturbed by the living conditions of the children and decided to establish the Triplicane Slum Children Welfare Organization. The organization was responsible for the education, cleanliness, and hygiene of the children of the Triplicane slum. After that, abundant assistance was provided to this organization by society – very soon it became a pan-India organization known as the Indian Children’s Welfare Organization. Through his contacts at Chennai University, the Indian Children’s Welfare Organization began assisting children in commonwealth nations, and the organization’s name was changed to World Children’s Welfare Organization.

Palam Kalyanasundaram worked for the betterment of the Arunthathiyar community, which is one of the most disadvantaged and oppressed communities, even amongst the oppressed ones. He also worked for the upliftment of the Scheduled Caste people of four villages in Padmanabamangalam in Srivaikundam, where he worked in the Sri Kumara Gurupara Swamigal Arts College, through Padmanabamangalam Villages Development Sabha.

Palam Kalyanasund

A global librarian

No words can describe the glory of this man’s greatness. Palam Kalyanasundaram teaches the world that only money cannot get you popularity and recognition. It is your kindness that makes you great and popular, for which people recognize you as their idol. He never wanted to become famous, but it is his kindness that has given him such a great popularity. Kalyanasundaram says that money doesn’t impress him at all.

“One can get money in three possible ways. First, through earnings, secondly, through parents’ earnings, and thirdly, through money donated by someone. But there’s nothing more fulfilling than donating money to charity out of your own earnings”. This great idea enlightens a strong message to the world that there is nothing in this universe as precious as your own soul. Do not let the materialistic things affect your soul and mind in being kind to others!

This retired librarian has given away all his earnings, award money, salary, and pension for charity to the poor. He has received several national & international awards and has donated crores of prize money he got from these awards. The amount he has given away over the past four decades for the welfare of humanity is approximately ₹30 crore (approx. 43,673,520 USD as of March 2023). He donated his ancestral property, jewellry, assets and everything that belonged to him. In the 1962 Indo-China war he listened to Prime Minister Nehru’s speech on the Radio in which he had appealed to the people of India to donate generously. He went to Mr. K Kamaraj, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and donated his golden chain to National Security Fund. Kamaraj had disclosed their contribution for the nation during the May Day celebrations in 1963.

A will to serve humanity has been Kalyanasundaram’s guiding principle throughout his life. “People think that I started doing charity when I was young by donating clothes and helping people study, and they attribute it to a public cause, but I insist it was for a private one. The place where I lived was a tiny village with no provision for roads, buses, schools, electricity, and there was not even a shop to buy a matchbox from. I had to walk 10 km to school and back and walking all that way alone was a pretty lonesome experience. Hence, I had this thought that if I could motivate most of the children to come with me to school, it would be great fun as well.” Kalyanasundaram says with a twinkle in his eye. “In those days, children could not afford to pay school fees which were around Rs 5. I offered to pay their school fees, got them books and clothes as well.”


Librarian of Millennium

Kalyanasundaram has received many national and international awards and accolades for his service to humanity. The Government of India awarded him the “Best Librarian in India” in 1990. India’s prestigious university, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), in Delhi recognized him as “One of the top ten librarians of the world”. The Tamil Nadu Government awarded him “Best Social Worker Award”. The Punjab government recognized him as ‘Best Library Scholar’. The Manonmaniam Sundaranar University Tamil Nadu awarded him with ‘Best Educator’. He was given the BAPASI award for best librarian in 2012. Rotary International awarded him “Lifetime Service Award” in 2011. Kalyanasundaram’s work was not only appreciated in just India; the United Nation Organization (UNO) has honored him as “One of the outstanding people of the 20th Century”. An American organization honored him with their ‘Man of the Millennium’ award, along with an award money of Rs 30 crores for his contributions towards the benefit of orphans. Kalyanasundaram donated the whole amount to charity. The International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, has honored him as “one of the noblest of the world”. Recently in the eve of the Indian republic day, the Government of India has announced to award him the “Padma Shri Award” 2023, for his selfless service. Kalyanasundaram humbly reacted to being chosen for the Padam Shri Award. He stated, that “this would only motivate him to continue his service for the betterment of the people”.

Great world leaders have vastly recognized and acclaimed Kalyanasundaram’s contribution to society. Former South African President Nelson Mandela sid this about Kalyanasundaram: “The progress of the country depends upon the children and the students of the country. Indeed, it is very great Mr. Kalyanasundaram has been doing yeomen services to this section of the society for the past 50 years and without publicity”. He was one of the two persons former US President Bill Clinton wanted to meet personally on his visit to India. Bill Clinton said that Kalyanasundaram has introduced a new method for strengthening relationships between the countries of the world and named it as the “Kalyanasundaram Plan”. India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had called Kalyanasundaram the “Light of India”. Former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam, stated on 6 July 2000, “A life without self-luxury is one called as living life in a purest form. The Supreme power has graced one such life to Kalyanasundaram. Under his able shadow, there are many who are divine and blessed to travel in a righteous way”. Superstar Rajinikanth was thrilled by Palam Kalyansundaram’s passion to help the needy, adopting him as his father.

But to summarize, all his accolades and achievements point to one conclusion; there is no doubt that Palam Kalyanasundaram is not only truly a ‘Man of the Millennium’, but the ‘Librarian of the Millennium’ as well.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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