Ancient India is known for a lot of things. Women’s liberation is not one among them. On one hand the womenfolk were worshiped as goddesses and on the other, they were seen as nothing more than domestic slaves. There is however, still one glory that you can’t deny India. It is the fact that there have always been women who broke the chains of servitude to carve their name in history and the men who always encouraged and supported women to reach for the stars.
As I read this in a social media post, I couldn’t think of a better way to wish all you lovely womenfolk a very happy women’s day.
“May the fire inside of you burn stronger than the storm surrounding you.”
Here is a small collection of my favorite women in Tamil sculptural heritage for this Women’s day.
Ever since Amar published a story on SriRamakrishna Kudil last year , I have been wanting to visit it and spend some time with the kids there. So when I planned for a ride across Trichy, Pudukottai and Tanjore I was very keen to spend some time at the Kudil. I called up my friend Vivi who talked to the Kudil people and ensured I got accommodation there for a night.
For the uninitiated, SriRamakrishna Kudil is a residential school providing free food, education and clothing for orphaned children and children below poverty line. The school was founded in 1949 by Brahmachari Ramaswamy Adigalar based on the principles of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. The school saw patronage from stalwarts like Kirubanandha Variyar, MGR, Anna Durai, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha.
The amazing thing is that the kids are all disciplined enough and manage the running of affairs of the institution all by themselves with only 5 adults to supervise around 350 kids.
I reached the Kudil by 4.30 PM famished after riding down from Chennai for 6 hours in the Sun that showed no mercy whatsoever. I was accorded a very warm welcome by Mr. Sukumar at the Kudil office who helped me offload my baggage and showed me my accommodation. A Kudil resident student Sivakumar helped me get settled in my room which by the way was the room stayed in by the likes of MGR, Kirubanandha Variyar, Kamarajar etc. The room was spacious and good enough for a decent stay. The accommodation is aptly named “Anbargal Illam”.
After settling in and freshening up I asked Sivakumar if we could meet the secretary Brother Karuppiah and he gladly took me across the road to the Kudil. Meanwhile talking to Sivakumar, I learnt that he had been a Kudil resident all his life and is currently enrolled in ITI education.
Brother Karuppiah welcomed me with a big smile and offered me a traditional welcome with a huge glass of tender coconut juice. We got talking and I learnt that kids study till 10th grade in the Kudil and based on their academic performance, they are enrolled in ITI which is a gateway for an engineering education later. The top 10 performers are enrolled in Sri Ramakrishna Polytechnic school in Chennai and the rest are enrolled in other institutes in Musiri, Trichy and other nearby areas. It was Dr.MGR who reserved 10 seats in Sri Ramakrishna Polytechnic school in Chennai for the Kudil students. He also told me that the kids took care of every single task in the Kudil thereby ensuring them that they grow up responsible citizens with life skills strong enough to not just survive but also make a mark in the society. But I had no idea as to what extent he meant.
I was so eager to meet the kids and Brother Karuppiah assigned me a student Hariharan to take me around the Kudil. The first stop was to meet Revered Brother Durai who is the current head of the institute. By the time I got introduced to Brother Durai and came out, the students were all hurrying up performing various tasks around the institute.
The kids were pretty curious to find out who I am and why I’m there. But they were hesitant to come talk to me. I could see all sorts of signage from kids around, asking Hariharan to tell about me. I ofcourse took the initiative and introduced myself and broke the ice. That was good enough to get the kids around me shooting various questions. Ofcourse the predominant question that a lot of the kids asked was if I was a Vijay fan or Ajith fan. Being an ardent Rajini fan that I am, I felt a slight tinge of disappointment which was soon overcome by getting to know the kids.
Hariharan took me around to see the Prayer hall, computer center, a room for stitching clothes, class rooms, auditorium, cow shed, the huge playground, lunch room, kitchen, garden and the river Cauvery that runs right on their backyard. While we covered all these places I could see kids everywhere cleaning the premises, gardening and performing a lot of tasks that I myself have never done before. But they were all happy to see a friendly outsider in their midst who was crazy happy to click everyone’s pictures.
The students day began by 4.30 AM when they wake up and be ready for prayer at 7 AM. Once that’s done, they take their breakfast at 8 and attend classes from 9 AM to 4 PM. From 4.30 PM to 5.30 PM, the kids do all their daily chores like cleaning, gardening, cooking etc. They play for a while, do a prayer, study for a while and retire to bed by 8.30 PM.
The most amazing thing is that nobody tells the kids what needs to be done. They all know what needs to be done and take to their responsibilities quite eagerly. There is zero adult supervision. Although younger kids are supervised by older kids. And everybody does their tasks on a monthly rotation basis so all the kids get to perform all the tasks.
The kids do have their occasional quarrels but then they regard each other as brothers and their quarrels are immediately sorted out and they go back to work together. Hariharan who was accompanying me throughout said there have been very very few instances of boys running away. A lot of the kids who have passed out come back to do service at the Kudil. One such kid who passed out has devoted his life back at the Kudil, taking care of the cows.
The institute has about 30 cows and the kids all take care of the cows assigned to them. They have a special affection towards their pet cows and they compete each other in taking care of them. The institute is kind of a self sufficient place with cows for milk, gardens for vegetables, flowers and fodder for the cows.
The most amazing thing was that the meals were prepared by the children themselves with the recipes handed over to them from generation to generation. It is a complete vegetarian environment and the kids take Rasam rice, Sambar rice, Upma, Dosa, Chapathi for their meals. Here is one of the kitchens where kids are preparing food for the Brothers.
The kids take sanitation seriously and they take bath twice a day before entering the kitchen to prepare their food. I had a chance to eat there the night I stayed and I should say I was blown over with the taste. All I had was Dosas, Chapathis and Rasam rice but how could I not enjoy them when served with their little hands and large hearts? And by the way did I mention that my accommodation and food was completely free and the Brother did not ask any money even in donation?
By around 6.30 PM, all tasks are done and the institute bell rings indicating the completion of all tasks. The most beautiful thing is that the kids did not show any sign of disinterest in performing the chores. They were going about it as if it is the most natural thing to do and all the while having fun. I contrast this to my attitude when I was a teen when it was a mountainous task for my mother to make me do chores around the house. I can honestly say that when these kids graduate, they will have more life skills than I have accumulated over all these years.
I’d be damned if I didnt mention about my interactions with Hariharan, my guide thoughout the days I spent there. Hariharan was a child labour who was a cleaner in a lorry service, sold pani puris and did odd jobs before being enrolled here at the Kudil. He joined the Kudil starting from 1st grade while he was old enough to attend 5th grade. He has a family in Thuraiyur who comes once a year to see him. He is also allowed to visit his family during the holidays but he hasn’t stepped out of the Kudil since the day he joined here since he likes being with his brothers. He is currently studying 9th grade and aspires to be a Computer Engineer. While he looked up to me for inspiration, I couldn’t tell him that he was actually being my inspiration.
Hariharan is just one example. All the boys have a story each and to hear them is very moving. And ofcourse I did leave with a heavy heart.
The institute had been run self sufficiently till recent times. However with the rising headcount and rising costs, they have started to accept donations from outside. In case you would like to brighten up the lives of these kids, you can donate to the following bank account.
Canara bank account no: 8434101007411 Cheque/DD payable at Sri Ramakrishna Kudil, Thirupparaithurai. IFSC Code No.CNRB0008434 MICR No.620015023
It all started with my recent FB post about the decline of Cholas. Kumaran, a Geologist working in Delhi, who had been following my posts for sometime, got in touch with me to discuss more on the history of Cholas. As we got talking, I was amazed at his passion for living one with the nature. Kumaran dons many hats as a wildlife conservationist, an adventure traveller, a rider, and a trained Wilderness First Responder. And oh, did I mention that he is also a Limca book record holder for paddle boarding in the open waters of Bay of Bengal for 7 kms? Kumaran also runs the Bay of Life surfing and paddle boarding school for people of all ages in Kovalam beach (yes the surfing school that we see in the Kovalam beach is run by Kumaran and his friends).
So when Kumaran called me up early last week and said he is going to be in Chennai for the weekend and would like to take me up for a session on Stand Up Paddle boarding, I was a little hesitant being part of the “non-swimming no life skills acquired” populace of the Chennai city. But then the adventure loving part of my brain that had earlier pushed me from a twin engine plane from 13000 feet woke up again and egged me on to go ahead on it.
Ofcourse Kumaran’s assurance that the water level in the lake wont even reach till my hip helped as well.
So off we went early in the morning in Kumaran’s Scorpio all geared up. We headed out on the Mambakkam road which suddenly turned from being the chaotic Chennai outskirts to a farmland heaven with fields dotted all over. I swear I even saw a signboard that cautioned drivers to go slow as peacocks and deer may cross the road.
After 30 mins of driving we stopped at the intersection of Mambakkam road and Tirupporur-Chengalpet road for breakfast. The small push cart shop run by a couple had hot idlis and masal vada with piping hot sambar which was enough ammo for the rest of the morning.
We arrived at the beautiful lake, away from all civilization except for a Hanuman temple atop a hillock nearby which actually did provide quite a spectacular view of the lake. And Kumaran has aptly named the lake Bajrangi Bhaijaan lake. What amazed me was the fact that there is this beautiful lake just within an hour’s drive from Chennai and not many know about it. We were the only two souls there and Kumaran nudged me to get things ready on my own with a bit of his help. After a few minutes of pumping, the raft was ready and we were all set to get into the water.
The clay bed of the lake was a new experience for my feet and for the initial few moments I had a tough time to not slip and fall. Once I got used to it, it was fun to balance and walk on the clay bed.
Being a professional trainer, Kumaran helped me with the basics of paddle boarding and made me comfortable to onboard and get paddling. I was kind of expecting Kumaran to topple the boat and dunk me in the water to get my fear of water out but then Kumaran is not a banana boat rider in the commercial beaches of Goa. Being a thorough professional and not the one for cheap thrills, Kumaran was helpful and made me comfortable throughout.
After a bit of struggle, I got used to stand up paddle boarding and was quite enjoying the experience when Kumaran brought out his snorkelling equipment out. Since the water was pretty clear and wasn’t too deep we could see a lot of flora on the lake bed. Though there were a few turtles that were said to be there, I couldn’t spot one unfortunately.
After spending an hour experiencing nature at its best we wrapped up. Kumaran was quite a stickler for conserving nature as it is and hence we had to carefully check so as to not leave any garbage, plastic or otherwise.
One of the best things about my photo blogs on history is that I get to meet a variety of inspiring people. Kumaran is definiftely one such inspiration and I would recommend everyone to follow him on FB.