It was a rare honour to be invited to hoist the national flag on the Independence Day at the JSN School of Management.. I was initially meant to join the faculty and few more from other nearby colleges for the launch of the 'knowledge network' among such rural management schools that would eventually be able to supplement each other through networking and sharing of resources, projects and knowledge. However, later Mr. Pravin, the faculty member who invited confessed that I was also supposed to hoist the flag and deliver a lecture to the students and faculty.
JSN School of Management is a rare management school started in a rural atmosphere by a courageous academician who dreamed of it becoming an institution that can shape the enterprise spirit and management capacity of rural youth in the Kancheepuram area. Prof. Nandakumar, had quit his corporate job to join the Sankara University B-School earlier as faculty in Kancheepuram itself. After a few years, he launched the JSN School on his own. That he succumbed and died young is unfortunate for the Institute. However, in an amazing show of solidarity his earlier students who were in different corporate houses and other institutions decided to take over and run the institution. Some decided to join the college itself full time like Pravin, other decided to support the institution from outside.
So, it was not surprising when I got into the cab on Aug 15th and met with Mr. Parasuraman, who introduced himself as a visiting faculty and corporate manager, but, connected to the college because he too was a student of Prof. Nandakumar.
The mild showers that morning didn't seem to deter the students and faculty as they were there with the girls in bright coloured dresses and the guys all in trousers and tucked in shirts looking very much the executives that they aim to become once an MBA programme is done.
Sharing dais with me were two interesting gentlemen, one Mr. Thathachary, who was a part-time faculty and taught Finance Management in the college was also the priest in the vaishnavite temple in Kancheepuram. He spoke shortly about the need to preserve tradition and sang a Bharathiar song as well. The other gentle man was a retired banker, Mr. Devakumar, who now was visiting education institutions sharing leadership lessons with them. I often encounter this phenomena, retired bankers and government servants who take to doing their might to address the lacuna in our education system through whatever little they can offer in their post-retirement life. Most of these are voluntary like Mr. Devakumar. He has also written a precis on the Bhagawat Gita (this is the second such publication on the Gita I am receiving this year).
My own thoughts in the preceding few days had been on the increasing suicide among youth and I had written a longish note on the issue in Tamil and hence much of my talk was on addressing the issue of suicide among youth. The lack of confidence even to address smallest of disappointments, the inability to handle pressures and sense of 'failure', inability to relate to anything that is strength within themselves, lack of clarity on their self-image...it was good to see some young faces nod in understanding. It was pleasant surprise to receive a sapling of a fruit tree and a book on organic farming by Dr. Nammalvar as a memento, rather thoughtful of the college I thought.
The two encounters that made the day memorable for me however, were that of the small play staged by the students and meeting the amazing sister-brother duo of Ms. Suganya and Mr. Kumaravel. The play had the disappearance of farm lands due to distress sale by farmers and the exploitation by the real estate agents as its theme. The message was how the farmers who even hold on to small patches are pressurized by their own peer farmers and the goonda of real estate agents to sell their lands and being reduced to a state of penury working as semi-skilled labourers in the factories that come up in their pieces of land eventually. The senior students who spoke at the end rather passionately spoke of the disappearance of farm lands. He said that after they listened to a talk I had given the students about a year ago, they had decided at least in their families they will ensure that farm lands are not sold and farming as a family occupation was sustained to produce food for themselves and how despite tough peer pressure, some of them had sustained! That was amazing!!
Suganya, and her brother Kumaravel were introduced to me by Pravin at the end of the formal meeting. They had biked about 100+ kms to be there with the rest of the students that morning, she had just enrolled herself. Vilwanathan, the elder brother of the two was blind and he travelled to Chennai on train for his Masters. While in the train, he did some trading and made some money, this money he had saved up to send his younger sister to the management school. The younger brother Kumaravel was a silk weaver, "I don't have much education, but, I want my sister to be educated as much as she desires, that is the dream for both of us brothers", he said. "We are unable to make much as we are job work labourers in our own loom, but, whatever I save is to ensure that we support her for education and later others like her also", he continued. "I want to ensure that I take a job through which I earn enough to support young girls struggling to educate themselves", said Suganya when I asked her what was her ambition in life. "But, how many would you want to support?", I asked, "as many as possible", she responded.
I left with the wonderment of the dedication and conviction of our rural youth even as I was struck by their lack of broader exposure to thoughts. It is not so rare to see Suganya, Kumaravel or other students who took one idea and decided to not succumb to pressure and hold on, but, what does the society offer them as choices...a management degree that could perhaps provide them with a 5-digit monthly salary in a globalized economy..an economy that relentlessly pilloried their traditional vocational knowledge and related identities into non-existence, a knowledge driven trading of their self-identity, from one based on relationship, pride and purpose to that of mere earning and possession?
Later in the day while driving back, Pravin and other faculty were discussing the kind of programmes and courses they wanted to offer, courses that would ensure that these youth take up rural production sector, make them viable again, build rural youth leaders...dreams of a small group of inspired men, driven by the vision of a founder - teacher...long way to go, JSN! There is much potential here and lot more will happen in the coming years here...