The one person in the world who has done the most commendable charity is Palam Kalyanasundaram, the 81-year old librarian who has for the last 30 years been donating his entire earnings to the poor. He even donated his pension of INR. 10 Lakhs and an award of a whopping INR. 30 Crores to charity. The International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, has honoured him as one of the Noblest of the World, and the United Nations adjudged him as one of the Most Outstanding People of the 20th Century. He also received Man of the Millennium Award and Life Time of Service Award from the Rotary Club of India in 2011.
Charity begins at Home
Born in Melakarivelamkulam in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, Palam Kalyanasundaram lost his dad at a very early age and was raised by his mother’s love. She taught a young Kalyan to be mindful of others and inspired him to help the poor and underprivileged sections of the community. Her teachings probably influenced him to start giving from a young age, though he admits the first time he did charity, it was selfish and for his own good.
He shares, “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 10km to school and back, and walking all that way alone can be 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. Since in those days, children could not afford to pay school fees which were around Rs5. I offered to pay their school fees, got them books and clothes as well.”
Oh, those teen years and education
Palam Kalyanasundaram, was born with a feminine voice and faced challenges in his teenage years. He was so troubled by his high-pitched voice, what he called his “flaw” that he even contemplated suicide. But the words of Thamizhvaanan, an author, changed his life, “Don’t bother about how you speak. Strive to make others speak well about you”.
And, thus he continued to study and strive in life. When he wanted to do his Masters literature and history in Tamil language, he was initially refused by the college as he was the only student for that subject. But Kalyan never gave up. His dedication impressed the founder of MTT College to such an extent that he finally not only gave Kalyan permission but took care of his educational expenses too.
He received his Master’s degree in literature and history.
The Real Tryst with Charity
His real tryst with charity came when he listened to Nehru’s plea to contribute to defense funds during the Indo-China war in 1963. He was the first and only student to walk up to Chief Minister Kamaraj and hand over his gold chain weighing 65 grams. Since then, the gold medalist in library science, who worked for 35 long years at Kumarkurupara Arts College at Srivaikuntam, donated his salary month after month towards charity while doing odd jobs to meet his daily needs. With each passing day, he promised himself to do more for the poor. He slept on railway platforms and pavements to even experience their difficulties. 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 to children’s educational funds.
Palam Kalyanasundaram lives in a small house in Saidapet, Chennai. He never married or settled into a comfortable lifestyle. Instead, he chose to dedicate his life to the less fortunate. He has now founded an organization called Palam that helps donors to reach out to the poor. The organization collects money, clothes, and books from those willing to donate and distributes them to those who need them.