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Kalam's Driver, Now a PhD and Lecturer

By: S Suresh Kumar

V Kathiresan (47), a high-school dropout, who used to drive former president Abdul Kalam's car, holds a string of degrees, including a PhD

This is no fairy tale. V Kathiresan (47) rose from driver to lecturer, all thanks to inspiration from an unusual boss: Abdul Kalam.

The boss, and later India's much-loved president, encouraged Kathiresan to study while he worked. The 10th class-drop-out today holds a string of degrees, the latest being a PhD.

MiD DAY visited his hometown of Vadachennimalai, a six-hour drive from Bangalore, to meet the achiever, a day after he had joined the faculty of Arignar Anna Government Arts College.

"I wrote to Kalam-ayya and he was very happy to know about my job. His words of appreciation made me happier than all the degrees I was awarded," he told MiD DAY in Tamil.

Army days

Kathiresan was in high school when his father Vellaisamy died. He couldn't complete his std 10 exams, but went on to join the army.

He acquired electrician skills and was posted at Bhopal in 1979. Two years later, he was sent to Sikkim, and then to Hyderabad.

It was at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory that he met Kalam, who was then its director. He worked for four years with him, and served as his driver.

He had no clue his boss would go on to become the president of India.

Drive time idea

Kalam was always courteous and used to ask Kathiresan about his background. "On one drive, he suggested I resume my studies," said Kathiresan.

Kalam used to give inspirational lectures to all 800 DRDO employees, and often spoke about the importance of education.

"He motivated us to take up distance education courses, and helped us along with whatever we were studying," said Kathiresan.

As driver, Kathiresan was at the office between 10 am and 6 pm, and then used the evening hours to study.

Step by step

Motivated by Kalam's advice, he passed his std 10 English exam. That was the hurdle that had made him abandon his studies as a young boy. He then completed his std 12 exams privately.

Kathiresan took up a BA course from Madurai Kamaraj University's distance education department. His next step was MA in political science, also from the same university.

The urge to study had gripped him, and he did a B Ed and an M Ed from Madras University. He then embarked on an M Phil from Kamaraj University.

Then came a degree in law from an evening college. The high point of his education was his PhD from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. He did the last course as a full-time scholar.

In 2001, he passed a teachers' recruitment exam, and was selected purely on merit.

Teacher's job

He worked at Kovilpatti as a high school teacher for eight years.

"The urge to learn never died. I have written four history books and a guide to Tirunelveli district," he said. "I have prepared notes for 10 more books."

Kathiresan's wife, a teacher, supported him through his difficult days. He has a son studying in std 11.

Since August 6, Kathiresan has been teaching students in the hot town of Vada Chennimalai. He is now looking for a house to stay.

"I want to share my experiences with my students and motivate them. Our principal and our head of the department have been very supportive," he said.

Source: www.mid-day.com

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