Earlier this week, I met yet another social worker, N. Subramanian, well past 60. His abode in Virugambakkam, where he has been residing for more than 30 years, is humble. There is hardly anything there to hold your attention. Except, Mr Subramanian himself. After retirement, he has spent more than Rs 50,000 in helping needy students with books and stationery; a portion of his monthly pension is set aside for such philanthropy. Thanks to him a few schools have received benches, and students Thirukkural books, atlases, dictionaries, grammar textbooks, pencils and erasers, and plastic toys. The schools include a village school in Kuruvimalai, Tirunelveli, which was established by Subramanian’s maternal grandfather A. Swaminatha Iyer, and where Subramanian studied till standard 5; Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Chinmaya Nagar; Avichi HS School, Virugambakkam; and the Corporation Middle School, Arumbakkam. Subramanian donated 200 engineering books to Dr M.G.R. Engineering College, Maduravoil, and established an endowment prize of Rs. 12,000 for toppers in mathematics.
The only son of D. Nagaraja Iyer, a schoolteacher, pursued studies (up to standard 10) at the Board High School, Polur. In 1963, Subramanian started work as a ‘field man’ at the Block Development Office in Kilpennathur, near Tiruvannamalai. The innings lasted only six months for he passed the Railway Service Commission examination and in January 1964 he joined Southern Railways as clerk in the signal and telecommunications department. He would serve the Railways for 37 years and more, retiring in May 2001 as a Grade 1 office superintendent. He was an “outstanding” employee and his contribution included a hand-written guide for those appearing for chief clerk exam. In a citation, the Railways described him as “…a self-made man who has climbed up the official ladder with nothing other than absolute sincerity, merit and hard work… a self-motivated, conscientious and forward-looking person.” Do we have people like him nowadays, I sometimes wonder!
When Subramanian arrived in Virugambakkam in 1977, civic amenities were woeful. He took the lead in getting the Corporation to lay roads and provide electricity. He remembers helping to move huge pipes to the Virugambakkam canal to allow free flow of rainwater. He patrolled the streets at night and fenced a public space in Kumaran Nagar, against encroachers. He and a few residents were instrumental in constructing the Karpaga Vinayagar Koil. During the tsunami of 2004, he organised relief material to Nagapattinam.
Another local hero.