A Village Lad becomes Vice Chancellor

A Village Lad becomes Vice Chancellor     

Dr. Kalanidhi was born in the year 1948 in a small village called Punjai Pughulur, near Karur, where the hundred-year-old house in which he was born, still exists. His grandfather a Thondamandal Mudaliar owned nearly five to six hundred acres of wet land. After his demise the Chettiar from whom he had taken a loan for planting the coconut seedlings appropriated the land. By the time his father a municipal engineer, who had graduated from the Guindy Engineering College, came into inheritance there was nothing to inherit. However, being a socialist and a sympathiser of the communist party of India, all the important communist leaders of his time were intimately known to him. Though he never entered active politics, he resigned from his job and went into full time public work. He hardly stayed home and young Kalanidhi only saw him once in a blue moon going in and out of the house. He was a man loved by everyone and his public relation was excellent. He could talk to any person at any level and kept an open house whenever he happened to be there and rarely paid any attention to his family.

The family was the sole responsibility of the mother, a tall, big built, impressive and bold matriarch. She was very spiritual, sang devotional songs, practiced Yoga and had a deep knowledge of the Indian Medicine. People called her a daredevil. Once when Kalanidhi’s elder brother, who is now a colonel in the army, was beaten by the manager of the village school who was incidentally her husband’s elder cousin, she wrote a bold letter to him which read something like this:

Mr. Manager,

You have no business to deal with the students. As a manager you can only deal with teachers and not the students.

Mother of X student

It was a very bold step from an inheritance less woman in an Indian against a village bigwig as well as an elder-in-law. She asserted herself in a male chauvinistic society against the rich and powerful, while she was poor and penny less. She was jovial and laughed and talked all the time. She made friends easily and was a leader in every situation. She had three sons and a daughter and never allowed them to think that they were any less than others. She taught them to think big and lit a flame to achieve something in life. She also passed on to Kalanidhi her love for yoga, meditation and Indian Medicine.

Kalanidhi’s early schooling took place in the same school where his brother got beatings. Later, he went to the District Board School at Pughalur and daily walked six miles up and down. At school he did not show any extra-ordinary promise and was just like any other village lad. After completing the school he wanted to become an engineer. Those days selection to the Engineering courses was only through an interview (and influence). Somehow his father helped him to obtain admission. When he was asked to indicate a place of choice he naively indicated the newly started Salem Government Engineering College as it was nearest to his native village. Luckily, he was placed in the Coimbatore Government Engineering College, since the building of the Salem College was yet to get ready, and by default managed to get a better education than he would have got at Salem.

In College he had a miserable life due to the acute want of money which his family was facing. Whatever little land had remained in the family had been sold for meeting his educational expenses. To make both ends meet he also obtained a Tamil Nadu Government Educational loan of Rs.1000 per year. Plodding through his education, penny-less and without any guidance he somehow managed to get a first class. After passing his B.E. degree he came to Madras in search of a job. No one, among his several relatives living there, came forward to put him up so he stayed in a choultry (charitable-inn or Dharamshala). The little money that he had he used for his food. He did not know what was a campus interview and how to prepare for a job interview. He could not get any job as he performed miserably in all the interviews. Meanwhile, his father again made a rare appearance in Madras and predicted that Kalanidhi was destined to do his Post Graduation (he was an astrologer and had faith in his own predictions). He pushed an application form, for Guindy Engineering College, in the hands of his son and disappeared for the next six months. At that time Dr. Kulandai Swami was the Dean and as luck would have it Kalanidhi again managed to be on the waiting list for M.E. – Refrigeration and Air-conditioning course. He was also given a government stipend of Rs. 250 per month that was a princely sum to him. He could now easily pay his fees and mess bills and still feel rich. For the first time in his life he was not thinking of the next rupee. At Guindy he took great interest in sports. Having been swimming in the river Cauvery in his early years he became a swimming champion. He won all the medals that were to be won in every aquatic event and won the championship. He also represented the Madras University at the Inter-University sports at Ahmedabad. He went rowing in the Adyar River and made to Senior Sculls. He flowered as a sports man while in Guindy Engineering College.

After post graduation he was a graduate trainee with the Pallavan Transport for a while. Soon he got a job as an associate lecturer in the Salem Engineering College which he gave up within the next fifteen days and joined as a lecturer in the A C College of Technology, Madras. It proved to be a turning point in his life.


Last week I said that a turning point in Dr. Kalanidhi’s life was joining the A.C. College of Technology (A.C. Tech.) in Madras, as a lecturer, in the year 1975. It proved fortunate for him in many ways. At that time he was threatened by his colleagues and friends that he would not be able to cope with the Don Bosco educated students of AC Tech., due to his rural background and village accent. Kalanidhi took the challenge and said the boys were coming to learn from him and not to have an oratorical contest with him. At that time AC Tech. was a prime institute. Dr.Ganesh Sankaradas Laddha, who was the Director was a strict disciplinarian and students showed great respect for the teachers. Fortunately, Dr. Kalanidhi became a part of this well organised institution. For the first time in his life he experienced financial safety and security essential for the peaceful pursuit of knowledge. While there he met his wife who is a very creative architect, a musician and a Bharat Natyam dancer. Both his daughters, Charu and Gayatri – currently students of engineering, were born while he was in AC Tech. He also completed his Ph.D. in 1978 much ahead of his colleagues in Guindy Engineering College as Guindy was not yet recognised for Ph.D. while AC Tech was.

Interestingly, even though he joined at a salary of Rs. 400 per month, it was soon raised to Rs. 700 hundred and then to Rs. 1100 per month by the Government from retrospective effect. As a result, years later, he got a substantial amount of money in arrears from the date of his joining. This money along with the savings from his architect wife, was invested by the young couple in buying a piece of land in Tiruvanmiyur village, the value of which has increased many fold by now. It was all a matter of sheer luck and since then financial tension was no more a part of his life. At AC Tech., he also volunteered to become the NCC officer in order to discipline the students and to keep his own body fit and disciplined. He introduced a new policy in college that every student should undergo compulsory disciplined training and join one of the following programmes, namely, NCC, NSS or NSO. The same policy was later suggested by the then Vice Chancellor Dr. Kulandai Swamy to the University Grants Commission and became a national policy. As an NCC officer he organised eye donations, laying of village roads and cycle expeditions with the help of the students. According to Kalanidhi being an NCC officer helped him in several ways such as:

disciplining students
disciplining himself
evolving new policy for the students
creating opportunity for students to show their talents
making his own creativity known to the higher authorities.

As a result he was selected to go on a Common Wealth fellowship to UK and did his post doctoral studies at Southampton University. He also was able to tour Europe and visit some of the finest universities and institutions. This exposed him to the European culture and advancements in education. On his return he made several contributions to the university both in administration and research. He reorganised the transport department of the university. He added new buses to the fleet and made the department cost effective. As Professor of Energy he contributed greatly to the field of energy conservation and co-generation. He has devised techniques for the simultaneous use of energy from power plants for desalinisation of sea water. He believes that with some simple changes in boiler and turbine capacity it would be possible to use the energy from Ennore power plants to desalinate 55000 lorry loads of sea water per hour. Similarly co-generated salt could be used for producing several other products by setting up the ancillary units next to the power plants for making salt, sodium, magnesium, etc.

He has also contributed to the area of refrigeration cryogenics and developed low temperature refrigeration by utilising liquid nitrogen. A private ice cream manufacturer has been using his technology from 1987 in transporting ice cream from Dharwad to Goa. He feels that this technology will also be very useful in transporting fish cost effectively on our long coast line where roads are not good enough for modern US type refrigeration trucks. He also worked on alternate air-conditioning (by spraying liquid air) and sees great potential in this. According to him a medium size hall to 100 could be kept cool by spraying liquid oxygen at a cost of three hundred rupees for a duration of two hours.

After many years at AC Tech and Guindy, he joined the All India Council of Technical Education and was posted as Director of its continuing education centre. He designed hundreds of new courses which could be made available to professionals who could not go for regular education and firmly established the reputation of the centre. As a result of this major contribution to the cause of technical education he was invited to become the Member Secretary of the National Board of the Accreditation which accredits MCA, MBA courses at Engineering colleges and polytechnics in the country. During the two years he served the All India boards, technical education in the country touched newer heights. Hundreds of new institutions were encouraged in educationally backward areas. After serving the cause of technical education with such credit it was only natural that he should be selected to hold the office of the Vice Chancellor of the Anna University, the prime technical university in the country. Having a background knowledge of the university he has settled down in no time and has launched an ambitious agenda of converting the university to meet the challenges of the new millennium.

His ambition for Anna University is:

– To elevate Anna University to a world class university.

– To make it financially self-supporting and not look for funding from the government all the time.

– To make it an innovative and creative university.

– To make education credit based.

– To open up the opportunities to students internationally, by offering Web-based educational programmes across the globe.

– To establish a technology gateway by taking innovations from the research and development labs to industries through the Anna University platform.

The Centre for Academic partnership in Anna University

He is passionate about upgrading the technology education in the country. Towards this goal he has established the Centre for Academic Partnership in Anna University. Any institution of Engineering and technology, in the country, can enter into ‘partnership for excellence’ with the Anna University and,

obtain intellectual and organisational support
human resource development training for their professionals
undertake joint research projects
get involved in joint consultancies
undertake academic exchanges
Give opportunities to the faculty to register for Ph.D. degree with Anna University and helping them upgrade their knowledge.

The centre has a potential for creating an overall impact on the quality of technical education nationwide and has far reaching implications for India in the new millennium.

Paranayama – the other passion

The other passion of Dr. Kalanidhi is the practice and preaching of Pranayama. He had already been introduced to yoga by his mother but he got to really understood Pranayama at the Vivekananda Kendra in Bangalore, when he was suffered from a wheezing problem. As he started benefiting from the practice he started collecting literature on Pranayama. He realised that some of the literature was not correct and went back to study the Tamil scripture called ‘Thiru Mandiram’ which he had earlier studied at the age of ten under the guidance of his mother. Apart from practicing it, he studied its scientific basis; he wrote a thesis which got him a degree of D.Sc from the Sri Lanka Open University. He is very keen to promote the concept and has delivered more than hundred talks on the subject. To him, Pranayama not only improves the quality of life but is the very breath of life. He is an ardent believer in Indian Medicine and Yoga.