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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Forgotten man who rebuilt village in Kerala, launched airline for refugees after India won independence

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On the 6th of April, every year, people of a small village called Alagappa Nagar, which was initially a township for the employees of the Cochin Textile Mill, close to Thrissurdistrict, Kerala, honour the day a man who permanently changed their lives over 100 years ago.

As India celebrated 74 years of freedom from the British Raj on Sunday,the monumental contribution made by Dr Alagappa Chettiar has again been honored.

This time his grandson, Dr Ramanathan Vairavan, spoke about Dr Chettiar’s contributions to Indian when it had just won independence.

Dr Vairavan had written a book on the  life  of his grandfather in 2015. That book was name Alagappa: A Beautiful Mind.

Dr Chettiar, who was born in Tamil Nadu, in 1909, was just in his 20s when he came to the village of Alagappa Nagar, and built homes, temples, schools, and a polytechnic for the villagers. 

Dr Vairavan, who presently lives and works in California and chairs the Alagappa Group of Educational Institutions, says life to his grandfather was all about doing things for others. 

Dr Vairavan says, “He encountered many difficulties and hurdles, especially because of health reasons. My grandfather was looking to study in the Indian Foreign Service, and so he went to Britain.”

In Britain, Dr. Chettiar started suffering from a disease of the skin called leprosy or Hansen’s Disease.

“Even if you had a pimple, you would still want to hide it today. But his entire face had been defaced back then, and that was also in a country where the Indians had previously loved,” Dr Vairavan observes.

Dr. Chettiar failed because of his skin issue when passing his tests.

This, however, failed to demotivate him, but instead he graduated in law.

Dr. Vairavan, that’s how things changed for Dr. Chettiar.

He was from a rich family, yet he was willing to make use of his fortune for the nation’s greater good.

He returned to India, especially Kerala, where he reconstructed Alaggapa Nagar.

“When a few of years ago I came to the community, they informed me that nobody had been able to do what they could.

He was just 27 or 28 very early in his life,” says Dr. Vairavan.

The industrialist founded a number of businesses during his life – Kerala’s Alagappa Textiles, Malayan rubber plantations, Burma’s timber mining, Calcutta insurance companies, Madras theatres, Bombay hotels, and a stock exchange firm.

During partitioning, Dr. Chettiar also started an air carrier that ferried refugees at that time.

Dr Chettiar was always fascinated by flying and he acquired a pilot licence in Croydon when he was in London.

Years later, in 1947, the Jupiter airlines brought this very interest to India.

“It was over Jupiter Airways which owned a Dakota fleet that he bought while he was active in the stock market.

He developed mass transportation airlines,” claims his grandson.

Dr. Chettiar was the first person to volunteer his aviation to the country’s administration to evacuate people from Pakistan at the beginning of the Partition of India.

It is indeed sad that in spite of the contributions that Dr Chettiar made, people still not know much about him.

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