Whether it is visiting Japan five times, turning down an opportunity to get a job and live in Japan, getting the honour of being invited to the 2019 International Assembly in San Diego as a District Rotaract Representative, or creating 10 jobs on his own steam within the IT industry for Rotaractors, DRR Udhaya Kumar from RI District 3231 has done it all.
And not that this youngster hails from a privileged background and has had the opportunity of attending an elite school or graduating from a top-notch university. On the contrary, Udhaya Kumar is the first graduate from his village — Pandikuzhi — in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. He studied in a Tamil medium school in his village and later graduated in computer science from an engineering college in Tamil Nadu.
When I started working, my English wasn’t that good but I always spoke up and the CEO of my company encouraged me; he wasn’t interested in my English but my ideas.
Kumar’s father is a farmer with a small landholding of two acres and till recently lived in a hut. But no longer, as his son, who has been working in the IT industry in Chennai for eight years, has built him a nice concrete house.
Hunger to excel
So how did a village boy from a poor background end up excelling in his vocation so much that his company has sent him to Japan five times,
I ask Kumar on the sidelines of the recent Rotaract conclave in Delhi. His response is a grin, as he says, “Not only have I gone to Japan five times, the Japanese offered me a permanent job there, but I chose to return home!”
Wow, how cool is that, I exclaim, as Kumar explains how it was the hunger in his belly to make something substantial of his life, that made him really work hard in his school and college and excel in his studies. “I wanted to become a leader and so in Class 8 I joined Scouts and emerged a leader,” he says.
His quest for leadership skills continued in his engineering college in Tiruvannamalai and “in my third year when I found that a Rotaract club had opened, I was interested in joining.” By now he was already in an NSS leadership position and the college’s cultural coordinator. “My teachers knew my interests and passion and recommended that I should join this club. In my final year I became the president of the club.”
Rotaract gripped him so much that even after completing his studies and finding a job in Chennai, he wanted to continue so he joined the Green Galaxy Rotaract Club sponsored by RC Madras Central Aditya. For four years he worked diligently for the club’s expansion, “became its secretary and we bagged 12 awards for our various projects and activities.”
Growing Rotaract in smaller cities
Meanwhile, his parent club in Tiruvannamalai noticed the changes he had brought about in Green Galaxy, “and it was also felt that while the Rotaract movement was developing well in the bigger cities, it wasn’t doing that well in the smaller ones such as Kancheepuram or Tiruvannamalai. So (PDG) Sampath Kumar Sir suggested that we set up a proper communication network to expand the Rotaract movement. I sought the permission of Green Galaxy and they immediately allowed me to leave saying they would always support me.”
Kumar started a new community-based Rotaract club called Deepam with 45 members, all of them from the IT industry and his juniors in college or the workplace. A vibrant club, it took up several meaningful community service projects; one for children of an orphanage with the title ‘Make the children smile’. But an unusual project he started was From VIP to VIP — from a velai illa pattathari (person without a job) to a very important person!
And then this bundle of energy and enthusiasm discloses that “using our own circle of friends, we’ve created jobs for 10 Rotaractors in the IT industry”! This came about, he adds, when he asked “some people to join our club and they said we don’t even have a job, how can we afford to join a Rotaract club.”
My aim is to become the Prime Minister. And it is not a joke. Only if good people get into politics, bad things will go out of our system such as corruption.
These 10 youngsters have got jobs in IT majors including Infosys and Wipro. “We have our friends in these companies and they gave very good references. Also, using our network some of the Rotaractors are now studying in the US, Germany and Japan. All the members of our club are such talented people.”
So how did Kumar manage to get handpicked to be sent by his company so many times to Japan? “Because I have a passion for research and when I go to Japan, there is no other distraction, such as family or friends, and I can concentrate freely on research.”
He has an interesting theory on how he became so interested in research; “my father never pushed any buttons to pressurise me on what I should study or what I should become. So my mind is free and I can concentrate on what I like best.”
And the Japanese loved this researcher who specialises in energy optimisation and offered him a job at an attractive package. “I stayed in Japan for two years (2015–16), and got a permanent resident visa but when I got a call from home saying they wanted me back to develop Rotaract, I returned and now have become a DRR!”
A sterling quality in this young man is that he never hesitates to give his opinion how big or daunting a forum. I ask him about his felicity with the English language considering he studied in a Tamil medium school. A lot of the credit for this, as well as his self-confidence and ability to speak up at any forum, should go to his close involvement in Rotary and Rotaract, he says. “At so many different events they gave me the opportunity to participate and even lead.”
This confidence, Kumar says, always helped him to speak up at any meeting. “When I first joined the workplace, my English wasn’t that good but I always spoke up and the CEO of my company encouraged me; he wasn’t interested in my English but my ideas!”
So will he join Rotary?
“Of course! I am now 29 and wanted to join this year, but I was advised that since you have taken up the DRR’s role, you have a lot of commitment to your district’s Rotaractors, so next year definitely I will join RC Tiruvannamalai, the home club of PDG Sampath Kumar, who is my mentor.”
PDG Sampath is all praise for the “enthusiastic, hardworking and talented Kumar who is so sincere and passionate about doing something for the community.” He recalls that even before he started working, and was a student and an ordinary Rotaractor, “he kept asking for a good project that would make a difference to the lives of people and he did a fantastic job. When we started D 3231, the Rotaract movement was zero in our district; but Udhaya Kumar has helped us to take up the challenge of growing it and making it more vibrant.”
His focus areas
During his year, this DRR wants to strengthen the base of Rotaract in D 3231; “I want to give proper orientation to the members, build a leadership training programme and build up a core team that will plan and implement meaningful projects that create a positive impact in society. Funds for this work won’t be a challenge,” he says. Even though the Japanese keep asking his employers to send back Kumar to Japan for a specific research project, “and my company asked me will you take up the Japan project, I told them give me a domestic project, and that too one related to community service. Already we’ve developed a software programme for government schools. My company understood my interest and passion and has given me a project related to government schools.”
Explaining a unique project he has planned for this year, Kumar says, “The general tendency is such that we find only negativity in people who give us service… such as bus drivers, conductors, policemen etc. We are quick to blame them but rarely see the kind of hard work they do to make our life more peaceful.” He plans to make small cards which carry the Rotary logo, End Polio image and “give these cards to Rotaractors so that when somebody finds any auto driver or policeman giving good service, he can put an appreciative message on the back of the card and give it. You will make them happy as appreciation from an unknown person is more valuable than money!”
“The system itself can change. My ambition is that in the next five to six years I want to change the very attitude of the Indian society.” Clearly a leader in the making, so does he plan to join politics at some stage?
To this light-hearted question his reply is dead serious, and articulated with a straight face: “Yes, certainly! My aim is to become the Prime Minister. And it is not a joke. In the government school I was studying in, when
I said this, everybody was laughing. But only if good people get into politics, bad things will go out of our system such as corruption, divisions on the basis of caste, community and class.”
Kumar walks the talk when it comes to idealism; he is happily married to Kalpana, a math teacher.
“I chose to marry her because she had lost her father. But of course, she is a very talented woman, who supported her family through her job when they were in dire straits after her father died. It is she who pushed me to become a DRR and said she would support me totally,” he smiles.