Saturday, November 30, 2013

R.T.Chari- Sharing wealth with music

Until the age of 40, Chari’s interest in music was restricted to Tamil and Hindi film music. Listening to Binaca Geet Mala hosted by the legendary Amin Sayani was a must for him every Wednesday night. In fact, as a young boy he would get peeved as he was not allowed to listen to his favourite programme, as his brothers used to listen to Carnatic music on the only radio available in the house. This resulted in his developing an aversion towards  Carnatic music.

One evening he was hosting a dinner for some of his family members in the more spacious independent house on TTK Road, where his family had moved in by now and much to his dislike he found that the entire conversation was revolving around Carnatic music. He felt terribly left out. When he protested, his brothers-in-law posed a challenge to him; “They asked me to listen to 500 hours of Carnatic music to realise its magic” and Chari accepted the challenge.

He started by investing some money on music cassettes of some famous Vidwans and started listening to the tapes for a couple of hours every night. His brothers-in-law were proved right. Chari was hooked to Carnatic music in a big way. Soon he became a donor member of Music Academy, attending concerts regularly. Chari realized that Carnatic music was not only giving him great joy but also helped him to become a calmer and a focused person.

Just as he had decided to share his wealth with the deserving in the society, he also decided to share the joy of listening to Carnatic music with his close friends and relatives.

His first initiative in this direction was to hold Chamber music at his remodeled flat in Poes Garden. For 10 years, Chari organized nearly 50 chamber concerts lasting for about 150 minutes. Many junior and senior artists performed to a gathering of 60 to 70 people, every one listening to the “Kutcheris” with rapt attention.

Never satisfied with just offering a feast for the ears, Chari ensured that every concert was followed by a sumptuous dinner for all the invitees.

When I asked him about that, he said “I learnt that from my mother. Seeing the satisfaction of the guests after a hearty meal gives me immense pleasure”.

Not just the meal. Chari also ensured that every guest who attended the concert received a cassette containing 90 minutes of the edited version of the concert,. Only Chari can think of such things; once again proving his penchant for being different from others.

“Delighting the customers” is a phrase used extensively by marketers in the corporate world. Chari has always believed in delighting his audience in more ways than one!

* * * * *

This abiding interest in Carnatic music led Chari to collect more than 6000 hours of music from not only his own archives but also from other collectors. As a person with a vision who always believes in thinking big, Chari realized the need for chronicling and preserving the treasure trove of music he had collected for posterity.

The idea for a Digital Listening Library was born and soon Chari persuaded the Music.  Academy in which he was already an executive committee member to provide space for the proposed TAG Music Academy Digital Listening Archives which he agreed to  establish and maintain for 5 years (which he has now extended by another five years). The Digital Archive was launched at the Music Academy on 13th December 2008 just prior to the music festival of that year.

Chari says, “The difficult job of converting and indexing was done by my enterprising son Prakash and his Team. Empowered by a touch screen technology, the user can in 10 seconds listen to a song of his choice, categorized under a raga or name of the song, singer or composer”

Chari`s generosity seems to have no geographical limits. His dedication to the cause of promoting Carnatic music has led him to sponsor similar archives in cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Pallakad, apart from the one in Madras University`s Music Department. His foray to establish such an archive abroad, started with the inauguration of one in Singapore in association with SIFAS (Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society) and has extended to three places in Srilanka.

Not content with promoting only music, Chari who had no great love for Classical dances earlier, decided to also  extend his help in archiving Indian classical dance. The TAG Viewing Gallery was launched recently at the Music Academy adding one more dimension to the Academy`s efforts in promoting classical music and dance. The TAG Music Academy Listening and Viewing Archives has ambitious plans for acquiring 20000 hours of music and many more hours of dance programmes, in the next five years!

His passion for music and how it should be received by the audience has now extended beyond TAG Centre which he owns. TAG Corporation has already sponsored State- of the art auditoriums in eight schools including the ones in SSMS School, Chrompet Sankara School (Tambaram), Emmanuel Matriculation School (Pammal), Lady Sivaswamy Iyer Secondary School (Mylapore) , Bhavan`s TAG auditorium on Kilpauk garden Road and Ramakrishna Mission School, Madras South. Chari constructed the Super Tech 400 seater auditorium at the Guindy Engineering College, his alma mater, which he considers as one of his best contribution.

According to Chari, “Gifting is fine, but it is also important to see that it is received and used properly”. So Chari continues to monitor the institutions where he has extended his support.

In the last couple of years, Chari has been organising lecture demonstrations to help people appreciate Carnatic Music. He  also started supporting efforts to create greater awareness about Carnatic music among school students by  regularly conducting  raga
Identification competitions in selected schools.

The next most ambitious and sustaining project that Chari launched in February 2002 was the TAG South India Heritage Programme to develop a deep understanding of South Indian cultural heritage. Held on the last Sunday of every month, these lectures focus on specific aspects of South Indian Heritage, by eminent speakers.

Attendance is strictly by invitation and if a person does not attend three consecutive meetings without informing , his name is deleted from the invitee list.

Chari is extremely fussy and strict about time management. Speakers are told in advance not to exceed the time limit. Apart from the mandatory breakfast before the start of the programme, every lecture is also followed by a hot cup of coffee, ‘one for the road’ as some of my spirited friends would call it!

The audience consists mostly of senior citizens, all eminent people in their respective vocations; however, Chari’s effort to bring in the younger generation into the programme has so far not been very successful.

Under the auspices of South India Heritage programme, some 160 lectures, lec-dems, music concerts, plays, musical discourses, film shows and book launches have been organized. Both Tag Centre and the South India Heritage Programme have become synonymous with cultural excellence. The South India Heritage Programme recognizes exceptional music talent with the Ramabadhran Centenary Music Award, instituted in 2004. Eight excellent young musicians have so far won the award, which consists of a citation and a purse (which in 2012 was Rs 65,000). Likewise, outstanding performances in Heritage promotion by young achievers are recognized through the Vedavalli Memorial Heritage Award. Four  young achievers have won this award so far.

Chari encourages music talent in the young in several other ways as well. Every November, five young musicians are given a platform for a special afternoon concert, constituting an unusual five-day festival of young talent.

He has also published a 600 page book titled `South India heritage-an Introduction` which has contributions from 40 eminent scholars and which has been edited by Dr. Prema Kasthuri and Dr.Chitra Madhavan. This book is given free to any one going abroad for further studies.

In the last five years he has been also organising monthly lectures on various topics connected with religion. Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao`s recent lectures on Hinduism under the `Pravachanam Series` has become a big hit among a select list of 100 invitees. Chari insists on the audience coming in Dhotis/Sarees for this programme which again is held on a Sunday morning, once a month.

Chari says, “I have learnt a lot about our heritage and religion from these lectures. I will continue with this effort and hopefully someday I will be able to rope in the younger generation to attend these programmes” 

* * * * *

Chari’s saga of service to society in the area of health, education, music and heritage and other social causes still continue.

When I asked him about any other hobby or interest he has, his face brightened; “Yes, travelling is a great passion with me. I have so far visited 60 countries. I am  an avid collector of coins and miniature dolls from other countries. I have so far collected 3000 sets of dolls and 3500 coins. I also have a collection of miniature chess sets”, he says proudly.

Many of these items can be seen displayed at the well-appointed Party Room on the fourth floor of TAG Centre and at his home.

On the professional front Chari has been a recipient of the Udyog Patra Award from Government of India. The other recognitions he has got include the Best Alumni Award from Guindy Engineering College and early last year Sunanda Trust presented the S Rajam Award of Excellence for his exemplary work in preserving and promoting fine arts, performing arts and cultural heritage of South India.

When I asked him how supportive his family has been, he said, “My wife has played a big role in bringing up my children with right values, while I was very busy with my business and other activities. I also would like to recognize the role of my brother Gopal and his wife for taking care of my old parents for 30 years, allowing me to help the family in other ways”.

As for future plans he says, “I want to continue to sponsor auditoriums in schools. I have already identified schools in Cuddalore and Chenglepet”.

Chari is a highly focused individual. “I don’t take on any project which I feel will be a waste of time and efforts. When I find something worthwhile, I totally concentrate on that just one thing. I am aware that I have a one track mind which is both my strength and weakness.”

He is also known for insisting that the recipients of his generosity agree to contribute something as their share for the project, before he commits to support it. Anything given free is never appreciated by people, according to Chari, so “I insist on a ‘deal’ to ensure total commitment from the recipient of my charity, for the maintenance and continuing success of the project I have supported”

Since his sons have taken over the day to day running of his highly successful business with an estimated turnover of Rs. 150 crores at the last count, Chari has more time on his hands. I will not be surprised if he comes up with some more  ideas to delight the ever growing number of his admirers in  society!

If more people start sharing their wealth and passions like what Chari has been doing for the last 35 years, I am sure this world will be a better place to live!

(This is the concluding part of the article on Chari, the edited version of which appeared in Madras Musings)

R.T.Chari-A Philonthropist with a Difference

How many businessmen will think of building an auditorium, not to make money, but to primarily conduct programmes of their  choice and to derive great joy in throwing it open to friends and well-wishers as well? This always preceded or followed by delicious South Indian tiffin. Food for the stomach and food for the soul! Doing it month after month for the last twelve years, that businessman who is considered some kind of a crusader in the music and heritage circle of Chennai is R T Chari and the auditorium he has built is the TAG center, situated on TTK Road in the heart of Chennai.

I met Chari, at his office room in TAG center one evening to hear his success story and to find out the secret behind his evolution into a successful businessman and a human being with a magnanimous heart.

Chari is a philanthropist who has been sharing his wealth and his passion with the society, long before Corporate Social Responsibility became a buzz word in the corporate world! Listening to him I was so carried away by his story telling abilities that often I would forget to take notes. Though I have known Chari for the last 36 years, I was so fascinated by his life story that my respect for this unusual man has gone up manifold.

* * * * *

Chari was born into a typical middle class Iyengar family at Kesava Perumal Street in the heart of Mylapore, as the fifth child and fourth son in a family of nine children. His father, with his limited means could only assure his children three square meals a day and decent education. While he was the favourite of his grand father, his grand mother  was more fond of his other brighter brothers. Sometimes she would join her brothers in tease him about his inadequacies arising out of his being mildly dyslexic as a student.

Chari says, “It was this constant comparison between me and my brothers that sowed the seeds of an angry young man in me. I was determined to prove to the world what I am capable of.”

Fortunately, the family moved to Tambaram which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Chari. He terms it his first break in life. While at Mylapore he studied in P.S.Secondary High School; at Tambaram he was enrolled into Corley High School run by Christian missionaries. The headmaster of the school discovered that not only was Chari a good student but the tall young man was also good in sports. Constantly encouraged by the Headmaster, Chari became a popular sportsman in the school winning several prizes in high jump. He also became captain of the school volleyball team and was dabbling in other sports as well. It is in this school that Chari realized that he was good in Maths and also in Science subjects.

“My success in sports and the recognition I got because of it changed the attitude of my family towards me. My family members stopped teasing me. I was now even more determined to prove to my family that I was different from others”, Chari recounts.

* * * * *

Chari`s second  break in life came when he had to join a college for further studies. He had got very good marks in his Intermediate Exam while studying in Jain College and so applied for admission to College of Engineering, Guindy, with a lot of hope. But, he was crestfallen when he found that his name did not appear in the first list of successful candidates announced by the college. He became more frustrated when he found out that he was not considered in the first list probably because of caste considerations and a prejudice against students from Jain College and  not because he did not have enough marks.

Chari recalls with immense gratitude, the timely help provided by R. A. Gopalaswamy, Chief Secretary of Tamilnadu at that time, a distant relative who intervened to ensure that justice was done and Chari got his rightful place in the portals of this reputed college at Guindy.

While in College he continued to show interest in Sports and also fared well in his examinations. After successfully completing his degree in Engineering, when Chari was looking for a decent job with a good salary, fate again intervened to decide the future course of his life. He calls it the third  break in his life.

While he could have got a job in a reputed company with a starting salary of Rs.700 per month like his other class mates, his paternal uncle R.Narasimhachari, a famous  Company law Consultant then , had a different plan. Narasimhachari  was very close to Shri. S. Vishwanathan, Director  of the Seshasayee Group and had persuaded him to take Chari into his fold and mould him into a successful manager. His uncle was very confident that Chari would do far better under Vishwanathan than anywhere else. When Chari protested because the job came with a starting salary of only Rs 150 per month, his uncle told him; “Fortune sometimes comes in the form of a devil. If not accepted it goes away as an angel”. Chari decided to accept the advice of a genuine well-wisher and joined Seshasayee Group as an Apprentice Engineer in 1961. Rest, as they say is history!

* * * * *

In Seshasayee, Chari found a wonderful boss and a great mentor in H.K Ramaswamy, the Technical Director of the company. Impressed by his sharp intellect and hard work (Chari often put in 20 hours of work a day), Ramaswamy took a great liking for the young man and encouraged him to excel himself in every way possible, providing him with all kinds of incentives, which were not offered to others more eligible in the company
Later on he would , along with another director  V.K.Seshasayee, even help Chari with funds from his personal account to make up for a short fall of money required to purchase a three bed room flat in Poes Garden.

“He was a great leader who groomed me to become a successful man in life, I owe a lot to him”, Chari says.

Chari’s reputation as an engineer who was also a super salesman brought him quick recognition in the company. He was known to accept impossible challenges and make them possible. He was promoted as a Commercial Manager in 1968, as Technical Commercial Manager in 1970 and Chief Technical Commercial Manager in 1972.

When the management found out that Chari, though eligible, was not yet married because he dreaded the thought of establishing a family in the small town of Vadalur, in Neyveli District where his office was located, they decided to help him by shifting base. Chari was moved to the new Sales office of the group in Chennai when it was established in 1969.

Chari was married to Rangi, a multitalented girl from Bangalore, chosen by his parents, in 1971. The couple moved to their own flat at Satyanarayana Apartments in Poes Garden. Within two weeks of his starting his married life, fate again intervened to change the course of his life.

Through a force of circumstances Chari was selected to attend a ‘Foundry Exhibition’ in West Germany followed by a 30 day trip to Europe to explore a possible collaboration for his company, to make the hardware for Insulators used in Electric Transmission Systems. During his trip Chari managed to strike a deal with an Italian company, a leading maker of this particular product and was delighted at his success in his very first attempt. However, on his return to India, he found to his dismay that the Management, because of some politics at the high level, had decided to drop the idea of their expansion plans.

Not one to accept defeat, when Chari requested the management to allow him to try his luck with the new project, thanks to the tremendous goodwill he enjoyed with the top people in the Company,  they agreed. The management was so good to him that they also allowed him to continue as a Commercial Manager with the company until he proved himself in his business. Chari could have his cake and eat it too! This turned out to be the ultimate break in his life


Along with his brother Gopal who had also come out successfully as an Engineer from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Chari launched his own company TAG Corporation with its factory located in Chrompet. The word TAG, is an acronym using the first letters of Thiruvenkatachari and Gopal, his youngest brother who has been a pillar of strength to Chari in all his business and other social causes for the last 40 years.

Around the time Chari started his business, the Electricity Boards in the country were  planning to move from 220KV to 440 KV systems and looking for companies which could provide them with the hardware (which at that point had to be imported), required for the changeover. UP state Electricity Board was the first to decide on the new system. TAG managed to get a small order worth Rs.6 lakh which was only 10% of the total order. But the quality of the items manufactured by TAG was so high that the UP State Board soon placed another order worth Rs.32 lakhs. Chari also recalls with gratitude, names of the two Engineers of the Board: J C Gupta and Matha Prasad who were instrumental in TAG getting the order purely based on merit. He did not have to `look after` anybody in the Board to get his order. He says, “In early years I was extremely lucky to get good orders purely based on merit. No other considerations came in the way of the bureauocrats deciding in my favour”.

The next big thing to happen at  TAG Corporation was when it developed an import substitute item for 4R Dampers, with half the weight and price of the imported item. Chari  had got a sample order for 5000 pieces from MP Electricity Board worth Rs.40 lakh on which he made  very good  profit. Chari once again recalls the name of T K Srinivasan, Chairman of MP Electricity Board back then, who was instrumental in TAG getting the order, purely on merit and competitiveness. Soon a big order worth Rs.30 Crores followed, making Chari the uncrowned king in the manufacture of 4R Dampers, a very crucial item required by all Electricity Boards. By now he had also cut his umbilical cord with Seshasayee group.

Being a visionary Chari also set up a first of its kind full-scale outdoor test line to assess the performance of spacer dampers in India. The type of testing facility Chari started in India for Dampers  is even today, considered the second best in the world.

Chari started seeing big money and instead of just hoarding the money, he decided at the  young age of 40, to share his prosperity with  society. From being a successful businessman, Chari was on the road to becoming a generous philanthropist. A philanthropist who did not believe in just cheque book charity

* * * * *

When I asked Chari, which was the first act of charity he performed, he recalled the advice he had received from one Mr.R P Iyer , the then Chairman of Killicks group,who had once told him “When you are doing well, first take care of your near and dear ones before you look beyond to do social service. If every successful businessman does this, the country will take care of itself”.

He had also been irked by the fact that a number of his close relatives who were doing well had not come to his father`s rescue when he desperately needed help. He decided to put the record straight. He was also inspired by the helpful nature of his eldest brother towards the family. So, for Chari, ‘charity began at home”. He decided to persuade, cajole and  if necessary help every one of his siblings to acquire a house of their own.

At this stage Chari also realized the immense joy he was getting by the act of giving and sharing. He added, “I wonder why many successful businessmen cling to their riches and do not share it with deserving people. There is so much satisfaction and happiness in giving”

Beyond the family the first act of charity he performed was donating Rs.10,000/- to Corley High School, where he studied, to be given to the best sports person of the school. Next he decided to support Dr. C V Krishnaswamy, the well-known Diabetologist in the establishment of Ramabhadran Juvenile Diabetes Research Centre at VHS hospital. In the early years he had also donated Rs.3.5 lakh to the Cancer Institute Adyar for purchase of X-Ray equipment. Child Trust Hospital and SMS School in Chrompet were also the recipients of Chari’s munificence. Last year Ramu Endowments, the charity arm of his group helped set up the ambitious TAG –VHS Diabetic Research Centre, another dream project of Dr.CVK, at the VHS hospital.

While Chari was continuing with his generosity, an incident in his personal life completely changed him as a 
 mpletely changed him as a person and the direction of his philanthropic activities.

( Edited version of this article appeared in Madras Musings. The second part appeared in the next issue )

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mountains vs. Seas

If anyone asks me about my preference between a holiday in the mountains and one near the seas I would say ‘mountains’ without batting an eyelid. May be because I have lived most of my life in cities with beaches – first in Bombay and now in Chennai. My house in Chennai is only a 10 minute walk from the beautiful Elliots` beach, where I go for a walk every day!  So I am not particularly fascinated by Beach resorts because I find the experience monotonous.

 I prefer the mountains because of the varied experiences I have  had  during my many visits to  small hill stations on  holidays and ofcourse  the mighty Himalayas on pilgrimage trips or fun holidays.

While trips to hill stations have a certain pattern, visiting the Himalayas has always been an awe inspiring experience.

Let me start with the hill stations.  Most of the resorts in hill stations,  with man made lakes, gardens and parks,  were established by British rulers as a get-away for their officers  during the hot summers.

As you ascend the hills emerging from the plains you will encounter small streams crossing your path or mini waterfalls traveling down the side of the mountain or sheets of white water cascading down the steep hillsides, giving you some unforgettable moments.  Most of the hill stations also have some fabulous viewing points.

I remember my first experience of viewing the Doon valley  atop  the  hills of Mussoorie made famous by the genial  Mr.Ruskin Bond, the famous author of British origin. While the valley provides a certain viewing pleasure during the day, at night it looks as if all the stars from Heaven have descended  on the earth – thanks to the glittering lights of  Doon township.

To reach some of the hill stations like Ooty you  have to ride through scores of hairpin bends which provide an adventurous twist to your journey. For some with weak stomachs it could be a nauseating experience!

If you have to pass through reserved forest areas, as in Mudumalai  on the way to Ooty from Mysore, you can also see varieties of the four legged species  crossing your path.

Some of the hill stations also provide a mystic experience if you visit them during monsoon.  If you can get over your anxieties of possible land slides on your way and reach your destination safely, then you are in  for some ethereal experience with clouds.  Sitting on the verandah of your resort room you can see and feel the white and dark clouds passing by you.  The frequent rain during such holidays can sometime upset your tour plans but the joy of getting wet one moment  and encountering the bright sunlight the next, can leave you mesmerized. That is  nature`s  way of playing games with you.

While visits to the hill stations provide you with guaranteed fun  moments , visits to the big mountains like the Himalayas are altogether a different experience!  I have had the privilege of experiencing the Himalayas on several occasions.  Some of them on pilgrimages visiting the abode of Lord Vishnu like in Badrinath in Uttaranchal or Muktinath in Nepal or visiting Gangtok in Sikkim trying to reach Nathulla Pass at the height of 15000 feet, on the Indo-China border.

When you are on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas, you know inspite of all your meticulous planning, the Darshan of the lord is possible only if the Lord wants to see you!

So when people start on any pilgrimage, they have butterflies in their  stomachs and prayer on their  minds.  If you are traveling in a group, you will hear every one joining in singing devotional songs in praise of the lord, right through the journey which can last upto 48 hours one way, with one or two breaks for overnight stays.

The inherent fear that accompanies everyone through out the journey is compensated to some extent by the joy of witnessing some gorgeous natural sights.

When you are traveling to Badrinath by road, the sacred river Ganga accompanies you right through the journey.  Sometimes it is running parallel to the road, at other times you can see it is winding  its way through the mountain over rocks and trees. While in some other places it descends majestically from a height as a waterfall and in some places it glides along  gently.

 When you are  travelling by road to Gangtok you will have  similar experiences with river Teesta accompanying you  right through the journey  It is a fascinating feeling  that words can never describe completely.

When you visit Kashmir, variously described as the Paradise on earth or a  Dreamland destination on the Himalayas you will have the additional delight of witnessing honey dewed orchards, flower carpeted meadows, rippling lakes and icy mountains beckoning you.

Relaxing in  the  house boat at the Dal Lake in Srinagar, in the evening, you will be  captivated by the beautiful scenery provided by the setting sun behind the mountains.  At night when the lights are switched on by all the   boats – Dal lake becomes Golden lake, thanks to the reflection of  thousands  of  amber  coloured  lights in the water.

The snow clad mountains of Sonmarg and Gulmarg also offer you the opportunity to indulge in a lot of fun activities like skiing, skating or simply playing with ice balls!

I can go on listing the many virtues  of the varied  experiences you can have on small hills or big mountains. What I have listed is enough to justify my preference for the mountains as against the  Seas for a dream holiday!

Any one with a different view is welcome to share his/her views with me.

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