iMahal Interview Series:
G. Venkataswamy
June 17, 2001

G. Venkataswamy iMahal:  It is a great pleasure for us at iMahal to talk with you about your successful ventures in eye care in India. Before we discuss your career, it would be very helpful to our readers if they understand where you came from, your early life. In 1918 you were born in the village of Vadamalpuram, 80km from Madurai. How would you describe your upbringing? Who was your hero?
Venkataswamy:  My father was a farmer in a small village in south India. There was no school in my village. We had to walk a mile and a half across a river to the school in the nearby village. Every house had a buffalo and the children had to take it out for grazing early in the morning. We came back home, had some food, and went to school. When a school was set up in our own village a few years later, we had no pencils or paper, not even a slate. We used to collect sand from the river bed, spread it smoothly on the ground, and write in it with our fingers. The school went up to grade five and most of the village children stopped their studies with that. But my father was keen that I continue my education. The following year my maternal uncle, who worked as a clerk in a local office in a nearby town, took me in. For the next eight years I stayed with him and finished school and two years of college under his care.

There are several heroes in my life, starting with my father. He spent his own time and money to plant hundreds of shade trees around the pools and avenues in our village and in neighbouring areas. He built a house that was far more advanced in planning and execution than what a villager would normally build. He practiced good agriculture. He aimed at perfection in all his works. He was known for being truthful and straightforward. People did not dare to tell him a lie.

And of course there was Gandhi. When I was under the care of my uncle, Mahatma Gandhi was in the political forefront of the country, fighting for India's independence. His followers were everywhere, preaching and practicing his teachings. As small school boys we started spinning yarn with hand charkas or spindles. We shared the spindles to thread our yarns and we boycotted foreign goods. My father started wearing khadi home- spun cloth and I also started wearing it. Gandhiji's ideas of celibacy, non-violence, truthfulness, and simple life appealed to many people in the younger generation. His movement was not just political; there was also an effort to review the traditional dharma or culture of ancient India. The Bhagavad Gita became popular and people started reading it to understand Kharma yoga. I remember well reading it in those days. But I didn't understand it then. At the same time Swami Vivekananda became very popular with us. His speeches were so powerful and inspiring, they made me look forward to doing something challenging and great. I also read the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who had very little schooling, but who had known God in person. All these contacts influenced our thinking greatly in those days. We were not thinking of amassing money as our goal in life. We always aspired to some perfection in our lives, like the realization of God, or the reaching of higher level of consciousness in Yoga.

Gandhi Vivekananda Ramakrishna
Gandhi Vivekananda Ramakrishna




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