Akkinimuthu Krishnan, the 8th child of his parents, was born in 1952 into a well-to-do, landed family in Panchalingapuram village of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu. From a very young age, he had a burning desire to study and nothing came in his way in fulfilling that desire—not the various back-breaking chores he had to do on his family farm, not the indifference to education his family showed, not the disheartening sight of his older siblings dropping out of school, one by one. Krishnan persevered in his goal to attain a college education.
The first graduate in his family, Krishnan studied in the Tamil medium in the village school, and then moved to study in the English medium in college where he read Economics at the Aringar Anna College in Kanyakumari. In fact, his was the first batch to pass out from that college. While studying in college, he also enrolled for shorthand and typing lessons as any good, self-respecting South Indian at that time did.
Krishnan wasn’t very sure as to where he wanted to work or what he wanted to do—all he was sure about was that he wanted to put his education to use and not be dependent on his family. He also did not want to manage his share of the family’s farmlands until he had a chance to work elsewhere. During this time, a friend of his asked him to come to Bombay (it was still Bombay then) and try his luck in the city of dreams.
So, in May 1973, he arrived in Bombay with the proverbial Rs.500 in his pocket. It was the beginning of many ups and downs (actually, more downs than ups) as Krishnan navigated through many jobs to try to find gainful employment. His first job, incredible as it may sound, was as a tuition teacher for kindergarten kids for a princely salary of Rs.100/-. This was just the beginning of the many jobs he held for the next few years—as a typist with Chari Publications, as an employee in a coffee store, in the accounts section of Asha Automobiles, as an employee in the ration shop of Sriram Cooperative Society, as a newspaper distributor, as a typing instructor in Nancy Institute, and as a proof-reader in Onlooker Press. In between these jobs, Krishnan had chicken pox, went back to Kanyakumari to clear one economics paper, get his BA degree, and do an advanced typing course. And yes, he also unsuccessfully attempted to get employment in the Middle East. Through all these employment trials and errors, Krishnan never gave up his quest for that one job which would give him that break.
In 1978, an acquaintance of Krishnan asked him to apply to Tata Press. And Krishnan, ever ready to try his luck applied. Within a week of applying, he got an interview call for the post of a phototypesetter, a term that Krishnan had not even heard of. Still, he went for the interview which was a complete disaster. Krishnan answered all questions with a “Sorry, Sir. No idea.” Any other interviewer would have thrown Krishnan out, but this interviewer—who was either made of sterner stuff or was desperate—decided to test out Krishnan’s typing skills. Now, typing was Krishnan’s strength even though he was unaware of this. And on a Remington machine, Krishnan’s skills were brought to the fore—in the allotted time, he had typed over a page without any errors. The stunned, but delighted, supervisor told Krishnan, that the job was his, unless someone else was recommended for the job. Three days later, Krishnan got a job offer from Tata Press. Appointed as a trainee, this was his first important break.
The second break followed almost immediately. A week into his new job, the Union-led employees of Tata Press went on strike. Krishnan—who was not part of the Union as he was a trainee—was immediately brought to the forefront to carry out the various jobs. He was given undivided attention and intensive training by his supervisors and within a month had become so proficient, that he was able to handle tasks independently. This also led to him being confirmed in his job within a year, as against the company norm of 1.5 years.
Krishnan spent the next 15 years at Tata Press and grew from a position of a trainee to that of a foreman. These 15 years also saw him progressing through various technologies associated with the printing and publishing industry. He started work on an Alpha Type machine, then moved to work on a FDTS machine, and finally in desktop publishing or DTP.
Due to union and management trouble, Krishnan opted for voluntary retirement from Tata Press on April 30, 1993. His third break came on that very day when he was offered the job of a Senior DTP Operator in the Publications Unit of another organisation—an organisation he has worked in since then, an organisation that I work in, too, and an organisation that he retires from today.
It seems almost like yesterday when I met Krishnan for the first time about 15 years back. It was an intimidating first day at work for me. All my department colleagues were older than me and Krishnan was the senior most of them all—my callow, 2 years of work experience seemed insignificant to his 2 decades of experience. But I was senior to all of them in terms of hierarchy.
It took me a little while to get used to this, and learn to manage and lead my department as a team. And along the way, also build a beautiful, professional relationship with my department colleagues that has lasted till date. As my deputy, Krishnan’s experience a foil for my inexperience, and his cool temperament often calmed my own impetuousness during moments of crisis. In many ways, he has been my guru, my teacher.
At a personal level, Krishnan helped me overcome a major inhibition of speaking Tamil (my native language) in public. While I am fluent in Tamil, I grew up in places where Tamil was not the native language, and therefore I spoke Tamil only at home and with relatives. Not having any Tamil-speaking friends also did not give me an opportunity to speak the language outside the home. This led to a severe inhibition of speaking the language with others outside this circle of family and relatives, which often got misinterpreted as arrogance or not being proud of the language. But thanks to speaking in Tamil with Krishnan, whose native language is also Tamil, I was able to overcome this inhibition. Today, while I still do not willingly start a conversation in Tamil with someone I do not know, I also do not freeze or get tongue-tied if that same someone speaks to me in Tamil.
Krishnan is probably the most popular guy to retire from my organisation in recent years. His jovial nature, ready laugh and cool temperament ensured that he was the first person to be invited or missed at every staff gathering, picnic or function. His skills with the computer were such that he was the person that colleagues called to troubleshoot, rather than the EDP guys. I have lost count of the number of times I have waited in exasperation for him to return from yet another problem-solving call and attend to department work! A keen sportsman, Krishnan’s lunch break involved gobbling his lunch in the shortest possible time and then sprinting to the gym for a few games of table tennis.
On the face of it, Krishnan’s life story may read like many others who have struggled to find their place in the sun. Perhaps. But what makes Krishnan’s story special and inspiring for me is the fact that I have known him as a person and not as someone I have read about. His amazing tenacity, ethics, values and temperament have been a living example for me, as have his skills. Knowing Krishnan, I know that he is only retiring from this organisation, and not from life itself. He is the one who should be having retirement blues, and I find myself having them !
When I started this blog, I had told myself that I would keep my work life and this blog separate, and so far I managed to not let the two worlds meet. And, here I am, breaking one of my own rules by writing about Krishnan. But this was a post that I had to write as I wanted to share his inspiring life story with you.
And of course, to say a big thank you to Krishnan for being a mentor; a teacher of all things Tamil—films, music, language; introducing me to the beautiful world of DTP packages; for being a ready-made dictionary on call (I can sometimes be lazy about referring to a dictionary)… etc. etc. :-D