L.Kanaga Subramani reads out the Thirukkural everyday to his passengers. He is definitely not your average bus conductor

The first thing he does on waking up each morning is reach for the Thirukkural. He studies a couplet and dwells on its meaning. When he leaves home for work, bus conductor L. Kanaga Subramani carries the book with him. At the Mettupalayam bus stand, he goes about work as usual — he dispenses tickets to passengers of an Ooty-bound bus. But when the bus stops briefly at Kallar at around 7.15 a.m., Subramani puts away his ticket bag and swings into action.

A good word

He walks down the aisle of the bus and says, “Anbu payanigalukku kaalai vanakkam” (Good morning, dear passengers). Asking them for two minutes of their time, he recites the Thirukkural couplet he had read that morning and explains its meaning. He follows that up with a plea to the passengers to keep the bus and their surroundings clean. He also talks to them about road safety. “Do not board a running bus,” he cautions them. “Avoid plastic. Plant trees to keep the environment green. If not, at least do not harm those that are planted.” He urges them to donate blood and help those in need.

Bonhomie

He concludes by asking if anybody in the bus is celebrating a birthday or a wedding day. If they are, Subramani gifts them a Thirukkural. When the bus resumes its journey, there is a new warmth amongst its passengers. This is what Subramani wants — bus journeys that are informative, educational and comfortable. To him, passengers are family.

He has been giving away Thirukkural books to a passenger every day, for the past 10 years. “If there are no birthday or anniversary celebrations in the bus, I often pick a teacher, a police-officer or a student and honour them with the Thirukkural,” he says. If one of the passengers is retiring, they have a farewell party right there in the bus.

The Thirukkural ritual began when a passenger commented on a couplet written on a placard inside the bus. “Do the driver and conductor even know what it means?” he asked. Subramani made up his mind then to recite and explain a Kural a day to his passengers.

For the prisoners

Subramani spends his free time organising literary events for prisoners at the Coimbatore Central Prison through his trust, Senthamizh Arakattalai. “It's an effort to give them a positive mindset so that they don't go back to crime,” he says. “Who knows, we might inspire them to become writers and poets.” He has organised a Carnatic music teacher to teach prisoners music. He has also held singing and oratory competitions for them. “I give them a topic to prepare two weeks in advance,” he explains.

He plans to organise a debate for women prisoners on Mother's Day this March. He and his friend D. Michael have rehabilitated several elderly prisoners in old age homes.

Subramani who is famous for his pep-talks in the women's prison, also sings old film songs for them. They enjoy his rendition of ‘Thayillamal naanillai...' “There are tears every time I sing it,” he says. The 56-year-old also gives motivational talks to his colleagues as part of the State Transport Corporation's training programmes. Subramani says that he was inspired by his teachers to do something for society. “My teacher Arpudharaj sir fed and clothed me during difficult times,” he says.

But his biggest idol, he says, is MGR. “I grew up watching his movies. He is my role-model. My talks are never complete without his songs.”

Kanaga Subramani can be contacted at 96009-87811.