She is 94. She studied little as her village Kanuvai had no school. But, during the past 25 years she has provided education to thousands of children. That too in a school she constructed selling a substantial portion of her land after the demise of her husband. Despite it being a matriculation school as she wants to provide English medium education even to the lowliest, she accepts no donation and collects only a nominal fee. And most of these children are from the low income group and the industrial labourers' families.
“I am just fulfilling the vision and mission of my husband,” C.R.R. Ruckmaniammal, tells G. Sathyamoorthi.
Born on December 12, 1916, she got married in 1935.
Swarthy and frail-looking but endowed with phenomenal memory, she recounts how her husband C.R. Ramakrishnama Naidu collected as much as Rs. 2 lakh (a substantial part being his own) when K. Kamaraj was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to construct 10 classrooms for Government Boys High School, Ondipudur. But when the authorities refused to mention his name in the plaque, he was hurt. Then he vowed that he would build a school of his own.
“But I fulfilled it selling my land in 1986, eight years after his demise.” The couple lost their only son immediately after birth. Their family was well known in Coimbatore district as “marakadaikar” (dealers in timber, tiles, etc). A man who held various posts in local bodies, Naidu was one among those instrumental in approaching Kamaraj and getting a school sanctioned at Ondipudur.
Ms. Ruckmaniammal became the chairperson of the Ondipudur branch of the “madhar sangham” established by Savithri Shanmugham, daughter of the first Finance Minister of India R.K. Shanmugham Chettiar.
When Naidu passed away, quite a lot of outstanding to his shop could not be collected. The shop also ceased to function. But that has not dented her resolve.
As a first step, she constructed Ramakrishna Ruckmaniammal Kalyanamandapam selling eight acres. “Though my husband has bequeathed Rs. 8 lakh, still I required Rs. 40,000 for the construction. As I could not get it, I had to dispose of my land.” Even from the kalyana mandapam, she has been collecting only minimum charges and all the proceeds from the mandapam are now ploughed into the school constructed a few years later. Her next venture was to establish a school, that too for the poor people in and around Ondipudur.
Of the six acres she had, she disposed of 3.5 acres and constructed the institution in the rest. The institution that came into being with 35 children, now has more than 50 classrooms including the laboratories with 55 teaching and 50 non-teaching staff extending education to 1,850 children from pre-KG to XII standard.
The students are not only from Ondipudur but also from the surrounding villages like Pattanam, Velllalore, Irugur and Kannampalayam.
She recalls with palpable joy the inauguration of the school by the doyen of industrialists G.K. Sundaram and N.R. Chinnasamy Naidu. And it was graced by legends in school education scenario of Coimbatore region like N. Chinnasamy Naidu (former Headmaster of Mani's High School), T.R. Thiruvenkadasamy Naidu (former HM of Kadiri Mills High School) and Ramasamy Naidu (former HM of Kikani High School). Now, S. Rangnathan, former HM of Gopal Naidu Higher Secondary School, is the advisor of the school.
“We have now introduced digital learning also in association with Educomp. Earlier, we had a tie-up with ISL,” points out K. Jagadeesan, Secretary. The library has about 20,000 books.
One who probably knows the famous words “neither a borrower nor a lender be”; she does not take any loan.
For every paisa collected, receipt is given.
V.G. Venkatesan and G. Balasundaram, members of the CRR Ruckmaniamal Educational Trust, are immensely proud to note “even when some people offer donation, they are asked to help those students who are unable to pay their fees.”
Even after collecting a very nominal fee, the trust offers 52 scholarships to the meritorious, the poor and also the wards of the staff.
The authorities say that they “do not filter anybody. After admission, we concentrate on improving their quality.” In terms of sports and games also, the school students have been doing well. J. Hema Sree, daughter of a mill worker, took part in the Asian Games (Junior) and also Common Wealth Games in 100 metre hurdles. “We engaged a separate coach and she could win a bronze meal in Jakarta games.”
The institution's boys and girls reached national level in kho-kho both in 2008 and 2009 representing Tamil Nadu. She has donated 10 cents for Ramar Temple and also Rs. 40,000 for constructing Sri Ramanuja Kootam. In addition, she has donated about Rs. 2 lakh for various improvements to the temple.
A strict disciplinarian, she has not taken salt for the past more than six decades.
Ms. Ruckmaniammal, who still remembers how much wages she paid to the masons for her bungalow constructed almost 60 years ago, wants to convert that 45 cent building into a dispensary with laboratory initially.
“After me, the whole building could be occupied and could become a full-fledged hospital for the poor,” she concludes.