Dalit boy completes chemical engineering and lands job, despite all odds

Four years ago, L. Ponnudurai was cleaning tables at a restaurant in Rajapalayam bus depot. In a month from now, he will begin work in a reputed cement company, as a chemical engineer.

The story of this gritty Dalit boy from Gopalapuram village near Rajapalayam in southern Tamil Nadu is an inspiring one. When he was barely five years old, his mother had committed suicide. Soon after this, his father remarried and sent him away to his grandmother’s place.

A relative noted his keenness to learn and put him in a government Adi Dravidar hostel. “My relatives were mill labourers and earned very little. To avoid burdening them, I used to stay in the hostel even during holidays,” said Ponnudurai.

He scored 96 per cent in Class X, and friends suggested a vocational course at a polytechnic institute. But, Ponnudurai said, he was keen on studying further.

Scholarships helped him finish Class XII with 93 per cent. He, however, faced a roadblock when he wanted to pursue his dream of going to college, as he did not have money to buy a form and apply for engineering counselling.

One day, his former physics teacher spotted him working at Vasantha Bhavan in Rajapalayam. “The next day, all my teachers landed up there. They had pooled in money to send me to Chennai and apply for engineering,” said Ponnudurai.

But this was not the end of Ponnudurai’s struggle. He tried to apply for an education loan all on his own, but bank officials wanted his father to be present. “He came only after my school teachers pleaded with him and promised to pay for his travel,” he added.

Ponnudurai came to Chennai with Rs. 2,000 and two pairs of clothes, but these were not his concerns. “Having studied in Tamil, learning in English was very difficult,” he said. Taunts over his complexion or his trousers almost broke his will. “I ran away thrice from campus, vowing never to come back but friends persuaded me to go back. In the hostel, I kept to myself,” he said.

But now, life is looking up. He recently cleared a recruitment interview with Ramco Cements and has got a decent offer. “I cannot ask for more.They let me answer questions in Tamil. I did not want to work in an IT company. I studied chemical engineering and I really like the subject,” he said, smiling.

He has other plans too. “In villages, even bright students are unaware of opportunities, admission procedures, and scholarships. I want to convince students there to finish college,” he said.