any topic in management …
you find all of them in Thirukkural”
CHENNAI: K.N. Varadarajan is neither a Tamil scholar nor a management consultant by formal training, going by his self-description. “I am a civil engineer by profession,” he says. But, in the last 10 years or so, he has established himself as a management consultant, taking classes in different institutions ranging from IIT- Madras, Anna University, Anna Institute of Management, Madras Cements to Madras Management Association. For his new-found profession, he extensively uses Thirukkural.
The Tamil classic has much more to offer than what it is widely perceived to be, he says. For most of the 1980s, Mr. Varadarajan, then a Director of Lighthouses and Lightships, was in the Andamans. “Those days were among the most pleasurable moments in my life,” he recalls.
It was there that he took up a postgraduate course in management offered by Indira Gandhi National Open University.
Here, the thought of consulting ‘Thirukkural’ struck him. Since then, he sees a close relation between the Tamil classic and the subject of management.
“You name any topic in management. Communication, managing people, selection of people, training, managing the boss, personality development … you find all of them in Thirukkural. Thiruvalluvar must have meant it [Thirukkural] as advice to kings. But, if you remove the term ‘kings,’ you find a great deal of relevance in it to the present day life,” says Mr. Varadarajan, who retired as deputy director general from the department in 1995.
“To study the subject of management, you do not have to imitate the West. Our own literary classics have enormous material. It is up to us to draw relevance from them and relate them to our needs and problems,” the 70-year-old emphasises, adding there is so much in Tamil literature that can be easily integrated into the subject of management.
For his management classes, he draws inputs from two of the three parts of Thirukkural, which deal with virtue and statecraft in 108 chapters and 1080 ‘kurals’ (written in the form of couplets). Every day, he learns 20 ‘kurals.’
Learning from classics
How do young students respond when he quotes Thirukkural? “Their immediate feeling is amazement. Then, they respond with the understanding that there is much more to learn from our classics,” he says.
Talking of his days in the department of Lighthouses and Lightships of the Union Government, Mr. Varadarajan, who belongs to the 1960 batch of civil engineering graduates of the Guindy Engineering College, says he was closely associated with the establishment of the lighthouse, located on the Marina, from 1971 to 1975.
“The range of the old lighthouse in the premises of the Madras High Court was limited. This was why we decided to build the one on the Marina.”
Lighthouses are an important navigational aid. They are also an exciting educational tool, he adds.