Society

Making a difference: Meet the living search engine

BIBLIOPHILE: S.K. Murugesan. Photo: Soma Basu   | Photo Credit: mamp14mad2.jpg

S.K. Murugesan is a known face in the Tamil departments of practically every college worth its name in the city. Over the last two decades, he has been regularly spotted in college corridors carrying two or three big bags stuffed with books in Tamil, holding animated conversations with students and teachers or sitting as a back-bencher at many meetings and seminars.

When he decided to shift from Dindigul to Madurai three years ago, the only belongings he had to transport was a lorry loaded with books and papers. If you imagine him to be a scholar, he shocks you by revealing that he is only class II pass. Yet this “Dindigul Tamil Thaathaa” as he is fondly called, is always rubbing shoulders with academics.

His story is really an inspiring one – that of sheer grit and determination to contribute to society. It is his conviction that stops his age, qualification or economic status from coming in the way.

Born in a poor family, Murugesan had to choose between school and work early in life. He grew up gaining experience in a small kirana store and later as a teenager set up a small grocery shop. When he could not run it well, he turned into a junk dealer and that marked the turning point in his life. Though an illiterate, he was attracted to the Tamil textbooks that people gave away as ‘kabadi'. “I started preserving them because I felt they were rare and valuable. One day a pattimandram scholar Punitha Ekambaram came to my shop and was surprised with the pile of books. She got an entry pass for me for the district library in Dindigul where I started spending few hours daily to learn Tamil.”

Similarly another English professor in Dindigul Soundaram impressed with his collection helped him to learn English alphabets and read few words to enable him to read the titles of the books he possessed. Again a chance meeting with two teachers in Yadava College, Madurai, Mr.V. Gopal and E.K.Ramaswamy, made him realize the value of his wealth.

Murugesan started helping post-graduate, M.Phil and Ph.D students of Tamil by lending them books, helping them to select the thesis topic, searching for relevant titles and guiding them on finer nuances of research work. “While the teachers kept encouraging me to continue to do the work, they also scolded me for making the students lazy as they wouldn't go hunting for books themselves,” he laughs.

Murugesan became a de facto ‘Google search' for hundreds of students in Madurai Kamaraj University and colleges affiliated to it besides several other institutions across the State. Any time any student anywhere wanted a particular book, text or reference material in Tamil, they would just call him and place the demand. He would dig it out from his collection and if he did not have it, then he would go all out to help the student searching for it in other libraries.

He maintains a meticulous record of what book he lends to whom and when, with the name of the author and the publisher. Till three years ago he was doing it totally free. Only now he has started charging Rs.100 per semester to cover the cost of the book incase it is lost or misplaced since Ph.D students sometimes borrow books for three to five years.

For outstation students, who call him and place the order over phone, he takes the courier/transportation charge. Over the years, Murugesan has networked and established himself so well that he works as a de-facto guide for at least 50 M.Phil/Ph.D students each year.

Though he is still not very knowledgeable about the rich wealth he is sitting on, he says he has books which are more than a Century old and on topics ranging from history to philosophy, literature, religion and much more. Many first time students who come to him with reference from seniors don't believe that he is not an educated person. He is often mistaken as a scholar as he sits quietly taking notes at seminars and meetings.

“I attend these sessions to educate and update myself,” says the 71 year old, still as active and agile as ever. He possesses a goldmine of books and peace of mind even though his pockets are empty. But that doesn't worry him. “Things just happen. Students and teachers who come to me for books, feed me, buy me clothes. I feel very honoured when they acknowledge me in their thesis,” he says.

Energetic and enthusiastic with an unquenched thirst for scouting books describe Murugesan the best. Though his own three children hardly meet him or help him, he is thrilled that he has so many children – and even grand children now – across the State.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to somabasu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)


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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 5:55:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/making-a-difference-meet-the-living-search-engine/article2223943.ece

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