The Land of Bananas – is the fascinating sobriquet of Thottiyam, a small town located quite close to the River Cauvery. Legend also has it that, Kannagi, one of the most illustrious Tamil women whom people still ‘hold in reverence and awe’, and the central character of the South Indian epic Silapathikaram, after taking revenge on the king of Madurai, for “a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster” came over to Thottiyam. She is considered a goddess in the area and also has a temple on her behalf. Even today, hundreds from in and around the town come in hordes to offer their prayers to her.
The little town is also famous for its banana-chocolates and dried banana fruits (processed through govt-subsidised solar-dryers). These banana by-products are in great demand in many parts of India, said one of the Professors in a College here - Mr. Kannan. They indeed have an Association which is called the Thottiyam Banana Producers Group with a cultivation area of 5000 acres in town. ‘Sometimes forced-ripening of bananas becomes inevitable because of various reasons – be it the wind, or the floods, or the lack of water, or excess heat, etc. In such situations, the farmers suffer huge losses. To prevent such huge and recurrent losses, this idea was conceived and it has received excellent recognition along with a very good reception from distributors over the years’, he added.
Two Engineering Colleges cater to the technical education needs of the students in the locality, and I had the privilege of visiting one such Engineering College today - Vetri Vinayaha Engineering College. The College is located in a sprawling campus with good infrastructure and excellent facilities. The management has taken lots of initiatives to train their final year students both in Communication Skills and Soft Skills, and I was invited here to give a One-day Workshop on the same. The final year students were one enthusiastic lot! All the 94 students were in rapt attention to whatever was being said, and involved themselves in great eagerness in whatever activity we did.
One thing that touched me most about the College was the spirit of service that is part of their cultural fabric! ‘Excellent hospitality from Principal and the Staff, enviable enthusiasm of the students and sincere dedication of the teachers… …’ as I wrote in their guest book!
I met with the Principal Dr. Karthikeyan, who had a warm and cordial half-an-hour tete-tete over tea, and he added that he had just returned from Chennai, after distributing relief material worth Rs. four lakhs to the flood victims, accompanied by a few members of the faculty and a host of students. He enthusiastically showed me the video clips and clicks of the distribution of the relief materials - on his mobile phone – the kit comprises the essentials that flood-surviving families might need. Each packet weighs around a good five kilograms with a combination of 19 different things right from packaged food to clothes, toothpastes and brushes, you have it all there! I was so touched by his sense of commitment, when he said, ‘makkal sevaiye magesan sevai’ – [Service to man is service to God!]
One student from the final year ECE Department [by name Prabhu] was so enthusiastic and energetic, and he couldn’t wait to tell me about an invention that he had patented. I was so delighted to see him demonstrate it to me personally, that I said, ‘At the end of the class you can make a demo of your invention’. The class indeed gave him a standing ovation after his demo!
Most of the students came out voluntarily to be a part of the various exercises and language activities, and when the time for my parting came, I felt sad that I was leaving them because of the enormous love and affection shown by them all. Such an enthusiastic set of ‘on the verge of graduation’ youngsters filled with courage and determination! God bless you all. Love you all!
In my wonderful rendezvous with the staff and students here, I carry home one good thought: That, Chennai has witnessed dedicated people from all over India to lend a great helping hand to all of us in our time of need. Now, the only way in which we can pay back as namma proud Chennaiites is to have the same concern for our fellow human beings, exhibit the same brotherhood and step out boldly and spontaneously, to lend a helping hand in time of need to our fellow citizens, ‘wherever duty or danger calls us to! - be it from any part of the country! And we are Chennaiites, and I am confident that we will payback double-fold in our love, in our gratefulness and in our helping nature! Because — it is a part and parcel of our great culture!