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Vol. XXVI No. 16, December 1-15, 2016

MGR the catalyst in Dr. Palani’s life

by R.V. Rajan
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*Heartbeats – My Unforgettable Life Experiences by Dr. Palani G. Periasamy.
Dr. Palani G. Periasamy is a first generation industrialist, an NRI who came back to India to participate in the growth story of Tamil Nadu by starting several industries and educational institutions.

In Periasamy’s evolution as an industrialist,

the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Dr. MGR, had a catalyst’s role to play. In view of his close association with him, there was a view in the world of business and politics that Periasamy was the Front Man whom MGR was using to invest his own money. This led to his facing a lot of problems in running his industries after MGR passed away and a new Government came into power. All through his turbulent but successful career as an industrialist, Dr. Palani has had to face a lot of criticism from not only politicians but also from a few friends who had invested money in his projects, who felt that they were not getting enough returns.

‘Periasamy is really enjoying life. He travels in a Benz car. Politicians, officials, film stars and other VIP s are seen around him in celebrations,’ would be the crux of the gossip.
“When relentless criticisms were levelled against me, I could not rebut them, as that would have opened up a war of words. I decided that through this biography Heartbeats – My Unforgettable Life Experiences, I would tell the world the full and true story and how I had to fight against all odds to reach the position I have reached today.”

* * *

Over half the book is devoted to the author’s friendship with MGR. This may be because the inspiration for the book came from a series of articles that the author wrote in Dinamalar titled ‘I & MGR’.

Dr. Palani met Puratchi Thalaivar during his first visit to the US as Chief Minister. As he was the President of Tamil Sangams of three States there, Periasamy was requested by MGR’s friends in India to coordinate all activities of MGR during his stay in the US. Watching MGR from close quarters, Dr. Palani’s respect and love for MGR grew. He was impressed with MGR’s keen commitment to develop Tamil Nadu into a top-ranked State in terms of both industry and education and to his humane approach in dealing with people.

Dr. Palani quotes the instance when MGR refused his offer to travel in his big car -instead of the small car which the Indian Embassy official had brought to the airport to take him to the hotel where he was staying. MGR had responded, “I have come at the invitation of the American Government. I will travel by the car sent by them. Here it is the protocol that is important and not a big car or small car.”

On another occasion, MGR missed a train to New York from Baltimore because he was busy on the platform talking to a woman who had travelled a long distance with her child, just to meet him. He justified his missing the train by telling Dr. Palani, “Doctor! Rail may come and go. But if I had not spoken to her she would have felt hugely disappointed. Just look at the woman. How happy she was.”

It seems that MGR too was very impressed with Dr. Palani’s network and organising skills. Before he left the US, MGR requested Dr. Palani to help start a top-class management institution in Tamil Nadu. The establishment of Anna Institute of Management in Chennai was the first initiative in which the author actively helped the Tamil Nadu Government. Thus began Dr. Palani’s tryst with Tamil Nadu and its industrial progress resulting in his starting a number of industries and, later, educational institutions.

It was during MGR’s second trip to the US, to the Brooklyn Hospital to undergo treatment after a kidney transplant, that Dr. Palani faced a major crisis. As a good friend, he was actively helping MGR and his team during their stay in the hospital. Back home, it was election time and the opposition started spreading the rumour that MGR was dead and that his body was being kept in an ice box by Dr. Periasamy. Not knowing the true facts, his family back home was also very upset. The rumour had the potential of making AIADMK lose the elections. Periasamy, then decided to shoot a video film, showing MGR in his hospital room performing his normal activities, thereby establishing that MGR was recovering well. This video was widely screened across Tamil Nadu and turned the electoral result in favour of the AIADMK.

* * *

Dr. Palani was born in 1939 at Muthugapatti near Namak-kal. His father was into farming and agriculture-oriented industries. But Dr. Palani sought higher education.
At Presidency College, Madras, he did his MA in Economics. In college he got involved with the Student Union where his leadership qualities and organising skills brought him close to many politicians of the time, including K. Kamaraj, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
“As a student leader, I had the good fortune of being associated with several industrialists, educationists, social workers and other VIPs which proved to be a turning-point in my life. My latter day successes in life was the result of the rich experience I gained in human relations as a student leader,” says Dr. Palani.

After failing in his attempt to join the Indian Administrative Service, Periasamy decided to join P.S.G. Arts College in Coim-batore as a teacher when he realised that teaching was his first love. Later, at the Tagore Government Arts College in Pudu-cherry, he rose to become an Assistant Professor. He was only 25. When his efforts to get a doctorate in India failed, he decided to go to the US. He earned a Ph.D from the University of Pittsburgh in Economics in 1969 after which he joined Washington College as an Assistant Professor. He was to become a very successful and popular Professor while teaching between 1969 and 1987.

It was during his stay in Balti-more that he initiated the ‘Tamil Nadu Foundation of USA’, of which he became Founder President. The Foundation encouraged NRI Tamils to donate money ‘to extend assistance to the health and education sectors in Tamil Nadu’. His success with the Foundation as a leader led him to start the Federation of Tamil Associations in North America (FETNA).

* * *

Before returning to India, Dr. Palani started a company in the US, ‘Mid-Atlantic Associates’, and invested in hotels, shopping malls etc., earning sizeable profits not only for himself but friends who had invested money in his company. He did not realise at that time that this experience would lay the solid foundation for his becoming a leading industrialist in Tamil Nadu, in due course. His move to Madras to start industries was largely because of the incentives offered by MGR.

Dr. Palani says, “A portion of funds invested in my business was from my own earnings. The rest was from Tamils living in America who had faith and trust in me. Unfortunately, those who did not know the facts spread rumours that MGR had been my source of funds.”
His first industrial venture was Dharani Cements, this was followed by Dharani Sugars. He then started the PGP educational institutions. And with MGR urging him again, Dr. Palani started ‘Le Royal Meridien Hotel’ in 2000 with support from friends. This was followed by a Meridien in Coimbatore.

From a teacher to a leading industrialist, Dr.Palani’s life story is inspiring.
Published by Vanathi Pathippakam, the original biography was in Tamil and was written by Dr. Palani teaming with Tamil writer Rani Maindan. It has been translated into English by the bi-lingual writer Charukesi.

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