Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 24, April 1-15, 2023
He rose “from the humblest beginnings to become a path-breaking entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a cultural pioneer”, says author S.R. Madhu in his absorbing biography of R.T. Chari. After initial reluctance, Chari agreed to the idea of a biography because he thought it would demonstrate that “our country, despite all its challenges, provides opportunities for all, however disadvantaged”. Opportunities knock at many doors, but only a few grab them and turn them into inspirational stories, as Chari did.
The 175-page book comprises an eight-page profile of Chari, and chapters on his family roots, his birth and childhood, his admission to the College of Engineering, Guindy, and his exploits there, his professional career with the Seshasayee Group of companies, and the success story of Tag Corporation which he founded. There are three guest articles, and a few other brief chapters. Half a dozen appendices provide factual details on his many philanthropic contributions.
Chari’s life is presented in the form of both biography and autobiography.The opening pages of the book contain a profile of the subject which is meant to provide glimpses into Chari’s personality, attitudes and opinions. It includes a Q&A section on Chari’s favourite likes and dislikes. Chari mentions four major breaks in his eventful life. The first was his joining the Corley High School in Tambaram, which made him excel in sports, and transformed his personality, his attitude and self-confidence. The second break was his admission to the College of Engineering, Guindy, which had almost been scuttled by bias and casteism. The third big break was entrepreneurship.The fourth was his fascination for Carnatic music and his grand foray into arts and culture.
Chari was born in a very large family, the fifth among nine children. The family lived a hand-to-mouth existence but all of them were provided with a decent education. Chari imbibed a spirit of fairness from his father and several attributes from his mother, including a resolve never to waste food. His memories of childhood in Mylapore are fascinating. They offer glimpses of the lifestyles and workstyles of ‘TamBrams’ in the 1950s.
“Life was never dull in Kesava Perumal Sannidhi Street” according to him. All houses had court-yards of varying sizes. Most of them had three or four tenants with common shared facilities. Inmates argued, quarrelled with and shouted at each other, and yet there was bonhomie and they came together at times of crises. Cultural activities abounded with many sabhas providing a rich fare of dance, music and drama.
After schooling, Chari joined AM Jain College in Meenambakkam for his intermediate because this college was considered a stepping stone for admission to engineering colleges. Chari had set his mind on the College of Engineering, Guindy. But despite very good marks in intermediate and achievements in sports, his admission to Guindy almost got scuttled by vested interests – a gripping chapter indeed.
Chari describes his time at CEG as “the best period of my life”. He praises the quality of education there. No wonder Guindy alumni have held top positions in governments and the corporate world in several countries. Chari also had great fun then. He saw 400 movies in four years – Tamil, Hindi and English. He saw some films seven or eight times – such as Sabash Meena, Nau Do Gyarah, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music. The theatre visits invariably ended with masala dosa at Dasaprakash and ice cream at Jaffer’s.
Chari joined the Seshasayee Group of companies as an apprentice engineer at their plant in Vadalur near Neyveli on a meagre salary of Rs 150 per month. He proved his mettle there, both as an engineer and as a salesman, and surprised his superiors by collecting huge dues from clients that had almost been written off. He rose to the position of techno-commercial manager. He recommended that the Seshasayees set up the manufacture of hardware and accessories for high-voltage transmission lines, and slogged on the idea for three years. The company management astonished him by asking him to set up such a unit himself, with the group’s backing and support.
Thus, Chari was at once a senior executive of a company and an entrepreneur. Tag Corporation was born in 1972.The book describes the trials and tribulations that Chari faced in mobilising partners, acquiring land, establishing infrastructure and securing orders. A few landmarks: an order of 400 KV hardware in 1974, manufacture of 4R Dampers in 1976, and spacers designed and developed by his own team in 1977. Tag got an order for Rs 2 crores for the spacers, a whopping sum in those days. Chari fondly recalls the great help provided by Sathikh, a professor at MIT, Chromepet.
In 1979, Tag Corporation set up its own high voltage testing laboratory which made it the undisputed leader and pioneer in this industry. Several achievements followed. In 2003, Chari’s sons Vivek and Prakash joined the company. Today, the group has five factories and exports to around 20 countries.
Tag Corporation set aside a portion of its profits to set up a charitable trust, Ramu Endowments. It has since funded several institutions dealing with health-care, education, social welfare, music and fine arts, and touched thousands of people directly or indirectly.
Chari has redefined the cultural map of Madras with a broad spectrum of activities. The Music Academy – Tag Digital Listening Archive was established in 2008 followed by 14 more archives in various cities, including five abroad. Sophisticated modern auditoria were set up for 14 educational institutions. A comprehensive 630-page book on South India’s Heritage was published. The South India Heritage Program started by Chari ran for 18 years and conducted some 330 events and lectures. Outstanding achievements as well as young talents were recognized through awards.
For a person who claims “average intelligence”, Chari’s achievements in technology, philanthropy and culture boggle the mind. The author should be commended on researching and presenting his life and achievements in a book that’s most engaging and readable. – Reproduced from Vidura – A journal of the Press Institute of India, October-December 2022.
(Reviewed by Prof K. Chandrasekaran, who is dean and professor of Mechanical Engineering, RMK Engineering College, Tamil Nadu.)