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M P Vasimalai discovers his roots at IIM-A

After making a movement out of micro-finance, DHAN Foundation keeps on innovating

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Among the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management that were commissioned in the 1960s, the one at Ahmedabad [IIMA] has always been perceived to be the most exclusive. Perhaps its paternity [the Harvard Business School], its charismatic founder [Dr Vikram Sarabhai], its dazzling architecture [Louis Khan's] and the rigour of its admission process combined to gain IIMA that reputation.

For four decades now, its graduates have been plucked off by great business corporations in India and abroad at salaries princes might envy. Surely personalities that go through the institution must have grit and brilliance. Surely too, they must be originals. Otherwise, every now and then, a graduate of IIMA would not do the unconventional.

Like M P Vasimalai, who evaded all campus recruiters in 1983 and opted for an opening to help manage the lands donated to the Bhoodhan movement founded by Acharya Vinobha Bhave.

Another era, just 50 years ago:

The story of how Vasi [pronounced 'Vaasi'] as he is referred to by everybody, came to mould the DHAN Foundation can wait till later. Let us just note for now, that DHAN currently has 400 professionals working in 6,000 villages of 6 states in India, trying to revive rural economies. A survey of the times he grew up in, will help to lead us to the DHAN story.

When he was born in 1956, he was named after Vasimalayan [pron. 'Vaasi-malayaan'], the presiding deity of his village, Ezhumalai near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Those times -a mere half a century ago- are eye opening. True, child mortality was high. Just five of his parents' ten children survived. But on the other hand, their extended family of 20 people could support themselves, and prosper on just 8 acres of land by natural, accustomed labour. Vasi's father presided over the large brood; he was stern, reserved and assertive but also took total responsibility.

He physically laboured well into his seventies. He had seven sisters who lived with their husbands in the house. The husbands worked as labourers for others to plough land, harvest crops, build houses,ferry produce to market and so on. They were frugal men, incurring minimal boarding expense in the large house; and they were gone in a few years, having bought small parcels of land from their savings. There were cattle and carts to care for, sheep and chicken to raise, and grains, vegetables, fruits and oil seeds to harvest. Oh, yes they were sturdy men of the soil.

The land was generous too. Water was available in the village's numerous wells at barely ten feet depth. They irrigated and farmed with animal power and produced plenty. Going to school was no excuse for not working. Vasi had to feed the animals before school and go directly to the fields after it. Once he had turned in his contribution with muscle, he was left alone to play with his mates or read the hundreds of Tamil books from the school library.

Then the times changed.

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