Late Sri C.Rajam Aiyar, industrialist and his institution Madras Institute of Technology

Sri rajam Aiyar, industrialist(1882-1955) en. wikipedia. org.
Unlike the present day when hundreds of engineering colleges are offering various courses to the prospective students - thanks to the liberal education policy of the state government in the past two decades - in the 1950s, 1960s there existed a handful of Engineering colleges in this region offering quality engineering education with good faculty and lab facilities. To cite examples AC College of Technology, Chennai, Alagappa University, Karikudi, Annamalai University, Chidambaram  PSG college of Engineering, Ramakrishna College of Enginnering, the latter two at Coimbatore, etc were popular in the late 50s and 60s. At all these institutions, merit was the main criterion and the seat allocation was not based on caste as it is to day. Since politically India was young and so many public works projects and private companies were coming up across India, there was a shortage of people with engineering skill, particularly, in the late 1040s. 

A preponderance of people of younger generation of today may not be aware of the existence of a prestigious engineering institution in Madras (now Chennai) that attracted students from all over India. This popular institution offered many quality engineering courses both practical and theory including Aeronautical  engineering and Metallurgical  with superb lab facilities. What is so special about this institution? It had excellent and dedicated faculty and apart from it, it offered only three-year diploma courses in engineering and the qualification for admission was any Bachelor's degree with Physics, Chemistry and Maths as main subjects. Merit was the prime condition and the seats were limited. Meritorious students would get some kind of financial aid from the institution. A striking aspect of this institution is no sooner had the students passed out of the portals of this college than they got a job without any difficulty with a descent salary relevant to that time.

Can you imagine who founded this unique institution located in Chrompet in Chennai?  It is none other than one C. Rajam Aiyar (28 November 1882 – 21 July 1955), one of the premier industrialists of yester-year Madras city. A man of superb ability, foresight and business management skill, Sri Chinnaswami Rajam Aiyar climbed the ladder of life way down at the bottom of the rung. He climbed every step with firm determination and matching hard work. Considered as an important industrialist of that time, he was a stickler for discipline and would appear in crisp Khadi dress. The sterling quality about him is he was a man of action and never in his life had he made compromise on  quality of either his products or of his services. 

You will be in surprise if you come to about his family background. Bestowed not with  either a rich family background  or education in a posh Angelo Indian Christian school, Mr. Aiyar came from a very humble family background with no education beyond high school. No doubt his fighting spirits, inquisitive mind and innate business acumen stood him in good stead through out his eventful life. 

Born in Swamimalai near Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District,  Sri. Rajam Aiyar had a chequered career. He joined the Salem Government Weaving School in 1904 to master the art of weaving process and  over a period of time, having gained considerable practical experience, he started a hand loom factory (fly shuttle loom) to produce dhotis, towels, shirt material etc.  In early 1909, Rajam got into leather goods business with Mysore Tanneries financially backed by his  friends. It was a successful venture and later in 1918, Rajam founded India Company Private Limited with three partners and in the year 1923 this company became the agent of Tata Steel Limited and were trading 2,000 tons of steel per month. This business dealing  turned Rajam into successful business man in Madras. In  1932  Rajam Aiyar  founded the Kumbakonam Electric Supply Corporation Limited and subsequently in 1933 he started two more companies: Nagapatnam Electric Supply Company Limited and Indian Steel Rolling Mills Limited. His ventures were quite lucrative.  He was the chairman of five companies: India Company Pvt. Ltd., Kumbakonam Electric Supply Corporation Ltd., Nagapatnam Electric Supply Company Limited, Indian Steel Rolling Mills Limited and Garage Limited. The initial paid up capital of these companies was more than Rs.5 million at that time. He was also in the Car Agency.  In those days in cities' and towns, distribution of electricity was handled by private companies. Sri Rajam' s  companies handled them well and  outages were rare in those days. 

What made Ayiar start the engineering institution in the suburb of Chennai? It was in 1949 Sri Rajam Aiyar founded Madras institute of technology with a view to imparting quality engineering education with matching practical knowledge. Upon his visit to his steel factory (close to the railway station) at Nagapatnam, Mr. Aiyar realized he had to depend on German engineers to fix certain technical snags in the machinery and it did affect the productivity od his company. This made him ponder over the dearth of well-qualified Indian engineers in those days due to lack of adequate engineering colleges. Not to depend on foreign engineers and to fill up the gap in the shortage of engineers in India, he started an engineering institution that gave more emphasis on practical knowledge than theory so that the students from this institution could handle the job in the workshop or factory with confidence. He was well assisted by his friends - such as M. Subbaraya Aiyar, M. K. Ranganthan, K. Srinivasan, C. R. Srinivasan and L. Venkatakrishna Iyer.

In his personal life, Sri Rajam Aiyar faced many ups and downs which he handled them with aplomb. But, the loss of one of his sons and wife impacted his personal life very much. Submitted himself to the edit of god, he kept going and had begun to lead a humble and detached life. The materialistic life did not give him the much needed lasting peace of mind. Being charitable as he was, he never gave up his idea of starting an engineering institution. As a first step, he did not hesitate to sell his long-cherished dream house 'India House'', a palatial residence in the heart of Madras. The house along with other property fetched him a whooping sum of Rs 5 lakhs, a huge sum in those days. The money was used to build the institution - MIT.

Most of the students graduated from this institution became successful in their respective  professions  and some of them held responsible positions in the government. The first prime minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ’s speech at the first convocation (October 9, 1952) of Madras Institute of Technology highlighted the efforts by the founder and his companions: “Anyhow, the most impressive fact of this young and growing institute is that you, having started from small beginnings, are making good progress more with your own efforts, than what you could have if you had an easier time, having all things put before you”.

The late President Dr. Abdul Kalam,  an expert of international repute in rocket-missile technology  was an alumnus of this institution. Unfortunately, this institution could not function independently and in 1978 it was taken over by Anna university - a state-run institution. Now named Anna Institute of Technology, this institution offers 4 year degree courses in engineering and the 3 year diploma course offered earlier was done away with. 

This writer visited this great institution in 1955 along with my cousin who was a student here. I myself saw a big hanger with a small plane standing inside. It was a sprawling institutions with various workshops for the students. It was one of the earliest institutions in India to have offered Diploma courses in many fields, including Chemical engineering, Metallurgical engineering, Automobile Engineering, Electronic and Instrumentation engineering  and Aero-Engineering.
Sri Rajam Aiyar was a patron of classical music, in particular, Carnatic music and it was Mr. Aiyar who sponsored a Musical Concert at Soundarya Hall, Chennai in which the doyen of Carnatic music MS Amma made her Madras debut on 28 December 1933 accompanied by her mother Shanmuga Vadivu on Veena and Gururajappa (brother of Chowdiah) of Mysore on violin.

In the educational history of Madras, Sri Rajam Aiyar's legacy is well-etched and the MIT (now Anna Institute) is a lasting tribute to this humble visionary who was nationalist and who believed in hard work and discipline. Only senior citizens like me can walk down the memory lane and remember with gratitude great people like Sri Rajam Aiyar who is a source of inspiration to young entrepreneurs who want to tread a different path rather than the  beaten-up one. 
Shri C. Rajam died on 21 July 1955 at the age of 73. Sri Prakasa, Governor, C. Rajagopalachari, Kasturi Srinivasan, C. R. Srinivasan, C. Subramaniam and M. Bhaktavatsalam, among others, offered their condolences to the family at his residence.