A tribute to Alagappa Chettiar, the business magnate, philanthropist and aviator who received the Padma Bhushan in 1957
Actor Suriya as Maara in Soorarai Pottru is said to be based on the journey of retired army captain GR Gopinath who founded the cheap Deccan Airways in the late 1990s. Although Gopinath is from Karnataka, the movie features Maara from Usilampatti, about 40 km west of Madurai.
But many may not be aware that decades ago from an unremarkable village called Kottaiyur, about 100 km north of Madurai, a man with similar dreams was born.
Dr. Fascinated by flying, KV AL RM Alagappa Chettiar (AC) received his pilot training and certification from Croydon, London in 1933, and launched Jupiter Airways in early 1947 with a fleet of eight aircraft.
He was considered a pioneer in the aviation history of India because when World War II ended in 1945 and the government announced the sale of surplus Dakotas and the Douglas DCs, AC was one of the first buyers of the workhorses as it recognized the rising popularity of air transport. .
A grandson remembers
Ramanathan Vairavan, based in California, shares a lot of interesting information about his grandfather’s various businesses in his book A beautiful mind. He describes the philanthropist industrialist’s determination and accomplishments despite various challenges and the ill health that made his life disappear at the age of 48.
In his book, Vairavan writes, the aircraft were overhauled and refurbished at the Hindustan Aircraft Factory, Bangalore, to make them suitable for the safety and comfort of passengers.
Like Gopinath’s, AC’s desire was to provide low-cost passenger services. Before Independence, there were eight carriers operating on 22 routes, while 15 more – including Jupiter Airways – were waiting for the nod to fly civilians. But the time coincided with the Partition tragedy and AC was the first to offer its aircraft on charter to the government to evacuate families from Pakistan. The evacuation flights ended in November 1947 and was soon followed by the invasion of the Kashmir Valley.
The Indian Army needed aircraft to control its troops and armor and again AC led the way in transporting the uniformed men, materials and resources and the refugees.
During the mission one of the planes crashed. The insurance company refused to pay because it was only insured for civil rights. Far from downcast by the loss suffered, AC immediately arranged an alternate flight to complete the mission.
After several months when Jupiter Airways got its license to operate on passenger routes, the first flight rolled out on June 17, 1948 from Meenambakkam, Madras, making it one of the first cities in the country to have an airport and the airlines became the first have a hub in the city. The flight time to Delhi via Vizagapatnam and Nagpur was apparently eight hours and the pilots were given Rs.40 for each flying hour. Due to the inability to get approval for new routes and damage to two aircraft, AC sold its airlines in 1953 when Indian Airlines was nationalized.
During a phone interview, Vairavan says his grandfather’s life story is worthy of a movie and Soorarai Pottru motivated him to approach hopeful Kollywood producers. “AC’s short-lived but storied life will make for an inspiring movie,” he says.
Vairavan, who was eight when his grandfather died in 1957, says it took seven years of travel and archival research before the book could be compiled and published in 2015, based on the valuable insights and input from his mother Umayal Ramanathan. all gone and felt a strong desire to document AC’s life in order to understand and appreciate a man ahead of his time, ”he adds.
While the rise of AC was phenomenal in every industry, he did not hesitate to sell his established businesses in textiles, hotels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber, tin, entertainment, transportation, stock exchange, real estate and the private airline – to fulfill his dream of becoming to promote education in his hometown Karaikudi. The Alagappa group of educational institutions (consisting of schools, technical and technical colleges in addition to a host of other professional and vocational training courses) in Karaikudi and Chennai bring academic facilities to people’s doorstep.
He exceeded every milestone he wanted to reach, says Vairavan, who is keen to continue his grandfather’s legacy and announced the launch of Alagappa College of Nursing this summer and plans to establish a medical university in Karaikudi soon.