V. Kathiresan – The Story of Kalam’s Car Driver Who Completed His PhD

In our country, it is seen that many people have to leave their studies midway owing to their respective problems. The school drop-out rate is much high, particularly in rural areas. People are financially much weaker and cannot afford even an adequate elementary education. Despite so much demand and protest from different sections, the governments are not able to provide a 100% covering education program. Though there are many facilities made available by the government, corrupt officials and sloth authorities make it impossible to implement the provisions effectively.

To recover the loss suffered by those who had to quit their studies, there is, however, some accessible educational facilities like open and distance learning schools and universities. What now we have to do is to motivate such people to continue from where they had left it. A little bit of motivation, combined by their self-interest, would make it sure that they get back on the path of education. That is what late Dr. Abdul Kalam did to his once driver V. Kathiresan. Encouraged by the great scientist to restart his studies, Kathiresan went on to become a Ph.D. holder and a lecturer.

Hailing from Sankarapandiapuram, a village in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Kathiresan had to support his family, and for that, he did quit his studies. Eventually, after failing in the Matriculation, Kathiresan went on to join the army as a sepoy in 1979. He got his driver’s training and was first posted at Defence Research and Development Laboratory in Hyderabad as a driver for Dr. Kalam, then the director of the organization.

Coming from the same district as Dr. Kalam, Kathiresan used to talk to the great man while driving. Kathiresan’s reading newspapers, books, and magazines caught the attention of Dr. Kalam who sooner asked him to study further. He also suggested Kathiresan to resume his learning through distance education.

With much help from Dr. Kalam, Kathiresan got to learn English, the subject in which he failed in his 10th. Not much later after joining as Dr. Kalam’s driver, he reappeared in the 10th and cleared his English paper. That one success was a phenomenal push to the career of a driver, and now he could see a lot of opportunities in front of him waiting to be grabbed.

After consulting Dr. Kalam, Kathiresan enrolled for 12th and selected subjects like Economics and History as the main ones. From now onwards, Kathiresan would study regularly, aided by his mentor. Having done his higher secondary, Kathiresan did his graduation and post-graduation degrees in History by correspondence system.

Inspired by Dr. Kalam, he was now assured that he could become a teacher with those degrees to his credits. He worked with Kalam for almost ten years, until Dr. Kalam moved to Delhi after his posting as the head scientific adviser to the Prime Minister. But Dr. Kalam’s suggestions always remained with him. Surprisingly, Kathiresan took voluntary retirement from the army in 1998 and went on to do a doctorate so that he could enlarge his scope in the field of education.  The same year he registered for his Ph.D. course at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli. ‘Zamindari System in Tirunelveli District’ was the topic for his doctoral research.

Interestingly enough, his curiosity for the subject was triggered by a book that Dr. Kalam had presented him years ago on the Polygars (or Palayaikarars), the regional satraps of the state of Tamil Nadu, who had fought the English. The British launched the Zamindari system after they crushed the Polygars. Since the book stopped with the Polygars, Kathiresan wanted to focus his research on the Zamindari system that followed their rule. At last, Kathiresan completed his doctorate in 2002.

Afterward, he worked for a short term as a government school teacher. Soon after, he was posted in Virudhunagar district collectorate, where he reported to the collector and worked as a coordinator of teacher training programs. In 2008, he got his appointment order as an Assistant Professor in Government Arts and Science College in Athur. Later on, after working in a few other government institutes, he is now serving at a college in Tirunelveli.

Due to such circumstances as faced by Kathiresan in his early days, many have left their studies incomplete. Many of them were potential students and could do marvel like Kathiresan. It is said that there is no age to learning and education. We can begin anytime and from anywhere. It is never too late to restart, to go on a new venture, and to explore the possibilities. All we need to do is to support people and guide them to our knowledge. Once the interest is ignited, and the mind has developed the love of knowledge and learning, people would themselves do the later part. What Dr. Kalam has done to Kathiresan, we also could do with the ones we are acquainted with. We must promote learning and education, not only for the benefit of the individual concerned but also to establish a much-learned society in the near future. V Kathiresan’s metamorphosis from a driver to a scholar is an ideal specimen in front of us to justify that people could learn at any age and all they need is a little push and encouragement.





  1. Sumedh Kumar Prasad June 10, 2017
  2. Sridharma June 10, 2017
  3. Naresh Vatrana June 10, 2017
  4. Prabir kumar Ray. June 11, 2017
  5. Prabir kumar Ray. June 11, 2017
  6. m.krishnaveni June 12, 2017
  7. Dr Sheojee Singh June 13, 2017
  8. Ngongpa jongsam June 13, 2017
  9. TK Padma June 13, 2017
  10. sarath udaya kumara Mahakumburegedara June 15, 2017
    • admin June 15, 2017
  11. Himanshu June 24, 2017
  12. abhay kumar tiwari June 24, 2017
  13. Manjula chandra Babu October 1, 2017
  14. Dr.A.kavitha January 25, 2018
  15. Sanjaya Kumar Sankhua June 10, 2018

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