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C Selvam, who holds a BE from Madras Institute of Technology, owns a construction firm that designs buildings in Dharmapuri, Vandavasi and Tiruvannamalai. But he was once just a poor young construction laborer. His journey from daily wager to running his own construction firm is a tale of extraordinary grit.

After Class 10, Selvam, who is now 33 years old, dropped out from school due to poverty and toiled in construction projects as a daily wage laborer for two years, before getting back on the education track.

Selvam hails from Adilam, a village located 15 km from Dharmapuri. His father Chinnaswamy worked as an agricultural laborer. Just last year, Selvam lost his mother Mahalakshmi. The family lived in a hut with a thatched roof throughout their lives. Things were so dire that if the rains came, the water would leak into the house.

The young engineer is the first graduate of his family. His parents never went to school, his two elder brothers did not finish primary school, and his sister studied only up to Class 8. All of Selvam’s siblings are now married.

Selvam was a good student despite his circumstances. From Class 1 to 5, he was enrolled in the Adilam primary school, after which he went to Periyampatti, some 2 kilometers away from Class 6. Every day, Selvam would walk the 2 km up and down to school. As their house had no power, he used kerosene lamps to study at night. Yet, he scored as much as 430 out of 500 in Class 10 in 2006.

The family lived in a hut with a thatched roof throughout their lives. Things were so dire that if the rains came, the water would leak into the house.

Bolstered by his success in class 10, which is beyond what any of his siblings were able to study, Selvam joined the government school in Karimangalam, 6 km away, in class 11. He took the Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology group in Tamil medium. There had been a real hope that he could perhaps make it. But his circumstances caught up with him, and it became untenable for him to continue his education.

He felt a compulsion to start earning money. Many from his village had gone to Bengaluru, the nearest metro city, for daily wage jobs to eke out a living. Selvam followed them to the city.

In Bengaluru, he got work as a construction laborer. He would mix cement and sand and also would also do other jobs on the construction sites for a daily wage of Rs 150 to Rs 190.

Later, Selvam went on to pick up work at a pepper plantation in the Kodagu Hills. Climbing a pepper tree on a ladder was a tough job, he says. Plus, life there in general was hard as the workers were lodged in shanties. At that stage he realized that his life was never going to get better by doing menial jobs, and only education would lift him out of poverty.

A house constructed by Selvam’s firm Sri Construction

Making up his mind to renew his education, Selvam returned to his village, armed with the small amount of savings he had managed to put together by living frugally. Pooling together the savings and obtaining a loan, he renewed the thatched roof of his house and enrolled himself again for Class 11 at the Periyampatti school.

Dropping out of school and working as a daily wage earner had taken Selvam off track. He found it challenging to go back to being a student. But the young man was determined. It took him a few months to settle down. Studying on his own, Selvam then managed to score as much as 1,029 out of 1,200 in class 12. He scored a full 200 out of 200 in Maths, 199 in Chemistry and 191 in Physics. Selvam’s cut off was 197.5 for engineering admission.

With his high marks, Selvam got admission in Electronics and Communication Engineering at Madras Institute of Technology. As he could not afford to live in Chennai on his own, the NGO Agaram Foundation took care of his hostel expenses.

Engineering education, which was in English, was challenging for this Tamil-medium student. Selvam struggled to cope with his studies and his arrears began to pile up as a result. But he persisted and came to grips with his education. By the time he got to final year, he had cleared all his arrears and graduated within the four years of the course.

His performance got him several job offers at the campus interviews. But Selvam’s aim at the time was to obtain a government job. He wanted to appear for the public service commission exams. So, he didn’t take up any of the private sector jobs offered to him.

Selvam realized that his life was never going to get better by doing menial jobs, and only education would lift him out of poverty. Determined to renew his education, Selvam returned to his village, armed with the small amount of savings he had managed to put together by living frugally.

Meanwhile, he did the work as part of Tapasya Design Studio from Auroville in Puducherry which had taken up the project. Selvam carried on working for the firm in various cities such as New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad, as a site engineer on plumbing and electrical jobs.

At this time, he became interested in acquiring deeper knowledge of engineering. So, he went on to pick up a PG Diploma in Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing from Bharathidasan University, and also finished a Fire Safety Diploma from Annamalai University.

Following this, Selvam joined Pune-based architectural firm Methodex Systems. He worked there for one year, after which he felt he could go out on his own. Selvam says his professional growth gave him the confidence to stand on his own feet and the gumption to return home to make a living by himself. And that’s how he started his own firm Sri Construction.

Selvam now has a good construction business going in Dharmapuri, Vandavasi and Tiruvannamalai, where his firm does the design and architectural work for buildings, including homes and offices. He is also consultant for a Canadian firm.

The young businessman wanted to share the fruits of his success with students like him who struggle to come up in life. So, he helped renovate a library for his school in Periyamatti, along with his friends.


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