Meet the man who beat his disability and became the recipient of Tamil Nadu's highest awardShalmali Prakash
H. Ramakrishnan was affected in both legs by polio at the young age of two. He faced struggle at each step but beat all odds to crack civil services and join Indian Information Service. With an overall experience of 40-years as a journalist having interactions with the likes of President and Prime Minister, he has proved nothing is impossible.
Living with a disability is a challenge. However, there are many who fight against all odds to emerge winners. These stories are inspirational not just for the over 2 crore Indians who suffer from some form of disability, but for everyone.
History has presented us with many such outstanding achievers like Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller and John Nash who inspire. This story that of an extraordinary man who proved nothing is impossible if you have the right mindset is very similar.
Beating polio to reach the top
Seventy five-year-old H. Ramakrishnan was born in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and hailed from a middle-class family.
I was born on December 25, 1941– Christmas day. That is perhaps why I am carrying a cross heavier than what I can- my body. My father was an advocate (later he became a judge) and my mother, a home-maker. The joy and hopes on the first-born were shattered when I became a victim to polio at the young age of two. My mother saw a beggar-woman carrying her disabled child and was apprehensive I might end up likewise.
Although he was crawling until he was nine, Ramakrishnan was initially not fully aware of the dreaded disease that had attacked him. As he grew older, he began to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Speaking of his struggles during adolescence and how he overcame them, he tells YourStory,
When all my class-mates played on the ground during the lunch hour, I had to be contented with seclusion. As the years passed, I developed mental courage. I started ignoring my deformity. I felt I was normal.
Ramakrishnan was denied admission in local schools. His maternal grandfather then decided to take him to a different town so he could attend a regular school. Describing his grandfather as a very strong influence in his life, Ramakrishnan says,
He gave me all the strength, the reassurance and inspiration I needed when I was young. It was January 1948. I was, may be eight. We got the first radio set in our family- a huge PYE valve set. My grandfather would sit n front of the new arrival and listen to the nine o’clock news bulletin. Invariably it was the voice of the inimitable Melville de Mello. One night I told him, ‘Thatha, one day I want to read the news like this.’ Mildly caressing my hair, he said, ‘I pray to God to help you fulfil your desire.’
Desirous of one day becoming a newsreader, Ramakrishnan appeared for the UPSC examination when he was older but was left disappointed when he was denied the opportunity to write the examination on the grounds of disability. He considers it to be one of the lowest moments of his life but says he did not let it deter him.
After joining the Indian Information Service (IIS), he began at the All India Radio, first in Delhi and later in Chennai. He worked at Doordarshan Kendra following his stint in Air India Radio giving him 25-year experience as a newsreader. He was among Doordarshan Chennai's first newsreaders. He also worked as Indian Bank's public relations manager for three years. He held many more roles in his years of government service and rose up to the level of senior administrative grade officer in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. With an overall experience of 40-years, he was honoured with the highest state government award 'Kalaimamani' by the Tamil Nadu government.
When asked about his experience in government service, Ramakrishnan told us,
I was happy wherever I worked in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. I had excellent bosses and colleagues everywhere I went. The IIS to which I belonged, gave me the opportunity to literally see the world, to meet and interact with VIPs and above all, to communicate with the common man.
A life of struggle
During his government service, Ramakrishnan was instrumental in making meaningful impact in people’s lives everywhere he went. While he was working in the Press Information Bureau, he received a ‘confidential report’ that mentioned his disability. Coincidently he had to visit Rajya Sabha on the same day to collect a copy of President V.V. Giri’s conference speech.
I knew the press secretary to the President, Mr. Abdul Hamid, from before. He asked me why I was looking depressed. I told him about the ‘confidential’ report.
Hamid took Ramakrishnan’s leave for a minute, went inside and had a conversation regarding the same with the President.
He came out and told me the President would give me an audience right then. The President immediately dictated a letter to the Minister for Information and Broadcasting. I received a letter within a week conveying the expunction of the confidential report.
This was just the beginning and the work to eradicate this unnecessary mention in the confidential report did not stop there.
The Ministry followed it up with a circular which mandated that no mention about the disability of any official shall ever find a place in one’s confidential report.
Film career and becoming inspiration to many
Ramakrishnan has also acted in several films and while talking about one of his most fulfilling roles, he told us,
I would rate my acting in K.Balachander’s movie, Vaname Ellai (Sky is the Limit) as the most fulfilling one. My role in the movie was a real-life character– a disabled man. Four friends, dejected with life decide to end their lives. But, seeing me, a disabled man living so happily, they give up their plan. Many people told me later that they were inspired by my role.
He also runs a charitable trust called Krupa which helps specially-abled individuals by providing them with hearing aids, walking sticks, tricycles, and callipers. Ramakrishnan says,
Since I am disabled, I thought it proper to give back to my suffering brethren what little I can.
A happy man
Ramakrishnan says his friends and family members have always been there with him at every step of life giving him all the strength and confidence he needed to reach here. When asked about his life’s mantra, he quotes Stephen Grellet,
I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
When asked to give a message to the young generation, he says,
Set your goal high. Be bold and daring to achieve what you want to. Success will be yours.
Coming from a man who at every step of life has proved the message he gives to the young ones true, it becomes even more inspiring.