Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Malayalee mind strengthened by sand dunes

Sunny Kulathakal has of course to say a lot about the distance from Maramon to the seat of success in Bahrain. Most of them are stories of his hurdles and setbacks. The biography of a journalist who changed crises into glistening pearls of success! Apart from being an excellent organizer, journalist, sincere social worker, humanist, Sunny Kulathakkal is hard work personified.

There are many who have achieved success in life by utilising the opportunities wisely. But, only those who are brilliant and talented can turn adversities into steps of success. That is what Sunny Kulathakkal is. The story of Sunny is that of rising to the position of an editor in Gulf from running a newspaper distribution firm in Bangalore. That too of a renowned publication in Gulf!

Sunny’s assets were his hard work and sincerity. Sunny didn’t waver even when purity of his intentions were questioned. Instead he tried to understand people better, cast the net by rightly reading the sea and got hold of an empire. “The Gulf Who is Who Directory- today that name is Sunny’s own.

Now at his 60, Sunny has no complaint against anyone. The reason for his influence in Karnataka politics is his Journalistic stint. His close relationship with leading political personalities like former Maharashtra Governor P C Alexander, Former Union Minister late A C George, Meghalaya Governor M M Jacob and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy provided his enough opportunities to build friendships with many a key figure in Karnataka politics. What proved to be a break in his life was his coming to Bangalore after post graduation. For eight years he was the Development Director of the United Theological College (UTC) of Bangalore.

It was his Bangalore life which has opened up the doors to Gulf. Sunny who started as a distribution agent and later the correspondent of Malayala Manorama later became the correspondent of the Illustrated Weekly. Reaching Gulf to write a series about the problems of Gulf Malayalees, Sunny succeeded in hoisting the victory flag in his professional career. It was in 1977 that sunny reached Gulf. The mission was to study the life of Malayalees to write a feature. In those days several Indian publications had come out with Sunny’s stories about Gulf Malayalees who reached heights as well as those who had to sacrifice their life mid way through. It was his thinking of how to make use the information he had collected without returning to India that led to the publication of the “Gulf Who is Who Directory”. It was in 1978, the first edition came out. He is genuinely satisfied and proud of the fact that it has turned out to be an authentic reference book in Gulf.

It was through Malayala Manorama’s Balajana Sakhyam that Sunny made his debut into public life and journalism. While studying in S B College, Chenganacherry, he managed to get an opportunity for journalistic tranining through corresponding with Malayala Manorama Chief Editor K M Mathew. It was his five months’ training in Malayala Manorama that helped him to become an excellent freelancer.

Born to a priest of the Orthodox Church, it was at the age of eight sunny had become a member of the Balajana Sakhyam. For years he has served as the central committee member of the organisation. This paved the way for him to become a brilliant organizer. He was elected as the president of the Sakhyam succeeding Oommen Chandy who later became the Kerala Chief Minister. Manorama used to pay TA and DA when he used to come to Kottayam for work related to the Sakhyam. Later many used to stay in lodges outside and claim more money from Manorama. But Sunny used to spend his time in the daily’s editorial and library and return to Maramon in the newspaper van of Manorama at 3 0 clock in the morning. Palai K M Mathew who was the then representative of Sankarachettan had always been informed about the TA he was claiming this way.

From childhood itself Sunny had a special quality to change anybody whom he meets as a friend. This has helped him in several crucial moments. Malayala Manorama’s photographer John was a great help to him in several occasions. It was John who introduced Sunny to Mannathu Padmanabhan and his wife Thottakkattu Madhaviamma while they had come to attend a conference in Maramon. Instantly Sunny requested Madhaviamma to give an autograph. “I wish all the best for my son Sunny” she wrote. He then turned to Mannam to write in the next page. He refused saying that his wife had already given the autograph. But he came down following Sunny’s insistence and wrote his best wishes.

It was Sunny’s habit to collect the signature and message of prominent persons he happened to meet. Two of them written by senior journalists of Manorama-Varghese Kalathil, editor of Manorama Weekly and Babu Chenganoor-were something special. The former wrote “Do not give the key of your heart to anyone” and on the other side of the page was the latter’s advice “Give the key of your heart to only one”. And it so happened that finally he gave the key to Elizabeth, an employee of State Bank of India.

He fondly recollects that it was Elizabeth who stood as a pillar of support and shade of comfort behind all his success. Elizabeth at present is the Director of the Bahrain based Sunlis Publications.

When looking back Sunny has so much to be proud of. Mainly, he could give the best education for his children. Son Biju, an aeronautical engineer is running his own computer establishment in Chicago. The second son Binu and his wife Ranjini are doctors. Both of them are doing their post graduation in World renowned John Hopkin’s University in Baltimore. Youngest daughter Bindu is working in “World Education”, a Non Governmental Organisation based in Boston. A financial assistance programme is now undergoing under her leadership for the poor children of Raichur District in Karnataka.

It was while he was undergoing training in Ernakulam YMCA after his studies in 1966 that Sunny got the opportunity for secretarial training of YMCA at Bangalore. Since journalism was his dream he used to regularly send news reports and features to Malayala Manorama and used to write feature series in Mathrubhumi Weekly. Once, while visiting the Mathrubhumi office in Kozhikode to hand over a feature series, he also dropped into the Manorama office during which he was asked to submit an application for the post of a newspaper agent for the daily in Bangalore. Thus for this youth who aspired to become a journalist got an opportunity to learn a lot about the field of news distribution. But what attracted him was the permission given to file news reports and articles. For sunny journalism was never a breadwinner. On the other hand it was a part of his life. Those days Sunny, his brother and their two friends used to wait at Majestic waiting for the newspaper vehicle coming from Kozhikode. Then they rush in their scooters to newspaper stands.

After a short while, copies of Mathrubhumi daily started reach Bangalore in the early hours in a private bus named S K S. The bus owner refused the request to bring also the Manorama news paper because it was such an exclusive contract they had with Mathrubhumi.

But this was brought to the attention of M M Jacob and Union Mnister Henry Austin who came to participate in the AICC session in Bangalore as Kerala representatives of the party. Henry Austin conveyed this issue to Karnataka Transport Minister Asees Sait. It was under the threat of Sait the Bus owner started to bring Manorama too from Kozhikode. It was in the presence of Sunny, the minister talked to the bus owner in his office. The minister threatened to cancel the bus permit if Manorama copies were also not transported. Following this Manorama also started arriving in the morning.

It was in 1968, Sunny got appointment as the official secretary of the Thiruvalla YMCA. Sunny is happy that he could manage to construct an own building for the YMCA within a year. It was after this he got the letter appointing him as the Assistant Director in the Department of Development in the United Theological College in Bangalore. The help of R D Cooper a foreigner who was an all India office bearer of YMCA only had made it possible. Soon he was elevated as Director.

While working with the Ernakulam YMCA in 1966, he had taken initiatives to organize district/state level seminars for college students. A souvenir also was published in this connection. The then office bearers of YMCA might have felt that a new comer was overtaking them. It was when he was undergoing YMCA’s Secretarial training in Bangalore that he got a letter from the secretary of Ernakulam YMCA seeking explanation about the missing from the accounts of a sum of Rs 50 received from a Company in Ernakulam for the souvenir. A copy of the letter was sent to Cooper too. Since it was attempt to tarnish him, Sunny set off to Ernakulam with the permission of Cooper. It was proved that the amount in question was handed over to another person while Sunny was not in the office. Sunny still keeps the letter of apology from the secretary of Ernakulam YMCA.

Sunny had an eight year stint in UTC and had an unceremonious exit. Sunny attributes the same to personal animosity. The first allegation was that he created hurdles for the College principal’s Gulf visit. Following this the Principal Dr J R Chandran served a show cause notice to Sunny. The reason was that he did not attend the Governing Council meeting. The next notice was based on flimsy grounds. The Governing Council’s rejection of Dr Chandran’s request for an extension also was used as a weapon against Sunny. Shortly Sunny’s application for eight months leave was granted by the Governing Council. It was after this the dismissal notice was issued. Those who pulled the strings to get rid of Chandran from the post were making use of Sunny also. They used Sunny to trace the age certificate of Chandran from Thiruvananthapuram secretly. Coming to know of this the Principal influenced the Bangalore City Police Commissioner. Though an attempt was made by the police under the instructions of the Commissioner to block Sunny when he landed in Trivandrum to get the certificate he escaped with the help of Oommen Chandy. In the case filed by Sunny against his dismissal from UTC, the verdict of the Civil, High Court and the Supreme Court was to reinstate him. By that time Sunny had built up his empire in Bangalore and Gulf. He did not need the UTC job or its benefits anymore. But he considers as invaluable the judgment that states that he is not guilty. As a journalist Sunny used to accompany any political leaders who landed in Bangalore. Those who maintained close relationship with him included A C George, M M Thomas, M M Jacob, and Oommen Chandy.

Sunny recalls that A C George was a leader who gave extreme importance to personal relationships. Whenever he was in Bangalore Sunny used to be with him throughout.

Since his Balajana Sakhyam days Sunny had a personal relationship with P C Alexander This helped him a .lot in his life. Alexander used to rely on Sunny several times to get information relating Karnataka.

Sunny had the opportunity to closely watch the practical hurdles to implement the decision taken by Prime Minsiter Rajiv Gandhi to remove Veerendra Patil from Karnataka Chief Ministership. The proposal for P C Alexander’s intervention in the matter was Sunny’s. This was conveyed to Moopanar through Oscar Fernandes. Thus the party leaders could get out of the entanglement after having talks with Rajiv Gandhi at the latter’s house along with Moopanar.

Sunny was also a small star in the backstage of the drama enacted by Veerappa Moily to become the Karnataka Chief Minister. Veerappa Moily had used Sunny’s closeness with Alexander to his benefit. Sunny could arrange meetings between Alexander and Moily several times. Sunny was with them till the stage when Alexander gave an assurance on the lines of “may you been seen in a different position next time”.

It was Sunny who went to Mumbai with the congratulatory message of Moily when Alexander was appointed as Maharashtra Governor. But when Moily turned against former Chief Secretary J Alexander, a Malayalee, Sunny was in the forefront fighting against the move. The article written by Sunny in Kalakaumudi in 1994 against the step motherly attitude being adopted by Moily towards the people of other states proved to be an excellent example of daring journalism. (The correspondences between Sunny and Moily on this issue were also noteworthy). Exposed in the article was Moily’s growth from nothingness to a millionaire, the gap between his preaching and practice and his thanklessness.

What made Sunny to be out of the good books of Moily was the former’s move to organize Malayalees and other communities against the denial of justice to Alexander. For years Sunny had been a frontline fighter of all the struggles for the cause of the Malayalee community in Bangalore.

Sunny also was in the forefront of the prolonged agitations organised on the issue of the missing of two Malayalee girls-Lilly and Lissy- in Bangalore. Those days he was pillion rider on the scooter of Fr Mani Gayles, the then Christ college principal and later the Mananthawadi Bishop for several of his trips to submit representations on the issue. He could manage to bring this issue to the attention of the then Karnataka Chief Minister Mr Devaraj Urs and later Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, through A C George and Oommen Chandy. Sunny’s name is quite familiar to the early Malayalee community of Bangalore.

As a freelance journalist he could undoubtedly draw the attention of the authorities to many pressing issues of the Malayalee community through his features in many a publication.

The feature titled “The World of Drugs” by Sunny serialized in Mathrubhumi those days was highly appreaciated. It was NBS which distributed the same as a book. The series titled “The World of Prostitutes” was probe into the World’s oldest profession. It was published by NBS. It was Vidhyarthi Mithram which published another serial titled “The Story of a Martyr”

Sunny also was the local guardian of many who have landed in Bangalore for higher studies and other purposes. Sunny says that crises and hurdles had turned only to be blessings to him. It was with an excellent idea that Sunny who went to Gulf to write a serial on the problems of the Malayalee Community came back. This he implemented successfully.

Tens of thousands from Kerala and other Indian states are working in top position in various companies in Gulf. It was a time when there were no means for them to know each other. The idea of a Gulf Directory dawned while thinking about a solution for this issue. Sunny also had a feeling that such a venture would make it known to the world that

Malayalees are not that inferior.

After coming back from Gulf, he had detailed discussions with D C Kizhakemuri about bringing out such a directory. The initial thinking was to bring out the same in Malayalam. Then it was decided to publish the same in English since it was felt that then it would benefit more people. The first edition came out in 1978. It contained the details of the prominent Indians in Gulf. It was at that time the idea of launching an English magazine from Gulf sprang up. In 1983, “Gulf Asian Magazine” came with sunny as the editor. The Magazine which was uniquely different from many other contemporary magazines turned out to be an instant hit. However its publication had to be discontinued following the government decision to ban English Publications as solution to increase the circulation of Arabic publications.

His return to Bangalore in 1984 helped him to provide better education for his children. According to Sunny he was reeling under severe financial difficulties during the educational period of the children. Understanding the difficulties at home the children also took care to minimize the expenses and reached higher positions.

According to laws in vogue in Karnataka at that time if a student has to get admission to Medical College under merit quota he or she had to be resident of the state for at least 15 years. Since he had come back in 1984 this stipulation could be met. He returned again to Gulf only after the education of the children was over. This paved the way for bringing out the second edition of the “Gulf Who is Who directory”. The second edition which was published after a gap of 23 years today is an authentic reference guide on the business/industrial establishments and prominent personalities.

Sunny who first reached Gulf on the invitation of a friend, could realize the existing limitations of personal relationships. The idea of Directory was a small attempt to help overcome this limitation. But with the dawn of the days of globalization, the relevance of such kind of a publication has increased. Personal acquaintances, the savings from his journalistic career, when processed in the workshop of the directory, it resulted in the formulation of one of the best reference book.

This book which presents prominent personalities at governmental level and major businessmen/industrialists and companies with photos also contain details like their phone numbers, E mail, and postal address.

This is one of the ideal contributions a person could give to the business world. A portion of the income from this publication has been set part for scholarship for the students from Gulf coming for higher studies in Bangalore.

Sunny who is currently in the workshop of bringing out a Global Indian Directory has also plans to revive his Gulf Asia Magazine. Last year Sunny was selected for the best social worker award of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin. It was from Prime Minsiter I K Gujral, he received the award in Delhi.

The success secret of Sunny who gives extreme importance to human relationship is his friendships. He says that even those who had worked against him also used to come to

Gulf and Bangalore seeking his help and hospitality. What makes Sunny distinct as a person is his good will to extend a helping hand to even such persons.

Though there are many Malayalees who have mined Gold in Gulf, Sunny Kulathakkal is a different Non Resident Malayalee. He also has plans to bring out separate directories containing the listings of Malayalees in different gulf countries. In next November work on Dubai Malayalee Directory is scheduled to commence.