Chennai: “I came in touch with MGR in 1977 when he came to Washington. During that period of his stay, we developed an intensive friendship. I actually happened to manage his entire programme, because his secretary had to go away due to personal issues. He was impressed with my work and then everytime I came to India, he would be my host and I will always be spending time with him,” reminisced Palani G Periasamy, who heads the PGP Group of Companies.
The over Rs 1,000 crore group has interests in hotel, sugar, finance, real estate, and education sectors.
“MGR will always pick up my calls, even if it is 4 am. He will know that only I will call at the time. I used to catch up with him in the mornings,” he said.
It is well-known that three American doctors came to diagnose MGR’s health condition in 1984 when he fell sick.
But only a few knew that it was Periasamy who made the arrangements.
“When I lost my father in 1984, MGR did not attend the funeral but, he had made all the arrangements. He sent his Ministers there. He couldn’t come because he was admitted to Apollo at the time. Next morning, I got a call that he was really sick. I sent a neurologist, nephrologist and a cardiologist from America. They were from different places – Seattle, New York and Houston. The doctors were given visa before their flight at the airport. I did not move from my desk for 16 hours making these arrangements,” he said.
The doctors did not come up with good news. They stated that the CM’s chances would be better if he was treated in USA. “MGR was flown to Brooklyn upon then Prime Minister Indra Gandhi’s orders by an air ambulance. When I met him at the airport, he was unconscious and when I told that I am there with him, I felt that he pressed my hand. It gave me hope. I don’t know if I believed that or if he really reacted. In four days, we found the reason and he got cured,” stated Periasamy.
When asked about people stating that he benefited by his friendship with MGR, he said, ‘Many said so. The fact is that I have not collected a single penny for the expenses I incurred. I remember when we went to a shop in Brooklyn, he wanted to buy a diamond ornament. He picked one up for $25,000. The normal American practice is to ask for the Social Security Card for big transactions. He was furious that we were asked to submit documents even when we were buying a costly item. He said, “They have insulted you. I don’t want anything from here. Come on! How can they ask for your ID?’ That was the friendship between us.”
Steering the conversation to business again, Periasamy spoke about the recently announced Tamilnadu budget. “In the Budget speech, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam announced certain policy decisions for the sugar industry. The Tamilnadu government has showed its intent to impose the revenue sharing formula (RSF), which I consider fair, equitable, correct, simple and devoid of political intervention. I want to thank the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister plus all the officials who were all pro-active. It is a step in the right direction to bring up the industry and of great help to the farmers,” he said.
“Tamilnadu used to be one of the primary sugar producers. We used to produce 2.5 million tonnes of sugar per year. Now, we produce just 0.6 million tonnes due to the extreme drought,” he said.
When asked how long it will take for the State to return to its top position in sugar production, he said, “The real answer is (managing the changing) weather conditions and breeding (of hybrid crops) which we are doing with South Cane Breeding Institute in Coimbatore which will yield more per acre. Those are place-specific varieties that we are developing. At the same time, it will also give us better recovery. We will also be able to develop a variety that is drought-prone.”
Speaking about the future and the direction his company was headed to, he said, “I want to make sure that my investors from America get their money back. They trusted me and India and they should profit.”
Septuagenarian Periasamy has four daughters, two of whom are in the US at present. “I think my third daughter Anandhi would do some of the things that I do. My grandson, Vikram, an MBA graduate, working as a financial analyst in America, wants to come back here. I want him to get some experience, reach professional maturity and I want him to come after that. My wife is also very actively involved in our business.”
“My duty today is to consolidate, make all my investors happy. We have managed these things professionally. For somebody to take over and run the business will not be that difficult. It is not by accident, it is by intent. It is the only way I could do business in India. The vision, if it precedes profit motive, you will always win despite problems,” he declared.