Adversity faces all of us, but it is how we strive to overcome it that makes us a stand out as an inspiration for others to follow. Srini Gollapudi, lost his vision at the age of 64 and his story is a testimony to his unstoppable grit and determination.
“Born in an upper middle class religious family engaged in business, my aim was to add a degree to my name. For some reason, Engineering fascinated me and I used to fill my room with second-hand gadgets bought from Moore Market in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. I recollect making a mechanical device to dispense peppermints for my school exhibition. At the Madras University Centinary Exhibition, I was part of the team that created a ‘driverless’ car model. Finally, I landed in the A.C. College of Technology in Chennai and graduated in Chemical Engineering,” he recollects. Soon after his graduation at the age of 22, he joined hands with his cousin and friend to start Fruitnik, a fruit beverage manufacturing unit which became very popular, but financially burdensome after sometime. At 34, a friend offered him a job as a Chief Executive in his boat and shipbuilding company in Cochin, Kerala. To further his knowledge on the subject, he joined a distance education program at the British Institute of Engineering & Technology to study naval architecture and shipbuilding.
At the age of 40, he floated his own small shipping company. “I have built about 100 floating crafts, each one posing a challenge and yet coming up as a unique product. “But again my business didn’t make much money and I ended up losing some of my hereditary assets,” he reveals.
At the age of 64 he suffered from retinal detachment, first with the left eye then followed by the right. Despite being healthy, within a year he lost his vision in both eyes. “My wife was shattered. By God’s grace I was able to come to terms with my life”.
The couple migrated to Canada to live with their daughter. Srini joined The Canadian National Institute for the Blind where he skilled himself to live a life without vision. During this phase of his life, he was introduced to talks by Swami Paramarthananda, a disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. “Initially I listened to the audio-tapes. Then I flew down to Chennai, all by myself, to attend the classes. I would take an auto-rickshaw and attended all his classes for 40 days”.
Along with his wife he attended a two week retreat of Pujya Dayananda Saraswati in Saylorsburg and believes that, that was a life changing experience. He continues, “I came to know of late Ms. Sukanya Shankar, who had donated her apartment to AIM for Seva for establishing a Free Students Hostel for Girls. In 2014, during our visit to India we attended the opening ceremony of Sukanya Shankar AIM for Seva Free Student Hostel for Girls in Thippanampettai, Tamil Nadu and I was inspired to setup a hostel for AIM for Seva”.
“My grandfather left behind a property in our ancestral village Vettapalem in Andhra Pradesh. It was used a choultry (resting place for visitors) back then. It was then that I felt that this property can be used for a good cause once again,”. He decided to bring down the old building and construct a new hostel to support Swamiji’s vision of educating and empowering rural India.
With his meagre savings, support from his children and friends and relatives, he raised Rs.92 lakhs for the construction of a new building. Srini happily remarks, “No one let me down. I was overwhelmed by their support and enthusiasm. It also revealed how much everyone cared for me and my dreams.” With firmness, he then approached the Endowments Department, took help of an old friend to get an appointment to meet the Minister for Endowments, Sri Pydikondala Manikyalarao and finally made sure that he received the permission for the construction. The Gollapudi Ventaka Krishnamma Charity (GVKC) Free Student Hostel in Vetapalem, Andhra Pradesh was inaugurated in April 2017 and will be fully functional by the end of the year.
“Education should not mean just learning how to earn more. Swamiji says that everyone is born an animal man, but should grow from animal man to man man and finally to God Man. The management of AIMS is not personalised but is in the hands of dedicated and sincere volunteers of good standing in the society. That’s why I chose to support Aim For Seva”.
Srini Gollapudi has overcome a lot of challenges in his life. What makes him go on is his perseverance and faith. He shares, “I would not say that I have succeeded in all situations, but the few victories were good enough to keep the ball rolling. Material wealth alone was not my priority, but learning from life stood first. I can proudly say now that I feel happy with myself, my deed and my life. And to my experience, it is only the act of giving that can give you so much satisfaction and bliss!”