Kamala graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India, in 1954. After an impactful career as an educator in the Andhra Pradesh’s polytechnic colleges, she retired as the Joint Director of Technical Education in 1989 after more than thirty-five years of service. The technical textbooks she authored on subjects such as Engineering Drawing and Surveying are still in use. Since her retirement, Kamala has been following her passion – that of helping needy school children with their language skills. Her mission in this work is to strengthen education where it matters the most, the early years of life.
Kamala was born on January 28, 1931, in Madras (now Chennai). Her father, Dr. G.A. Ajwani was District Veterinary Officer in what was then the Madras Presidency. Her mother Rijhi Bai was a homemaker. Kamala had an older sister, Ganga Bai, and a younger sister, Sarojini Bai.
Kamala went to Presidency High School, Egmore, Madras. She completed her Intermediate exam in the Women’s Christian College, Chetpat, Madras.
Kamala’s field of study was decided by her father, as customary in those days. Her father decided that the first daughter Ganga Bai would study medicine and the last daughter Sarojini Bai would study law. He also decided Kamala would study Civil Engineering with a view to taking up building contracts as a profession after graduation. Kamala applied to CEG and joined the batch that would graduate in 1954.
Kamala and Sundari Vellayan were the only two women in their batch. After the first two years, Sundari was off to the telecommunications engineering classes and Kamala was the only girl in her civil engineering classes. Since there were no campus accommodations for girls, she had to commute from home. This meant walking to the train station from her home, catching a train to the Guindy station, and then taking a bus to the campus. Early morning civil engineering survey, as well as the workshops, which required the students to be in the class by 7 A.M, made the commute to the campus particularly hard and the college experience not so exciting.
While Kamala felt out of place in a class full of boys, she was a hard worker and completed her studies successfully. She graduated from CEG with a degree in Civil Engineering.
In 1953, while still at CEG, she had gotten married and a baby followed. Kamala joined Madras Public Works Department (PWD) as a junior engineer soon after graduating in 1954. After two years, she left that job and moved to Nellore to live near her family so they could help her raise her baby. She joined the Andhra Pradesh PWD at Nellore. Here she was responsible for the construction of buildings and aqueducts. By nature a hard worker, Kamala also processed project files.
In 1958, Kamala continued her education by starting her post-graduate education in Structural Engineering and received her master’s degree in 1960.
In 1960, the Kakinada Government Polytechnic for Women was started, and Kamala was selected to be its first Principal. Over the course of twelve years, she was the Principal at three different women’s polytechnics at Kakinada, Guntur, and Hyderabad.
After serving as a Professor in the Curriculum Development Center, Nellore, Kamala was promoted to Secretary, State Board of Technical Education, Hyderabad. She streamlined the examination system in polytechnics, revised the curricula of most of the courses, and organized the common entrance examination for polytechnics.
During her tenure, Kamala was in charge of establishing new polytechnics and getting them going. These included the administrative duties of finding sites for buildings, creating hostel accommodations, and organizing classes.
Chaganti Subba Rao, retired Principal of Jawaharlal Nehru Government Polytechnic, Hyderabad, who is an ex-colleague of Kamala, had this to say:
“Kamala is a dynamic individual. She is a sincere, straightforward person who never minces her words. She was the first secretary of the State Board of Technical Education, Hyderabad, and was instrumental in shaping the board. “
Kamala retired in 1989 as Joint Director of Technical Education after more than thirty-five years of service.
In those days, there were no books specifically catering to the polytechnic courses. Kamala wrote the first book for a civil engineering diploma course. In all, she wrote twelve such books with titles such as Surveying, Engineering Mechanics, Irrigation engineering, Quantity Surveying, Civil Engineering Drawing, Environmental engineering: water supply, sanitary engineering and pollution, and Transportation Engineering. Several of these books were written in collaboration with other authors. The books on Environmental Engineering and Transportation Engineering were published by Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi. Kamala says she was quite surprised to see some of her books were still being used in the polytechnics as late as 2009.
After retiring, Kamala traveled to the USA to help her daughters with the bringing up of their children. When the grandchildren were older, Kamala thought hard about what she wanted to do with her life. She knew she was not going to be happy unless she was engaged in some purposeful activity. She decided to follow her passion – teaching children.
These days, every year, she returns to India for four or five months at a time and volunteers at elementary schools since she felt learning at this stage makes the most impact in a child’s life. She also established her own school, called J.D.R. Adarsha Pradhamika Patasala. She has handed over the management of this school to Jana Vignana Vedika. She found the children had poor reading skills, particularly in English, and that they rarely read any books other than textbooks.
“Reading is the most important skill a child should acquire early in life. Reading helps children improve their language, their vocabulary and also thinking skills. We need children’s books to cater to their needs. So I started writing books for children. The Telugu translations of the books provide better comprehension.”
Kamala has written more than hundred books for children. She prints them and distributes them free to economically backward children. Now she is on to the mission of establishing mobile libraries which can make the books available in villages. To this end, she started a foundation called Jetty Kamalamma Foundation for Library Movement and will be launching the mobile library shortly.
Kamala’s book on Global Warming, in both English, and her native language Telugu, is being published by the publication division of Jana Vignana Vedika, a teachers’ organization.
In 2016, the newspaper Hans India carried an article on Kamala called At 86, age no bar for her passion for teaching. In that article, Ms. Padmaja, a teacher in government schools is quoted as saying:
“She is a living legend who strives hard for improving language skills among children. We were lucky enough to work with a great visionary. The way she teaches was simple, understandable and students were able to speak English in a month. She conducted sessions for teachers also for teaching language in an efficient manner.”
Kamala’s parents are no more. Kamala’s older sister Ganga Bai became a doctor and worked in the Tuberculosis Hospital in Madras. Her younger sister Sarojini Bai was a successful lawyer in private practice. Both of them have passed away.
Kamala married Dr. J. Dasaradharama Reddy. They met when he used to come to CEG to see his brother. All of Kamala’s four children live in the USA. The first son Prashanth Reddy graduated from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. After working for General Electric (GE) for a number of years, he is now working in a private company. Kamala’s daughter Dr. Kalpana Raghavan graduated from Madras Medical College and is a practicing Gynecologist in Atlanta, Georgia. Her husband Dr. Raghavan is an Internist. Kamala’s second son, Dr. Preetham Reddy graduated from Tirupathi Medical College and is a practicing cardiologist in Indianapolis. Kamala’s youngest daughter Dr. Sumana Reddy also graduated from Tirupathi Medical College. She did her fellowship in Allergy and Immunology and is now practicing in San Diego, California. Her husband Dr. A. Reddy is a gastroenterologist. Kamala was responsible for inspiring her children to aim high in their studies and nurturing their education.
Passionate Educator and Author
Kamala’s engineering education was decided by her father. She leveraged her education to have a successful career in technical education and writing. At the same time, she also took care of nurturing her children. When it was time for her to decide what to do in her retirement, she chose her passion for making children’s education better. Kamala’s words to today’s girls:
“Listen to your hearts and minds as to what kind of work you would like to do instead of listening to family members and friends. If you do, you will be very successful in anything you do and will enjoy your career and not feel that work is a drudgery. If you plan to be homemakers, you should get a good, basic, education. It will help you assist your children in their education.”
Kamala wrote a comprehensive document answering all my questions about her life and made my writing immensely easy. I thank her for the same and am honored to write this article about her.
Sumana, Kamala’s daughter was kind enough to pass on my requests to her mother and helped move the process along.
Kamala Devi Subrahmanyan (CEG 1953) was instrumental in me getting in touch with A. Kamala. Without her help, I would not have been able to write this story.
PV Prasad, the writer of The Hans India article was kind enough to respond to me and tried to put me in touch with Kamala’s family. My sincere thanks to him for the same.
This is story number twenty-eight in my ambitious journey of chronicling the life and work of the early CEG alumnae. If you like what you read, please “like” and share.
My goal is to encourage more girls to study engineering and science, enter the workforce and be equal partners with men in shaping the future of our world. Women face a lot of critical moments in their lives that make them want to leave the workforce. I am hoping the stories of the CEG women will inspire them to stay in it.
I will be writing more such posts and collecting them into a book for publishing.