The story of Dr Alagappa Chettiar is lesser-told, but his contributions to a newly-Independent India have been monumental.

Born in 1909 in Karaikudi of Tamil Nadu, he came from an extremely affluent family, but wanted to use his wealth for the greater good of the nation.

Throughout his life, the businessman launched many ventures — the Alagappa Textiles in Kerala, tin mines in Burma, theatres in Madras, and even a private airline.

He always had a fascination with flying. When he was in London, he obtained a pilot’s licence in Croydon. In 1947, this very fascination gave India the Jupiter Airlines.

At the onset of the Partition of India, Dr Chettiar was the first to offer his aircrafts to the government to evacuate families from Pakistan. His flights carried Army personnel, armour, resources, and refugees alike.

His grandson Dr Ramanathan Vairavan says that during one particular mission, one of the Jupiter Airlines planes crashed.

“One of his managers came to him and said, ‘Sir, the plane has crashed. The insurance company did not cover the crash, as the plane was only insured for civilian duties.’”

“But my grandfather wasn’t concerned about that. His only and immediate response was — ‘We have another plane, send that’. It was never about the money for him. He was just concerned with doing the right thing.”

A few years before his death, Dr Chettiar sold his airlines in 1953 when the Indian Airlines was nationalised.

When the British left, Dr Chettiar saw education as a tool that would prove instrumental in this change. He formed the Alagappa College of Technology in Chennai.

Although years of philanthropic work had burnt a hole in Dr Chettiar’s pocket, his philosophy was that whoever approached him would never be turned away.

A few women from Karaikudi complained that while he had built many institutions in the town, none were for women exclusively.

It was then that Dr Chettiar sold his last remaining asset—his own home—to set up a college for them. He spent his remaining days in a cricket stadium.