He battles debilitating disease to achieve success

He battles debilitating disease to achieve success

“Obstacles are great incentives,” said French historian Jules Michelet. When C V Radhakrishnan was 25 years old, he was staring at an obstacle the size of a mountain as he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. His muscles were wasting fast and doctors at AIIMS in New Delhi said he might be around for hardly five more years. The year was 1977.

Cut to 2010 and Radhakrishnan has survived not just five but another 27 years now. He now runs a modest but flourishing typesetting business for about 100 international journals like Nature Physics moving around his office in a wheelchair in a rural area near Thiruvananthapuram.

Radhakrishnan and theoretical physicist Prof Stephen Hawking share the same disease marked by degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. “Hawking has near-complete paralysis. I was fortunate that my muscle wastage got arrested about five to six years into the disease,” Radhakrishnan, now 57, told Deccan Herald at the scenic new campus of his firm River Valley Technologies at Malayinkeezh, 10 km away from the city. Even though his disease progression was halted after he underwent ayurveda therapy in a leading hospital in 1983, he believes it may have been sheer coincidence. His toes slip off and he cannot move around freely or physically execute heavy work.
When he looks back, Radhakrishnan recalls that the disease has a debilitating effect on a person especially when it strikes at the prime of youth. “You are about to get into a relationship and begin a family when your disease condition can wreck you mentally. Getting over that phase was tough,” says he. Though he was an employee in the Ministry of Shipping then, Radhakrishnan thought it as pointless to be in Delhi if he had only five more years to go.

Back in his home town, he joined the Kerala University as a clerk. “It was in the university that I came in contact with professor Namboodiri in the mathematics department, who initiated me to the world of Tex (pronounced ‘tech’) language,” he recalled. Tex processing is used for typesetting complex scientific documents especially those involving mathematical formulae. “I mastered it in phases and undertook journal works. Life was smooth and I built a house by availing of a housing loan. Soon, I realised that my income from the university was insufficient to repay my loan. That was when I began exploring the commercial possibilities of Tex,” says he. With the help of his brothers, he set up River Valley Technologies in 1994 after quitting his university job.  

“Several things fell in place soon after and that includes my meeting with Kaveh Bazargan, an Iranian national settled in the UK who became my business partner,” he says. The mutual association has earned the firm overseas business from clients like Elsevier, IOP Publishing and Nature Publishing Group. Kaveh has now merged his firm with River Valley Tech which now undertakes work for reputed international journals including Nature Physics and Nature Photonics.

 He presides over a company with a turnover of Rs seven crore, employs 130 people, owns a beautiful campus away from the city and even visits the UK once a year. Six years ago, he married Vidya who now works in his company.
“Perhaps, I was there at the right time for several things to happen. But I also made some firm choices in life. I was not after money when there was an opportunity to go after it. I decided not to marry when I was young because I did not want to hide my illness,” he says. Much of the credit for his successful business also rests on the free software he employs unlike his competitors who are leading names in the business. 

Radhakrishnan’s airy multi-storey office is designed to enable him to move around in the wheelchair and he sits with his employees with no air of a chief executive.  Employees can drop in any time before 10 am and put in eight hours of work.
R Gopakumar In Thiruvananthapuram

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