An entrepreneur on how a virus shaped his life decisions

CK Sunil Kumar leaves Chennai for his hometown to make ends meet, only to return, home-sick and with renewed dreams

Coronavirus cases were then surging in Chennai; Jolly had co-morbidities; for Sunil, running the diagnostic centre (a stone’s throw away from their home) in Ayanavaram was out of the question. The combination of these factors pointed in one direction — towards their hometown, Haripad in Alapuzha district, Kerala. Having done the emergency travel registration, they were off to Haripad, hitting the road with their hatchback.

“Fear of the virus and the economics of the situation dictated our decision. Obviously, under the circumstances, staying alive was more important than anything else,” says Sunil, who is 48 years old. “I did not want to take any chance by opening our centre, which offered sugar, ECG and other regular tests. With a raging pandemic, most people would avoid taking these tests if they can, and so the centre was not going to get us now the kind of income we required to meet our daily needs.”

Sunil saw his savings dwindle as the rent for his house and the centre alone soaked up ₹20,000 every month.

On June 5, as they were on the way to their hometown, an unforeseen event overtook them. While on a short route from Tiruchi, around 9.30 p.m., Sunil lost control of the car, which careened off the road. In the inky darkness, the three were trapped in a low-lying patch — 15 feet below the road level. “Fortunately, none of us suffered any major injury,” says Sunil.

A Good Samaritan journeying that way rescued them.

“As we learnt later, our rescuer Raja was a car dealer. He rung up his contacts to get a spare part for the side arm of the car wheel that got bent due to the fall. Hearing the sound, local villagers had gathered and they helped us pull the car out,” narrates Sunil. In around four hours, they were in a position to leave the spot.

On home ground

After reaching their hometown, picking up the pieces by starting a business was not easy. Haripad being a small town, it offered a natural resistance to enterprise in the best of times. And they were in the midst of a pandemic. The only solace was they did not have to pay rent as they had their own house.

“Another reason to move to their native place was that my elderly mother had to be taken care of,” says Sunil.

In September, when cities started relaxing lockdown restrictions, Sunil and Jolly returned to shift their belongings from their home for good.

Later, the two opened a similar diagnostic centre in their native town after pledging their property. Now, they have three persons in employment.

“Obviously, business cannot be expected to be as brisk as in pre-COVID days. People would avoid coming to a diagnostic centre unless it is an emergency,” says Sunil.

The COVID situation seemed to be getting better when the private school where their son Arjun is studying called the students for in-person classes.

The family decided to temporarily move to Chennai, and they took a rented accommodation to help Arjun complete his crucial year of schooling. Before he could get the full benefit of an in-person academic programme, the second wave swept through Chennai and classes were suspended after a month.

Testing positive

In April, the three tested positive. “We both were in a critical condition and had a hard battle against the virus,” says Sunil, who shuttles between Chennai and his hometown.

Though these one-and-a-half years have been challenging, the Sunils’ are grateful for the many people who crossed their paths and helped them out of impossible situations.

“I have not paid my son’s fees till now and the school never harassed me,” says Sunil. “My friends Suresh Sankarankutty, Suraj, Sijith and Sunil have been a big source of support to me.” Sunil came to Chennai as a 17-year-old with just ₹ 500 and it is this city that helped him build his dreams.

“If the situation improves, and I really hope it does, we would love to be back in Chennai. It is the city where I built my dreams and I want my son to build his too in this city.”

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