There are two things that make Salem famous (and infamous): mangoes, and female foeticide. The perpetually hot and dusty city in north-central Tamil Nadu is closer to Bengaluru (175 km) than it is to Chennai (300 km). As we drive past to our destination, Mallasamudram, 25 km outside Salem, soporific haze envelopes the winding road and the countryside is rendered even more sluggish by one of TN’s frequent power cuts.
Mallasamudram, a small town with a population of 17,000, claims distinction from its three engineering colleges — about 2,500 students graduate from them every year. Even more interestingly, a company called Mahendra NextWealth is giving these graduates, who would otherwise migrate to metros in search of jobs, opportunities closer to home. Take the case of Poorni Selvam, an electronics engineer and a Mahendra NextWealth employee. “NextWealth has definitely given me a new lease of life,” says the dusky 22-year-old, who having lost both her parents stays with her ageing grandmother in Mallasamudram.
“If not for them [NextWealth], I would have had to move to the city for a job and worry about my grandmother being alone at home. But now I can support her and be financially independent without moving out of my hometown.” Sunder Velmurgan is another young man with a proud story — he even refused a government job that was offered to him when his father passed away just so he could stay with NextWealth.
“I am sure I can do much better here than in a government job,” he insists, even as, his ringtone belts out British band Queen’s rock anthem We will rock you. Even as I marvel at how far and long Freddie Mercury’s magic has travelled, many NextWealth employees tell me that working for the company has improved their quality of life in this remote town.
So what exactly does NextWealth do? Founded by Dr Sridhar Mitta, 63, Wipro’s first employee, and some of his former colleagues from the software major, including Mythily Ramesh, Anand Talwai and SR Gopalan in 2009, NextWealth pitches IT and BPO services from delivery centres which are managed by professional entrepreneurs in small towns and rural areas. “When you actually vi