There are so many facets to traveling that I absolutely adore. Of course experiencing new cultures, seeing our world’s beauty and trying new things are just some of the aspects that I thrive on. But what pulls at my heart strings the most is meeting the many amazing people around the world.
I recently traveled to southern India where I met one of those remarkable people. His name is Selvamouthou (also goes by Mouthou) and he just happened to be my tour guide. When I first met Mouthou I got an immediate sense that with his big, bright grin he truly loved his life. Over the course of the week that I spent traveling around Kerala with Mouthou by my side, I got to see first-hand how his zest for life is simply infectious and how his kindness has no limits. For this reason I want to share Mouthou with all of you and let you hear his story.
Meet Selvamouthou Koumarasamy…
Mouthou was born on March 24, 1972 in Pondicherry (now called Puthucherry); a city on the south eastern coast of India. He was the fifth and only son to be born into his family; and with the importance of having a boy to carry the family name, this was a glorious day for the Koumarasamy family. His father owned a grocery shop and his mother stayed home to raise the children. His family was fairly well off by Indian standards; enough so that they could afford to send their only son to the most prestigious schools in the area. The family’s income would be pooled together to pay for the school fees for Mouthou, but his sisters would have to sacrifice because they were merely girls. Although this is the norm in most Indian households, you would think that this would put an enormous amount of pressure on Mouthou. After grade school Mouthou went on to attend University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in BA History.
It seemed that the world was at his fingertips and there were so many opportunities in store for Mouthou. But it was at that time that his father’s business went bankrupt and his family had to sell all their possessions; everything from the country home to the gold jewelry that his mother wore for her wedding. Times were extremely trying and Mouthou needed to help out with his family’s financial situation immediately. He took an entry level job as a truck driver which required him to work odd hours and in terrible conditions. The roads were extremely unsafe and his family urged him to find another job.
Because the territory of Puducherry was under French rule until 1954 many French dignitaries still visit this part of India. With that, tourism catering toward the French was thriving at that time and the possibilities of working in the tourism industry sparked an interest in Mouthou. He sold his truck and bought a tour bus. Soon he was transporting important French officials around the city. His cheerful disposition and hard work ethic quickly sprung him to the head of his industry where Mouthou became the go-to person when visiting Pondicherry.
Because of his outstanding reputation, Mouthou was asked by a reputable tour company to join their team. They didn’t want him to be a driver, but instead offered to train him to work as a tour guide. Being a tour guide is a very sought after position in India so Mouthou jumped at the chance at this opportunity. He truly has everything a tour company is looking for; perfect English, extensive knowledge, great people skills and most importantly a heart of gold. Mouthou excelled and thrived in his field.
In his personal life things were changing too. He was at the age where his parents were involved in arranging his marriage. The festivities surrounding his wedding were lavish and having around 1700 guests in attendance made him feel like a local celebrity. In 1999 he married his wife and a year later his daughter was born. Adjusting to married life seemed to be difficult for Mouthou’s mother. Women show their love and affection through serving and taking care of their men. For Mouthou’s entire life his mother had doted over his every move. He was the only boy and truly was the golden child of their family. In an instant he was being passed on to his wife, and it became a struggle to let go of her only son. Tension grew within his family and Mouthou slowly became depressed. He coped with the stress through alcohol and over time his addiction took over his life.
Relationships at home were unravelling and his work was greatly suffering. Because he was so intoxicated Mouthou would forget who owed him money or what services had already been attended to with the business. Some people knew he wasn’t functioning at his highest level and thus took advantage of his generosity by using and stealing from him. Mouthou was sending his family into debt and he truly felt trapped and unable to fix the problem. In 2004 Mouthou had hit rock bottom and decided the only way out of this mess was to end his life. He waited until his daughter came home from school so that he could see her one last time and after silently saying his final goodbyes he made his way to the river where he drank poison. He explained to me that when he put it in his mouth it burned so profusely that he had a hard time swallowing. He drank the entire bottle and slowly made his way home on his motorbike. He had to pull over on the side of the road because he started to black out, and while he was laying there a friend drove by. His friend instantly knew something was seriously wrong and took him straight to the hospital. It was clearly an act of God that his friend came by when he did, because if Mouthou would have waited much longer the doctors were sure that he would have not survived that day.
It was definitely a long and uphill road as Mouthou slowly put the pieces of his life back together. In 2009 a Dutch company heard that he was healthy and was ready to begin working again so they quickly snatched him up and he began working in operations, designing and developing tours. This company took a chance when they hired Mouthou and in return they truly gave him his life back. By 2013 Mouthou lead his first group with the reputable sustainable adventure tour company called G Adventures and that is who he works for to this day.
Mouthou credits his life to the tourism industry. He truly believes that he wouldn’t be where he is in life today if it wasn’t for this industry. He has also seen first-hand how so many others have been positively affected by tourism in his country. From the small business owners like tuk tuk drivers or farmers who are able to supply restaurants; the demand for resources goes up and with that locals are benefiting from the profits.
I asked Mouthou what propelled him out of his darkest days and he simply stated ‘every problem in life has a perfect solution…time; when we wait answers will come to us and each problem will sort itself out’.
Looking at Mouthou today you would be shocked that this jolly, middle aged man underwent something so traumatic in his life. He loves his family and would do anything for his two children. He exudes strength and positivity and I am truly a better person having met him for this brief time. I think the important thing that I hope to convey is how tourism truly is a life saver to so many. It brings so much joy and purpose to those of us who get to travel and see the world, but it also is an important industry that provides so much to those living in developing countries.
If you are looking into taking a tour and don’t know which company to go with check out G Adventures. Mouthou is one of their many amazing guides who I was lucky enough to meet during my travels in Kerala.
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2 responses to “India’s Selvamouthou Koumarasamy ~ How the Tourism Industry Changed His Life”
I also travelled around Kerala and Tamil Nashua with Mouthou. It was an amazing experience. He is such a knowledgable and experienced guide who has the enjoyment and well being of his travellers at the heart of everything he does.
He sure has a genuine spirit that makes the experience unforgettable. We are both so lucky to have crossed his path!
Do you have a new adventure planned for 2019?