JJ Murphy – Princely Rubber Planter

Natural Rubber, extracted from trees has had a long history with humanity.  Rubber trees are native to South America and the ancient tribes, called it ‘Caoutchoue,’ meaning a Crying Tree. They named it so because when an incision is made on the bark of the tree, the latex oozes out like a teardrop.

The South American tribes used the natural rubber latex for their shoes. They immersed their foot in latex, lifted their foot and waited until the latex dried.  This process was repeated until they achieved a thick sole.

When the European explorers returned home with pieces of rubber, they found that when they erased pencil lines on paper with what they brought home, it came off easily. As it could rub-it-off, the word Rubber was coined.

Referring to a tie-breaking game as a Rubber is common in a variety of sports and games from bridge, cricket to baseball. A three-game set in bridge is commonly referred to as a rubber. A rubber is mostly resolved through a tiebreaker.

Dead Rubber means a match in a series where the winner has been decided based on the previous matches.  The dead rubber match therefore has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost.

The term ‘Rubber Stamp’ originated in the Nineteenth Century when rubber stamps were used in the passage of bureaucratic papers of various kinds from one office to the other, often to show that an office had seen the document and approved it. It symbolised excessive bureaucracy and meant ‘To endorse or approve uncritically; to pass routinely or automatically.’

Rubber is an important tree for the world and its utilisation has increased many fold over the years.  It appears that the humanity is bound by rubber from birth to death.

Thailand is the largest producer of natural rubber in the world. India is one among the top ten rubber producing countries with Kerala accounting for over 75%.  The rubber Board of India is located at Kottayam, Kerala and the price of rubber in India is decided at the Kottayam market.

Rubber plant was brought to India by the British to augment production to meet ever increasing demand for rubber in Britain.   Hevea Brasiliensis – the rubber trees, native to Amazon rainforests, how did they find their way to Kerala, the God’s Own Country?

Rubber trees grow well in typical Amazonian conditions – temperature between 25°C to 35°C, high humidity of 75%, five to six hours of adequate sunlight, and about 200 to 300 cm of annual rainfall.  Kerala’s weather very well suits the requirements.

The British initiated rubber plantations in India, as early as 1873 at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, but the attempt failed. In 1902, Murphy Saippu, (Saheb in Malayalam,) known as JJ among his friends, John Joseph Murphy, an Irish man, established the first commercial rubber plantation in Kerala.

Murphy had enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, but without completing the course, he sailed to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to seek his fortune. He struck out on his own, though he belonged to a prominent Dublin family of shippers and bankers.  He was an adventurous colonialist, an avid racer, a social reformer and an educationalist. Murphy established the 1200-acre Murphy Estate, at Yendayar, about 60 km from Kottayam.

In those days, his estate was known for family quarters for the labourers with piped water and sanitation, hospitals with maternity wards, crèches at the workplace, schools for the children with midday meals, etc. He is believed to have even sent his workers’ children to Madras (Chennai) for higher education at his own expense. 1n 1952, he sold off his estate and lived there until his death in 1957.

One of Murphy’s passions was racing. He had a large stable and his horses brought him laurels from many courses in India, England and Ireland. The trophies were proudly displayed at his Yendayar bungalow.

He dominated the racing world for several years and won the C N Wadia Gold Cup at Bombay and the Governors cup at Madras. He raced his horse Old Orkney in England to win the Manchester November Handicap in 1927 and Goodwood Cup in 1929.

During World War II, when the entire country faced severe food shortage, the people of Yendayar were fortunate because Murphy ensured regular supplies of quality rice and other items at a great personal cost. Murphy’s philanthropy was legendary. No person who went to him with a genuine need had to return disappointed.

Murphy visited Ireland and UK for the last time in 1938 – 39. After he sold his estate in 1952, he lived at Yendayar until death on 09 May 1957. He was laid to rest at the cemetery of St Joseph’s Church, Yendayar.

KV Thomas Pottamkulam, in his article about Murphy titled ‘Princely Planter’ concludes that “I would like to think that if, instead of coming to India, he had emigrated to the United States, he might well have become the first Irish Catholic President decades before J F Kennedy.”

To extract the latex from a mature tree, a long curving, quarter inch deep groove is cut into the bark of the tree early in the morning. From this cut the latex oozes out into a container below where it gets collected. This latex is picked up four hours later from each tree and is processed to obtain natural rubber.

A rubber tree begins to yield latex when it is seven years old and is tapped for twenty years. After that, the tree is cut and sold as timber and a new set of trees are planted.

For the first five years after a new sapling is planted, they do inter-cropping by planting pineapple. It binds the soil and prevents soil erosion. It also brings in moolah for the farmer. The rubber growing areas of Kerala produces the best variety of pineapples in India.

After five years, the canopy of the tree grows large and prevents sunlight from reaching the ground. Now they plant a wild legume plant which binds the soil and acts as a mulch to retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperature and suppress weed growth.

Rubber Board of India established John Joseph Murphy Research Centre (JJMRC) in 2013 in his memory. It is the first of its kind integrated research and technology services hub, based in India’s first industrial park dedicated to rubber based industries. The centre is situated at Irapuram village in Ernakulam District. The park is a joint venture by the Rubber Board of India and the Government of Kerala.

When a Higher Secondary School was opened in Yendayar in 1982 with the support of local people, they did not forget the man who made Yendayar.  They named the school John Joseph Murphy Memorial Higher Secondary School.

Unfortunately, these are the only two memorials for a man who dedicated his life and changed the region’s economy and the people who lived there.

Parade State

While commanding our Regiment – 125 Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment, I attended office mostly on Friday afternoons.  That was when I signed those official documents which required the Commanding Officer’s (CO) signatures like the Daily Parade State.

I was a single parent CO with Marina having migrated to Canada. Bringing up our two primary school going children, feeding them, sending them to school, ensuring that they did their homework, making them take bath, etc – all fell on my shoulders.

For the uninitiated, Daily Parade State is a large table giving out details of soldiers and officers authorised and posted to the Regiment and their daily whereabouts. This report is compiled daily by the Regiment/ Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major (RHM/ BHM) the previous evening, showing the whereabouts of the soldiers as of the next morning at 8 AM.

Daily Parade State in the Regiment and Batteries is compiled by the Detail Master. He is the understudy to the RHM/ BHM and is a soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the RHM/ BHM.  Battery Detail Masters prepare the Parade State of the Battery in the evening and hand it over to the Regimental Detail Master, who compiles the Regimental Parade State.

Our Regiment was then a cooperating unit with the School of Artillery, Devlali with a lot of station commitments and training commitments – called Range Detail.  Unlike at many Schools of Instructions of the Indian Army, at School of Artillery, the student officers/ soldiers do not draw the equipment or ammunition and they do not clean/ maintain the equipment.  It is the duty of the cooperating Regiments to provide the same.  The details of manpower and equipment to be provided along with administrative details like pitching of tents, preparation of the Observation Posts, etc are given out a week prior to the beginning of the month.  Thus, all soldiers are well aware of the commitments and duties.

We were always short of manpower as the soldiers had to avail their leave too. Our Section/ Platoon Commanders always managed the show – often with the radio operator or driver doubling up as radar operator or surveyor and so on.  Clerks were well utilised as radio operators and surveyors or to assist the chefs in the kitchen, so were the tradesmen. Even the Religious Teacher was not spared.

Failure or a short-fall of the Range Detail meant the CO being summoned by the General – the Commandant, School of Artillery.  Our RHM and BHMs ensured that all Range Details were executed well.  They had their own methodology to deal with shortcomings.  Whatever it was, I was never summoned by the General.

Every morning, the BHMs presented their Parade State to their Battery Commander while the RHM presented the same to the Adjutant and then to the Second-in-Command, finally to the CO. The Daily Parade state is an auditable document to account for ration drawn from the Supply Depot for the soldiers. Hence, it is mandatory for the CO to sign it.

Three months into command, RHM Kaptan Singh summoned all his courage and asked “Sir, how come you do not ask any question while you sign the Parade State?  You tell me to turn the pages and place my finger where you are to sign.  You do not even look at it.”

Why this question now?” I asked, knowing the answer well.

Your predecessor used to grill me for over ten minutes every morning about various figures in the Parade State like number of soldiers on leave, soldiers on various out-station duties, etc.  I know that you know about every soldier,” RHM Kaptan Singh explained.

Thank God!  You had to suffer this agony for only ten minutes; I had to over 30 minutes,’ I thought.

My mind raced back to my Battery Commander days.  Then also, I hardly paid any attention to the figures reflected on the Parade State, but our CO wasn’t so.  He believed that every figure reflected on the Parade State was the gospel truth.

He summoned each Battery Commander and questioned about the number of soldiers on leave or on out-station details, etc and I used to rattle out some numbers.  Then he summoned our BHM and asked the very same question.  What a pathetic example of command! 

Our BHM’s figures never tallied with mine and the 30-minute ordeal ended with our CO’s remark “You do not know what is happening in your Battery.”  This continued everyday, and my figures never matched our BHMs.  Other Battery Commanders matched their figures with their BHM’s in the morning prior to being summoned by our CO. Luckily for me, I moved out of the Regiment in two months for the Staff Course.

Now I had to justify my blind signing of the Parade State to RHM Kaptan Singh.

This document is a proverbial Elephant’s Teeth for show only. This Parade state was prepared by your Detail Master the previous evening giving out the likely state of all personnel of our Regiment including me the next morning.  He put in herculean efforts and with a lot of erasing and rewriting, managed to tally all the figures. If this is accurate, then your Detail Master must be a genius and hell of a Prediction Master.  Last evening, I did not know where I would be this morning.  Hence these figures can never be accurate. If it is accurate, then the Detail Master must be sitting on my chair. Do you want me to grill you on it now?”

RHM Kaptan Singh passed his characteristic smile, saluted, and walked away fully convinced.

Nightie

Illustration by Avni Karthik. Age 10

In Kerala, the nightie is everywhere with most working-class women in Kerala owning at least one.

How did Nighty, a boxy garment which doesn’t give any shape to the body, which does not enhance the body’s contours, which does not bring out the women’s curves became so popular?  Nighties’ predecessors – maxis and kaftans – did make their appearance in early seventies – mostly in movies.  It did not gain popularity among the masses.

Nightie came to Kerala with the Gulf boom of the 80’s, like many other fashion and material onsets.  It was a sure content of the suitcases of any Mallu returning from the Gulf.  He carried at least one for every female family member and relative.  It could well be the first invasion of the Western culture into Kerala.  Unlike the Western Nightie, it wasn’t a negligee worn by women to bed at night.

Nightie is universal – fits all size or age. It does not divide women on either caste or religious lines in its use. Nightie became popular also because of the humid weather of Kerala with relative humidity mostly over 70% all through the year – day or night.  It is a shapeless floor-sweeping garment made of thick cloth, with frills at all imaginable and unimaginable places, decorated with puffed sleeves.

To establish in the Indian society, the poor Nightie too endeared many a battle.  In 2013, a Chennai school asked the parents to stop students from wearing nighties for the morning school run.  In 2014, a women’s group in Gothivli village near Mumbai tried to impose a fine of Rs 500 on residents wearing nighties outside their homes, describing the garment as indecent. In both cases, the nightie won the battle.

In 2018, Thokalapalli, a village in coastal Andhra Pradesh, barred women from wearing nightie during the daytime. They ruled that women could wear nighties only at night and any violations will attract a fine of Rs 2000 and anybody who helped in bringing such violator to book would be rewarded with Rs 1000.

Kerala women preferred the nightie over the traditional Chatta-Mundu, lungi-blouse and saree as it is easy to wear, easy to wash and it never failed in its duty and never ended up in a wardrobe malfunction.

Draping a Thorthu over the upper torso depicted modesty for the modest and cultured, but Kerala women – smart as they are, discarded the Thorthu long ago.  A nightie can well be seen in Kerala as a sign of female liberation as well as a social leveller.

Today the Nightie is a national phenomenon with different names.  Nightie in Kerala, Gowns in Mumbai, Housecoats in Goa, and kaftan for the rich. The Nightie has gained international recognition with The New York Times running a story on the outfit under the headline Wear Your Nightie Out.

In the soldiers’ family quarters, the nightie made its presence felt. To begin with, it was introduced by the wives of the South Indian Class (SIC) soldiers’ wives, especially the Mallus. It caught on and others followed suit. While on rounds of the Regimental Family Quarters, one could see the invasion of the nightie, irrespective of caste or creed!!!

Our mother discarded her saree for the Nightie when her grandchildren came into this world.  She very reluctantly wore the nightie as she had to run after the children, feed them and play with them.  At the end of the day she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.

In 2006, our mother came to Canada and lived with us for six months.  For her journey from Kochi to Toronto, she wore the saree.  Marina and children accompanied her and throughout the journey, it was very inconvenient and uncomfortable for her to visit the washroom in the aircraft.

On landing in Canada, I asked Marina to take her to the Shopping Mall and buy her two pairs of pants & top and skirt & top.  Our mother, stubborn that she was, said “Do you think I will ever wear it??”

After a week of acclimatisation, we planned a trip to Montreal – about eight hours of drive from Toronto.  Now I said “Amma, if you want to come along, you must discard the saree as it will be very convenient, else you will look like a sore thumb in the crowd.

With a lot of reluctance, she wore the pants & top.  After two hours of driving, we stopped at the restaurant for a coffee break.  Nidhi took Amma to the washroom and on returning to our table she said “I never realised it was so comfortable.”

I accompanied Amma on her return journey.  For the entire flight duration of travel from Kochi airport to home, she wore her skirt & top.  My brothers, sisters-in-law and grandchildren were all flabbergasted to see the Granny in a Western outfit.  One of the grandchildren remarked, “Until now Granny was All-India.  Now she is International.”

36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment

When I wrote about 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment, I would be failing in my duties if I did not write about its sibling unit – 36 (Maratha) Medium Regiment.

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) as a second Lieutenant in 1982, 36 (M) Medium was part of the same Artillery Brigade.  They were located at Meerut and we at Gurgaon. The young officers of both regiments bonded well in that we stayed with the young officers of 36 (M) Medium whenever we visited Meerut.  It was mostly for various competitions – both professional and sports.

The two Regiments competed vigorously on the field, but at the end of the day, we were friends again.  I still cherish the nicest memories of our association with 36 (M) Medium, especially Veteran Colonels Manu Satti, Atul Mishra, Mitra and Mukherjee. 

36 (M) Medium, well known among the Gunner fraternity as Chathis, meaning 36, is also known for most conversions an Indian Regiment has ever been through.  The Regiment was raised as 7/5 Maratha Light Infantry at Faizabad on October 10, 1940, by Lt Col AL Collingwood.

Like all Maratha Infantry Battalions, 36 (M) Medium too have the battle cry – Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai,, meaning ‘ Victory to Emperor Shivaji.’  This war cry is believed to have been conceived while the Marathas were fighting Italian forces in World War II in Gallabat, Sudan. It was in January 1941. An attack on an Italian garrison was not going as per plan with the Marathas on the verge of losing the battle. It was then that Captain Boomgart, the officer in charge, was advised to inspire the Marathas by reminding them of the Emperor Shivaji, the famous Maratha king who had the courage to stand against the Mughals’ misrule. Thus was coined the famous war cry, “Bol Shivaji Maharaj ki Jai.”  Hearing the war cry, the Marathas lept forward with great aggression and overcame the Italian garrison.

Soon after raising, in 1942 the Regiment converted from an Infantry Battalion to 51 (M) Armoured Regiment. It was part of the 268 Indian Infantry Brigade which saw operations on the Japanese front during World War II.

During the war, in 1943, the Regiment became 8 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment and served under 44 Indian Armoured Division, in Burma.  The Regiment in 1944-45 was part of 33 Corps Troops and later participated in the Burmese operations in 1945 as part of 7 Indian Infantry Division.

At the end of 1945, 2 Indian Airborne Division was reorganised in preparation for the independence of India.  This resulted in Indianisation of the Division. All British soldiers moved into 6 (British) Independent Parachute Brigade, though it remained part of the 2 Indian Airborne Division. 36 (M) Parachute Anti-Tank Regiment (Royal Indian Artillery) joined the Division in 1946.

On Indian independence, the Regiment was rechristened as 36 (M) Anti-Tank Regiment of the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army.  In 1956, the Regiment converted to become 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment.

The Regiment saw action in the Tsangdhar-Zimithang and the Tawang – Sela Sectors in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.  62 Bravehearts of the Regiment laid down their lives during this war.

In 1965 the Regiment converted to 36 (M) Light Regiment, equipped with 120 mm Mortars and was deployed in the Dera Baba Nanak and Amritsar sectors. The Regiment participated in the operations to occupy areas up to the Icchogil Canal and in the Battle of Dograi.

Before the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Regiment reconverted to be 36 (M) Heavy Mortar Regiment with Tampella 160 mm Mortars and participated in operations in the Shakargarh Bulge and Sialkot sectors.

In 1981, the Regiment was equipped with the Russian made M-46 130 mm Medium Gun and subsequently converted to the 155mm Bofors gun.

Coorgis

When I joined our Regiment – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River) – in 1982, we had Subedar Chinnappa, Subedar Bidappa, Havildar Muthanna, etc in the South Indian Class (SIC) Battery. These Coorgis (Kodava community) were great soldiers and outstanding hockey players.  By 1986, Coorgis stopped joining our Regiment and we did not have any Coorgi when I left the Regiment in 1997. It appeared that for the Coorgis, Indian Army was no more attractive.

Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is a rural district in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka.  It is the birthplace of Cauvery, a river that local Kodavas consider sacred. Located on the Western Ghats, Kodagu is also referred to as the Scotland of India for its salubrious weather. Kodagu is the most beautiful hill station of Karnataka and is well known for its coffee, especially Robusta variety.

Most of the Coorgi soldiers in our Regiment came from 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment. Until 1901, this Regiment was designated as the 11 Madras Infantry and in 1902, the Regiment was reorganised and the basis of recruitment changed from Tamil and Telugu to only Coorgi soldiers.

In 1903, the restructured Regiment was then renamed the 71 Coorg Rifles. The Regiment was disbanded in 1904 because of insufficient recruits. In 1942, Coorgis were again recruited into the newly raised 1st Coorg Battalion. In 1946, it was converted to 37 Coorg Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Indian Artillery.

Today, the 37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is part of the Regiment of Artillery with their war cry “Cauvery Mata ki Jai.”

Up to 1970s, this Regiment was manned by soldiers from Coorg. Now this Regiment is manned by soldiers from the South Indian States with hardly any Coorgis – still the name persists.

I did come across a few officers in the Indian Army from Coorg, and they proved their metal as most became Generals.  Field Marshal K M Cariappa, the first Indian General and first Commander-in-Chief of India, first comes to my mind, followed by General Kodendera Subayya Thimayya. All the more because two Battalions of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) are named after them.

Lieutenant General PC Thimmaya, Lieutenant  General  CB Ponnappa and Lieutenant  General  CP Cariappa were all at the National Defence Academy and we trained together. 

A total of eleven officers from Kodagu became Lieutenant Generals in the Army so far. This apart, from twenty  Major Generals and four Air Marshals, which undoubtedly makes Kodagu, the Land of Generals.

Indian Hockey team too had many Coorgis, but now hardly anyone. Coorg produced more than 40 Hockey internationals and some of them like M P Ganesh and MM Somaiya captained the Indian team.

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment maintains many of the traditions of the Kodava community. On the Regiment’s raising day, officers and soldiers, regardless of their ethnicity, wear the traditional ‘Kupya Chele’, which consists of a traditional jacket and headgear. The officers wear Peeche Kathi (a traditional dagger.)  The ladies wear Kodava Podiya or Coorgi style saree.

The Coorg style of draping a sari involves tucking the pleats at the back of the waist, instead of the front. The end of the sari is brought below the left shoulder and secured over the right shoulder in a firm knot called ‘Molakattu.’

Peeche Kathi has a handle shaped like a parrot or peacock. The sheath may be made of pure silver, silver and wood, or silver/gold embedded with precious stones. The sheath is linked to an intricately designed long silver chain, which ends in an assortment of miniature replicas of Kodava weapons.

Unlike ‘Change of Baton’ followed by other artillery Regiments when a new the Commanding Officer takes over, a Peeche Kathi is handed over as a sign of change in command.  The residence of the Commanding Officer is called Mercara house, named after the Mercara town in Coorg

37 (Coorg) Medium Regiment is so closely affiliated with the Kodagu community that it is a tradition for the unit to take part in the annual hockey tournament in Kodagu.  For the Kodavas, the annual hockey tournament is very important it is part of their culture. In this tournament, various families of Kodagu compete against each other. The Regiment gives an award for the first goal scored in the tournament and it is a matter of pride for the people because the Regiment named after their community is taking keen interest.