V1 mulberry

V1 mulberry
Kuppam, AP, 2010

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

New century: advance & frustration




Quddus, a Government Silk Farm and the Italian Silk Expert
Around the beginning of the 20th century and into the years of the First World War, major steps were being taken towards direct government involvement in sericultural development in Mysore. In 1904 a Canadian scientist, Dr Leslie Coleman, had been appointed Government Entomologist and Mycologist for Mysore. Starting as a lone officer with a limited brief, he established himself and in 1911 became the first Director of Agriculture under the Economic Conference of Mysore, with responsibility for sericulture[1]. Abdul Quddus claims in his evidence given to the ITB enquiry (1935: 501) that his family in 1905-07 had 'induced Mills like the Sassoon and Alliance Silk Mill of Bombay to use Mysore silk and silk waste for weaving in place of Japanese stuff', also that ‘measures to prevent and cure diseases affecting cocoons’ were ‘concerted with the co-operation of well-known firms, like Hashim Arif Brothers & Co. of Bengal Silk Mills Co. in Calcutta'. The Administration Report for 1907 comments: 'It is interesting to note that a co-operative credit society has been formed in the Mysore District with the object of starting power-reeling, dyeing and other operations connected with the silk industry to deal with the raw produce now largely exported from the State'. There was a 'Steam Silk Factory' operating at Closepet [subsequently Ramanagaram], as well as the Tata filature in Bangalore employing 30 people. By 1912/3 the latter was employing 84 people. This was the time at which Alfred Chatterton, another luminary of Mysore life, arrived from Madras to take charge of a Department of Industries and Trade which would be responsible for silk reeling and other processing in that presidency’s industry.
As a future centre for the development of sericulture itself, the basis that had been laid by the Mustan family in Channapatna and their current representative, F.M. Abdul Quddus, proved decisive. A plaque in the 1990s still witnessed that Shahukar Mahamad Hyder Sahib and his son, Abdul Quddus had by 1915 given 'the premises and some structures' – in fact land and an old house – to the Mysore Government for the establishment of a Central Silk Farm at Channapatna. Quddus was to add more land in 1918 and 1930 (ITB 1935: 501), using the old house given for the purpose by the firm. A little paradoxically, this was to be the base for Washington Mari, ‘Italian Silk Expert’, whose appointment Quddus had opposed.
Mari had arrived to take up his position at the end of 1913, and his involvement represents a further episode in a somewhat tense relationship between Italian sericultural experts and the British in India. According to Maxwell-Lefroy, it was out of a concern to develop reeling that Chatterton contacted the Italian Consul-General at Bombay, Dr Gorio. He was connected with an Italian firm spinning silk waste and exporting spun silk to India. His advice was to forget about developing reeling as a cottage industry, to concentrate on producing cocoons and improving their quality. These might then be exported to Italy. He suggested the appointment of the Italian expert. Mari himself, as Maxwell-Lefroy writes in his clearly partisan telling of the story, was interested in the production of silkworm seed in Italy where he was part-owner of a grainage, for export to India. His activities in India were, Lefroy hints, a response to his own and his country’s interests more generally (Maxwell-Lefroy 1917: 32). What the record shows, however, is that Mari had considerable success in the short time that he stayed (see Department of Agriculture Report, 1939). He arranged to import eleven white European silkworm races and one yellow Chinese,[2] to be maintained on the farm at Channapatna; he prepared a successful hybrid of Mysore and these foreign races; he inspected operations in the field and experimented with disease-free rearing of all the varieties of eggs around, making a beginning in manufacturing and issuing Pasteur’s ‘cellular seed'. He also started the farm at Channapatna, where seven Sericultural Inspectors were employed and trained, as well as other potential staff.[3] Demonstration rearing houses in which Italian methods were shown were established: a model rearing house was to be opened at Karohatti, or Kerehatti, a small village 3 kms south of T. Narasipur town, described as 'the seat of sericulture' in the Taluk Handbook of c. 1917. There were four other experimental farms. One at Chikballapur was moved to Kolar and a new one established at Hassan as part of a policy already in place to extend sericulture into new areas. From Kadur District, reports were favourable but from the two areas further north, Shimoga and Chitradurga, they were not (Admin Report 1914/5, quoted by Maxwell-Lefroy 1917:34).
Mari also developed a hot-air chamber for drying – ‘stiffling’ – cocoons, perhaps for supplying to Italy. Separately however, experiments towards improved reeling methods were set up by the Department of Industry and Commerce, this with a view to producing raw silk at home in India rather than sending cocoons abroad. The machinery for a second filature to be established at Channapatna was constructed in the Industrial School that had been started there. This, however, was hardly open before it had closed again, in 1914/15 when it was said to be already suffering owing the wartime disruption of demand in the industry.
Abdul Quddus and the Mysore Silk Association
If the employment of Mari, though not his location at Channapatna, was something of a defeat for Quddus, he had compensation soon in the shape of the establishment of a Mysore Silk Association. This was not yet the associations in each village which he envisaged as a major force for development, but it was a start. On 2nd April 1914 there was a grand inauguration held in front of the Office of the Silk Expert in Channapatna. Sirdar Sir M. Kantaraj Urs, C.S.I.[4], a member of the Maharaja's Council and destined to succeed the renowned Sir M. Visveshwarayya, the current Dewan of Mysore, was in the chair. Quddus was the President of the new association and he made the opening speech. It was on this occasion that he claimed that Dewan Purnaiah had chosen his ancestor, Peer Mohammad Sahib, to develop the industry and went on to review major events and problems since that time. He even acknowledged the help of a 'brother silk-man’, M.C. Srikanaiah, the representative in Mysore of Messrs B.G. Gorio and Company, of Bombay and Milan, the company with which the Consul-General who had recommended Mari was associated. And in relation to Mari himself, Quddus was, as befitted the occasion, generous. Despite the abnormal heat of the year – and they were then in the hot season – Mari had already successfully reared two crops (Quddus 1923: 89-96). He then responded, apparently briefly. He mentioned that he had a younger brother, Benito, who was a barrister, but who was engaged with their own Silk Farm and had been deputed by the Goverment to China to find out new races.
Kantaraj Urs then spoke. He referred to the income from the industry as estimated at not less than a crore of rupees per year, i.e. 10 million, but noted that the industry was limited at present to parts of Bangalore, Tumkur, Kolar and Mysore districts. Export of cocoons was widespread, 'even to Benares': a few years before, a well-known French firm had established a filature on the borders of Mysore and had also exported cocoons to Bengal. The export of silk waste was a big business too. However, the industry was, he agreed with the Government of India, 'slowly but surely declining’. It was ‘said that from 30 to 45 per cent of each crop is being lost'. The Government in the last three or four years had adopted special measures. They had trained Inspectors ‘to explain improved methods to the ryots and are publishing from time to time valuable literature both in English and Kannada language'. They had employed 'an Italian Expert of great fame who is organising his Central Farm'. His first aim is to establish seed depots and distribute disease-free eggs to the ryots.' The Director of Industries and Commerce has opened a filature in Channapatna, and that place was promising ' to become a great educational and experimental centre in sericulture'. As to the Association, he congratulated Abdul Quddus on organising it. 'The great dangers you should bear in mind and guard against are such as internal factions, petty jealousies, sectarian bias and lethargic habits'. It was to have a grant from Government matching the money they could raise by private subscription, up to a limit of Rs 500 per year, and the Government was to approve the programme of work and expenditure in advance. A report was to be submitted by July 31st each year, and there was a stern warning: 'the grant will be liable to be cancelled if sufficient work has not, in their opinion, been done.' (Quddus 1923: 98-106)
The Association, or perhaps mainly Adbul Quddus, was busy. In March 1915 the filature which had been constructed in Channapatna was handed over to the Association to manage for two years. Previous arrangements to run it had not worked out and many of the basins were out of action. By May the filature was able to reopen, with eleven basins operative; six more were still under repair. Of the eleven, eight were to be worked commercially, three used for training new reelers. The Association employed a manager, a clerk and two 'servants'. The latter were to supply water to the boiler and basins and to turn the reels. The reelers themselves were on monthly wages. A government subsidy of Rs 60 per month was provided but it was found insufficient. There was a problem also in getting the silk it produced noticed by potential buyers. This would it was hoped, be solved by supplying it to the Government Weaving Factory in Mysore. Loss of silk and the value of what was being produced needed to be dealt with too. This would require the training of new workers but would mean additional costs. Abdul Quddus made up for the shortfall on the government subsidy out of his own pocket, but could not go on doing so. By the time he had to close the filature at the end of 1916 –  with the permission of the Government he notes – and the return of machinery to them, he was Rs 3,000 out of pocket. (Quddus 1923: 107-10).
He commented sadly, 'in spite of all my best efforts I was not able to keep alive the Association longer than the year 1917, owing to the want of response from the capitalists and ryots engaged in sericulture' (Quddus 1923: 106).



[1] This is the same year in which legal regulation of sericulture was adopted by the Government of Japan. Maxwell-Lefroy (1917: 206)
[2] These are described elsewhere as '12 Italian races' (Vengopalan Nair, 1982: 899)
[3] Maxwell-Lefroy states that at least one person who had been for training in Japan was employed by the State (1917: 33), but this may have been a confusion with K.T. Achaya, employed by Madras, who had been sent to Japan and Kashmir about 1910 (ITB 1935a: 214).
[4] Companion of the Star of India. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Kantaraj_Urs for his close connection with the Mysore Royal Family and his long Civil Service career, ending as Dewan of Mysore, 1918-22.

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