Dear Ananthanarayanan,i have pasted text because the link not working it seems.
courtesy to pattars
Some Mumbai Iyers who became legends in their life time - Part VI
Puthucode V Ramanathan who pioneered trade unionism in the engineering industry
How many of you all knowing Mumbai samajacharyas, even those of you who may have worked for the engineering giant in Powai and must have proudly prefixed the company’s acronym to your names, have heard about this illustrious Pattar, Puthucode Ramanathan who hoisted the flag of organized labor activism in Mumbai’s engineering industry ?
Puthocode Ramanathan, eldest of seven siblings, lost his school master father at the age of 16. At the that time the family was living in Kozhikode. He boarded a boat for Mumbai from Kozhikode (the easiest way of travel to Mumbai in those days). Landing in Mumbai, doing odd jobs, and sleeping under the arches of buildings on Hornby Road (now D.N Road), Ramanathan ran into a Muslim friends of his Kozhikode days. The Muslim friend had found himself an abode in a smashaanam in far away Dombivili. Ramanathan moved in with this man, sleeping in the smashanam, bathing in the smashanam pond, rolling up his bedding and concealing it under the smashaanam roof and drying his clothes over the dying embers of the smashaanam pyre, Ramanathan, a bright intellectual very soon found himself a good job in a decent company and moved to Matunga. Very soon his mother and siblings joined him.
Mumbai, urbs prima de indie, was the hub of the country’s industrial activity, mainly textiles. Called the “Manchester of India”, the Mumbai skyline was dotted with over 172 smoke chimneys belonging to as many textile mills. Almost every mill, owned by Gujaratis or Marwaris, resembled the inhuman workhouses of medieval Europe where the poor slogged from dawn to dusk, risking lnjury, disease and degradation. It was then that the Communists, headed by Kokanastha Marathi Brahmin, Shripad Amrut Dange raised the banner of revolt at the beastly exploitation of labour and forged the over 120,000 strong workforce into a massive labor and anti British political movement.
The engineering sector, those days was dominated by a few British companies like Killick Nixon, Alcock Ashdown, Guest Keen Williams, Balmer Lawrie, to name a few. Run by British managers and assisted their Anglo Indian, Goan Catholic, pattar migrants (mainly stenos and clerks) sidekicks, these companies mainly employed Christian, Muslim and Marathi labor. Thanks to their familiarity with the English language the Pattar and Christian side kicks bonded like sugar and milk and identified themselves with their foreign masters and became partners in the tyranny against the poor labor.
To this list of engineering companies was added one more in or around 1938. Founded by two Danish émigrés, it had its modest beginnings and moved on to becoming a giant. Drawing upon the plentiful supply of cheap English knowing pattar and Goan Catholic clerical labor, this company, with a mixture of European entrpreneurship and funding from the Gujarati market forces, soon rose to great heights. The labor force of this company was drawn mainly from the Marathi and Christian populations of Mumbai.
Labor conditions were no different in this new Mecca of Pattars and paaos (Goan Catholics). If the company’s motto was “In service likes Success” the pattar-pao motto was “In Servitude, submissiveness and sycophancy lies success”
It was during this period that Ramanthan joined this company. Born to an intellectual father who was also an exponent of the Vedas, Ramanathan, despite his limited formal education was an erudite person. Well versed in the scriptures as well as in modern political, social and economic literature including Marx and Angels, was a zillin light years above the average, Pitman’s shorthand proficient pattar of the day.
The plight of the labor and the tyranny of the pattar-pao mafia in this “personally supervised by founders” company moved him. He soon set about organizing the company’s workforce under the banner of the Communist party and established the company’s trade union, the first of its kind in the engineering industry in Mumbai. Very soon, through organized labor activism, he brought about considerable changes in the company’s labor policy that ensured self respect and dignity for the hardworking labor force.
However, Ramanathan’s presence was resented. For obvious reasons of course. He was seen as a threat. The pattars called him a “praandan”(lunatic). The common refrain .at lunch time gathering of pattars over idli, dosa and iadai used to be” Yidumadiri vellaikkara kambaineelai velai kadekarattukku bhagyam panni vechiruklkanam. Indo kundrattidikki pohadaiki chumma Krishna Rama Govindain nu vaalaichuruttunadi irukka koodada?” And the paos during their lunchtime repast of stinking pork, malodorous fried dry fish and dry pao( Bombay rotti) would day “wott menn, dis meddrassee bugga has no sense one man…why’s he fighting de Uropeyan company.
Given the capitalist attitude of those days, the going was tough for Ramanathan. The management hated him, the pattars ridiculed shunned him and the paos simply badmouthed him. But, undeterred, he continued leading the workers’ .struggle. In 1952, when the management became adamant over a wage issue, he launched a strike.
The strike, the first of its kind in Mumbai’s engineering industry, lasted more than 40 days. The management, aided by its lackeys, reacted in a manner typical of capitalists. A trusted friend, a pattar, betrayed Ramanathan. A majority of pottars and paos became the black legs, strike breakers. At the end of it, thanks to the weak economic conditions of the labor, the strike ended in a compromise. But Ramanathan was forced to leave the company.
He went off to Varanasi and later migrated to Wayanad where he sold his ancestral property in Kozhikode to buy a small holding where he started a plantation. Being a champion of the deprived and the exploited, he introduced fair labor practices on his plantation. This was resented by the Nasaranee (Christian) plantation owners of Wayanad and very soon he was forced to migrate to Bangalore where he started a chemist’s shop.
This bold, trailblazing pattar from Puthocode who laid the foundation stone of fair labor practices in the Indian engineering industry passed away in Bangalore around 1980.
Marathi Trade unionists( Left, Shiv Sena, socialists) of the time know him, love him, respect him, talk lovingly about him . The Gurni Kaamgaar Union in Parel, the nerve center of Mumbai’s labor movement has a portrait of his displayed in its office. But, the pattar samajams, those bodies of highly erudite know alls don’t even know (leave alone remember) that such an illustrious Pattar ever existed in Mumbai. Perhaps Their consciousness likes in the lower kendras centered around the stomach
L.M. Sarma, eccentriic, iconoclast, rabblerouser
You seem to have an Ad Blocker on.
We depend on advertising to keep our content free for you. Please consider whitelisting us in your ad blocker so that we can continue to provide the content you have come here to enjoy.
Alternatively, consider upgrading your account to enjoy an ad-free experience along with numerous other benefits. To upgrade your account, please visit the account upgrades page
You can also donate financially if you can. Please Click Here on how you can do that.