Those were exciting times, the 50s, because Kochi and Kerala were being built. New roads, land fills, first time constructions on a large scale…it was really a time of change. I had a role to play in it and that makes me feel good. I began schooling at St. Sebastian, Palluruthy, in 1922. Those were fun years. My Godfather was the manager of the school. Most of the teachers were Hindus. They thought that I was the son of the priest and used to promote me every year without much ado! I moved to St Albert's, for middle school, which had a boarding. After my college from St Aloysius, Bangalore I joined the business. My father's name was Rocky Manick. I began with construction and my company Beeyems Construction, was awarded the contract to fill and reclaim land, which today is Katari Bagh and the Naval Base.
The government had called for tenders for this project. There were six or seven tenders, but every contractor had quoted high as they planned to transport sand in trucks. I quoted half the rate as I planned to bring mud in boats. I won the contract. Everybody was unsure of how I would carry out the job at this price and in that time frame. We used 400 to 500 rice boats at one time and brought in mud and sand from rivers and surrounding areas. We did work right through the nights and completed it in record time. We then built the Technical School, along with MES (Military Engineering Service). Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the school in 1956 and I garlanded him at the inauguration.
In 1961 we got the contract to build the Pamba dam. There were 4,000 workers and three retired chief engineers on the project. It was a major work. At that time Kerala faced acute rice shortage. There was rationing of rice. My workers needed to be well fed, so I used to literally smuggle in rice from Tamil Nadu and hide it in the forests in tents. For the project we bought heavy equipment like earth movers etc. A temporary rail line was set up to transport these machines. After the completion of the work, we had to purchase land at Kakkanad to park these huge machines. Kakkanad was uninhabited then.
V. V. Giri, who was the Governor of Kerala laid the foundation stone of this project.
In 1958 we started our seafood business. We were one of the pioneers in this and did the first exports to Japan and Australia.
We introduced the mechanized fishing trawlers. V.V Giri inaugurated the first one and called it Pamba 1, declaring that Pamba was a symbol of strength.
There were no roads in Kannamaly until the 50s . We used to go to Ernakulam by boat. There were hand-pulled rickshaws there. When I got my first car, a Fiat, in 1958, there were only 10 cars in the city. Roads came in 1960. My brother B.M. Peter was the MLC, and was instrumental in bringing in the first pipelines and roads to this area.
The Ernakulam off Shore Reclamation Scheme was awarded to us in 1970. The foundation stone was laid by the CM, C. Achutha Menon.
I got chevalier ship from the Pope in 1970.
Kannamaly was a very poor area when compared to other areas in Ernakulam. There were only paddy fields all around. Paddy crop was seasonal- like one season of paddy was followed by a season of prawn farming. Wages were paid in paddy.
There was sudden change when mechanization came. Paddy cultivation came to a halt. For shopping and cinema we all had to go to town.
I built a school in Kannamaly 40 years ago. My wife Sosanna Edward used to keep a farm with ducks, pigs, cows and goats. There were plenty of pigs. There was a pork farm in Koothattukulam.
Many companies came up in the seafood business during those good years. We gradually moved from main seafood to shrimp, and prawn waste exports.
That was in the late 70s. Nobody knew what to do with shelled prawn waste. After research and with CMFRI, we began making ‘chitin', a derivative from prawn waste. There was an enquiry from an Italian firm for it. The first samples were made at home when my wife got the women from the area to come and peel the prawns. Our house turned into a small peeling factory. It was a sight to behold!
After the first order met with success, we were given a contract for 60 tonnes. And so we became the only exporters of chitin, from shrimp and prawn shell waste. It is used for medicinal purposes. Its derivative is used in wound dressing.