The tile factory started by Kumaran Asan, one of Kerala’s greatest poets, is up for grabs

Kumaran Asan, one of the greatest of Malayalam poets, was also an astute businessman, but one of the industrial units started by him is now up for sale.

The early part of 20th century Kerala witnessed fast changes, with thatched houses which were ubiquitous in Kerala, making way for those with rooftops paved with tiles made of clay.

Kumaran Asan saw a big opportunity in the development and started a tile factory near Aluva in 1921.

But fate had other plans. A boat accident took the life of Asan in 1924.

At present, the two plots that once housed the factory and the office, with a total area of more than 5 acres, are up for sale.

“But we entertain enquiries from only those who transact with ‘white money’ and who will also be honest with the real price to pay the right stamp duty,” smiles Pradeep Kumar, the poet’s grandson.

Union Tile Works, the poet’s enterprise, mostly baked out roofing tiles of from the three kilns it had in Chengamanadu village on the banks of one of the smaller branches of the Periyar.

Kumaran Asan is considered a Mahakavi, though he did not pen any epic poems. He attained the status through his path-breaking short poems (Khandakavyas).

He was also one of the early disciples of Sree Narayana Guru, the spiritual leader and social reformer. Asan also led a life which bordered on asceticism, followed a strict discipline, was a legislator and married late.

Following Asan’s death, Bhanumathi Amma, his young widow, boldly took the reins of the factory, progressively buying out the shares of the other five partners down the years. It was Pradeep Kumar’s turn to run the business after his grandmother’s death in 1976, immediately after his graduation.

According to Pradeep Kumar, Union Tile Works must have seen its golden era between 1940’s and 1960’s, when the production touched 12 lakh to 15 lakh tiles per year. But subsequent pieces of legislation pertaining to mining of clay and use of land killed the industry – at least in the district of Ernakulam, though the government allowed some exemptions to the units in Thrissur and other neighbouring districts.

Kerala’s housetops also witnessed concrete changes during these times which brought the shutters of Union Tile Works down in 2003.

As the poet concludes “Karuna”, his swansong which was retrieved intact from his wet dead body, “the goddess of earth needs such noble sons in abundance”. Kerala needs more Kumaran Asans.

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