Munnar Rekhakal is an insider's account of times past and present in Munnnar

T he book cover with the hero or anti-hero of 2009, the JCB, is a telltale one. Munnar Rekhakal by T. Damu, vice-president (corporate affairs) of the Taj Group, (who has also written a couple of books under the pen name, T. D. Vadakkumbat) is an attempt to put down on paper the history of the beautiful hills and how tea plantations came to stay here. The social and the political history are intertwined with the efforts of the Tata group and the tribals from the place to keep the environmental balance in place.

With the support of documents that were dug out from among the records kept in the Tata offices, right from the early days along with newspaper cuttings, Damu presents a portion of recent history too, when Munnar was lately in the news.

Land matters

“When I joined the group in 1988, in the regional office, all land matters came under me. Since I was interested in history, I took an interest in the early land records that were in the possession of the company, so I knew a lot about the hills,” says Damu.

The Muthuvans, the Poonjar royal family whose property the hills were in the beginning, the wars that were fought, of Lord Ayyappa's abode, how a lot of crops were tried before tea was found most suitable, are given. The hard work that went into making the roads with the help of tribals and interesting details like how the road followed the same route that elephants took, (the logic being, if elephants could walk along it, then the land was hard enough for vehicles to ply!), make interesting reading.

The historic initiative of making workers also part owners was tried out successfully here and how that came about is revealed in the book.

“When the company wanted to move out of the plantation scene, it was R. K. Krishna Kumar, vice-chairman of Tata Tea and Indian Hotels who came up with this idea of workers' participatory management, some five years ago. Now, 98 per cent of the workers here are share holders of the company called Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company Private Limited,” says Damu.

This model is working smoothly, as everybody has a stake in it. There are a couple of old photographs of Britishers among which the photo of the Independence Day celebrations in Munnar in 1947 is interesting.

The book with 88 pages is published by DC Books and costs Rs. 50.