Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Story of Tata Silk Farm: The Steelman who Made Silk

As my school Principal Ms. Deepa Sridhar became familiar with City Idols, she shared this very interesting story about Tata Silk Farm, a well known neighbourhood in South Bangalore.  

She discovered this story written by RM Lala, on http://renewkart.com/index.php?id_product=167&controller=product

Thank you, Deepa ma'am, for all your encouragement and for becoming a contributor on City Idols!
So here is the story:


JAMSETJI took his experiment to grow silk seriously. In France he studied the silk industry, particularly the growing of the silkworm, which was a cottage industry. In 1893, on a visit to Japan he found the Japanese skilled at sericulture. He invited two Japanese experts, a husband and wife, to India. His cousin R. D. Tata's Japanese servant who had picked up English became their translator. Jamsetji sought out a suitable site with a fairly temperate climate and selected Bangalore where he had observed mulberry trees.

With his contact with the State of Mysore he obtained a site. He found out that Mysore had a silk industry at the time of Tippu Sultan which had fallen into disuse, still existed in some villages but their methods were primitive. He directed the Japanese experts to Bangalore.

It appears that Jamsetji had little interest to go into the silk business. Jamsetji was able to get a suitable site. "He endowed a small farm where Indians could study how the mulberry tree grew, how the silk-worm was to be reared, how the diseases that affected it could be treated, how the cocoon should be looked after, how the silk should be reeled, and how it was prepared for the market. The farm was run on Japanese lines. Indian children were trained to resuscitate the ancient industry of their ancestors. Apprentices were engaged for a minimum period of three months, during which they were given free instructions in all aspects of the industry, from the growth of the mulberry tree to the marketing of the final product. Jamsteji's experiment in silk farming proved a success from the start." (Saklatvala and Khosla: Jamsetji Tata, p.54)

While in Bangalore in 1980s this writer was intrigued by a signboard near the Institute of Culture which read, `Tata Silk Farm Crossroads'. He searched for the background. Finally the Mysore State Archives was found to harbour a document that reveals what the farm was all about and what happened to it.

Jamsetji got the help of the Salvation Army. In a booklet by F. Booth Tucker: Experiments by The Salvation Army with French, Italian, Mysore and Erie Silkworms in India and Ceylon 1910-1911 (Published by The salvation Army Headquarters, The Mall, Simla (Price 2 annas), 1912) says: "A few particulars regarding some of our Indian experiments in sericulture may perhaps be of practical interest.

"The Tata Silk Farm in Bangalore. This Institution was established some eight years ago (1902-1903) by late Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata. He felt satisfied that what the silk industry required in India was to introduce the same business principles as had been pursued with such success in Japan.

"A Japanese expert and assistant were brought over. The Mysore Government gave a rent-free grant of land and an annual subsidy of Rs 3,000. A small filature of 10 basins were erected, and a garden was planted with various varieties of mulberry bush."

It is perhaps a little singular that two such able businessmen as Mr. Tata and Sir Thomas Wardle should have gone, one to Japan and the other to France, in search of their models for India. Mr. Tata, who was familiar with both countries, gave preference to Japan.

"In choosing Mysore as a centre for what he hoped would ultimately develop into a Silk School for India, he was guided by the fact, that the climatic conditions were favourable and that there was a healthy indigenous worm producing an excellent quality of silk.

"In this again he gave the preference to the Polyvoltine Mysore worm over both the Japanese and French varieties, though he hoped by interbreeding with the latter that the best features of both races might be combined.
"In January 1910, we were requested by his son, Sir Dorabji Tata, to take over the Bangalore Silk Farm, the Mysore Government consenting to the arrangement and continuing the subsidy for a period of three years.
"Ensign and Mrs. Graham were placed by us in charge of the Institution, and have proved to be capable and energetic managers. Already seven of our European Officers have just been trained and Indian students and ryots have been received and trained from Mysore, Travancore, Madras and Bombay Presidencies, etc. Supplies of eggs and mulberry cuttings have been distributed not only in Mysore but in the United Provinces, Punjab, Baroda, Gwalior, etc. Villagers and students have been trained in the Japanese system of reeling and re-reeling silk.

A cheap and convenient reeling machine has been manufactured for cottage use. The acreage of mulberry has been considerably increased, several new buildings have been erected, and a number of basins doubled in the filature. Visitors from different parts of India have called, and advice has been sought by numerous correspondents.

"Already the Tata Silk Farm has given birth to three other Institutions of a similar character under our auspices in Ceylon, the United Provinces and the Punjab.

"Thus the aim and object of its founder, that the Tata Silk Farm should be a Pan-Indian character, is already being realised.

"During the past few months this Institution has been awarded a gold medal in Bangalore, and a silver medal in Madras for its exhibit of the entire process from the silkworm egg to the woven article.

"A small weaving school under a trained weaving master now forms a part of this interesting Institution, which is at present still in its infancy, but which possesses in it the nucleus of great future possibilities."

Jamsetji was not interested in it for the sake of business as a follow-up to textiles. He wanted to give the poor a livelihood and India an industry.

When the Salvation Army first came to India it found in Mr. Tata a helpful friend. Its accent was on temperance and Jamsetji favoured their movement.

Mr Booth Tucker of the Salvation Army in a letter to Burjorji Padshah, November 1, 1912, wrote: "The impetus thus given to the silk industry in India can hardly be over-estimated. Government, which before had given up the effort in despair, have now recommended operations. Orders have been issued for the general planting of mulberry trees and bushes.

Bulletins and pamphlets have been issued giving instructions regarding the cultivation of silkworms. Public demonstrations have been made in connexion with Exhibitions... In the not distant days when silk will have become to India what it is already in such countries as Japan, China, France and Italy, the name of the man who launched the enterprise will be held in grateful remembrance by those who will have been benefited by his forethought and labours."

In India of today, it is little known that the flourishing silk industry of South India especially was revived by the same man who was to give it iron and steel and hydroelectricity.

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