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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Mysterious 'Soap Menon' of Calicut


We have two posts on Calicut Soap Factory: the first one about how the Viceroy of India was being supplied with soaps made in Calicut and another one on Raja Ravi Varma and the soap factory.
While commenting on the second post, our friend and benefactor Jaypee wrote about the founder and managing Director of the Kerala Soaps Institute : MD Mr A K Menon was referred as "soap menon" by people of Calicut.
Ever since, we have been looking for information on this 'soap Menon'. At last, we found him almost hiding behind many illustrious names of the famous Chittoor Ambat family. The following information is from the blog http://manojambat.tripod.com/ambat.htm and we acknowledge our gratitude to the blogger:

A.K. Menon
from http://manojambat.tripod.com/ambat.htm

 A.K Menon  is the fifth child of Kurumba Amma and Thachat Chathappa Menon was born on December 16’th, 1889. After graduating from The Presidency College, Madras, he went to UK  in 1909 on Government Scholarship for higher studies in oil and soap manufacturing. While in UK, he along with K.P Kesava Menon ( who later became the editor of Mathrubhumi) were staying together. He worked with Lever Brothers ( Later Unilever Ltd) in UK and Dralle in Germany. After visiting many European countries, he returned to India in 1913 and started working for the fisheries department, Madras Government. Subsequently he was appointed as the oil chemist by the Madras Government and headed the research team on fish oil at Thanur. One of the products of the research is the shark liver oil now popularly used as a tonic for children. He moved to Calicut and established the Kerala Soap Institute as a Department of the Madras Government. The institute produced quality toilet and washing soap which was popular through out the country. The soap which was the favorite of the wife of the Viceroy, Lady Willington was named after her. He served a s a member of the Central Coconut Committee and oil and oil seeds committee where his contribution was significant. He was the president of the South India Soap manufacturers Association and has published many papers of great scientific significance. Most well known brands of soaps in India were made in the  companies run by the students of the Kerala Soap Institute. A.K Menon  is considered as the father of soap manufacturing in India . He was conferred the title of “Rao Bahadur” in recognition of his services to the country. He retired from services in 1948. He was married to Lakshmikutty Amma  daughter of Kottiazeth Puthiya Veetil Kavukutty Amma and Ambat Velukutty Menon. They have four daughters and two sons.

Can Calicut forget the contributions made by this great man? Apart from Kerala Soaps, he was apparently the brain behind the shark liver oil which was once being produced and exported from the KSI. The unit was then known as the Kerala Soaps and Oils. Those who grew up in the early 1950s would remember the tangy taste of the shark liver oil from KSOL which was a compulsory item for the growing kids, called (somewhat crudely in Malayalam) meenenna (fish oil). Subsequently, the company introduced sophistication by making capsules and even a tonic to compete with Alembic's Sharkoferrol. Apart from this, the factory also produced vanaspatis named Vimala  and Sudha. 
We do hope the new management of Kerala Soaps will honour the contributions of this self-effacing soul who gave so much not only for KSI but for the sandal based soap making which was his invention. They should join hands with companies like Wipro (who make sandal based soap and talc) to commemorate this pioneer who successfully showed that sandal wood oil can be used in soap manufacturing - a technology that Mysore learnt from Calicut. 

8 comments:

  1. Great contributors to better life in our part of the word forgotten

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  2. What nice post bringing to life great but forgotten people. Cograts
    I am looking for details of 'Gandhi' Krishnamooorthy and Innani Motai of Kalpathi village Palakkad in the 19 thirties. Any leads? Just taking a chance!
    Uday Balakrishnan

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  3. I have a good deal of information on the activities of Mr A K Menon as the head of Kerala Soap Works, collected from archives. I can share these with anyone interested.

    Jayaprakash Raghaviah

    ReplyDelete
  4. If my memory is correct, some soap brands of KSI were Kerala Sandal Soap, Kerala CoalTar Soap and Malabar Limda soap.
    Very interesting to hear about the beginning of soap industry along the western coast and the man behind it.
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. If my memory is correct, some brands of the KSI were Kerala Sandal Soap, Kerala Coal Tar Soap and Malabar Limda Soap.
    Anyhow it is interesting to know about the man behind the soap industry in Keralam.
    Thank you CALICUT HERITAGE.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Nomad. We shall definitely try to find out about Gandhi Krishnamoorthy and Innani Motai. We are sure our readers from around Palghat will chip in with details.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Many thanks, JP for the offer of more information. We are sure some researcher will be enthused by your offer. Menon's great contrib ution has been in making available to small scale and cottage sector the soap making technology which was known only to the globals like Unilever. In the process, he also experimented with unorthodox oils like Neem and Sandal which are now in great demand from the organic market.

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  8. Thanks , interesting post. F Nicholson and Menon started out to make edible oils and this went on to become the soap factory..Some of our early entrepreneurs..

    ReplyDelete

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