Sunday, June 14, 2009

Heard of Mysore Sandal, Pears?

Most Indian families would have used the Pears soap some time or the other. Manufactured by the Government Sandal Oil Factory of Mysore (managed by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited), the Pears soap promised users a fair complexion sans blemishes. On my way back from Bangalore, I was reading the Deccan Herald (it comes in a new design now) and came across a story written by Shyam Sundar Vattam, in which he mentions that the factory, set up in 1917, once the pride of Mysore, has barely 40-50 employees today (from 400 at one time) and, that too, working only for a quarter of the year.

Call it economic downturn or what you will, but it is indeed saddening to learn of such institutions struggling to survive. The feature points out that the availability of sandalwood in abundance had prompted Mysore’s rulers to establish the factory in 56-acre premises on the Mysore-Manandawadi Road, but getting the raw material is a major problem today. As against the annual requirement of 500 tonnes of sandalwood, the availability is only 50 tonnes. KSDL now buys sandalwood from auctions conducted by the Tamil Nadu forest department. Sandalwood prices are now Rs 54 lakh a metric tonne; it was Rs 1.42 lakh once.

Vattam paints a romantic picture – of a metre gauge railway track inside the factory premises, “a reflection of the quantity of sandalwood stock that arrived in the factory in those days”, as he puts it. Incidentally, the factory was started in Bangalore in 1916, but shifted to Mysore a year later. Vattam mentions the then Dewan of Mysore Sir M Visvesvaraya taking personal interest in setting up the factory in Mysore.

Growing more sandalwood trees could address the problem in the long run. But, will the Government Sandal Oil Factory of Mysore be able to hold out in the short-term, at least till the economy really picks up? It’ll be interesting to wait and see. Let’s hope it will. Mysore Sandal and Pears are Indian brands that must survive.

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