Front Cover, Rubber 1st edition 1990
|Subject||Ecology & Sociology|
"Rubber" (1990) was the first published novel of Indian author Jeyamohan. It was the first major work in Tamil that explored ecological and environmental degradation in Tamil Nadu. Set as a multi-generational family drama taking place against the backdrop of rubber plantations, the novel describes the hunger for social and commercial growth that inevitably exploits the environment. Rubber, introduced into India as a cash crop, is the alien species that chokes the land and destroys the values symbolized by the traditional Banana tree. The novel won the Akhilan Memorial prize in 1990 heralding the arrival of Jeyamohan in the Indian literary scene.
The story traces the rise and fall of the Peruvattar family, rubber plantation owners based in the Kanyakumari Nanjil district in Tamil Nadu. The story begins in the present and moves back briefly to trace the early life of the family patriarch Ponnu Peruvattar. Ponnu begins life as a forest laborer and slowly grows to acquire the entire forest and converts it into a rubber plantation through hard work and ruthless means. Rubber, which is alien to the Nanjil land, provides wealth, power and social position to the Peruvattar dynasty, but also corrupts it from within. Ponnu's equally ruthless son Chelliah tries to expand the empire; Chelliah's wife Thirese exhibits all the trappings of the "nouveau riche" - Chelliah worships her despite her infidelity. The last two of Chelliah and Thirese's five children are still with the family - Francis, the grandfather's favourite, is a wastrel; Livy goes to college but lacks morals and compassion.
The ailing patriarch Ponnu spends his last days contemplating whether his life was worth anything at all. Chelliah faces financial ruin as he dabbles in exports, and he desperately wants his father to die soon so that he could sell the family home and assets. Dependent on the spiteful family for even minor needs and consumed by guilt and self-pity, Ponnu Peruvattar begs his assistant Kunhi for poison. He is visited by his old friend, the simple and noble Kandan Kaani, a tribal that had roamed the forest land with him in his youth. The novel ends with the passing away of the patriarch and the salvation of family scion Francis.
Rubber, the new species that sucks up all the nutrients from the land is contrasted with the Banana that has a more symbiotic relationship with the environment. This is a constant metaphor in the novel for how commercialization destroys the basic idealism and values in human life.
"Publishing 'Rubber': memories" (http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=17086)