Monday, February 1, 2010





If anybody in India or abroad wants to know the history of the leather industry, the best thing for him or her is to have a copy of the book "Five Decades of Leather - a journey down memory lane" so beautifully penned by Shri S.Sankaran and published by Indian Leather with a good get-up.

The author late Shri S. Sankaran was a gentleman par excellence who was associated with the leather industry for more than 50 years. Before starting Indian Leather in 1967, he had served in some famous companies like Raitan Pvt. Ltd. as partner, director etc. It will be interesting to know for many that he and Dr. K.T. Sarkar were appointed as Secretaries of the Indian Leather Fair Society by Dr. Nayudamma, director, Central Leather Research Institute after it was decided in a meeting held in CLRI in 1963 to organise a leather fair and he had conducted the fair year after year till 1985 when the Trade Fair Authority of India decided to organise it as India International Leather Fair. One can imagine his long and dedicated services to the leather industry during those years which were totally different from the present advanced situation.

The book "Five Decades of Leather" is an excellent chronicle which throws light on many aspects of the leather industry and its stalwarts. I have not come across a book of this standard on the leather industry before. I feel that it is a must read for everyone who wants to get knowledge about the industry. Shri Sankaran relates so many things in the book which are thought provoking and make us think with all seriousness. The fact is that only those tanners who wanted to progress and adopted the new progressive policy of the government have been successful and even made others connected with the industry successful. There must be people to show the direction in every field of activity and more so in trade and industry. Shri Sankaran was close with Dr. Nayudamma, the then director of the CLRI. Once they went together to meet tanners in North Arcot district. Let us hear about it from the author himself. He says inter alia as follows:


"Once he (Dr.Nayudamma) planned a tour of tanneries in North Arcot district and invited me to join.......In Pernambut we stayed for the night at the Bangalow of Hajee Mohammed Ghouse saheb. Next day we visited the tannery. Dr. Nayudamma suggested that Hajee saheb should switch over to finished leather as his tannery was in those days well known for the quality of E.I. cow hides.He said "Doctor saheb, now whenever your scientists want they come to me but if I change over to finished leather, I have to be at their mercy, waiting for their convenience. Do you want me to change over? Nayudamma heartily laughed and asked him to continue as he was."”

After reading this I felt that perhaps the late respected tanner was living in his own world and failed to grab the excellent suggestion from the President Award winning scientist. I still remember how CLRI was struggling to make tanners change over to better tanning and make progress in the leather industry. Time was there when the CLRI was appealing to students to join its diploma courses in leather technology and other subjects conducted by it. There were very few students. Those days were totally different. Today CLRI is in a far better position and industrialists from different parts of the country approach it for so many services at its disposal. Its role for making the leather and leather products industry what it is today is really great and praise-worthy.

I am giving below another interesting but unfortunate incident mentioned by the author for the information of readers:

"There were some complaints from the industry that CLRI was rather far away and tanners did not find time to go to the institute for information. This came to the notice of Dr. Nayudamma. He asked N.S. Mani, Public Relations Officer and me to be available at the premises of the Southern India Skin and Hide Merchants and Tanners Association, Periamet from 3 to 5 P.M. on a particular day of the week so that tanners could meet Mr. Mani and ask for information. Later Mani would get the replies from CLRI and offer them. We patiently waited for visitors but none would come! After a few weeks we called it a day and stopped this service."

Is there any big change now? Of course things are better now, but not as bright as they should be. Even now many important meetings and get-togethers of organisations like CLRI, Council for Leather Exports, etc. are attended by only a few routine members who are big industrialists and or holding high posts. A glance in the proceedings of the meetings will prove it! The meeting called for by the CLRI to discuss the norms for identification of finished leather also drew only a few tanners and exporters.

Shri Sankaran deals in detail with many interesting happenings under headings ILF-CLRI Co-operation, The Leather Salon, The Leather Club, The Fashion Parade, Introducing Humane Slaughter, Cheap Shoes for Children, Ministerial Patronage, etc. We have to read the book to enjoy all this. The taste of the pudding is in the eating!

The history of the development of leather from early years has been given in detail. The author says interestingly that “Lord Shiva wears a tiger skin, uses a deer skin to sit on. Certainly, some process must have been done to them after the animals had died. Can it be assumed that this process in later years was termed “tanning”? ....In the Rig Veda there is reference to animals being skinned. In 1640 Dutch traders seem to have exported leather articles to Japan. But leather as an export item figured in statistics of the Calcutta port only by 1814...”

The author also deals with many aspects of the industry such as industry development, structure and growth, pioneers of the industry, export promotion, service organisation, architects – past and present etc. etc. which are full of interesting and inspiring information. It is difficult for a reader to stop in the middle.
The photo gallery in the book about development of CLRI and photos of the past and present dignitaries of the leather industry with brief but interesting notes about them are really awe inspiring. I felt that the details of the leather industry given in the book are as fascinating as a good novel.

The Central Leather Research Institute and governments in the states and at the centre will do well to make this book available in all libraries to enable all – industrialists, technical experts, businessmen, teachers, research students etc. – to know the history of the leather industry in Tamil Nadu. (VMK in Indian Leather, February 2010)

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