‘Sweet scents’ of yore linger at Tatapuram in Kerala

Place names often carry stories of historical significance.

Published: 18th October 2022 03:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th October 2022 03:31 AM   |  A+A-

The Hindustan Unilever factory at Tatapuram

Express News Service

KOCHI:  Place names often carry stories of historical significance. Here, at Tatapuram or Tatapady, located near the High Court, the stories are laden with the ‘sweet fragrance’ of a bygone era. 
The place gets its name from the Tata Soap Factory that existed here 30 years ago.

“About 80 years ago Tatapuram was not as mundane as today; it was a bustling area, with scents of soaps wafting in the air 24/7,” says Tatapuram resident Sudhakaran Aryanparamb, who used to work at the soap factory. 

“People here, especially the employees, had the luxury of bathing with the rich soaps of those days. When the workers headed home on their bicycles after their shifts, they would leave a trail of exotic scents behind.”

According to Tata archives, Jamsetji Tata had set up an experimental plant in Bombay, where he started extracting oil from seeds. It was an idea born during World War I. At that time, Jamsetji’s close colleague Burjorji Padshah had gone on a cruise from the US to Japan, where he met a traveller named Edward Thompson, who was keen to start a vegetable oil company in India.

Padshah suggested Thompson send his ideas to Tata. Thompson wrote to Tata about the tour he took to south India, where copra was found in abundance. “America was substantially dependent on Indian copra... instead of sending copra to America, India should crush it, export the oil and use the coconut cakes as cattle feed,” he noted. 

Subsequently, when the Tatas arrived in Kochi to set up an oil industry. They employed hundreds of people. Initially, the company suffered heavy losses. Subsequently, it started making soaps in 1917. Notably, the Tata Soap Factory was among the first to produce soaps with sweet scents in south India.
Soon, a railway line on the factory premises started carrying soaps to other parts of India. Lux, Rexona, Hamam, and ‘501’ detergent bars were the star products. Hair oils, too, were supplied from the factory. 

About 1,500 people worked in the factory in four shifts, recalls Sudhakaran. “As employees, we were given free soaps. After work, we bathed at the factory with the premium soaps,” he adds. “We also had the privilege of using the fresh, hot oil available at the factory.” 

Ayyappankavu councillor Mini Dileep says the company not just employed people, but also provided entertainment for local residents. “Once a week, there used to be an open film screening,” she says.
 “Also, byproducts, plates and sheets that were no longer in use at the factory would be auctioned to the public.” In 1995, the Tata Soap Factory was handed over to Hindustan Unilever. Today, the facility produces the ‘Sunlight’ detergent soap, says Hindustan Unilever staffer Kaneesh Xavier.

What’s in a name

Weekly column on the history of place names. Got any suggestions? Write to cityexpresskoc@newindianexpress.com


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