Mangalore, Sept 17, 2010: The world over it can be seen that old roofs are covered with those familiar red tiles, the South Kanara symbol of Home! Now these crowning glories of old are becoming history. The story of the glory of ’Mangalore Tiles’ whose origin is Mangalore is amazing. The tiles and allied products developed in Mangalore, became an accepted building product all over the world in the mid 19th century. Apart from providing employment to a good number of people locally, the industry provided a livelihood for many wherever the tiles went. Its chief contribution to humanity since 1865, over 140 years now, gave an affordable and sturdy all weather roof to many. Their use until a few years ago was phenomenal and only the advent of concrete roofing slabs have taken away the place of ’Tiles’, yet not totally eliminating them. What are these ’Tiles’, how were they born in Mangalore, what was their USP? The mind boggling story is captivating let us go to the early times! On the periphery of tile manufacture certain complimentary and accessories were also developed which made this a total integral industry: ceiling tiles, sky light tile, chimneys, ridges, red-bricks, floor tiles, ornamental pieces and pottery among others could be found.
A Swedish merchant who visited Mangalore in 1713, notes that the houses in Mangalore are roofed with ’rounded tiles’ first cast in cylindrical forms and then cut into length wise quarter segments. A form of these is still in use.
EARLY HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT:
It is recorded that German Missionaries known as ’Basel Mission’, were the earliest to introduce the tile industry in Mangalore to provide employment in 1865, with George A Plebst being a key person. Along with development of literacy, economic and social wellness, soon the initiative of Mangalore clans was in the fore front of this lucrative venture, which brought prosperity. Initially the production was 360 tiles daily, in 1871 it increased to 2.1 lakh tiles a day, in 1881 it was 10 lakh a day and so on and on.
In Mangalore, the year 1868 was the golden year for private Tile works. Catholic entrepreneurs, Alex Pai (Albuquerque) of Pejavar who learnt the process from Basel Mission started a factory at Nandavar. Peter Lobo later entered this arena as partner. Suitable rich clay deposits were available then along the banks of the rivers which was the main raw material found in abundance locally. The partners soon split up and Alex Pai set up his own factory at Hoige Bazar (Bolar) opposite the confluence of the rivers with his son Felix, it grew into the largest tile factory and can be seen operating albeit in small measure today too as ’SUN’ brand tiles (see box). Alex Pai gradually diversified into other lines and introduced newer methods to become the leader. A factory near the Jeppu Ferry was later taken over by his nephew D.J.Rego whose descendants developed it into a flourishing business, under the brand name ’Coronation Tiles’. In 1871 a consortium of tile merchants opened up markets in Bombay, Africa, Australia and beyond.
One of the first prestigious State-of-the-art public buildings in the 1870’s to use Mangalore tiles as roofing was the old Victoria Railway Terminus (VT Station and Western Railway HQ) of Bombay in British times. Soon many selling agents established trading in many parts of the land. Highland Factory later developed the Gujarat market place which became the base for a lot of overseas supplies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. During the great recession of 1930, the prices and demand fell; and the tile industrialists established ’Mangalore tile marketing Board’ which later wound up and the tile industry faced trying times. The second world war however served to revive the demand, as the Government was forced to shelter 5 million troops and tiles were the easy solution to provide them roofs. Thereafter the private ventures were reduced to cottage industries and only Basel Missions ’Common-wealth Trust Tile Works’ was a major player with a couple of thousand workers. Lack of change and development in the methodology of the manufacturing process and raw material brought down profits and other alternatives entered the building technology, simultaneous proliferation of tile manufacture commenced in other places too.
In 1947, the ’Western India Tile Manufacturers Association’, with 25 owners as members, was established to safe guard the interest of the West Coast manufacturers. In 1949-50 it is estimated that 800 lakh of tiles worth about Rs.6 lakh were manufactured jointly, of these 300 lakh tiles were exported over seas, by country craft. However, poor facilities to safely convey the tiles overseas reduced the potential. It is mentioned that the ex-works price of one tile was Rs.1/= and Annas.6., at the time. In Mangalore alone then there were more than 35 factories with a few more just outside the town. The falling demand created by development and scientific progress changed the whole scenario. The present rate of tiles in Mangalore is worth noting, there are four qualities, the last one is Rs.5.40 each and the superior one is Rs.11.75 each ex-works, normally. The introduction of technology became a boon and also a bane.
The Pre-Economic liberation increased the downward slide and decline progressed which took it to a point of no return in the 90’s. In the last two decades or so the use of Tiles in general the world over has lost its crowning glory. The economics of manufacture and transport of roofing tiles too has undergone a great change. Raw material, labour costs, transport costs and so on which all add to out-goings have rapidly transformed the Tile Industry in and around Mangalore - still a few factories are operating at minimal levels and replacement supplies are the main consideration, with even some manufacturers keeping the business alive merely as a sentimental norm and is non-profitable. However, the leading factories are now situated in Kundapur. The Government in fact is discouraging tiles, recommending highly toxic asbestos and synthetic roof sheets. While high kick backs are demanded for tiles, recently the taxes too have made the industry unprofitable in the present market and losses are acute. The owners of tile factory show apathy to work on resolving the disturbing issues.
Yes, Mangalore and surroundings are changing and expanding beyond wildest imagination. There is a deep need that the old essentially must be preserved to a reasonable extent, let every responsible citizen endeavor to save and preserve at least a meaningful tiny piece of the past history and culture. Particularly, let our dynamic young be drawn by love and care to preserve something of the old, for those that will come in the future. Those now responsible for development and building in a larger sense have a grave accountability to history and fore-fathers in the progress of our area.
Those in power and authority have a serious duty and responsibility to protect the Harmony and the Heritage of Tulunadu and its heart KUDLA that is Mangalore, a melting pot of glorious harmonious cultures, with its historic ethos. According to Macaulay, ’People who take no pride in the noble achievements of their ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by descendants’.
Octavia Albuquerque - A Pioneer
The picturesque sun sets seen from the river bank at Bolar,opposite the confluence of the rivers are indeed memorable. On this very spot are located since 1868, the ’A. Albuquerque Tile Factories’ and Ancestral manor ’Sea View’. Perhaps this is the reason that these are branded "SUN". The historical ’Manor’ that is the base of these Tile Magnates is presently presided over by the doyen of the tile manufacturers the doubly famous ’Octaviabai’; Octavia Albuquerque, an intense personality, veteran petrel in politics.
Mrs. Octavia Albuquerque is indeed a remarkable lady ’Mannina Magalu’ (daughter of the soil). An ex-MLC and an early Rajyotsava awardee(1967), she is a down to earth and unassuming personality who lends a helping hand to anyone in need. Though she is 83yrs, (Born:18.02.1924) is full of vigour, enthusiasm and very involved in her social work, which she does with great love and pride, going about in her master piece walker which doubles up as a seat and more. A most approachable pleasant personality rarely found in her age bracket. An admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, she has published booklets on him in Kannada and English.
Speaking candidly Mrs. Octavia Albuquerque says "I had so much at home and I had a deep desire to share things. I had a socialist mind despite living in a capitalist environment. This is the force behind all my work and this very thing has driven every aspect of all my life all these years".
The daughter of a Deputy Collector and later the daughter-in-law of the late Felix Pai-Albuquerque, pioneer tile magnate of Mangalore, she is gifted with the exposure,encouragement and opportunity to be a philanthropic person. An outstanding student of the famous St.Agnes after her graduation, she married in 1944. A devoted wife, she says her husband the late Cyril Albuquerque (who was the brain behind the technological innovations in the tile industry) was her beacon light, encouraging her in all her activities. Unfortunately he passed away in 1974, yet she progressed with the set goals of serving the society and nation, she operated as Chief Executive of the tile business too. Her exclusive training at the Institute of Public Co-operation New Delhi, in Social Work stood her in good stead.
Her recollection of 15th August 1947-Independence Day, is vivid and exhilarating. In her words " Nehru’s voice heralding at the stroke of midnight night, ’when the whole world was asleep India awoke to life and freedom’. Crowds that gathered at ’Sea View’ at Bolar to hear the radio message. Vimto sweet drink was prepared in big pots, and milk biscuits and sweets distributed. Our decorated lorries took the crowds to Maidan (now Nehru Maidan) I too was with them. Joyful slogans filled the air ’Bharat Ki jai’, ’Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai’,’Jawarharlal Nehru Ki Jai’ and so on. The Tricolor flag was held high, fire works bombed the air, bells and conchs were sounded in jubilation, it was a splendid day most memorable".
A few of the innumerable achievements of Mrs. Octavia Albuquerque; Gold Medal-Pro Ecclasia Pontifice, for service to God and Country from Pope Paul VI in 1967. The International Women’s Year Award from Voice of America.Woman of the Year’ 2002 from American Biographical Institute. She has been recommended for the ’Padma Bhushan’ award, which she is yet to receive, perhaps her focus on the good of the down trodden and her integrity, has deprived her from promoting and canvasing for her self.
’Silver Elephant’ the highest award in Bharat Scounts and Guides India presented by the President in 1980. Medal of Merit for Karnataka State Bharat Scouts and Guides. "Individual of the year for work for Disabled" 1994. Tulasi Sanman Award - Distinguished personality of Dakshina Kannada 1997. She has played a yeoman role in Mangalore Municipal Council as councillor for 2 terms and VP for over five years. Member, Mysore State electricity Council ; where she worked effectively for rural electrification and promoting the use of IP sets for agriculture. Her services in the Indian National Congress at the National, State and District level is very marked, she was known as a confidant of Indira Gandhi.
I J Saldanha Shet