First published in 1990, Rubber is the debut novel of acclaimed writer Jeyamohan. The rise of Ponnumani, the obscure orphan to Ponnu Peruvattar, the rubber estate magnate and proud patriarch of the Peruvattar family is spanned in the nearly 200 page long book. The colossal growth of Ponnu Peruvattar is juxtaposed with the story depicting the fall of his empire.
The end of the Peruvattar stronghold stems from the wrong business decisions that Chellaiah Peruvattar, the only son of the patriarch makes. The family is further undone due to friction between its members. Therese is the detached spouse of Chellaiah who doesn’t make any attempt to hide her contempt for “lower beings”. She lives in a world of her own and is indifferent towards her sons’ waywardness and her husband’s crudeness. Of the couple’s five children, only Francis and Livy still reside with them. Francis, Peruvattar’s favourite grandson, is a school dropout and a spendthrift. He is outspoken and is often at loggerheads with his parents. Livy is a college student who is not attached to anyone and obeys his father solely out of a sense of obligation which whittles down as the family’s fortunes decline.
The interspersed tale in this narrative is the rags to riches story of Ponnu Peruvattar. The rise of Peruvattar as a larger than life figure in the Nanjil region where he establishes his Rubber estate empire, results in the falling out of the once dominating Arraikal family, said to be of royal blood lines. The injustice he meted out to the disgraced family comes to irk Peruvattar in his last days. The theme of caste- community and pride- is the sub text on which this tale of hate and power is built upon. I must admit I’m naïve when it comes to understanding the overt influence of caste in Tamil-Malayalam society. The political and communal commentary in the novel is indeed an eye opener of sorts - showing the stark presence of prejudice in a grim capitalist society that lacks humanity.
The novel is as much as a collection of short stories revolving around a central theme – Rubber. Barring Peruvattar, Francis and few others, the rest of the characters do not travel along the entire breadth of the novel and their presence is limited to a chapter or two. The chapters dedicated to Therese, Kandankaani and Velappa hold their own and has the traits of a short story in a book written as a novel. This style adopted by the writer is unique and he doesn’t hesitate to introduce a notable character like Velappa in one of the concluding chapters.
The ailing Peruvattar’s demise as well as the end of his family’s hold over the Rubber estate realm seem imminent as the novel draws to a close. In “Rubber”, lives are built around the all-pervasive Rubber trees. Rubber is an alien crop- foreign to the land. So is the lad who seeks refuge, Ponnumani. Subsequently, all the other crops in the region are uprooted to grow the money raking Rubber trees much like how the existing communities are displaced to make way for the ambitious Ponnu Peruvattar. Rubber is indeed a fine novel that is least pretentious in its depiction of rustic lives and the communal tensions that overpower them. I’m convinced – I am now a Jeyamohan fan!