Last Sunday, young parishioners under the St. Mary’s church at Mundakkayam, Kottayam, assembled on the church premises for a special occasion and took out a procession to Yendayar, a sleepy village on the eastern high-ranges of the district.
There they visited the St. Joseph’s church, a sister parish situated in the valley of the Wagamon hills and offered prayers in remembrance of John Joseph Murphy. The occasion was the 65th death anniversary of the legendary Irish settler who was instrumental in reshaping the destiny of Kerala as the country’s largest producer of natural rubber.
A couple of kilometers from the parish, the cemetery where the Irishman was laid to rest, however, has been lying unattended. The compound walls have begun to overgrow and weeds stand several inches high. Slowly yet steadily, the tomb is going out of the public’s gaze and out of the minds of the authorities concerned.
“But for this annual memorial service and a school named after him, nothing really happened to keep his memories alive,” says Jose Kurian, a local resident who has chronicled the life of the Irishman, fondly called Murphy ‘Sayipp’ by local residents. .
Having arrived in India at a very young age, the Irishman, who was a member of the erstwhile Periyar Syndicate, took to commercial rubber cultivation by establishing rubber plantations at Thattekkad, near Kothamangalam, in Ernakulam district in 1902. A year later, he moved to Yendayar and converted the undulated terrains of Yendayar into rubber plantations.
“More than being a commercial planter, he was a visionary and the institutions he established include a couple of churches, a lower primary school, hospitals and even a rubber research station at Mundakkayam. The model he followed in developing the plantation was so unique that the Yendayar estate was popularly known by the name Poonkavanam, or the flower forest, ”said Mr. Kurian.
Laid to rest in 1957, the tomb of Murphy had been privately maintained by the church management for several decades. Then in 2013, the Rubber Board took over the responsibility for its upkeep.
Attempts by the board to build a memorial of Murphy, however, are yet to materialize. The proposal appears to be in a deadlock. The project can be revived only with due cooperation from the local people and owners of the adjoining plantations, ”said a Rubber Board official.