Nairs are not a business community and therefore no particular business could be termed as traditional business of Nairs.However a few enterprising Nairs of Kollam through their vision and hard work have made Cashew industry in Kerala a forte of Nairs.
It would be astonishing to learn that some enterprising Nairs of Kollam ventured to cashew processing business as early as 1930s when vestiges of feudalism were still strong and businessmen were looked down upon by orthodox Nairs who considered government jobs as the ultimate achievement. The happiest part of this is future generations of these harbingers continue to flourish in cashew business.
Though Cashew processing was started in Kollam by a Sril Lankan National in 1920s, and a few others also had ventured into the area, it was two Nairs Vendor Krishna Pillai, and Poyilakkada Parameshwaran Pillai who gave Cashew industry its status as a major processing and exporting business in Kerala. Apart from business activities Vendor Krishna Pillai held an active interest in social activities too and had considerable influence in the industrial town of Kollam in Southern Kerala. Once he even contested in election against a popular Congress leader as an independent candidate giving jitters to the leader.
Vendor Krishna Pillai’s children and nephews continued the legacy of their father/uncle and his nephew K Janardhanan Pillai at one stage was the biggest cashew exporter in India. His son K Ravindranathan Nair who owns Vijayalakshmi Cashew is the largest cashew exporter in India currently. Janardhanan Pillai’s son K.J Rajan Pillai was once the chairman of Brittania Industries. His brother Rajmohan Pillai is now chairman of Beta empire, a multinational business conglomerate in food processing.
Ravindranathan Nair has made a mark in film industry also by promoting famous directors Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Nair is the producer of majority of films of these two film makers. Moreover Nair has made liberal contributions worth millions of Indian rupee for public causes in Kollam. It is noteworthy that grandchildren of Vendor Krishna Pillai are also leaders in cashew business in Kollam.
Poyilakkada Parameshwaran Pillai also recorded phenomenal success in cashew industry. From a small factory the KPP group has grown into one of the leaders in cashew business and has extended into other areas like entertainment and logistics. Pillai’s son P Gangadharan Pillai was once not only a leading industrialist in Kollam but also a public figure. A leader of Nair Service Society, Pillai also worked for the cause of Nairs, the community in which he was born. All his brothers and their children also continue to be leaders in cashew business.
Lessons for Nairs
All these prove that if Nairs can excel as bureaucrats, military/police personnel, diplomats, artistes and intelligentsia, they can excel in business also. A small group of Nairs in Kollam have proved it beyond doubt and their legacy is enduring after generations.
Now let us think how these businessmen helped Nairs, their own community. Hundreds of people, a large number of them Nairs, from Kollam, southern part of Alappuzha and parts of Thiruvananthapurm, work in cashew factories of these Nair businessmen. Success of these Nairs in cashew industry has encouraged more Nairs to venture into the industry. Slowly at least Kollam and nearby areas the dislike of Nairs for business has given way to an interest in business. Sure success breeds more success. These people have definitely set an example for other Nairs.
Active intervention of at least a section of these people in society has helped many Nairs including politicians. Some of these businessmen used to support talented Nairs from other sections.
Much more to do
However it is doubtful whether Nair businessmen in Kollam have cooperated with Nair organizations like NSS to the extent expected from them. Nairs need to have more educational institutions, healthcare institutions, leadership and business training centres and charity organisations in Kollam in tune with the clout of the community. They could also start an angel fund for helping enterprising young investors among Nairs. Hope businessmen belonging to Nair community will do something on their own or cooperate with organizations of Nairs to help the community.