The sun-lit soil of Micamon ward in Pirvanthur Grama Panchayat, Kollam, glitters like nose studs. Once reputed for the mining of mica, the village now has shining soil in every courtyard, farms and wayside.
Located in the woods, the village was known as Mica Mine in the past. The name eventually got its local version: Micaman.
Mica, used as the main raw material in the making of film, glass, electronic microchip, etc., used to be mined in huge quantities from the village.
Remnants of mica deposits can still be seen anywhere in about two kilometer radius in the village. Signs of large deposits under the earth can be seen amid the leftovers of mining that went on for decades.
However, the district office of Mining and Geology department is oblivious of any such deposit. There are no known mica deposits outside this village in the forest area or anywhere else in the district. Interestingly, the neighboring village is called Kakkaponnu, meaning tinselry. How Micamon became so rich in mica deposits is an unanswered question as no studies have been conducted so far.
Mica bits lie scattered all over the village glow in the sunlight. The soil is so soft that it sinks, like a cushioned bed, if one sets foot on it. If you hold a mica bit and look at the sun through it, you get the feel of a cooling glass.
Private companies had been mining mica for decades in the pre-Independence era. They built huge underground tunnels and mined away the mica. Mining went on uninterrupted until 1965-70. It is unclear why it stopped after that.
A firm from Andhra Pradesh was mining here first. A Tamil Nadu company was the last one to work here. Two kilometers away from Micamon is Perunthoyil village, where lead was mined. That suggests something special about the area, but no one has studied about it.
The village is inhabited mostly by descendants of workers who had come here for mining. It has turned into a farming community now, with plantain, tapioca, yam, colocasia, pepper, coconut, rubber etc bringing good yield.
Two ponds in Micamon remain as remnants of mica mining. An underground tunnel links them. Apparently, it required courage on the part of laborers to move about in the tunnels with just candles in hand for light. Mica sheets were cut out and taken out on pushing carts. Outside the mine, women were employed to cut them out into good shape and sort them.
The first pond is as deep as 100 plus feet. Charuvila Puthenveetil Yohannan (77), a local man, says several equipment used for mining lie buried in it. Only laborers were allowed into the mine, which was locked up and guarded.
Ambanar stream flows nearby and so water would surface as soon as digging begins. Water had to be pumped out before removing the sand to pave way for miners. Yohannan says the tunnels were as long as half a kilometer and these could still be there underground.
A local Congress leader, Sudhir Malayil, says there was a suggestion to launch a drinking water scheme utilizing the ponds. A plan was submitted to the fisheries department for aquaculture. It was suggested that boating possibilities should also be considered for tourism promotion. There was no response, however, says Sudhir.
Thankamma, 92, of Micamon Vinu Bhavan had worked in the mine for decades. Her memories are full of the darkness of the mines and the sound of boring. Fighting fading memories, she recalled those days. “My work was shaping up the mica sheets. Workers used to go down into the mines through steps built on the sides of dug-up Earth.
“Mica brought up from the mine would have to be cleaned and shaped. They would then be sorted into A, B, C and D groups based on quality. Nearly 100 women were on the task. The place was surrounded by dense forests which had elephants and tigers.
“We feared the woods. Three or four women had to go in a group even for primary needs.”
She said mica looks like glass once it is cut out. It is sorted in sunlight. Mica pieces are heavier than wood pieces.
“Duty hours were from 8am to 5pm. Daily wages 4 and a half chakram. My husband Damodaran Nair worked in the mine. He died 30 years ago. My father Govinda Pillai also worked there.”
Thankamma lives with her daughter Vijayamma.
Local people say soil with mica presence is excellent for farming. Mica pieces are in a heap in the property owned by Gopala Pillai, who was an engine driver in the mine. He grows tapioca in the area. They grow impressively.
Local people say anything can be cultivated with good results in this soil. They speak out of experience. Yohannan says tapioca grown in this soil has great taste and is in much demand.