Kerala's KR Jayan has grown over 44 varieties of jackfruit in public spaces across villages in the state, earning the Plant Genome Saviour Community Award.
Enough has been said about how the state of Kerala teems with jackfruit plants. But in this article, we dive into the story of one man who has planted about 20,000 of them, all alone.
KR Jayan, famously known as ‘Plavu Jayan’, has studded his hometown Irinjalakuda in Kerala’s Thrissur district with over 44 varieties of the fruit. These include Rudrakshi, Padavalam Varikka, Balloon Varikka, Kashumanga Chakka, Football Varikka, Vakatanaam Varikka, and more.
The attributive pet name was given to him in his school days. “As a child, I saw crushing poverty in my village. My family survived only on kathal (jackfruit) and had nothing else,” he says. This was the reason why he showed up at school with a jackfruit as a school project. Making fun of him, his peers named him ‘Plavu Jayan’, for plavu means jackfruit in his regional language.
This never deterred the young boy. On the contrary, he went on to use this attachment to the fruit to save its species from endangerment, by planting it across the land for 20 years. His efforts still continue.
A reason to begin
In this article, we have explored the myriad benefits of consuming jackfruit. Such are its powers, that today even flour extracted from it is being used to cure ailments. Recently, Kerala deemed kathal its natural fruit for this reason and many others.
But Jayan says that about two decades ago, its availability was rapidly thinning in the state due to neglect. He loved the fruit, and couldn’t watch its existence fade. So he took it upon himself to conserve the fruit.
“I went from village to village trying to understand jackfruit trees better. People barely knew the names of different varieties, and no one was interested in the fact that each variety of jackfruit thrives in different soil,” he says.
Not a fan of the grafting method, Jayan would collect the seeds of each variety on the way, and come back to plant them in his village.
“I have been an autorickshaw driver by profession all these years, transporting retail goods like soaps, incense sticks and more for money. I would stop on my way every now and then and plant a tree on the roadside,” he adds. This was because Plavu Jayan had no land of his own, and the space adjacent to public roads was the only viable option to execute his mission.
In the beginning, he was called all sorts of names for his efforts. People who watched him going around watering seeds on the road called him demented. But some four years down the line, the strange plants started bearing fruit for consumption. Suddenly, Plavu Jayan’s work was reaping benefits for all.
A work in progress
Soon, Plavu Jayan was developing entire villages of jackfruit, which he labelled as ‘Plavu Grams’. Around 500 to 1,000 trees of the fruit were planted in or around institutions like Government College of Chittoor, Thrissur Government Medical College and Shoranur Railway Station. “About 10 years ago, I created a gram near the river in Shoranur village in Palakkad district. Today, it is bearing hefty fruit,” he says.
Currently, he is growing his fourth ‘Plavu Gram’ at Velukara near Muriyad village. The plant will become mature enough to fruit in about four to five years.
Relentless planting of the trees has resulted in the entire species of this plant being revived in Kerala. In 2019, Plavu Jayan was awarded the Plant Genome Saviour Community Award by the Government of India for conserving biodiversity, and reviving a wide variety of the jackfruit plant.
“Let your work speak for you,” is a common advice many of us receive but few exemplify. Plavu Jayan clearly did. He authored two books about the passion of his life, named ‘Plavu’ and ‘Plavu Aur Main’. His books are currently used in local schools to teach children the importance of jackfruit.
“I had an ideology; it was to save the fruit I had grown up on. I simply did what I had to do to act on this idea,” he says in a languid end to our conversation about his journey.
If you’d like to know more about Jayan, connect with him at 9847763813.
Read this article in Hindi here.
Edited by Divya Sethu