I have had the privilege of knowing BC from 1970 onwards until his untimely passing away in 2006. With each year of my friendship with him, my admiration and respect for his multifaceted contributions to science and society grew. BC had always envisaged a wider role for science and therefore he was not content only with discovery, but was equally concerned with taking science to the farmers. In his own chosen field of rubber research, he helped to build the Malaysian Rubber Research and Development Institute into the world’s premier research institution in natural rubber.
Attending to all industry aspects
After World War II, there was great concern about the future of natural rubber. Synthetic rubber was in the offing. However, BC was convinced that because of the heat tolerance of natural rubber, NR will have a bright future. Even in the 70s, he anticipated a great expansion of the aviation and automobile industry. Hence he strengthened rubber research in all its aspects. Besides building up the Malaysian Rubber Research Institute near Kuala Lumpur as well as the Malaysian Rubber Research and Development Board, he was instrumental in building an outstanding Rubber Technology Institute in the UK. BC had the great capacity to look at problems on a systems basis. Though he was one of the most eminent chemists of his time, he attended to all aspects of the rubber industry in its totality, from planting to marketing manufactured products.
His major concern in natural rubber was the enhancement of the productivity and profitability of the crop. He observed that the productivity of rubber declines after 20 to 25 years. Still rubber cultivators go on tapping for 40 to 50 years, although they know the yield will be low after 20 years. BC developed a wonderful strategy for increasing the profitability of natural rubber. His strategy consisted of introducing ethrel treatment to increase latex formation after 20 years and carry out “slaughter tapping” for a few years. After this period, the rubber tree was sold as timber fetching a high price. Rubber wood is now world famous, thanks to BC. While the slaughter tapping was going on, he got improved clones planted, so that they will start yielding when the older plants are cut and sold as timber.
A visionary leader
I was a Member of the Advisory Board of the Malaysian Rubber Research Institute during the 70s. What amazed me was the spirit of innovation and creativity which became the hallmark of BC. For example, he wanted NR to become an annual plant like guayule. He was always brimming with new ideas. One of his cherished dreams was
the establishment of an Palm Oil Research Institute in Malaysia. This came true, thanks to his untiring efforts. He was supportive of the emergence of a new farming system in Malaysia, namely Oil Palm –
Cocoa – Pineapple His aim was to maximize the benefits from cubic volumes of air and soil. Thus, he combined in the farming system, plants which can take nutrients and water from different depths of the
Had we not had a visionary leader like BC, planters would have given up natural rubber in the 70s. Today the natural rubber industry is thriving because of BC’s vision, mission and persistence. No wonder he received many awards including the Ramon Magsaysay Award considered to be the Asian Nobel Prize. He is led by example and by inspiration. He lived a wonderful life with the support of his dear wife Sukumari and his loving children. He gave equal time to science, society, family and friends. Thus he became a loved one among all who came in contact with him.
A scientist and a humanist
I once mentioned in a lecture that BC followed in letter and spirit the following advice of Swami Vivekananda for achieving happiness during one’s life time in this world. “In this world take always the position of a Giver; Give everything, but look for no return. Give love, give help, give service and give any little thing you can, but keep our burter.” During the last few years of his life, he used to come to the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai whenever he passed through Chennai. He used to speak about the
need for closer cooperation among
countries in the South and South-East
Asia. His passions were education and
I cannot find a better method of closing this short article except by quoting Ranier Maria Rilke
Again and again in history
Some special people wake up