KJ Mathachan, 65, has cultivated pearls for the last two decades using freshwater mussels that are sourced from rivers originating in the Western Ghats.
These mussels are treated, and produce upto 50 buckets of pearls annually, earning him upto Rs 4.5 lakh every 18 months. Most of them are exported to Australia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Switzerland.
From professor to pearl cultivator:
Mathachan was working as a professor in the telecommunications department at the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
He received an opportunity to go to China as an Arabic to English translator for the ARAMCO Oil Company.
During his visit, he went to the Danshui Fisheries Research Center in Wuxi, China. He came across the pearl cultivation diploma they were offering.
A few weeks later, Mathachan quit his job and moved to China to pursue the diploma. Six months later, he completed the course and returned to Kerala in 1999 to cultivate pearls in his own backyard.
The process of cultivation :
“There are three basic kinds of pearls — artificial, natural and cultured. The cultured pearl is what I’ve been cultivating for more than 21 years now and it is the easiest one to cultivate since freshwater mussels are readily available in India,” explains Mathachan.
The mussels that are collected from rivers are delicately opened and a pearl nucleus is deposited inside of it.
The mussel is then entirely immersed in water (at a temperature of 15-25 degree Celsius) in a mesh container with bacteria to feed on.
Over the 18 months, the nucleus develops a pearl sac collecting calcium carbonate from the mussel shells.
The nucleus forms upto 540 layers of coating over it, hence forming exquisite pearls.
Alongside the cultivation, he has also started taking classes for people who have shown interest in the field of pearl cultivation as well as creating products from mussel shells and pearls.
“If I had continued with my job in Saudi Arabia, I would be like any other person in my town but I decided to try out something that was unique. Pearl cultivation was an untapped area in India at that time and thankfully I decided to explore it and it is still flourishing,” These words of him would create a impact on today's generation.