Sreelakshmy points to a bamboo case and says, “open it and look inside”. Her smile and the gentle nudge in her voice camouflage the mischief in her shiny little eyes and you let yourself be persuaded. As the rubber snake leaps at you from inside the basket, you hear her stifle a childish giggle. She has come all the way from Ernakulam with her father Saji to sell the bamboo products made at their Kudumbashree Unit. “I can make pencil boxes with bamboo strands,” she says.
The Kudumbashree Food and Trade Festival which started at the Putharikandam maidan on November 1, has stalls from all over the state selling ethnic products to jewellery, leather goods and packet foods. At each stall, one is struck by the honest labour, immense hope and the goal of a collective good that have gone into the shaping of the enterprise.
Shyamala Kumari from Powdikkonam in Thiruvananthapuram is eager to show you the mural paintings she has done on a variety of products ranging from key chains, paper weights to flower vases. “The paper weights are made with cement and also M-seal while the flower vases are made from coconut shells,” she explains. Her husband, artist G Azhikkode, taught her the art of mural painting and the duo and their son are called in as a team at temples to do wall paintings.
The earrings from coconut shells have many takers, vouches Thankamoni from Palakkad. Seeing that one is surveying her collection for tiny ones, she says, “in Palakkad the girls want it so small that it should only be a speck on their ear and in Kochi they want big, flashy ones. Since we had a fair in Kochi last week, we made big ones for Thiruvananthapuram also, thinking the tastes will be similar. Making the smaller ones is tougher because your hands will be full of scratches carving them out.”
A whole motley of pickles are on display. The regular mango and lemon apart, there are salmon, tuna, gooseberry, bamboo shoots, and much more, pickled and salted.
Thankamoni, whose unit in Sreekaryam, has supplied many of the wooden statues on the premises of Kanakakkunnu Palace, has showcased pretty artifacts and decorative pieces made in Rosewood. A unit from Kozhikode has come with gold-plated jewellery which they market through door-to-door sales in their home town. “We do carry goods worth thousands of rupees with us, but then we move in groups mostly. So there is nothing to fear,’ says one of the women.
Artifacts made from an indigenous variety of grass in Wayanad called ‘Maani pullu’ is the highlight of Vijayammas’ stall. “This is long-lasting and water-proof. In our place, we use the grass to make brooms,” she says. She has made models of temples, mosques and churches with the shrub.
By lunch times, the tables beside the food stalls are occupied by visitors. The smell of Malabari chicken dishes, spicy preparations of mussel and pearl-spot fill the air. The crowd is more in the evenings, say the ladies dressed in while overcoats and sporting caps on their heads. More than anything else, its is the earnestness of the women that leaves an impression on each visitor to the festival. The fair will conclude on November 30.