NAGAPATTINAM: At his half-built, half-thatched fruit stall, L Packirisamy welcomes you with a broad smile. The 52-year-old, dhoti-clad Packirisamy is busy moving around the mixer-grinder bench to blend fruit juices, and the water boiler to prepare tea. There are chopped tree trunks for customers to sit on and relax. On the side, he attends to customers inquiring about hand-made products on display.
Packirisamy is not a usual salesman. On sale at his shop are some unusual stuff: it can be an ‘ootha’ (a basket-like fish trap) or moram/kai visiri (palm-made handheld fan), or Kottanguchi Moongil Agappai (bamboo ladle with coconut shell scoop). The list is pretty long. The 52-year-old fruit-seller from Rajankattalai village has undertaken the task to promote such indigenous artisans and display their goods at his shop.
“I am promoting the products as an enthusiast in traditional handmade products. These items are sustainable and eco-friendly. People had forgotten them over the years due to modern advancements. I try to promote them by displaying the goods at my shop,” says Packirisamy.
Shanmugam is a 28-year-old hearing and speech impaired man from Annapettai in Nagapattinam, who makes ‘Ootha’ out of dried stems of chaste tree shrubs (notch). He lives alone, depending on the revenue he generates by selling Oothas. He sells an Ootha for Rs 1,000. Initially, he was not able to sell many, but when he met Packirisamy, things changed.
There are many artisans in the villages in Vedaranyam block in Nagapattinam. The block, which is seasonally rainfed, lacks the irrigation facilities required to cultivate paddy on a large scale. The farmers are more dependent on the cultivation of trees like coconut and palm, and some artisans make items out of parts of these trees. Apart from this, the artisans also use shrubs to make different items. While they cling to their craft-making livelihoods amid modern developments, their products used to be completely overlooked.
M Dhanabalan, a 48-year-old ward councillor from Vedaranyam, says, “Dozens of artisans from the villages around Vedaranyam build their livelihoods by making crafts out of tree products in a block where paddy agriculture is limited. But they are oblivious to ways to market their products. Few people like Packirisamy have taken initiative to promote them.”
Apart from Nochi Oottha, Packirisamy promotes Surakaai Kuduvai (bottle gourd containers) used to store water and other fluids, Thennam Paalai (coconut spathe) used for constructions, Ancharaipetti (compartmentalised box) used to store spices, Pirimanai (pot ring-pad) used to support pots, Soru Vadi (bamboo-made strainer) used to strain rice, Panai Idukki (palmyra palm pincer) used to squeeze Palmyra palm and Panai Neer Vadi (toddy palm tapper).
Many of these products are getting outdated over the years. Such items are made of chaste tree (notchi), glory-bower (peekalathi), bamboo (moongil), heart-leaved moonseed (seenthil kodi), palm leaves (panai olai), and coconut tree petioles (thennai mattai). Some of these plants are cultivated by farmers, while others grow wildly.
“It takes two days to make a fan, and I can make about 15 per month. I earn up to 200 per piece. I also make fans and other bamboo items. I generally make money during the local festivals but struggle during the rest of the year. Packirisamy helps me to get buyers,” says T Uthirapathi, a 71-year-old artisan.
Packirisamy is married to Mallika, who supports him. Two daughters, Sowmya and Oviya, who study information technology and fisheries technology, respectively, also help them. “There is not much that I can gain from promoting the products other than the satisfaction of helping the makers. My small contribution through the promotions will hopefully help the tradition and their crafts,” Packirisamy adds.