Yes, people who have seen my items identify me as the ‘coconut man!’

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Calm, cool, smiling, Narayan Mahadevan, 77, retired as Deputy General Manager, Advtg. & Mktg, Menezies Cosmetics, makers of the Old Spice range of toiletries. A creative and artistic person, he has put his skills to good use to create an array of ornamental crafts like key chains, table lamps, animals and coin boxes using raw materials like coconut shells. This is a hobby of passion and he has yet to try to milk it commercially. A. Radhakrishnan spoke to this unassuming man, who is literally converting waste into pieces of art.

How would you introduce yourself?
I am a science graduate, and have also done my Intermediate course in Art conducted by the Government of Maharashtra, and a four-year course in Applied Arts through the Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Arts, Mumbai. I learnt visualising and designing of advertisements for print and audio media, media planning, block making printing, batik printing, lithography, portrait drawing in pencil and colour from models, etc.

Who was the inspiration behind this hobby? Did you learn on the job or attend a handicraft course?
I got into this hobby out of my interest in art and designing. My father Ramier Narayan is the main inspiration, as he used to make interesting articles out of coconut shells during his leisure time. I learnt it on the job by just watching him.

Describe this hobby in your own words.
I work on anything that inspires me like models of animals like tortoises, toads, pigs and birds, and utilitarian items like pen stands, table lamps, bowls, pots, key chains, and coin boxes.

Explain the process of creation? How does the craftwork begin and end? How cost effective is this hobby?
First and foremost, I buy the coconuts looking at their size and shape. I use very simple tools like; a) A small Axa file for cutting,
b) Rough files for smoothening, c) Scrapper for cleaning the inside of the coconut, d) Small jeweller’s files in various shapes, sizes and textures for creating the desired designs.

I use fevikwick super glue for joining the pieces. I sprinkle the coconut powder I collect during cutting and filing to fill gaps in joints. It is not very costly except for the cost of coconut, adhesives, tools (one time cost), but it is very laborious. I work on my own without any help. This workmanship involves days or months, depending upon the items.

How many types of items can be made out of coconut shells?
While sky is the limit, I must have already made about 300 items.

Creative and innovative handicrafts made out of coconut shells

Creative and innovative handicrafts made out of coconut shells

Do you go in for contemporary concepts?
Contemporary concepts, yes! For instance, during the Navaratri doll festival (Golu) I make a separate section of my items captioned ‘Cocunut-Kalpa Vriksha’. I have made Kumbham, i.e., coconut on a pot fully decorated with colourful beads for my son’s wedding.

I have also made nelaguthengai (during marriage functions the bride and groom play a game of rolling the coconut to and fro.) A round coconut is chosen and decorated with beads with ghungurus (little bells) inside, to make it chime while rolling.

Transforming a discarded item like a coconut shell is a tedious art? Where do you derive the patience for it?
Coconuts are always cut by me to the desired shape and never broken. I have patience galore!

Do you think other material could also be equally creative?
Yes, discarded plastic jars, toothpaste caps, toothbrush handles, roll on balls, etc., can also be creatively used.

Do you see a commercial value in your hobby?
I do it for my pleasure and satisfaction. There is a tremendous commercial value for such handicrafts, but they are quite expensive. I have myself sold a few items. I have also considered making it a commercial venture in the near future. But that will require certain machines, a suitable place, and some manpower. Prices will vary depending on the items and labour involved.

Do you think there is a good market for handicrafts fashioned from these natural materials? Which items are more in demand?
Yes, there is very good demand for items made of natural materials, such as table lamps, pen stands, tortoises and other exotic items.

Does this hobby have government support?
I have never approached the government for any support, content as I am with treating it as a hobby. And definitely there are many other such artists, as I have read articles about them in magazines and social media.

Does this work give you your own identity? Has anyone in your family taken to your hobby?
Yes, people who have seen my items identify me as the ‘coconut man!’ My brother and younger son have also taken to it as a hobby.

What were the first items you made out of a coconut shell?
My first items were a few tortoises, which I consider auspicious, and which I have presented as gifts to many people.

What qualities are needed for this hobby? How happy does this hobby make you? Have you participated in exhibitions and contests and won any prizes or awards?
A creative mind and tons of patience are a requisite. I am fully satisfied, and am elated when others appreciate my work. However, I have not participated in exhibitions or contests because frankly with my then job and creative work, I simply had no time.

What is your advice to those wanting to take up this art?
Anyone who has a creative mind, plenty of time, and tons of patience, can take up this hobby/profession, but one should have an interest first.


a-radha-new

A. Radhakrishnan, Pune based freelance journalist, with close to four decades of experience in mainstream print journalism, is aiming for the digital platform. Making friends interests him and for company, he loves music and books. He also writes short stories and indulges in poetry.

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