Innovator: Anand and Girija
Vocation: Coconut jewellers and craftsmen
Location: Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

Like most people from middle-class families, Girija and Anand had simple and common dreams. Anand enjoyed travelling, spending time amid nature and learning new things. And these were interests stayed with him even after he got married to Girija. He was lucky that his life partner was somebody who understood and shared the same views and interests.

Anand was an interior designer and Girija worked as a bank manager. Soon after their marriage, Girija was transferred from Madurai to Tirunelveli. During this period, every time Anand travelled to Tirunelveli to meet his wife, he would find himself engrossed in the natural beauty of the town. He was so mesmerised by the beauty of Tirunelveli that he decided to settle there; and soon started working on handcrafted gold. In between, whenever he found time, he would take a short excursion to somewhere nearby.

During one such excursion, Anand met an organic scientist and natural farmer; and got a chance to visit a farm. This opportunity gave his life a new course. He was so inspired by his new friend, that he decided to live his life in close association with nature; and took his first step in the direction. Anand decided to merge his craft talent with his love for nature and Girija decided to leave her job and look after her family. Together, the couple established an art gallery in the name of their son, the Kavin Art Gallery.

Anand tells me, “In this part of South India, families use at least two coconuts a day in their house for cooking or another purpose. We use them and then mostly just discard the shell. So I thought why not use these for something interesting? The first few things I made with coconut shells were jewellery pieces like earrings and lockets. Then slowly, I introduced more handcraft into it.Today, we make a variety of things such as lamp shades, decorative pieces, paintings and toys, among others. Our work has been recognised and we have been invited on various occasions to design the stage for cultural events in Tamil Nadu. For such events, we only use naturally available resources and try to get all the raw material from within a vicinity of 5-km radius of the venue to strengthen the local economy. Additionally, as these are naturally available resources, their disposal at the end of the event has no negative implications on nature.”

For the last few years now, Anand and Girija have been working with the motive of taking their art to more and more people across the region. The intention behind this is to increase conscious dependence on naturally available resources so that people do not harm the environment in pursuit of their demands. By producing jewellery, utensils and various other products using coconut and wood, the couple feels that they are also, if only nominally, reducing the need for mining for metal (and destruction of the earth’s surface, followed by its consequences).

“We are now thinking of ways to involve the local community in our work. A lot of people in the region migrate to bigger cities in search of a better livelihood and end up working as a construction labour or in beedi factories. In the process, they have to leave their clean villages for filthy slums in cities and face the health hazards of working with tobacco and dust,” adds Girija.

By involving these people in Kavin Art Gallery, the couple can considerably help the families who would require no investment in producing handcrafted products as all the raw material would be readily available in their houses.

“By putting in efforts for four to five hours a day, a person can easily produce two handcrafted items which can then be sold in the market for upto Rs. 500. Therefore, Kavin Art Gallery is soon going to start a training programme through which it will be able to provide local communities with sustainable livelihood options without the need to travel to far away places,” she adds.

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