Monday, August 20, 2012

Chanthakkaree- Exhibiting Exuberance, Enterprise and Entrepreneurial spirit!

When my close friend Aparna Vinod told me- with her signature excitement- about her exhibition 'Chanthakkaree' in Calicut, I wasn't too sure what was on show. But the fact remained that she'd spent months putting together this dream-project of hers; visualising, networking, collaborating, coordinating- and enjoying it all. And our five years of a friendship of its kind, I knew for sure, that if she was into something, it would be nothing short of phenomenal.

This is but a gross understatement.

As I rushed in a good two hours late, I could feel the pulse. The fuschia poster at the entrance of the Chamber of Commerce building was ample proof of Chanthakkaree's unconventional, unabashedly genuine and in-your-face character.

The diva dazzled in a purple saree whose vibrance was no match for her radiant energy. She was poise personified, acknowledging her guests, helping out the media-folks, explaining the nuances of a lesser-known tribal printing art now, issuing orders in staccato Tamil onto her cell-phone the next instant... Undoubtedly, Chanthakkaree was here. For real. For more. 

My gaze rested on the first table laden with clay jewellery of various shapes. Manjusha and Satish bent over their ethereally earthy treasures with almost parental affection and care. The wares were indeed unique in design, shape and texture.Ear-drops, pendants and neck-strings were more likely to have appeared from Eden than from an Accessory store. Each of them spoke of a rare connection with nature and was thus a testimony to the ultimate creation. 


Moving on, one couldn't miss the fiery Radha Gomathi with Sangmitra, her magnificent array of cloth bags. Jholas, vanity bags, mobile pouches and drawstring money-bags spread out like a Chiaroscuro rainbow. Sangmitra is an All- Women collective that specialises in crafting cloth bags from tailoring waste. The whole section had a mystical quality about it; at once deep, introspective, rebellious, impulsive, childish, matter-of-factly and spiritual. I had heard so much about Aparna's Radha-chechi ( who , appearance-wise was TV artiste Sona Nair with Michael Jackson's hairdo and personality-wise was more intriguing than the Mona Lisa) and was prepared for her compelling aura. 

All the same, what struck a chord within me was how, she had a story for each of her creation. She had this uncanny ability to size up a person in nano-seconds and fish out just the right bag for him/her alongwith providing a 2-minute account of the bag's character, maintenance tips and value proposition. Whoever had doubts on the Art of Marketing should take a few leaves out of Radha-chechi's book. Move over, Kotler!

Listen to Radha narrating the Sangmitra story below:

Having trouble viewing the video here? Try 

Chip of the old(?) block, little Aravind was precociousness clad in a Fabindia shirt leapfrogging across the hall, calling out to and befriending every visitor on the premises. it was impossible to miss the adorable brat who seemed to be on s a self- appointed endearment strategy interrupted only by Radha-chechi's call to duty: he was mama's Accountant-boy after all! 

This picture was taken towards closing time. "Here's Scrooge!", commented his mom. What say, Aravindo? 

Appu had been enticing me about a Jute Products stall she'd invited over from Erode. “Jute Bole Kauva Kaatey”, I'd ad-libbed to her a couple of times. However, the stall was a moment of Truth. S.K Karthik, representing Bharathi Jute, an Erode-based NGO, patiently explained each and every item on his table. Folders, mobile pouches, gift-bags and trinkets made of paper bristled on the display table like live forms. There was a unique piece of folder with a banana-fibre front flap. Paper trinkets of various hues and shapes spoke of daring experiments  with design.

Rarely have I beheld such natural charm at such affordable rates. Karthik explained the design approach and the types of motifs used on the jute stationery: Madhubani, Kangra and Gujarati prints. He was also something of a bard, he had this sweet and Satwik air about him, almost going into a kind of trance as he spoke about his products. He was also full of reverence and praise for the concept of Chanthakkaree.

 I'm not surprised. 

You can reach Karthik on 098945 10545 or 

Trust, Corporate Social Responsibility and Tata are names that appear in one sentence for most Indians. Throw in two more terms: women and crafts, and you have Okhai. Vivacious printed garments and amazing applique shawls spoke for the lesser-known eponymous Gujarati craft.

The following passage ( ) should do the rest of the talking:

dThe Okhamandal region in Gujarat is a drought prone area. With an average annual rainfall of 8-10 inches, the region is declared a drought zone every third year. With 70% of the village population dependent on agriculture, it becomes imperative that an alternate source of livelihood be promoted to reduce the dependence on agriculture.
Women of Okhamandal are endowed with the talent and traditional skills to make exquisite handicrafts in the typical Okhamandal style.

 The custom of producing traditional handicrafts for ceremonial functions is widely prevalent amongst the tribes like the Ahirs, the Rabari, the Charan, and communities like the Lohana and the Harijan.

Mirror work, patchwork and embroidery are all a vibrant expression of their way of life, their rituals and their legends.

Handicrafts were identified as a promising means of generating livelihood for hundreds of women in the area.

Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development ( TCSRD)  plays a pioneering role in promoting this art. Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been formed in the villages of Okhamandal and the members of these groups are involved in handicrafts production. At present, 450 rural women are benefiting from this programme. They earn an average monthly income of Rs 500- 2500. The handicrafts are promoted under the brand name ‘Okhai’.

The handicrafts project has made a fundamental difference to the lives of rural women. It not only helps the women become wage earners, but also spreads awareness about the traditional crafts of the region, thus helping us preserve a rich part of our national cultural heritage for generations to come. 

Mrs. Iyer ( that's one of my names for Appu) re-appeared in a salwar-kurta and her delightful babe Ram. Vinod, Her Tower of Strength joined too. The small wonder took in every detail around him in his saucer-eyes. Seemed to have an interest in morphology as he probed, stroked, nibbled and clawed Appa's ears and nose. He in fact left no bit unexplored, tugging even at a stray nylon wire till it yielded.

You can take Aparna away from Apparels but you can never take the Apparels away from Aparna! Chanthakkaree did live up to its brain-mother's reputation in two stalls which would have been any cloheshorse's plunder. Her dazzling range of hand-picked silks and cool cottons would make any passerby gawk. Even buy. Sample this parrot green saree with a dramatic border.

We should've invited Shobana to this expo, I'm sure there are many a piece that she'd fancy”, concurred the two of us.

There was also an impressive collection of Gujarati and Hyderabadi dress materials. A few pieces had intricate embroidery in woolen thread. I've always been fascinated by Kutch and Bandhani designs since Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and it was a treat for the eyes to see them imposed on well-tailored kurtas and suits. This one was a class apart, what with those dramatic buttons and mirrorwork. I was told that these are Kutch patterns from Gujarat.  This garment reminded me of my pre-adolescent sketches of dress-patterns, many many summers back! 

To cut a long story short, suffice it to say that the stall helped me update my once- impressive knowledge of women's apparel.

While the artist in me had enough to feast my eyes on, there was someone who inspirred the teacher in me. Chembratt Sreedharan Master, with his collection of baskets woven from packing tape, was literally a silent salesman and a hero. After all, he had tamed the hazardous wires and woven them into inexpensive objects of utility and beauty. He also delighted the young ones with his Origami skills, deftly fashioning hand-bags out of newspaper. Sreedharan Master teaches at GMUPS Kondotty and is a n Origami (CCRT) resource-person. Incidentally, is a visitor-turned exhibitor at Chanthakkaree.

Looks like Radha-chechi already has competition?!

Catch Sreedharan Master on 9961224598, 0495 2296606

If sustainability, crafts and lifestyles are here, can wellness be far behind? Dr. Anaz, a history professor presented the Mona Vie range of wellness products ( Apparently bustling with essential energy and nutrients, these products promise good health, longevity, anti-oxidnants, polyphenols and immunity.

Image Courtesy:
The Energy Drink!

Dr Anaz (L) with Mr Radhakrishnan ( My 'Dupe') 

Interested? Reach Dr. Anaz on 94955 39708 or 

I reflected on Chanthakkaree on my homeward train journey. Here was Appu -with sheer grit, passion and her indigenous networking skills- balancing what she loves to do and what she has to do ( family, housekeeping, parenting, boring social commitments...) still coming up with a fresh, classy and somewhat niche effort. I've often wondered where she derives this rare gift of surprising everybody around her with her appetite for adventure. I've known her since her final-year-at- grad- college days, through her MBA sojourn where she started exploring herself; her near-Bohemian exterior ( which made her decision to marry, something of a paradoxical volte face), and her amazing ease as a home-maker and mother. And at a time when we expected her to be nappy-happy, she surprises the world with her Odysseys in search of craft. In her own words, " friends were trying to 'study' MBA, I'm living it! Chanthakkaree taught me what it's like to take risks, how to earn value for money and what customer - not consumer- behaviour is all about ( she has recently worked as a store-salesgirl for a leading Handicrafts emporium out of sheer curiosity for what it feels like). Thanks Appu, for demonstrating what it takes to be a Rebel With a Cause.  

Aparna's absolutely devoted to her fantastic husband Mr Vinod Iyer ( whom I've known and befriended since my Rotary GSE days), who also has a penchant for donning  various hats: Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker, Professional Trainer, Soccer Player, Compere, loving dad  and much more.  Mohanlal's famous dialogue in Manichithrathazhu should best describe Mr and Mrs. Iyer " ലോകത്തിലെ  ഒരു ഭര്‍ത്താവും ഭാര്യയും  മനസ്സ് കൊണ്ട്  ഇത്ര ആഴത്തില്‍ പരസ്പരം  അറിഞ്ഞു കാണില്ല." ( No other husband and wife in this world would have known each other so well....). Touch Wood. 

The Vinods!

I'd urge every student, teacher and practitioner of Management ( plus Go Green Activists, Event Managers, Entrepreneurs,  Media moghuls, mothers, wives, Gen Y boys and girls .....) to read, understand and assimilate Chanthakkaree as a case of exuberance, energy and enterprise. 

Go Aparna, Go! 


The Deccan Chronicle ( Calicut), 20th Aug '12

1 comment:

  1. :) Thanks nishith, you helped me to find out people who makes this kind of stuff. Actually i was on search for that. I got few contacts from your blog. And its well written, felt like visited the place. all the best