When Viraj Gapchoop stands on the first-floor balcony of his house in Chinchwad he looks out at the Pavana River. But its not an idyllic sight of a quietly meandering watercourse; rather what Viraj sees every day is mucky waters,frothing with industrial effluence. Bobbing in the river he also sees many mutilated idols a reminder of the several Ganesh festivals when eager devotees have chosen to express their faith by immersing their god.
The pollution that stares him in the face has been troubling 15-year-old Viraj since he was a little boy. The sight of Ganpati,venerated during the grand festival,being abandoned in the river water also struck him as dishonouring. So,two years ago Viraj started making eco-friendly Ganpati idols that would dissolve in the water without harming it. Not just that,Viraj also resolved that even the means he uses in the process of making these idols will be in harmony with the environment.
His father Dinesh Gapchoop recalls the turning point for their family. My son and I were looking out over the river one day when he suggested we go for a swim in the river. He was only about 10 years old then. I laughed and said there was no way we could do that since it was so dirty, he says. Viraj went on to quiz his father on whether he had ever swum in the river and drunk its water. I told him I had when I was still in school. He finally said,Your dad gave you a clean river,but my dad did not. I will have to do something about it myself. It shamed me and changed things for us, says Gapchoop.
Sharing how he began making China clay idols,Viraj says,I had gone looking for an idol to bring home but could not find anything that was not made of plaster of Paris (POP),which is not good for the environment. Like me there were several other customers too. He explains that POP idols took over the market because they can be coloured beautifully. The other option is to use sadu clay,which is difficult to paint but good for the environment. So,two years ago I decided to start making these idols for people want to use eco-friendly options, says the Class XI-student.
Memories of clay-modelling classes and a demo session at school of making eco-friendly idols gave Viraj a fair idea of where to start. He also consulted an uncle for tips on where to get material,how to make moulds,mix colours and make the eco-friendly idols look good. For the raw materials China clay,yellow and brown coloured clay,natural gum from trees,some marble powder to dust the moulds with,brushes and sand paper Viraj saved up from his pocket money. My initial costs are about Rs 4,000-5,000 and I sell them for about Rs 90, he says. While last year he made and sold 100 idols,this year he already has about 70-75 idols ready.
A Science student,his days are packed with college classes,tuitions and personal studies but he still manages to find time for making the idols. Each idol takes about five hours to finish. I work while there is still daylight so that I dont use electricity. The idols are also dried naturally in the sunlight. For spraying paint I recycle cold drink bottles and fit them with a spray nozzle, says Viraj,who sold the idols from his home last year. This time round,the idols are also available at his grandparents house in Navi Peth and an uncles house in Anand Nagar. Last year some people travelled from the other side of town to buy my idol. But that defeats the purpose of being eco-friendly. So,we are selling in two more places this year, says the boy. He concludes that he hopes his work will become a network that will eventually result in a clean river flowing in front of his house.