In Malayalam, the word ‘cheru’ means dirt and ‘kutty’ means child. ‘Chekutty’ is therefore the ‘child who overcame the dirt’. In Chendamangalam, a village in Kerala home to centuries-old hand-loom textiles which got ravaged by the recent floods, ‘Chekutty’, a hand-made doll fashioned out of sullied fabric, is emerging as a symbol of hope and unity. Lakshmi Menon, a designer, has partnered with Gopinath Parayil, founder and CEO of a travel company, to convert some of the damaged handloom sarees into ‘Chekutty’ dolls and in turn help offset the losses faced by the weavers of Chendamangalam. Read this story in Malayalam
The duo is working with one of the five hand-loom weaver societies in Chendamangalam, that employs around 60 weavers, to clean and chlorinate the soiled textile which is then dried and picked up by volunteers to be converted into ‘Chekutty’ dolls. From a six-metre saree, around 360 such dolls can be fashioned which will be put up for sale online at Rs 25 each. These hand-made dolls can be anything: from a key-chain to a toy to an accessory or a wall-decoration. People behind the idea say that dolls fashioned out of a single saree can fetch up to Rs 9000, so much more than the Rs 1300-1500 an ordinary hand-loom saree costs in the market.
Since volunteers will form the core of the doll-making process, no two ‘Chekutty’ dolls are likely to be similar. It’s completely crowd-sourced and apart from the basic steps, the painting and decoration of the doll hinges on the artist making it. Volunteers are invited to come individually or in groups, pick up the material, learn how to make the dolls and then (if they want) sell them to their friends or peer networks. The money can be sent directly to the bank account of the co-operative society.
“The entire proceeds from the doll sale will directly go towards the rebuilding of the weavers’ society in Chendamangalam,” Parayil said.
Ajith Kumar, secretary of the Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society, in Karimpadam, told the Indian Express that the damaged stocks, comprising of sarees, dhotis and shirts run into losses of Rs 21 lakh.
“When they (the designers) came up with the idea, we agreed immediately because these damaged materials can’t be reused any other way. Right now, around 60 weavers in our cooperative have temporarily lost their livelihoods. At least for six months, we won’t be able to reopen our factories, that’s the extent of the damage,” said Kumar.
“Chekutty is a symbol of the flood. If people around the world can buy these dolls and invite it into their homes, it will go a long way in getting our working capital for the next year,” he added.
Around 600 weavers under five co-operative societies in Chendamangalam were looking at the Onam season this year with a lot of hope as it is their busiest time. However, when the floodwaters of the Periyar seeped into their homes, showrooms, dyeing units and factories in August, those hopes were washed away. For an already-dying craft, struggling with mechanised textile industries, the floods are threatening to be a final nail in the coffin. The combined losses of the handloom industry in Chendamangalam are estimated at Rs 15 crores.
It is in this atmosphere of despair that the ‘Chekutty’ dolls are lending a sense of optimism. As the people behind the idea say on their website, “Chekutty’ has scars. Chekutty has stains. But Chekutty is each one of us who survived the floods.”