PEOPLE Give V. Muruga Boopathy a piece of chalk, a needle and a blade, and he will give you an exquisite work of art

The teacher was not in class and the students were horsing around with pieces of chalk. They drilled holes into the chalk and strung them together. Back home, 13-year-old V. Muruga Boopathy wondered if there was anything else he could do with chalk. He sat down with a blade and a needle and within half-an-hour he carved a snake out of it.

Today Boopathy is in his final year of M.Sc Electronic Media in Nehru Arts and Science College, and he continues with his hobby of carving chalk pieces. He has carved the figures of Mahatma Gandhi, Thiruvalluvar, Aurobindo, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Three Wise Monkeys and those everyday folk he encounters.

His attention to detail is amazing. “I try not to give up once I start on a sculpture. And I do not waste the chalk-pieces,” says Boopathy. He turns even the broken ones into works of art. He has carved 18 equidistant holes in a broken chalk-piece measuring just 16mm! “It took me six hours to complete this,” he says. But his tiniest chalk-piece carving is that of a boat, complete with a couple of tiny passengers and an oar that's as small as the nib of a ballpoint pen.

Boopathy's world

A chalkpiece has been converted into a branch of a tree with a family of birds feeding on it. With fine curves and intricate designs, the sculpture is one of Boopathy's favourites. He sat with it for almost two days. “You should see him at his table in our hostel room. He is in his own world with just him, his chalk and his needle,” says his friend. Muruga Boopathy hails from a family of farmers from Sundararaja Puram in Virudhunagar district. He would spend his after school hours helping out in his father's fields.

And whether he was watering the fields, visiting a temple or a bazaar, the youngster was always on the look-out for inspiration for his artwork. Pointing to the chalk figurine of a child, he says, “This one was inspired by a bawling baby in my neighbourhood.”

The 22-year-old also carves soaps. His palm-sized carving of a bullock-cart with a little-girl seated inside is life-like. The manger scene of baby Jesus done using white soaps is amazing — the folds in the clothes of the three wise men, the coat of the lamb…a lot of detailing has gone into each of them. Boopathy then points to the carving of an elephant.

It is like filigree work. “Look inside and you can see a Shiva lingam and a snake,” he points out. It took him hours to sculpt the lingam and snake through the tiny holes.

Among his other talents, Boopathy also has the ability to write a Thirukkural couplet on a centimetre-long piece of paper. “I hope to try this on each of the 1330 Kurals,” he says.

But his dream, says Muruga Boopathy, is to carve on rice grains. He has tried to carve a Ganesha and a rose on dal and rice grains. “Carving rice is not like carving soap or chalk. But I hope to set a Guinness World Record for doing so.”