Saleem creates art from coconut shells

On a hot afternoon on Eve’s beach, Kovalam, Saleem is busy working, polishing a coconut shell to perfection. Waiting patiently and conversing with him in English is Jarnne, a French tourist. Saleem is all ears and carries on the conversation in English, even as he tries to cut the coconut shell into small pieces. Apparently, Jarnne wants him to make a pendant for her chain. “He is very good…,” says Jarnne, who had met Saleem during one of her earlier visits to the beach.

As another tourist season is about to get over, Saleem is among the many craftsmen on the beach who will take to the sea to make a living. He is a well-known figure on the beach, thanks to his craftsmanship in making strikingly aesthetic curios and jewellery from coconut shell. “I have been doing this for 15 years,” says Saleem, who hails from Kovalam itself.

In fact, the self-taught craftsman is a fisherman who goes fishing in the sea off Kovalam once the tourist season gets over. “I was 35 when I first began experimenting with coconut shells. I just felt that I could make something out of this. Candle stands, ash trays and finger rings filled my home. A few tourists happened to see the products and were impressed by my work. They encouraged me to make more products. Gradually it became a source of income during the tourist season,” he says.

Now at 52, he seems to have got quite a good clientele. “People buy the products because they know it is handmade,” he says.

However, he doesn’t market the products through any outlets. “I prefer to work like this, taking my own time to finish each item. I don’t think I will be able to meet the deadline if I take orders from shops or other places,” he says.

He makes delicate containers with filigree-like work, candle stands, flower vases, pendants, bangles and the like. One of his standout pieces is a metal container adorned with finely crafted coconut shells on them. “I buy a regular metal tin. Coconut shells are cut into square shaped pieces and stuck to the tin. Sometimes I make a small hole on each piece which is then filled with small pieces of the shell of tender coconut. These containers can be used to keep anything, be it tea dust, coffee powder, trinkets, jewellery…,” he says.

Axo blade, sand paper and saw are used to make the products. The craft is something that Saleem holds close to his heart, so much so that he doesn’t allow us to take photograph of his products. “They are exclusive…,” he says with a smile.

Saleem also takes tourists for a ride on his catamaran. “I have got the licence issued by the Port Office. I, along with my partner, take two tourists at a time for the ride,” he says.

The father of four has studied till class nine. But he can speak English and Tamil quite well. Contact: 9895977306