Sasikumar is deep in concentration when I meet him. He is busy repairing a cane stool. The 56-year-old man who repairs and restores cane furniture at a shop at Kurunganoor, Pattom, pauses and takes a breather.
Says Sasikumar, who did his pre-degree from College of Fine Arts: “My father ran Madhar Furniture Mart, a furniture store at Paravur, Kollam. After dropping out of S.N. College where I was pursing a degree in Mathematics, I went to Chennai and started to learn the art of ‘caning’ from a North Indian upholster. I then travelled across Tamil Nadu to fine tune my skills. I also worked in Tamil Nadu and several other places. I was fascinated by the workmanship involved in creating a piece of cane furniture.”
He returned to Kerala 10 years ago and has been working with Justin Moses and his wife, Subhaja, at the shop in Pattom. His day, he says, starts at 7.30 a.m. and goes on till 5.30 p.m. “We are a team of three at this shop. I do the ‘caning’, a colleague called Vijayan makes the frame and Santhapan does the covering. The other two are unfortunately not here today,” says Sasikumar, who resides at Kunnumpuram, with his wife and children.
According to Sasikumar, re-caning is becoming a lost technology these days. “It is because cane is not readily available in Kerala. The canes used are from Assam. Some come from Malaysia. We don’t get the cane directly from the source but through Khadi Board Societies in Anchal and Kottarakkara.”
Pointing to a cane strand, he says: “That is Malaysian cane; it is priced at Rs. 260 per kilo. Because the price of cane is high, the price of cane furniture is high too.”
So, does the rise in prices spell doom to the cane furniture industry?
“Of course not. Cane furniture, if done properly, and if one takes proper care of it, will last years. New designs are coming out in the market. So, I am sure the industry will last.”
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)