Occupation: Making and selling ‘pulkoodu’
Bundles of dried grass are stacked against the wall and four nativity cribs (‘pulkoodu’) made from the grass have been placed away from it, close to the footpath of the main road at Palayam. “I am waiting for customers,” says Titus, a.k.a. Gopi, with a smile. Sitting on a piece of paper, a movie poster from the look of it, and chewing betel leaf, he is taking a break from making Nativity cribs. Every Christmas season, for the past 15 years, Gopi has been occupying the same spot near St. Joseph’s Metropolitan Cathedral, to make and sell the cribs.
Frames of five cribs, made of twigs of rubber trees, are kept near him. Even as I try to figure out what kind of grass it is, Gopi says: “It is called njaragana pullu [also called njangana pullu], which grows in hilly areas. I collect it from near the Neyyar dam. It flowers during this season and I cut it a month before Christmas, dry it and bring it here, along with the twigs,” he explains.
The twigs, 24 of them, are tied firmly using rubber bands to form a frame. The ends of the grass strands are trimmed and with the rest he covers the frame. The grass is also tied to the frame using rubber bands. “It takes about an hour to finish one crib,” he says.
So, what attracted him to this? “I used to make cribs at home and found great pleasure in making it for others,” says Gopi who stays at Malayinkeezh with his wife, Kalakumari, and two children.
A daily wages labourer, Gopi takes a break from his routine for over a week to come to the city and sell the cribs. He works from 7.30 a.m. to 9 p.m. “I have a place here, near the church, to store the grass, the twigs and the cribs,” he says.
Gopi says that there is a shortage of grass these days. Most of the areas from where the grass was collected earlier have been cleared for construction. “Also, since there is a huge demand for the grass for making cribs, there are many people who collect the grass and sell them,” he says. Sure enough, there is a grass vendor near the church.
The cribs are priced at Rs. 250 and Rs. 300, but rates are negotiable, he says with a laugh. “There are regular customers for my cribs. Of course, they can be kept for the next year as well. But the problem is that it becomes shabby after sometime. Also, you must ensure that the cribs don’t get wet,” he says.
He is more than happy if he sells at least five cribs during the season. He asserts: “Of course, it is a profitable business,” he says.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)