Two stalls at the ongoing Dastkari Haat Samiti in the city have products related to wildlife. While one spreads the message of conservation, the other uses animal excreta to make beautiful knick-knacks

Haathi Chaap

“We’ve been looking at ele backsides for a while now…after all they do bring us our best raw material,” reads Haathi Chaap’s card. Look close and you can make out tiny golden-brown fibres on the card — they were once munched by an elephant in Jaipur. Little would she have thought that her dung would be transformed into paper to write on. As she answered nature’s call after a heavy meal one day, her poo was collected by a team that worked on it for days to make it into paper.

This is what team Haathi Chaap (which means Elephant Print) does — it collects elephant dung, processes it, and turns it into paper. The end product is modelled into notepads, photo albums, bumper stickers, board games, cards, bags, frames, calendars, and other funky knick-knacks. It has been nine years since founder Mahima’s first encounter with elephant dung. She was at Amer Fort, Jaipur, where elephants ferried tourists up the fort. “The elephants’ poo had lots of fibre sticking out and she decided to use it as raw material for making paper,” says K. Aishwaryan, a visual artist who is promoting their products. “Sri Lanka and Thailand were already making such paper and she set up a unit in Jaipur to try it here,” he adds.

Today, the team makes a range of products using poo paper — Aishwaryan says that their ideas come from costumers and friends who support their cause. Elephant poo paper is eco-friendly; one pile can be used to make a 100 sheets! The team buys food for the elephants in return for their dung. The colours they use are from natural sources — pomegranate seeds, mustard, shikkakai…According to its website, the team even ensures that the water used to wash the dung, which is a good fertilizer, is channelled into agricultural land.

The paper doesn’t smell of poo as a result of the processing it is subjected to. But curious customers ask all sorts of questions. They smell the paper, feel it… “Some even drop it once they realise it’s made of poo,” smiles Aishwaryan. The beauty of the paper is that its colours and patterns reflect the elephant’s food preference. In summer, the paper is lighter and in winter it is darker!

Dastkar Ranthambore

The tiger is their next-door neighbour. The women of Ranthambore are not afraid of it. Indra and Munni, part of a women’s group that tailors kurtas, quilts, and cloth dolls, among others at a unit on the edges of the jungle, grin at the mention of ‘sher’ (tiger). “We keep off from them and they keep off from us,” says Indra in Hindi. The women have spread their ware at a stall at Dastkari Haat Samiti.

With their sari pallu covering their heads, they smile as customers talk to them in broken Hindi. “Look, I made this,” Indra points to an embroidered kurta. The tiger motif can be seen on most of their products — on frocks, tops, quilts... This is their bit for tiger conservation.

“Earlier, the women lived on forest produce,” explains Dastkari Haat Samiti’s founder-president Jaya Jaitly. After the area was declared a tiger sanctuary, they had to look for an alternative source of income. “Since they are from Rajasthan, they are good at hand embroidery,” she says. The Dastkar Ranthambore project was hence started to help the people generate income. “Their craft skills are applied to newly designed products.”

The Dastkari Haat Samiti is on at Kalakshetra, Thiruvanmiyur till February 2.