A.Murugesan’s skilful art of making tiny stools
They might very well be part of a girl child’s choppu saman, the wooden toy set of miniature kitchen utensils, tables and chairs: A. Murugesan’s tiny three-legged stools in teak are, however, meant for adults who buy them for their religious, decorative or utilitarian value. “This is a craft I learnt nearly four decades ago from my maternal grandfather and uncle,” he says, “but I never thought while growing up that I would be selling them one day.” His platform shop, on the way to the Vekkaliamman temple in Woraiyur, is open just thrice a week in time to catch the crowds that visit the temple.
Dusting off old skills
Rising just inches above the ground, the stools are made from teak or poovarasu wood. “I buy my wood from the saw mill I used to work at almost 20 years ago,” says Murugesan, who pays between Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 per kilogram for it, depending on its quality. With nearly half of the wood being eliminated as wastage while making the stools, Murugesan says he needs 100 kilograms of wood to make 40 pieces of varying sizes. “Sometimes I resell the waste wood for Rs. 1, as it can be used as firewood, but mostly I let people pick it up for free.”
Murugesan says he worked as a woodcutter for around 10 years until the machine saw began to be freely available in the market. “With the machine saw, even regular people could cut entire trees and that made woodcutters like me unnecessary,” he says. Five years ago, an aged Murugesan decided to tap into the craft he learnt all those years ago to supplement his family's earnings. “But I wouldn’t teach this craft to anyone else,” he says, “because you cannot make enough to sustain a family with this.”
Smartly sold and used
While he sits at his shop carving floral designs from memory onto his stools, Murugesan hopes to make at least 30 rupees at the end of the day. “Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays are my business days because the people who come from places like Coimbatore, Chennai, Karaikudi and Pudukkottai to visit the temple here find my tables interesting,” he says. On temple festival days like the Chithirai Thirunal, which bring him more customers, he says he has made up to Rs. 500 on a single day.
“To supplement my sales, I sometimes drop off a few pieces at shops outside temples like Samayapuram and Srirangam,” says Murugesan. But most of the shopkeepers forget about his tables over time, he says, and they lie unsold for months in those shops.
“While people most often buy my tiniest stools to house tiny idols of deities in their puja rooms, there are others who buy the slightly bigger ones as showpieces, mosquito coil stands or paper weights,” says Murugesan. The biggest size he sells can be used as a regular stool that many women buy to sit on while cooking or bathing newborns. “Teak is the only wood that grows stronger by absorbing water or oil spills and it can easily last up to 10 years, if cleaned regularly (with sand paper or soap water) and dried well.” His miniatures range between Rs. 10 and Rs. 120.