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He's no paper tiger

Don't throw away those bits of paper. You can create pieces of art with them.

Mahesh Kukreja: making meaning out of paper scrap - Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

NEXT TIME you decide to bin a piece of paper, think again. Reason: this humble scrap can be converted into spectacular shapes and models without being cut and disfigured, thus continuing to retain its identity. Welcome to the world of origami and to the passion of Mahesh Kukreja. "Don't take a piece of paper lightly," is his advice.

He expertly uses this art to make fascinating models that range from animals to men to inanimate objects.

Drawn into this intriguing art 10 years ago, Mr. Kukreja was so captivated by it that he now devotes all his waking hours making models, teaching the art in various schools and institutions, besides popularising it with people.

It all started when — while recovering from a low point in his life — he picked up a piece of paper and let his fingers take over. He first produced the shape "Y" and went on to join two pieces of paper to make a dog.

The effect on his low spirits was amazing.

He decided to make a few more shapes based on his recollections of lessons from his school craft classes.

Delighted with the results, he bought three books on origami. His obsession with paper and its potential started there. Within two-and-a-half months, he had mastered the art and was ready to give public performances.

His first demonstration was in a school in Goa where he made more than 150 models.

His next stop was in Mumbai where he conducted courses in the Indo-Japanese Association.

He has come a long way since then. Currently, his audience as well as students range from school children to adults, which includes the physically challenged as well as the elderly.

Having mastered more than 2000 models, he confines his teaching to 150 of them.

A row of small boxes each with tiny paper shelves serving as display centres to miniature robins, elephants, dinosaurs, peacocks, squirrels, pelicans, koala bears, to name a few, decorate his table.

How is it possible to make such tiny models to precision? "It comes with practice," he says.

But that is not all. There are also action models. Thus you can have a "talking fish" or a barking dog or a crow, which opens and closes its beak. Some of the models can be extremely complicated and the steps involved can be anything from 15 to 100. Some of them can take up to two hours or more to make.

"This art is not meant for children alone as is widely viewed. It is meant for everyone irrespective of age or physical capabilities," says Mr. Kukreja. Some of his students, who were visually challenged, paralysed, or those with hearing and speech disabilities, understood the nuances immediately. "This art has other benefits too. "

"It helps to ward off depression and acts as a stress buster for workaholics and helps in improving concentration and memory. It also helps in attaining a better understanding of geometry and mathematics as topics such as lines, angles, planes, solids, can be better explained and understood through origami. In fact this art can be used as an effective teaching aid by teachers," claims Mr. Kukreja.

Origami can be extended to make many useful products for everyday use.

For instance, a dustbin can be made by folding an old newspaper, a box could be made and lined with aluminium foil to pack food.

Recently, he tried his hand with fabric folding. Using paper covered with cloth, he made three-dimensional decorative pieces.

A Chinese vase using canvas was also part of the experiments.

"When I travel, I never feel the time passing as I am busy making models. My co-travellers too get engrossed in what I am doing and at the end of the journey, not only some constructive work is done, but a healthy camaraderie has been built."

Perhaps in a world where camaraderie is in short supply, it does make a lot of sense.

The dragonfly, the spider, the lion, and the innumerable other models lying on the table appear to nod in agreement.

Mr. Kukreja can be contacted on 3317977.


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