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Light, graceful and useful

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Eco-friendly: The items on display at the Bamboo Research Centre in Auroville.
Eco-friendly: The items on display at the Bamboo Research Centre in Auroville.

LALITHASAI

On how from construction to artefacts, bamboo lends itself in myriad ways.

Sturdy and strong, the graceful bamboo has always been popular as a decorative and structural element. In the construction industry, it is used for the floor and roof. And resort builders use this eco-friendly material to build pagodas and cottages.

“Bamboo is comparable with any building material,” says P. Balasundaram, founder of the Auroville Bamboo Research Centre (ABRC) Vizhupuram, along with S. Sundermohan. It was started in June 2008 with the aim of providing employment to the village youth and as a research project for college students.

The project throws light on bio-diversity and the importance of growing bamboo. “Used as a renewable building material, bamboo has a great tensile strength. Since the plant grows fast (within five years) and has the ability to absorb carbon, it will help to keep pollution levels down to a large extent. It also reduces runoff rates and pollutants in the water table. It thus helps air and water quality,” explains Balasundaram.

All parts of the plant are useful, he adds. The leaves can be used as compost, its roots edible and its branches used in fencing, furniture and so on.

Teaching the know-how

The Centre thought of developing alternative sustainable techniques using bamboo in construction, furniture and handicrafts. They also wanted to get together artisans and other locals who knew the art of handling the plant, which grows in plenty around Auroville. Slowly the artisans were brought in and taught the know-how of using the plant. Initially the locals used bamboo to weave baskets and moram but with the training they received from ABRC, they have learnt to make lamp shades, wall hangings, furniture and pen holders. “Our aim is to develop a cadre of trainers who will in turn educate many more about the usefulness of the plant,” says Balasundaram.

At Auroville, they also have a nursery which is dedicated to the propagation of different varieties of bamboo. The locals are also taught to plant, nurture and harvest the bamboo.

A fully grown plant is more than 30-feet high. They are cut from the roots when needed. Once harvested, they are subjected to three types of treatment — smoking, immersing in cashew oil (to give it sheen and colour) and soaking in Borax solution. These treatments protect it against pest attack. The raw material is then used for making furniture. “It is skinned if preferred by the customer. It has a natural colour and thus needs no special polishing,” says A. Prabhakar, a carpenter-cum-bamboo designer. He has been trained by the centre from the time of its inception. He feels that the joints in bamboo are fishmouth ones and are strong. “Splitting the bamboo and using it as a raw material is cumbersome and a long-drawn process. Besides it is bent and has to be heated to make it straight to turn it into a piece of furniture,” points out Prabhakar.

Income-generating training

Murugan from Alankuppam, another trainee, says that working on bamboo is skill of a different nature. Since the bamboo is already fine, it needs no smoothening of the surface. Surendar, a native of Royapettai, Vizhupuram another trainee, loves to handle the different kinds of tools used. “The saw, chisel, knife for cleaning are all specially designed.” All the trainees feel that the programme they are undergoing is definitely an income-generating one. “The proceeds from programme goes into the education and other welfare schemes meant for the nearby villages,” says Balasundaram.

This centre offers training to architecture and design students. So far they have trained 250 candidates from Bangalore, Kerala and Mumbai, in entrepreneurship, marketing and management skills in the field of bamboo. ABRC is involved in research and development of bamboo handicrafts, house construction and is also experimenting with growing different species of bamboo in the nursery.

Those interested in contacting the ABRC can call P. Balasundaram (99436 44757) or S. Sundermohan (99436 46822).


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