Nettipattams are now being fashioned in a new material making it cost effective. K. PRADEEP finds out how Rajiv Nair has managed to popularise this timeless image of Kerala

Rajiv Nair has probably not read any of the marketing guides. He has no degree from any business or management school. But his singular achievements in a unique business seems to fit all those `immutable laws of marketing' that are often preached by the marketing gurus.`It's always better to be first than it is to be better,' is one of those sacred rules that Rajiv inadvertently followed. The spark of his business idea came quite accidentally. "After years in Delhi I was back home and desperately wanting to do something. Like any Malayali I loved going for the temple festivals and gazing at the elephants all beautifully decked up. I longed to own one of those nettipattams but was shocked to know that it would cost me something close to a lakh. That was when I began thinking if I could make it cost effective. This led to the launch of my business," says Rajiv whose `Gods Own Crafts' is a pioneer in manufacturing traditional handicrafts with alternative materials.

New material

"Instead of caparisons made of the gold plated brass buttons we fashioned one out of High Impact Polymer. The moulds are made in Mumbai. They are light, long-lasting, exactly like the originals, maintenance free and most importantly cost effective. The originals have certain measurements and every item used has specific significance. Like, they have symbols of the Trinity, Panchabhootham, Navagraham, Moolaganapathy, the sun as the centre of universe and so many other things. We make no compromises on these specifications. The cost ranges from Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 16,000 according to size."These SSI units provide direct and indirect employment for around 80 people. They also make various other products like the alavattom, venchamaram, that can be mounted on the wall, theyyathook, an adornment worn by the theyyam artiste, and the amaracharth or a decoration that is seen on the snake boats. "What gives me great satisfaction is that I'm able to provide employment to some people at least. Most of them who work in the unit are women who need to support their families. We have three units and a small office at Kalamaserry. Recently, I have diversified into making different products, like pooja spaces for homes, fountains and other artefacts out of marble. In this unit we have expert workers from Rajasthan. Our latest product will be a crystal-like elephant, fully decorated and placed inside a glass case. It will be an ideal souvenir."Now, there is a steady flow of orders for Rajiv's products. Many of his products have also found buyers from abroad. But in the beginning things were really difficult. "No one was willing to help us. I, along with my wife, approached almost all banks for loans. There were many who scoffed at our idea. But we were determined to make it happen. We sold the only property we had and moved along with our children to a rented house. The first pieces were made by both of us. We then carried them along to prospective buyers. Most of them liked what they saw and bought them. Slowly, we grew."Rajiv feels that this persistence, this steely resolve was forged during his Delhi days. A student of Dayal Singh College, he was witness to a momentous phase in the country's history. He was thrown into the vortex of student agitation following the Mandal Commission recommendations. He was part of the riotous crowd of students when Rajiv Goswami attempted to immolate himself. That event and all that followed proved to be a huge turning point in Rajiv's life. Rajeev who discontinued studies after the dramatic events reveals that the decision to stop studies was not a direct fall out of the agitation. "I was working for a leading industrial consultant at that time. I had done well to become his assistant. The agitation was perhaps a catalyst to my decision to get into this job full time. I was then the youngest liaison officer in Delhi. The liberalisation policies of the governments hit us hard. Such consultants were not needed. I decided to return home." A move that gave a creative twist to his life.