Production has come down in Cuddalore following global slowdown
The global economic slowdown has not even spared the shell crafts trade.
Of the 20 units that used to produce such crafts in Cuddalore, only about six are active and the rest have become almost defunct, according to A.H. Hussain, who runs a unit in the Cuddalore Port area.
Mr. Hussain who has inherited the trade from his father about three decades ago, told TheHindu that earlier 300 cartons of shell craft products were exported to the US, but now the number had declined to 50.
The Cuddalore units would turn out the products as per demand and then ship them to the upcountry markets either through their own arrangements or through agents.
Mr. Hussain further said that the shells had spiritual and decorative values. “Particularly, the valumpuri sangu is regarded as a prized possession, as it radiates spiritualism and therefore is always kept in the puja rooms,” said Mr. Hussain.
These types of conches commanded premium prices, determined by their weight.
As of now, the ruling price of this rare type of conches was Rs. 4,000 per gram, and as such a conch weighing 100 grm would cost Rs. 4 lakh.
Economically well-off families, private temples and the temples with high collections were the customers for such conches.
If there was supply shortage, such conches would be procured from other centres.
Mr. Hussain also noted that the trade was dogged by another problem of labour shortage. After the advent of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the workforce who had previously opted for shell crafts had gone scarce.
Therefore, the execution of orders had to be adjusted to the availability of labour force, and such a situation had considerably cut through the volumes.
As for the crafts, Mr. Hussain said that the shells of various shades, types and weights were being procured from the fishermen community in Cuddalore district and Puducherry.
In local parlance, the shells bear various names such as ‘yaanai mulli’, ‘kal vazhaipoo’, ‘red paathiram’, ‘button shells’, ‘pura muttai’ and so on.
The impurities in these shells are being washed with hydrochloric acid, caustic soda and bleaching power to restore their original sheen.
Later, the shells are stringed together with the help of plastic wires and tubes to the required structure and then decorated with beads.
Mr. Hussain said that these units were carrying on this trade through thick and thin, because their skills were limited to such crafts.