While travelling many of us buy something from a place that reminds us of our trip. Or when friends come visiting our city, many of us look for easy presents to be gifted away. All these years in Madurai, one had to go shop hopping searching for such memorabilia either at Pudumandapam or handicraft shops around the temple or inside hotels.
Now a young Madurai girl, Samyuktha Shenbagaraj, has given her city exactly what was wanting. A charming little souvenir store called “Nostal – We Bring Back Memories” filled with many local products.
The newly done shop launched less than a week ago on Tamil New Year day lures you in for multiple reasons. It is a one-stop shop for Madurai souvenirs. The store is beautifully designed and neatly integrates Madurai’s extremely identifiable and heritage structures.
For instance, the walls are done in red bricks reminding people of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture of the 137 year old institution, The American College. And the long and lower most shelf on one side of the store resembles the supporting arches of the Albert Victor Bridge. The top panel of the room is like a mini art gallery that captures the feel of the city. It displays B/W photos of Madurai of yesteryears taken by her father.
And when you walk in to the cool comfort of the shop located inside Vishal De Mall, you love the experience of buying or simply looking at the artworks. There are some surprises like the authentic hand woven tie-and-dye Sungudi sari made with organic vegetable dyes. An art that has been pushed out of the market by technology sits pretty on the shelves here in limited but colourful combinations. They are expensive too ranging from Rs,4,800 to Rs.7,000 depending on the work with patterns and the connoisseurs would love it.
The cost of the products do not worry the young creative owner of Nostal. At 19 she began dreaming about how to innovatively brand her hometown, at 21 she started conceptualising and at 23, she got it ready! “I am not just selling cheap and fancy products. Every item is utilitarian, authentic and of the highest quality and each of them carries a small description,” says Samyuktha who post-graduated in Design and Innovation from Mumbai.
Why would a tourist walk into a mall to buy local souvenirs? “Nostal is both for tourists and locals who are willing to spend on quality and preserve a bit of culture and memories and also gain information about the city and its heritage,” she underlines. She has sourced several books highlighting different aspects of Madurai and it was indeed heart warming to find an English translation of a comic series on Ponniyin Selvan.
Spacing out her products that include papier mache sculptures and brass statues, wooden napkin holders, frames, key holders, sindoor containers and spice boxes, luggage tags, bracelets and silicon wristbands, bag holders, fridge magnets, bottle openers, key chains and fragrance sachets, tea coasters and jasmine roll-ons, printed Sungundi cushion covers and saris and much more, Samyuktha has also balanced the pricing so that everyone can pick up something.
While the souvenirs may appear the common ones, it is the design and Madurai elements that she has integrated into each, sets them apart. For instance the fragrance sachets come in paper cut-outs of parrots illustrated by her or on small panels carrying photos of Jallikattu. Goddess Meenakshi’s parrot is a recurring in feature in many of her products, while the city’s signature drink Jigarthanda finds itself carved out on colourful key chains, the temple gopuram is inscribed on luggage tags and ‘Madurai karanda’ on the wristbands. There are Madurai theme based book marks illustrated by her and candle holders on small decorated elephants to remind you of another landmark, Yanamalai.
Samyuktha has tied up with local weavers, artisans and craftspersons to tailor rmake her products with finesse. “The stress is on quality and to bring in a sense of belonging,” she says adding, “in order to pick up a product, you have to fall in love with it at the first sight. It needs to be appealing with all its intrinsic elements.”
With her contemporary and traditional line of eclectic and enchanting products, Samyuktha has filled in the gap in souvenir shopping in the city. And she is not done with it yet. Right now there are about 35 items in her store and she is still in the process of building it. Pillow covers, bedsheets, T-shirts, mugs, scarves and some simple food items like kamarkat are all on her mind.
The idea is to impress the seniors and enthral the youngsters so that everybody steps out of Nostal with a deep sense of nostalgia and a heavy dose of the Madurai essence.
In Madurai, there are not many options to go to. In this heat, people prefer cool and comfortable space to stop and shop. Nostal represents everything about the city, what it was and what it is -- Samyuktha Shenbagaraj