Life & Style

This refrigerator made by Padmavati Rao does not run on electricity

Padmavati Rao is working on many things including books, plays and farming. The actor, director, translator, writer, poet and puppeteer says she is busy as ever even during the lockdown. Padmavati has worked in Kannada, Hindi, English, Marathi and Malayalam films and a number of plays. Trained in process work as a facilitator at Foundation for Human Learning and Growth-Aastha, Padmavati trains teachers and conducts workshops to use theatre in classrooms. She has addressed groups from the far-off Lakshadweep Islands to communities in the Himalayas.

The actor who had significant roles in Padmaavat and Tanhaji has translated five of Girish Karnad’s plays as well as Mahesh Dattani’s 30 Days In September into Hindi.

These days her focus is on villages just outside Bengaluru where she is promoting natural farming, arts and crafts. “For a long time I wanted to serve the farming community. To that end I created a cost-effective refrigerator that does not run on electricity.” Padmavati, spoke to MetroPlus on the several projects she has undertaken during the lockdown. Excerpts.

Why did you create a non-electrical fridge?

It bothered me for a long time that our farmers were committing suicide and at every meal I felt like Nero’s guest. I yearned to find a solution rather than be the monstrous problem. I come from an agriculturist family and from the age of 23 I have wanted to engage in farming.

I noticed that farmers need to keep their vegetables fresh for a few days if they aren’t able to sell them. I felt there must be a way to have comforts without paying a heavy ecological price. So when my compound wall came down, thanks to a demolition next door, I decided to use the hollow bricks from it to create a non-electric fridge.

Can it be used as a basic model for farmers to replicate?

I hope farmers will be able to use this basic design. It does not require cement or sand.

I used gunny sack material, an old flattened cardboard carton to work as a sliding door, an old wire rack and a river-weed mat (chaapey).

I hope this idea can be extended to design village homes as well as the asbestos sheet and concrete houses which trap heat. Our structures in the rural and urban areas can incorporate the wisdom of traditional structures using material that is local and bio-degradable.

How did you make racks for the refrigerator?

An old wire rack that my children used when they were young served as racks in the refrigerator.

How efficiently does it cool?

I conducted experiments with oranges, tomatoes and milk. The results were encouraging. Oranges lasted 28 days, tomatoes for 15 days and milk after boiling it once daily lasted for a week. I tested the refrigerator in peak summer. I watered the gunny sack material thrice a day. The oranges and tomatoes showed no signs of dehydration or rotting. Cooked food kept after dinner is fine for lunch the next day and vegetables last for about two to three days.

Are there potters in Rajasthan creating non-electric refrigerators professionally?

I have heard of Mansukhbhai Prajapati in Rajasthan and his ‘mitticool’. It costs a few thousands and is affordable for an urban family. For our farmers, however, it is still quite a sizeable hole in the pocket. This non-electric refrigerator can be created by anyone anywhere at minimal cost. If you don’t have hollow bricks go for regular bricks or just mud, and do a double wall with gunnysack material. There is no mess from watering and no sealant required. I will be happy to share the design for free to those interested. Please mail me at

What is the update on your writing?

When I am not farming, pickling fruits and vegetables, I mend, stitch and upcycle.

I find solace in the creeper that has generously adorned my home with yellow flowers for 20 years. Thankfully this creeper survived over the years. I am currently working on three books simultaneously — one on my mother’s recipes, a book of poems called Of Love and Silence and a play.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 9:12:52 AM |

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