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Cement artwork of yore loses favour

Manufacturers who made ornamental cement statues for gardens and balustrades have now switched over to making flower pots, concrete blocks or flyash bricks. Photo: M. Karunakaran   | Photo Credit: M. Karunakaran

With changes in the style of building construction, jaali (elevation grilles made of cement) artwork that enhanced the look of thousands of concrete structures is fading into oblivion.

Many cement jaali manufacturers have shut shop as builders and house owners don’t go for the cement artwork anymore.

“Handmade jaalis served as beautiful windows too, but with homes being invaded by mosquitoes, people have stopped installing them,” says S. Wilson, who inherited a jaali works business from his brother, V.S. Chandrasingh, who now runs a fancy store.

“I don’t make the older designs anymore as I have diversified into Cudappah stones. I only stock a few varieties that people use in compound walls,” he says.

Many manufacturers who made concrete rings for open wells, ornamental statues for gardens and balustrades have now switched over to making flower pots, concrete blocks or flyash bricks.

But fighting the changing times are two shops right in the heart of the city, in Teynampet on Anna Salai. M. Natarajan Cement Fabricating Works and Ethirajan Cement Works were set up by descendents of Manicka Naicker, who started the Madras Cement Article Works in 1933.

“My grandfather set up the business after working elsewhere and learning the trade for a few years. His sons, M. Ramanujam, M. Ethirajan and my father M. Natarajan inherited the business. At one point of time, we diversified into making hydraulic mosaic tiles. We even got an award for it in 1970 from the Japan Expo,” says N. Sekhar, who runs M. Natarajan Cement Fabricating Works with his brothers N. Sridhar and N. Sukumar.

Today, Mr. Sekhar’s unit makes quality jaalis that are used as inner partitions, spiral steps, balustrades and flower pots.

“But, our manufacturing unit will have to shift from here in six months’ time as Metro Rail has issued land acquisition notices to property owners on this side of the road. I am not sure how long we can sustain the business,” he says.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 10:23:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/cement-artwork-of-yore-loses-favour/article6542162.ece

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