Traders of steely resolve

MADURAI IS popular for an ancient and rich tradition, monuments, exclusive food items, sarees, etc. Yet another thing, to be included in this list, is the production of stainless steel vessels.

Vessels produced here are in great demand not only in Tamil Nadu, but also in the neighbouring states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

"There are close to 450 units involved in this business. Some popular types produced are pots and big containers", says Mr. S.Selvam of Karthik Metals.

"The raw materials for producing these vessels are procured either from Chennai or from Mumbai. They are `trimmed' to various shapes, as per requirements of the customers", he says.

"Most of the vessels made here are of 24 kg or 26 kg, which is how they are measured. But the vessels produced in Mumbai are of 20 or 22 kg", says Mr. A.S.Jayaram, who also runs a unit in the same locality.

"As the Kgs come down, the quality gets a better rating and the rate also goes up", explains Mr. Selvam.

"We can also make sturdy models like the ones being produced in Mumbai. But, since the cost of such models is high and the demand is also less in the local market, producers confine themselves to producing vessels of 24 kg and 26 kg", he says.

"Besides the manufacturing units, there are exclusive units for polishing vessels. After designing vessels to the required shape, manufacturers despatch them to polishing units for a finer finish", according to Jayaram.

Regarding income, Mr. Selvam says, "for a big unit like mine the average income in a month is Rs.10,000 and for small units it depends on the business that they get. They may get Rs.2 per kg".

Talking about the season, Arumugam who runs a small unit, says, "only in Adi and Purattasi, Tamil months, the business will be dull. In other months we get enough orders and marriage season is the best time for us".

About business agreements with their clients, he says, "we give a credit time of 10 to 15 days. But we will have to go personally for collecting payments".

On the costs of a set of vessels for marriage, he says, "generally, huge orders are placed either by traders or marriage parties. The minimum cost for a complete set of vessel is Rs.4000 and the maximum is Rs. 25000 for wedding purposes".

Traders of steely resolve

Detailing about the life of the vessels, he says, "the salinity of water is one of the major factors that reduce the life of a vessel. But customers can repolish it as and when required, for which we charge a nominal cost of Rs.15".

"To polish the vessel and give a new look, we use nitric acid and sulphur in the ratio of 3:1 respectively", he adds.

"To identify the best quality of vessels, two things are important, the polish and the waves. In the best quality, polish will stick well and there won't be any waves or lines", explains Mr. Selvam.

"The machines used for producing these vessels are manufactured in the local lathe units as per requirement. The vessels made here are of two or three joints. Single mould vessels are a rare breed in Madurai", he says.

Talking about the prospects of the business, he recalls, "initially there were 600 units in 1960s, but owing to escalation of cost of raw materials and various other reasons many have been wound up and today the number has come down to 450.

"Similarly, the number of workers, which was 6000 then, has stooped to 3500".

Though, this industry, like any other, has got is own problems, it has provided Madurai with yet another thing to boast of.