February 2020: I was on a trip to Kerala, the God’s own country. A state where ‘blessings’ are in plenty. In the midst of a late evening journey from Calicut to my home town Wadakanchery, I ended up staying at my friend Anoop’s house in Mezhathur. We were meeting after 15 years. Anoop, his wife & myself had our dinner at a restaurant in the nearby ‘town’ Pattambi before heading to his house. While the food was getting ordered, we were busy with our quick exchange of each others – ‘after college where / how / what we were / are doing’ life events.
During our college days, we used to call Anoop – ‘Timber Muthalali (proprietor)”. So I ended up asking him about his ‘Timber business’. He smiled & answered “You will get to see it in a short while”.
The main entrance gate to his house was opened and since there was not much of moon light , I was not able to see anything around but the smell of old wood gave me a nostalgic feel. Once the door was opened, we walked past a room which was occupied by wooden furniture on either side of the ‘walkway’. We climbed the stairs which led to a door which resembled the one which I have at my ancestral house. By now I was really curious & could not resist myself & ended up asking Anoop – “What are you doing with all these wooden furniture?”.
In the next 3-4 hours and the morning after that , I listened to this ‘Wooderful Story’.
This Story is about Kuttan Nair fondly known as Kuttan Master, a teacher by profession, who pioneered the ‘Circularity’ technique by ‘Upcycling’ wooden furniture.
Anoop shared the story of Kuttan Nair, his achan (father) : “Achachan (Grand father) was basically a farmer, like most of our ancestors, & karyasthan of a nearby mana as well. Achan somehow had passion to study law but then finally when it came to financially supporting his family, he left law behind & took up teaching. Though he joined a government school, he was always passionate about other things. He took up farming from his father, did some small scale construction & was an active communist. That’s when an offer of demolishing a mana (where achachan was karyasthan) & constructing a new house on the same plot came up. “
Kuttan Master saw the quality of the wood (which was mainly teak wood ) that was used to built the doors, windows & other furnitures of this mana (a traditional ancestral house). He made sure that all the wooden items are carefully removed during the demolishing process. These wooden doors, furnitures, etc. were refurbished, redesigned, upcycled and given a new look & feel. The new house which was built in the place of that ancestral house used these ‘Upcycled’ furnitures. But even after fulfilling their requirement there was some more wood left with him. So he made use of that to provide furniture for another 2 more houses.
Kuttan Master had his inclinations towards designing of furniture. This motivated him to start “Anugraha” (which means a blessing from the lord). He considered this as a blessing & took this as an opportunity to try his hands on designing furniture. For a person who wanted to pursue law , the law of nature guided him to “Anugraha”.
Anoop continued with the story : ” During that time , must be early 70s , there was a need for demolishing old dilapidated nalukettus & replacing that with more than one ‘modern’ house. Achan took a saw mill for lease & started taking demolishing works – Anugraha Timber Products was informally formed like that – Desamangalam mana was demolished by him. But in retrospect, he was neither proud nor happy to have demolished a building of that scale. It was a 16 kettu or 32 kettu.”
Anoop, who is an architect, helped me understand the significance of 4 kettu / 8 kettu / 16 kettu / 32 kettu. etc. He explained that 4 kettu signifies one courtyard inside the house & in a 32 kettu house there would be 8 courtyards.
“There were other important buildings too, smaller in scale but with intricate works. He sold wood, tiles & masonary but preserved some works & started antique collection as a hobby. By late 1980s many players entered this business & achan was also getting aged. So he stopped demolishing work & focused only on furniture upcycling.”
In 1994 Anugraha Timber Products officially started functioning in its own premises after his voluntary retirement.
This was the official beginning of ‘Anugraha Timber Products’. Kuttan Master had mastered furniture upcycling in those 20 years.
I was still inquisitive. I asked Anoop : ‘You mean to say that Anugraha Timber has never used new wood?’.
Anoop was quick to answer my query with a smile: “Yes we have only made furniture from ‘Used wood’ & no new wood is used by us. Most of the upcycled furniture were made from used teak wood & rose wood.”
The next day morning Anoop took me around the small factory / unit which was functional inside his house premises. Now they have around 10-15 artisans working there and some of their families have been associated/working with Anugraha for the last two generations.
I did a calculation with the help of Anoop. Usually around 3-4 trees are used to manufacture the furnitures for a house & this goes up significantly as per the size / requirement of bigger houses. ‘Anugraha timber’ has so far provided upcycled furniture for more than 700 houses in the last 50 years. So that adds up to it roughly 3000 trees.
The other best part about this whole story is that there is no ‘Marketing’ done so far other than the ‘Word of Mouth’. The small factory was set-up in a rural area taking into consideration the convenience of labourers , no showrooms, no middlemen, only upcycled wood & handmade genuine traditional ‘asari’ craft!.
Still it survived & helped 3000+ trees to survive.
In this era of testimonials, this one will rank as one of the best for someone in the ‘upcycling’ business: “A member of the Desamangalam mana once told achan that this practice is a form of democracy – where by a huge building gets demolished & the elements get distributed to so many smaller dwellings!“
One passionate thought by a teacher has helped in saving 3000 trees. The whole world is talking about Climate Control, planting new trees, saving trees, etc. It takes around 20-25 years for trees like teak wood & rose wood to grow into full size. So if we consider that as well then 3000 trees saved so far & an additional 25 years saved.
I was reading an article recently about IKEA where they talk about the significance of Circular business. It says “We want to be circular in every aspect of our business. We want to make it easier for customers to acquire, care for and pass on products in circular ways.”
It brought a smile on my face & my mind traversed to Mezhathur & Kuttan Master’s foresight. He pioneered the technique of Circularity. Master made his way to the abode one year ago. He has left a huge impact behind him by taking care of ‘Mother Nature’ in his own unique ways. A true ‘Anugraha’ to the mankind.
To give a more detailed perspective: this is part of another article I read about an initiative to save trees:-
“If we can reach our target of 3,000 trees, it will mean we’re offsetting around 900 carbon tonnes. That’s the equivalent of over 1,000 return flights from Los Angeles to London, or the average CO2 a family of four uses over 150 years!” –