It is probably one of the most mesmerising stories of recent times — of an unconventional doll made out of soiled clothes becoming the mascot of resilience and hope of an entire community and state. The clothes that these dolls are made of are not mere fabrics. Thousands of handloom saris and mundus woven by the weavers of Chendamangalam that were stocked for the Onam sale got stuck under the mud pile during last year’s deluge. They took the shape of dolls after the floods. What was born from cheru (mud) was given the name Chekutty.
As we are nearing the anniversary of those dreadful days, we must also know how much the efforts to rebuild and bounce back have paid off. As far as Chekutty dolls are concerned, they have already become an international face, as a worldwide beacon of resilience and hope. The latest achievement comes in the form of bulk orders of Chekutty dolls from the World Bank after it was featured twice in the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Switzerland’s Geneva last month that comprised around 1,500 delegates from 140 countries. The UNAIDS (UN Programme on HIV/AIDS) has also placed an order for thousands of dolls for an event at the UN General Assembly in New York this year.
“Brand Chekutty is now representing our state and the efforts of our people to convert a crisis into a golden opportunity on an international platform,” says Gopinath Parayil, a trained disaster manager and the co-founder of Chekutty. He, along with Lakshmi Menon, co-founder of Chekutty, is voluntarily working towards making Chekutty dolls a huge success across the globe. That, according to Gopi, will be the most effective step that people like him can make with regards to helping the government rebuild Kerala.
“As responsible citizens, we must not think even for a while before heading out to help our fellow beings as there is no way out of this crisis other that working together in a planned and systematic manner. The small concept that we initiated in order to help the weavers of Chendamangalam has now grown and branched out to become a social enterprise, which is helping many people earn their livelihood,” adds Gopi. His arguments are justifiable as a normal six-yard sari that would sell for about Rs 1500 in the market will only provide a percentage of its profit to the weavers. But, when around 360 dolls are made out of one sari, and each doll is sold at Rs 25, the money collected is about Rs 9000 and it directly goes to the weavers.
Volunteering to make the Chekutty dolls has already been stopped and it has become a social enterprise wherein people are taught to make the dolls in various workshops. They are employed at various Chekutty doll making centers. The brand as an umbrella encloses many such initiatives within it. The leftover yarns were also used to make Chekuttythiris (wicks). Workshops where thousands of volunteers learn to make Chekutty dolls are being held in various parts of the country and other countries like Australia, USA, Brazil, France and Germany as well. It is estimated that an amount of around $130,000 has been raised by more than volunteers across the globe by selling Chekutty dolls. Also, being the owner of a tourism company, Gopi adds he was humbled to know that an Australia-based travel company has also started tours to Chendamangalam where one can learn the art of Chekutty doll making from weavers firsthand.
Elaborating on the positive changes that the international popularity of Chekutty will bring about in the weaver community, Gopi says that it is indeed a golden opportunity that will highlight India and Kerala’s position in the world map. He adds that this will in turn propagate responsible tourism, which is the need of the hour.
“Natural crises are the greatest truth that we all need to accept with a pinch of salt. These natural calamities are only going to increase in the future. Therefore, rather than complaining and making the authorities responsible for the situation, it will be better if we try to be a resilient society, one of the biggest projects that we are already working for.
This might not help stop such devastating catastrophes, but will definitely help the government to not desperately hunt for huge amounts like Rs 36,000 crore for rebuilding the state. The amount might drastically decrease if the society is a resilient one. I feel that this will give them plenty of time to plan and execute disaster management in a proper and channelised manner,” he says.
The popularity that Chekutty dolls have garnered across the globe is not merely for its exquisiteness, but because of the connect that its story could establish with people all around the globe, who are trying hard to overcome one or the other crisis....