Inspired by nature

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Inspired by nature
Tuesday June 17 2008 14:45 IST Sudha Nambudiri EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE KOCHI

PADMA NAMBISAN is a plant technologist who is always busy doing research in her laboratory. But in between all the lab activity she has found time to train more than 2,500 women from the lower strata of society to make handmade paper using leaf fibre.

“You don’t need to go looking for raw materials. Just step into your garden and pluck a few leaves,” says Padma who teaches at the Department of Biotechnology, Cusat.

In Kerala you can easily find fibre in several plants growing as weeds. Water hyacinth, hibiscus, bamboo, leaf base of banana, pineapple leaves and paddy are a few examples,” she says. She chose women for training because “this doesn’t take much strain and can be done during free time.”

Padma Nambisan started making handmade paper when she was on maternity leave in 2000. “I took leave and was sitting idle at home. That’s when I started making paper at home.” Padma took some paper for recycling, palms, water hyacinth and pineapple. She cooked them in alkali and decanted the liquid. The pulp was then poured into a mould.

After the initial trials she found that the paper had many advantages- it was termite and insectresistant. Then she tried out different leaves.

Padma then started innovating and making several products out of these handmade papers. When she returned to the university, she got grants for a project ‘Green wealth for rural women through fibre extraction from agri-waste.’

She has been training women at Cusat since then. Padma has on her team two research scholars- Jasmine Koshy and Anita Pinheiro- and Kudumbasree consultant Thresia Rejimol.

Apart from the women who come for training at the Department of Biot echnology, Cusat, Padma’s team travel to the rural parts of Kerala and organises demonstration camps.

“We stay there for a week and train the participants to make different types of patterns and products.” Padma also has a talent for combining craft with science. Using handmade paper she has made lamp shades, envelopes, visiting cards and notepads. Her only problem is marketing these products.

“There are a lot of products that can be made with handmade paper. But these women don’t have anybody to help them market these products. Designwise also they are not strong,” she says. Padma is now making an extra effort and looking for clients to help these women. Apart from making paper, Padma uses different types of paper to do paintings.

“I use different leaves and make paper which are then put together to make ‘craft-painting’,” she says. She is now planning to have an exhibition of such works along with the products made by women trained by her team. “I hope these women will succeed in making a livelihood out of these handmade wonders,” says Padma.