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Custodian of a legacy

V. V. Suresh Kumar excels in crafting the `nettoor petti'


THESE exquisite jewellery boxes harks back to a vintage era. V. V. Suresh Kumar of Chaka crafts wooden boxes, called nettoor petti with utmost perfection and scientific precision.

Suresh belongs to a family of craftsmen who have been practising the art of making the nettoor petti in its strictest tradition. There are few artisans in Kerala who still practise this traditional craft.

Suresh is the fourth generation craftsman. He was trained by his father, G. Viswanathan Achari, a recipient of the State Award in 1987.

Both father and son have given shape to innumerable such boxes that are used to store ornaments.

"One of the variations of the nettoor petti, known as Kathakali petti or atta petti, is traditionally used to store Kathakali chamayam. The upper lid of the nettoor petti is shaped like a hut, while that of the Kathakali petti is round-shaped," explains Suresh.

How did the jewellery box get its name nettoor? "There is no record of how the box got its name. The name probably owes its origin to the `Nettoor Madom' in Palakkad," he says.

Designs


These boxes, which are now rated as a collector's item, are fashioned out of rosewood (eeti) and countrywood.

After the boxes are made, they are embellished with metals.

"The design of the ornamentation work on the exterior of the nettoor petti is inspired by the temple architecture of Kerala," says Suresh.

The usual designs are adaptations of the gopurams of the temples or the chithrapootu, which is also known as manichithrathazhu. The manichithrathazhu motif became popular after the Malayalam film by the same name ran to packed houses.

"The brightly coloured boxes also feature intricate patterns. We draw upon the traditional art of Kerala," adds Suresh.

He has been supplying nettoor pettis to handicraft showrooms owned by the Government. Custom-made designs are also crafted for foreign clients.

While cheques from the Government showrooms take anywhere between two to six months to reach Suresh, local customers make the payment promptly.

Cheaper models of the nettoor petti have flooded the market, making things difficult for the artisans who adhere to the traditional manner of crafting these boxes.

"Each and every accessory that goes into the making of our products are handmade," says Suresh. "Even the hinges and nails are crafted by hand."

Suresh is assisted by a team of four craftsmen. The range of items that they make is amazing.

Their repertoire and includes curios such as jhoolas with figures of Radha and Krishna, aanakaal petti (`elephant leg bangle box') and utility items such as medicine chests.

"We have also designed the doors of the srikovil (sanctum sanctorum) of temples such as Vazhvelikonam Devi Kshetram (Vamanapuram), SNDP Vishnu Kshetram (Pallichal) and Murugan Kshetram (Chaka)," says Suresh.

The metal boxes that Suresh designs using brass and copper are finding many takers now.

He decided to begin working on metal when the price for wood began to shoot up. "It is also becoming increasingly difficult to procure fine wood," he says.

Training

"Till two years ago, we were the recognised training centre for the All India Handicrafts Development Board. We have trained close to 100 students," Suresh says.

Suresh says that despite the growing recognition for the products among foreign customers, craftsmen like him do not get adequate support and incentive from the Government. "Despite all odds, I am still in this profession because I want to maintain the reputation of my ancestors and preserve this craft," he adds. For details, contact 0471-2505735.

REMA SUNDER

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