What's so special about churakka (bottle gourd) apart from it being a vegetable? A lot more, apparently, to Mysuru native Seema Prasad.
The humble vegetables have an elevated status in Seema’s artistic hands. They turn into objects of beauty and are no mean vegetables chopped and thrown into curries. More interesting is the fact that when the veg sells for Rs 10 a kilo, its transformed avatar fetches anything from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 and more.
The bottle gourd has come as a messiah not only to Seema, but to several members and farmers of a collective called 'Krishikala.'
The vegetable is best for cooking in its tender form. Once they turn mature, there’s a slight tangy or bitter tinge to its taste. There was once a time when country folks used the bottle gourd as a store box. The fully mature ones would be pulled down, their insides scooped out and the whole veg dried. This would serve as a box where seeds could be stored for future use. Today, apart from all mundane uses the vegetable has been put to, it’s turned out to be a superstar for what’s popularly known as “bottle gourd art”, an aesthetic form that’s extremely popular in Africa.
The smooth surface of the bottle gourd lends itself to be crafted in beautiful forms. Knife etchings and organic colours can work wonders on its face. It’s amazing how fetchingly it can be crafted, says Seema. The craft has been perfected by African tribes who paint their traditional art forms and signature designs on the hollow vegetable. Closer home, Bastar tribals in Chhattisgarh know how to dress up the bottle gourd in their traditional way. Bottle gourd art is quite popular here as well.
It was Krishnaprasad, Seems’s husband who drew her attention to the possibilities of bottle gourd art. Krisnaprasad, an engineer by profession, chose to go the organic farming way with native and traditional seeds and conventional farming methods and it was this deep passion for agriculture that made him set up Karnataka’s very popular “Sahaja Samrudha”, a body for organic farming techniques.
Krishanprasad was so committed to the cause of traditional ways of farming and welfare of farmers that he went all around the world to learn how successfully such framing techniques could be implemented in his native state. It was during the course of his extensive travels that he bumped into bottle gourd art in Tanzania and Kenya. Caught by the fanciful designs, be brought back a few bottle gourd art forms and gifted them to his web designer wife Seema. That was the turning point. Seema took up the project in all seriousness and plunged into extensive research on the topic. Her study was an eye-opener in that while we have seen only a couple of bottle gourds in their long shapes, the world has more than a hundred different shapes and sizes of bottle gourds to offer. While some of them could be so small to just fit in your hands, others could be long enough to dangle down from ceiling hooks. Yet others look as dazzling as ivory or resemble musical instruments. There’s a medley of shapes to choose from. Most of these gourds are not edible as they come from within the deep forests, but their possibilities as art forms are unbelievable immense and awesome.
Seema got her first gourds from the interiors of Karnataka where farmers grew them extensively. But the seriousness of the art form dawned on her once she started working on the native gourds. This was no mean effort. The bottle gourd art forms from Africa were a combination of artistic finesse and painstaking effort.
The design on each is determined by the thickness of each gourd. It calls for extreme care and skill to remove the filmy cover on the skin. More skill, patience and care are called for when etchings are made with the knife, drawings done and colours given.
It was her bottle gourd art forms that Seema gave away to all her friends who had come over when the couple moved into their new house. Awed by the beauty of the items, her friends placed orders for more such pieces and it was this defining moment that decided matters for her.
Today, Seema has her bottle gourd art unit in Vajamangala where anything and everything from ear studs, rings and table lamps are made. Farmers too from different parts of Karnataka have started chipping in by farming bottle gourds in different shapes and sizes, all for Seema. And they are happy to get more for the gourds as art forms than as vegetables.
As for Seema, she is one happy entrepreneur who has displayed her bottle gourd art at several venues and won plaudits for her attempt.