The splendour of festivals and caparisoned elephants have a mesmerising effect on Keralites. The decked-up elephants invariably have a nettipattam, a golden mask. That instant liking for all things majestic and glittering is what drives the business of Gayathri Devi, who runs an institute which among other things teaches you how to make nettipattam.
Situated right next to the famous Thirunakara temple in Kottayam, Indian College offers you a plethora of courses from jewellery making to mural paintings. But it is the not-so-common yet highly impressive art of making nettipattam that has catapulted Gayathri to a star status.
From small masks that bob up and down in a car to life-size nettipattams occupy most of the space in the modest training room of this middle-aged woman. But Gayathri doesn't boast of a childhood steeped in colours with frequent visits to temples to admire the elephants at their majestic best. Instead she places the reason for her stardom on the oft-named culprit, fate. But one look at the nearly three-foot mural painting, it is hard to buy Gayathri’s statement that she wasn't much of an artist in her growing years.
A postgraduate in Sanskrit from the Calicut University, Gayathri left Kerala dreaming of a rewarding life in the Middle East post her marriage about 11 years ago. But the desert sojourn did not help her realise her dreams and instead faced a financial crisis. A beaten Gayathri returned to her hometown in Kottayam and took refugee at her father's institute, where she literally rewrote her destiny. She aggressively taught herself the different artworks that had a market and then rolled out courses for the same at the institute which initially offered diploma engineering courses.
For the past 5-6 years, Gayathri has been teaching students -- ranging from 90-year-old grannies to college-going teenagers – how to make nettipattam. Apart from teaching at her own institute, she organises training classes elsewhere too. Gayathri's classes are in demand and she is a regular presence at SBI’s self-employment training classes held in various parts of the state.
Apart from teaching, she also makes nettipattams and sells them online. Her artwork has fetched her admirers as far as Ireland.
Compared to the gold-plated copper balls that get mounted on the real jumbos at festivals, decorations on Gayathri’s nettipattam are made using plain plastic. However, Gayathri says she follows the age-old nettipattam craft in principle, including the norms on the number of balls to be used and their positioning; this may be a reason why her product is an instant hit.
Most of her customers are proud Keralites looking for ways to deck up their homes. But political parties too are part of her ever-increasing clientele and Gayathri makes subtle changes to her nettipattam to suit her customer. If her buyer is a leftist ideologist, she replaces the multi-coloured thread work on the border with red patterns.
Her fees for teaching comes around Rs 2,500 per student, while the price for the life-size nettipattam starts at Rs 15,000.