When was the last time you saw anything made of clay in your kitchen? If a certain Gujarati gentleman has his way, housewives will soon see clay earthenware making a comeback.
These will not be as mundane as the \'matka\' (earthen pot traditionally used for storing water in Indian households) but some really intricate yet completely utilitarian stuff. How fancy? Here\'s one: A clay refrigerator. Or how about a clay water filter? Impressed? Wait till you hear of the clay pressure cooker.
The architect, or should we say, the potter behind all this is Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a resident of an arid town in Baroda, Gujarat. Mansukhbhai\'s has had a long tryst with pottery. His family hailing from the Nichimandal village near Morbi town of Rajkot was traditionally into the clay business. As a child, Mansukhbhai may have been more interested in roadside cricket but he did pick up a few tips from his father.
In a strange coincidence, two natural disasters played a major role in shaping this 47-year-old\'s future. The first was a dam burst in Morbi in1979 that led to the Prajapati family migrating to the nearby town of Wankaner, the epicentre of many a ceramic and pottery unit in Baroda. It is here that the eldest son of the family picked up a few tips and tricks of the rooftop manufacturing business that his father got into.
It was also around this time that Mansukhbhai started showing the first signs of entrepreneurship, after losing a full-time job following an accident. As a child, he had seen earthen hotplates called Kaladi or Tavdi in the local lingo being made on the potter\'s wheel. While working with his father in the roofing tiles business in Wankaner, he had also seen the use of a hand press to make large numbers of tiles. The entrepreneurial spark in him was ignited - how would it be if he used a similar machine to mass manufacture the clay hotplates? The idea worked. Soon, Mansukhbhai was doing what is part of any small-time business - going door to door in nearby villages and hustling the hotplates. Business was good.
After some initial hiccups, he managed to register his unit with the local industrial corporation. One day in 1995, when a Gujarati exporter came looking for clay water filters to be exported to Nairobi, Kenya, Mansukhbhai developed a terra cotta filter with a ceramic water candle within eight days. The businessman marketed the filter, each one selling then for Rs 200 a piece. The young Mansukhbhai was well set on the path of business.
Then came the Gujarat (Bhuj) earthquake in 2001. It destroyed his workshop and his unsold stock. A photograph in a local newspaper, Sandesh, showed the image of a broken water filter with the caption - The broken fridge of the poor.
That set the entrepreneur in Mansukhbhai thinking - hey, how about really making a clay fridge for the masses? For three years he toyed with the idea of making a fridge that did not use electricity as a power source. He also contacted the Gujarat Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) of Ahmedabad, for this purpose. In 2005, the Mitticool fridge was born.
Here are some clay products from Mansukhbhai\'s workshop:
Mitticool fridge: Available in one capacity, the 50 litre, Mansukhbhai told SME Mentor that he has, in the last seven-odd years, sold 5000 pieces across India. With a price tag of Rs 2750/, the fridge works on the water cooling principle, preserving food and cooling water naturally for several days.
When asked about his marketing technique, he says, "I have a mixed bag. I have certain dealers in some cities in India like in Dharavi in Mumbai and then in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Also, potential customers can place an order through my website ( www.mitticool.com). We courier the fridge to any part of the country." When asked what happens in the likelihood of breakage, he replies, " Actually, it does not happen very frequently. But we tell our customers that for just a mere Rs 100 more they can insure the parcel so just in case there is such breakage, they can claim the insurance on it."
Clay Cooker: This innovative piece of cookware is actually an earthen pot with side handles, a clamp to ensure the lid is well-shut and even a cooker whistle to let off the steam. Made from special clay (or else it could crumble when heated), the clay cooker, claims Mansukhbhai, cooks food in a far more healthier manner than its stainless steel counterpart. Costing Rs 400 per piece, Mansukhbhai says he has sold about 3000 units so far. Again, the marketing of this product is a mix bag - through his website, through dealers in some of the Indian cities and of course, the traditional way - word of mouth.