Published: 22nd July 2020
Designer Lakshmi Menon's new doll will tell you stories, provide COVID relief. Here's how
KadhaKili, designed by Lakshmi was released on July 16, the first day of the Ramayana month celebration in Kerala
Two years ago, when the brutal floods washed away the dreams of hundreds of weavers in Kerala, designer Lakshmi Menon stepped in as a superhero. She created a simple little doll called Chekutty out of the fabric that was damaged and stained by the floods, helped the weavers sell it even in international markets and they eventually made the profit that they deserved. But times have changed. Floods have been replaced by something more furious and deadly — the COVID-19 pandemic. The result? An already unstable economy is in turmoil. Undoubtedly, artisans are among the worst affected. But Lakshmi has a solution even now. She has created a small parrot-shaped finger puppet called KadhaKili (which literally translates to 'story bird' in Malayalam). The puppets are up for sale and the proceeds will go towards helping artisans combat losses that they've incurred during the lockdown.
The bird is called KadhaKili for a few reasons. In order to popularise it, Lakshmi has kickstarted an online crowdsourced storytelling platform by the same name. KadhaKili allows people to send in information, stories and thoughts about Kerala that aren't popular but would help fellow Malayalis all around the world to get to know their culture better. "There are various aspects of our culture that we have got to be proud of, but we don't know a lot of them. In fact, the new generation wouldn't even know the keywords they should search for to learn about their culture and the interesting stories weaved into it. So, we thought of dedicating the platform exclusively for this purpose," says Lakshmi. Anyone is free to send information to the KadhaKili website. If your story gets selected, you're tagged as the KadhaKili of the day.
Lakshmi Menon, Designer
Excited about this little birdy, Lakshmi tells us a few stories that came along. For instance, there was one about the unique sense of humour of Malayalam author VKN. Another one was about the Kochi king who told his people that even though the Europeans took away all their spices, they could never take the weather around the 'njattuvela' time. She also told us the story behind creating KadhaKili. "I'm part of a designers' collective called Creative Dignity, where we are all coming up with projects to help struggling artisans. I represent Kerala there and each of us were to create a doll. That was when the idea of KadhaKili hit me. It is derived from the artform Kathakali. Also, KadhaKili is green in colour, like a Kathakali artist's face," she says. Lakshmi is now training local artisans to make these puppets.
Even though the dolls were supposed to be launched later in August, KadhaKili arrived a bit early. There's a reason behind that too. The Malayalam month Karkkidakam began on July 16. Now this is also the month in which most Kerala Hindu households recite the Adhyathmaramayanam Kilippattu, a version of the Ramayana written by poet Thunchathu Ezhuthachan. In this version, a parrot is a narrator and each chapter begins with Ezhuthachan calling his parrot to tell him Lord Ram's tale. "Is there a better time to introduce KadhaKili to Malayalis?" asks Lakshmi.