Teak Love from Kathkriti
OUR STORY ( as told by Architect Dinesh Bairaria)
It all began by chance. As an architect, you assist your clients in selecting a number of construction and finishing materials for their projects. Once a client of mine, who insisted on buying C.P Teak for his residential project, requested me to accompany him to Madhya Pradesh (State in central region of India) for wood selection. I immediately agreed, as I thought I would be able to source some high quality teak for my furniture unit (KathKriti) as well. Although we were using only Burma teak at KathKriti.
It was September of 2015 and the rainy season had just got over a week ago when we landed in the town of Jabalpur. It took me by surprise to see hundreds of saw mills on the either side of the streets, as we approached our vendor’s yard. You could smell damp and rotting wood mixed with freshly milled teak with every breath. As we reached our vendor’s saw mill yard, he showed us some finest quality of teak with stunning grains which you can’t take your eyes off from.
But there was something else also which was catching my eyes. Huge heaps of side cuts of the teak logs which are stacked all over the mill premises. I asked the mill owner what they do with it. He told me all this is waste for them. They used to sell that as fire wood in the local market and the nearby villagers would buy it to cook food. But now as the government has promoted the use of LPG for cooking, the sale of such waste has gone considerably down.
I again asked him why they don’t process it further, as I could see some thinner sections can still be procured out of such waste. He further explained that it was possible and they have been doing it also but only when the fresh teak logs are not available for sawing from the forest department, as the local government very strictly regulates the harvesting activities. Furthermore, procuring thinner sections from the waste is a costly affair as it requires a lot of labour and it is not economically viable compared to selling thicker sleepers. So they prefer to sell it as firewood.
Now this is a fact that teak is not appropriate firewood for industrial use, as it doesn’t have the desired burning character because of its high oil content and the domestic consumption as firewood has also reduced, I was wondering how these mill owners are managing storage of such large volumes of waste which is generated.
Solution to this was very simple and interesting. Central Region of India receives very high rainfall, resulting in the thick forest cover and high water table. This region is very picturesque and has many beautiful water bodies of various sizes scattered all over. Water table is so high that you can find small water pockets even within the premises of these saw mills which appears for at least four to six months during rainy season. So as a practice they store the thicker cut off waste on dry land as it can be used for making smaller sections and the thinner waste is stored in the water clogged pockets as it helps in reclaiming the land for further storage needs. When these pockets dry out in summers, they can still sell this waste as firewood.
When I requested him to show me such a pocket, he took me to a heap of waste; half submerged and laying there for last four years. The moment I picked up one slice of damp and dirty wood from that marshy pit and washed it with fresh water, the whole world turned around me. “Stripes” were conceived in my mind then and there. I knew what I have to do with that rustic beauty. To me, it was like I have struck a gold mine but when I offered my vendor to buy a truck load of that waste; I could see a thousand questions in his eyes. But he seemed to be very convinced with the saying that “All Architects Are Nuts”.
All this was not as easy as it appears. This was just the beginning of a long journey. Trouble began when we started transporting this material to Jaipur. Transportation Permit was denied to us as authorities failed to understand why somebody would spend money to transport such a waste 1200 km away from its origin. After all it was only a waste. It took us a week’s time to explain and make them understand our purpose and intentions.
Next were my associates at Kathkriti as we were already manufacturing high quality hand carved furniture and had a secured market for us in India and Nepal. Soon we were able to resolve these issues and everyone agreed to be a part of a greater cause. “Eco Responsible” was our motto now. We reframed our entire production line, developed a whole new series of stunning designs and within a short span of six months we were ready to test our market. Response we got from world over came to us as a surprise. Designers and Architects from all over the world appreciated our work and that gave us a lot of strength to move further.