Janaki Viswam is a 92-year-old enthusiastic crafter based in Chennai. Her 72-year-old son, Ramakrishnan R V (Raja), describes her as an artistic person and adds that for as long back as he can remember she has always been nifty with her artwork.
Janaki makes beautiful products for daily usage with discarded plastic and waste. Table mats, luggage tags, toaster covers, carry bags and even small pouches to carry money and hold letters. She doesn’t do all this monetary gains but with the sole purpose of staying busy.
“I am fruitfully engaged and my mind does not wander to unnecessary things. It also helps keep my cognitive skills going. What more can I ask for at this age?” says Janaki.
“The patience that Amma [Janaki] has is just incredible. She is the glue that holds us together. At 92, when we ought to be looking after her, she continues to hold the mantle and is still in charge of running the house,” says Raja. Janaki is a fiercely independent woman and is also an inspiration to the younger generation in the family.
In 2019 when Tamil Nadu introduced a plastic ban in the state, Janaki started thinking of ways to upcycle and recycle the existing plastic covers at home. “That was when I started experimenting with various products. I started learning by watching videos on YouTube,” Janaki says. While she is not adept at using the phone and navigating YouTube, her daughter-in-law helps with finding the videos of interest.
The first few products that Janaki made were luggage tags and coasters.
She would wait for people to visit her so she could give them these gifts. “The entire charm for her lies in being able to gift all she makes. She has no monetary interest in making any of these products,” adds Raja. Janaki displays all her products and allows her guests to choose whatever they like the most. “That is what gives her immense happiness,” he says.
‘Find Ways To Stay Busy’
Janaki’s mantra that has helped her stay mentally agile is to stay busy. It is also something that she often tells the younger generation to follow. “There are times when we have no plastic at home so we go scouting for it. Since plastic covers are now hard to come by as and when she finds it, she starts thinking of what she will make with it,” says Raja.
She is an early riser and is usually up by 4 am. She goes about her morning chores and spends almost two hours in prayers every day. “There are so many slokas that she recites that even I am unaware of. She actively participates in the cooking activities for the day and insists on cutting the vegetables as well. If allowed, she would even cook an entire meal today,” says Raja, crediting her mother for her determination.
Sometimes, in an attempt to complete her work Janaki spends the entire day working. “If I have promised someone that I will give them the product by a particular date, then I must fulfil that, mustn’t I?” asks Janaki, who enjoys watching television and reading various Tamil magazines.
Recycling Plastics by Janaki:
Step 1: Find a comfortable chair and settle into it.
Step 2: Collect the plastic bags and segregate them according to colour.
Step 3: Cut the plastic bags into long strips, which can then be looped together and made into a ball.
Step 4: With the help of crochet needles turn them into bags, pouches and other products you wish to make.
Step 5: Use old buttons, decorative items and zippers to complete the product.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)