Matchless tales

Matchless tales

Indu Harikumar loves matchboxes — there are no two ways about it. And where others see something fit only to be put into the dump, Indu sees a canvas for art, an expression of individuality and even space for a book!

“I find matchboxes fascinating. It’s so small and tiny and yet the unique design on the front gives each one a character and feel of its own,” says the artist and illustrator.

It is these designs that gave her the idea of creating a world within the box and thus were born the ‘matchbox books’. “I could write what I wanted, illustrate my own work and not worry about having to find a publisher,” she says with a laugh.

Jokes apart, Indu says that apart from giving an outlet for her creativity, the pastime also acted like a stressbuster and allowed her to relax.

“I try to make a book or design connected to what was shown on the cover. So if there was a ‘India’ motif, I made the national flower or national tree inside. There was an Amitabh Bachchan one and I made a comic with his dialogues inside. The ‘Chameli’ matchbox will have a paper replica of that flower inside.”

Her matchbox collection numbers between 200-300, though not all of them have been converted into books, and she has picked them up from the unlikeliest of places. “I have been to the dirtiest of alleys, picking up matchboxes, while people around me just stared at what I was doing. My hand sanitiser was a permanent fixture in my hand,” she says and adds, “State-wise, Haryana was the best place to get matchboxes. There was so much variety and everyone smokes there so there was quantity also. Tamil Nadu also had a good selection but these were found outside temples where they were used to light the lamps. It was my biggest motivation for going to a temple.”

Asked about her inspiration for making these books, Indu says, “It was while I was working with children in 2010 that I made my first matchbox book. I was volunteering and we had a negligible budget so I was looking for novel ways to keep them entertained and engaged in class. Also I always look for things that other people have no value for and turn them into art. Like stories. Nowadays no one has time to listen to other’s stories but I encourage people to send me their experiences or narratives and I turn these into illustrations for them. But that is a separate project. My matchbox books are still all kept with me only; I don’t want to give any of them away,” she says.

Save for one but it couldn’t have asked for a better destination. “Once I came to know that a client of mine had some connection with Amitabh Bachchan. I immediately requested him to send my Amitabh matchbox book to the Big B himself.

Hopefully he would have got it. But sometimes I feel bad about giving that away,” she says with a laugh.

Future plans? “I want a Mohanlal matchbox. I have seen it online but never one in real life. I am searching for it now.”

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