Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a traditional clay craftsman, has developed an entire range of earthen products for daily use in the kitchen. These products include water filters, refrigerators, hot plates, cooker and other such items of daily use.
Born in the Prajapati family, originally belonging to the village Nichimandal of Morbi, Rajkot, Mansukhbhai had exposure to the clay tradition since childhood, as this was his family’s traditional profession. Being the only son and the eldest child, though he helped his father in his work, he was more interested in cricket and other games. He used to load clay from the ponds and fields on the donkey and ferry it to his place. Other than this, his contribution was limited as he was not much interested in the pottery work. After the breakdown of Machhu dam of Morbi in 1979, his family lost everything and they had to migrate to Wankaner, where his father took the job of a mason to support the family. It was here that his journey as a worker in a small rooftop tile manufacturing unit started, which today has reached a point where he is recognized as a successful entrepreneur.
THE MITTICOOL STORY
In the fateful earthquake of January 2001, Mansukhbhai suffered huge loss, as most of his stock got broken. He distributed the stock that escaped the quake to the quake affected people of Kutch. In February 2001, Sandesh Gujarati Daily had a photo feature on the earthquake where at one place it showed a broken water filter of Mansukhbhai with the caption the broken fridge of poor.
This caption ignited a thought in him to work on a rural fridge that did not need electricity and could be used by masses. Though he started thinking about it after the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, it was 2002 when he actually started his work. Almost the same time, Mansukhbhai came into the contact of Gujarat Grass-roots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN), Ahmedabad. After a painstaking journey of three years during which he tested all sorts of soils and fridge designs, he finally came out with Mitticool fridge in 2005. A civil engineer saw the fridge and looking at its applications gave him the order of 100 pieces and an advance of Rs. 2 lakh. This news was also covered by local dailies.
The Initial Strugle
Though his family was struggling with finances, his parents motivated him to study up to class ten. He then left studies to provide a helping hand in augmenting family’s resources. He started to work in a small factory. But, in the very first month, while working inside a chimney, his left eye got injured because of which he had to quit work for over eight months. Once his sight improved, in 1984, he started his tea lorry near the highway but some how due to the persistent comments of some of his acquaintance he closed it down within six months.
Earlier, one of his uncles had visited him at the tea lorry inquiring about a person who would be interested to work in a rooftop tile manufacturing unit. He had shown his interest then and after closing the tea lorry joined the unit, Jagdamba Potteries, as a trainee at Rs. 300 per month in 1985. He worked hard for three years and learned all the related works of the unit. During this time, he also helped his parents marry off his younger sisters.
The Entrepreneurial Streak
Having gained a sound knowledge while working in the pottery unit, the desire to start an enterprise of his own started to grow in Mansukhbhais mind. During his childhood, he saw earthen pans/hot plates (locally termed as Kaladi/Tavdi) being manufactured manually on the potters wheel (locally termed as Chhakdo). Using this, one person can only make about 100 units per day. He had seen roof tiles being manufactured in large quantity on hand press, which made him think why cannot earthen pans be made the same way?
In 1988, he left his job and took a loan of Rs 30,000 from a money lender to start his own earthen plate manufacturing factory. He purchased a small piece of land for the factory, dyes and presses, soil mixing machine, electric potters wheel and other scrap objects. Then he modified the roof tile making hand press and developed a hand press machine having capacity to produce 700 earthen pans per day
The Turning Point
In 1995, a business man from Rajkot, Chiragbhai Patel came to Wankaner looking for a vendor who could provide him clay water-filters. Chiragbhai was an exporter who had to deliver this order to Nairobi, Kenya. He got the lead about Mansukhbhai from Jagdamba Potteries, where Mansukhbhai worked earlier. They recommended his name to him. Mansukhbhai was shown the design of the filter.
The Road Ahead
Mansukhbhai participated in the Saatvik-the Traditional Food Festival in 2008 where he sold his innovations apart from the regular clay products. Seeing the traditional black haandi (pot) at his stall, many visitors asked him to improve it also. This gave him an idea to develop the clay cooker. He has also developed earthen utensils- eating plates with separate dish holding sections, glasses and bowls. The cooker and the entire range of utensils would be unveiled in the next Saatvik- the Traditional Food Festival at IIM Ahmedabad in December 2009.
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