“I am an artist and a professor, and I teach drawing and design at a college in Chennai. To make use of this time during lockdown, I joined a few online courses. One such course was Islamic History and Culture. In the course, there was a lesson on how the Quran was written during the ancient period. I got myself a few calligraphic pens and began copying the pages from the early Quran.
Even though I cannot read Arabic, I was so intrigued by the design of those letters in the manuscript. Calligraphic writing usually has some imagery that is intertwined with the letters. In a few days, I had copied several pages of the ancient Quran, and found that calligraphy is something I am very passionate about. The learning curve was not that difficult since I was trained as an artist.
I started to think of calligraphy in terms of my mother tongue, Tamil. I am from a family of avid readers of Tamil. My mother is a writer- in fact, she is named after Thiruvalluvar’s wife Vasuki. Then I came up with the idea of creating calligraphic designs for ancient Tamil literature. I started off with Avvaiyaar’s Athichoodi, which is a 10th-century text of morals and discipline, and was so excited by the results!
My cousin, who is a photographer, came up with the idea of selling these designs in the form of merchandise like coffee mugs and notebooks. We decided that we would start a partnership venture, with me being the creative lead and my cousin being the marketing lead. One day, we got a call from a reporter from the largest newspaper in the country. She said she came to know of our venture through her family and interviewed us. This gave us some traction and soon we started expanding our market. In the next two months, two other big newspapers published a full-page article about us. This expanded our market further and we started receiving orders from abroad.
We want to infuse Tamil and its culture into the contemporary design scenario. After Mugs and Notebooks, we started developing a new range of products such as playing cards based on ancient Tamil kingdoms, a postcard service based on the concept of Thudhu from Tholkapiyum, posters of reimagined versions of ancient Tamil poets, stickers of modern Tamil leaders, etc.
When I look back at our growth, it’s surprising how an online history course and the love for our language made us kick off a startup. I strongly believe that we owe the success to people’s affinity towards our language and culture.”
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