In the last few decades, bamboo has seen a booming rise in popularity. As the world is becoming more environmentally aware, it’s not hard to see why so many are flocking to this strangely curious tree-hugging grass that is bamboo. And yes, it is a grass. Its limitless versatility and countless environmental benefits are nothing short of extraordinary. From food source to building material to essential household commodity, more and more people are being introduced to the wonders of this inherently eco-friendly plant.
For starters, unlike other woods, bamboo has a neigh-on-supernatural ability to regenerate and repopulate – and that without the aid of fertilizers, leave alone environmentally-detrimental agents like pesticides. In fact, it doesn’t even require nearly as much water. Whereas trees used for conventional lumber can take up to 60, some 70 years to regain its full maturity, this recording-breaking fast-growing plant can reclaim its full mass in just 6 months. Talk about growth spurt! But it doesn’t end there; not only is it a much more sustainable means of harvesting for lumber – its impenetrable root system stays intact during regeneration which in turn prevents soil erosion, not to mention, it releases 35% more oxygen than regular hardwood trees and the process of oxygenation (consumption of carbon dioxide and production of oxygen) isn’t impacted whatsoever during harvesting – but its timber is deceptively sturdy. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it manifests in awkward gangly pole-like culms as opposed to thick rigid trunks because its unique composition of dense fibers allows it to absorb tension through flexibility without snapping. In other words, it’s got traditional wood beat in that area as well; in terms of durability, bamboo is marketed as one of the hardest woods out there, if not the hardest one depending on the species.
Not surprisingly, India is the second favored home for bamboo habitat after China; combined they make up more than half of the world’s bamboo resources. The Northeastern region alone houses 66% of the country’s bamboo population. Out of the nearly 140 varieties in India, it boasts 58 different species. Agreed, that is a lot of numbers. But all that aside, there is a far more compelling story to share about the bamboo affair at home; travel up to the remote village of Katlamara, in Tripura, and you will meet a man on a mission to make bamboo a self-sufficient local industry and not just the posterchild for alternative green products.
Katlamara is a small village just barely grazing the Indo-Bangladeshi border. After a bumpy 4-hour drive from Agartala on a road running closely parallel to the border security forces does one reach the secluded village with a population of roughly 5 thousand people. There, one can find the cultivation of a unique species of bamboo, Bambusa affinis (AKA, ‘Kanakaich’), exclusively native to Katlamara. What makes that species of bamboo particularly interesting is the diameter of the hollow – very small. Unlike the more common hollow bamboo, solid bamboo is resistant to rot and splitting because of its thickness, making it perfect for construction. And of course, it is splendidly robust.
While the village has been using bamboo since time immemorial, a dedicated product designer native to Katlamara made it his business to give local bamboo the much-needed commercial spotlight. Since Manna Roy’s degree from the National Institute of Design, you won’t find him gallivanting anywhere near his alma mater or living the luxurious life of a cosmopolitan designer. Instead, Roy took his elite qualifications and started a bamboo-based initiative founded on a more altruistic principle – one that helps generate local economy through the manufacturing of native bamboo goods. The young eco-conscious entrepreneur, alongside other ambitious local youths founded the Bamboo Enterprises United (BENU), a workshop for bamboo products and handicrafts, which has been creating employment for the villagers since 2004. Now, more than a hundred people are currently involved in the project and have been making furniture that is now high on demand after garnering a lot of widespread attention. It doesn’t hurt that the fruits of Roy’s labour of love and hard work isn’t hard on the eyes either. His beautifully organic and simple creations are not only green but embody the heart of his village and people.
In collaboration with BENU, Giskaa is launching its first ever furniture line with Manna Roy’s exclusive collection.