In the southern parts of this country, especially during a festival, it is impossible to miss the huge bamboo frames that dot most roads and streets – depicting gods, animals, birds and even politicians, vibrantly illuminated by ‘serial bulbs’.
The handiwork is always impressive – but have you ever wondered where it came from?
Then this story is perfect for you!
For chances are quite high that these are manufactured by ‘Dhanalakshmi Lighting Works’.
A serial bulb setting business run by the women of Gandhinagar colony in Arasanarkulam village of Tirunelveli district, the story behind how this homegrown venture came to being will remind you of the recent Bollywood film—Sui Dhaaga: Made in India.
In this real-life story, the indomitable spirit part is exemplified by Dhanalakshmi’s founder couple—Ashok and Dhanalakshmi.
Just like Mauji (convincingly played by Varun Dhawan), Ashok had been working in a small serial bulb factory in Tuticorin, almost a decade ago.
Even though he had learnt quite a handful of skills, the measly salary he was earning there did nothing to meet his household expenses.
So one fine day, he decided to bid goodbye to Tuticorin and came back to his hometown, Arasanarkulam, to start a micro-enterprise of his own.
Ashok was a born artist. Adept in making sketches, he scaled these up into huge bamboo structures, which were then lined with serial lights.
Ashok making the bamboo frames.
And all of this would not have been possible without the unwavering support and motivation of his wife, Dhanalakshmi—after whom the enterprise is named!
Holding hands, they started their ‘baby’ together. Ashok would make the sketches and then mould the bamboo frames, while Dhanalakshmi would help with the light setting.
Soon, three women from their colony joined them, but the business wasn’t very lucrative to begin with, as they didn’t have enough funds for further investments nor would buyers pay in advance.
Five years ago, the couple got aid from the Srinivasan Services Trust, a non-profit organisation that advised them to team up with the women and form a self-help group.
Once ‘Gandhi’, their SHG, was established, the trust helped them receive loans from banks along with vehicular support to move their finished structures.
Slowly, their company began to receive orders from across the state, and then from neighbouring states like Kerala and Karnataka.
Dhanalakshmi has a great role in making their venture a known name.
Compared to the introverted Ashok, she was good in communication and would go to nearby markets along with other SHG members to showcase their products.
Her efforts paid rich dividends, as word of mouth started bringing more significant business. Soon, more women began to join their SHG – in hopes of a better livelihood and financial independence.
Today, close 30 women work for them.
But as we all perhaps have guessed, the serial bulb market is dominated by cheap Chinese bulbs.
But that doesn’t faze Ashok. He proudly shows off their ‘Made-in-India’ tag. They do cost a bit more than the imports, “But these would last longer than the ‘use-and-throw’ ones from China,” he adds.
The returns from their venture helped women not just be financially independent, but also to send their children to good schools.
Though Ashok and Dhanalakshmi are unlettered, their daughter is pursuing computer science engineering at a college in Nazareth. With LED light settings in vogue now, the child has also been helping her father use a laptop to come up with better and intricate designs.
Illuminating lives, quite literally, Ashok and Dhanalakshmi have together built this venture through equal participation and belief in one another – a story filmmakers in India should chase after.