One-horned paper salute to the rhino
Growing up in Assam, market research consultant Nisha Bora was deeply attached to animals such as the rhinoceros which she had spotted at the Kaziranga National Park.
That’s why she was particularly alarmed to note the decline in the population of these animals over the years (current rhino population in Kaziranga is just 2,200). She came up with the idea of making paper using the dung of these animals and started ElRhino in June this year by pooling in her savings.
Cause and effect
“The idea was to make something artistic, which would also contribute to wildlife conservation, be eco-friendly, help the illiterate Assamese villagers and show people how aesthetic rhino dung, can be. While we work with seven-eight villagers at present, over time we hope to have at least 200 workers, including women, and turn it into a movement to teach crafts and raise awareness about the rhino,” explains the 36-year-old Bora, who admits that she juggles handling her two kids and working full time with the demands of the portal.
The product line-up includes notebooks, scrapbooks, photo albums, office stationery including files, folders and cover boxes, and lampshades. Their products often have leaves, flowers or silk threads embedded in them. “Through such unique elements, we turn these products into one-of-a-kind artworks. Even the covers of the notebooks are made using betel nut bark and not cardboard,” she adds.
While elephant dung has been used to make stationery products, rhino dung was uncharted territory. Suddenly, Bora had to worry about factors like the fibre content of dung: “Through a process of trial and error we discovered that rhino dung is low in fibre unlike elephant dung, which makes the paper fragile. So, we mixed both to ensure the paper is more durable and writeable,” states Bora admitting that there is almost zero machine intervention in producing the products.
The initial recipients of ElRhino products were friends and family, which was apt since Bora runs the venture with her father Mahesh Bora (70), who is a retired coalmine engineer and wanted to give back to the state. Next, they showcased their products at city exhibitions and trade shows. Their Facebook page also fetched them loads of positive feedback.
Bora was also keen that the products should reflect the sensibilities of the North East. “While we had initially worked with designers in Delhi and Mumbai and made a range using bright neon colours, we moved back to neutral shades as that is what sets us apart and represents the local tastes. We also believe that whatever comes out of the forest is beautiful and shouldn’t be tampered with too much.”
She admits that she is quite excited by the process of papermaking — “It is very easy to make but there is so much to learn about the permutations involved. After all, small things like what kind of fruit the rhino consumes can affect the quality of dung and hence the quality of paper.”
The use of dung also serves a larger purpose according to Bora: “There is a hostility between the villagers and the animals as the villagers resent them for trampling their crops and leaving behind a mountain of dung (they are territorial animals and mark their territory in this manner). We are showing them that the animals are not their enemies and it is possible to co-exist,” she explains.
The flooding of the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries has affected 27 districts of Assam. It is reported to have submerged 2.55 lakh hectares of cropland and around 560 animals, including 14 rhinos, were killed at the Kaziranga National Park.
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Price range: Rs 250 to Rs 2,000