28-year-old Akhil Raj S reached his hometown, Kerala’s Wayanad, last November to enjoy a sabbatical. He was due to return to his job in a UK-based cruise ship in April, 2020. However, by the time April came about, the whole world was on a sabbatical of sorts, thanks to the pandemic. And while Akhil did not have any particular idea what he would do now that he was stuck in Kerala for the long term, a place in the India Book of Records and thriving new business thanks to his leaf art was probably only a remote possibility then!
“From childhood I had an interest in art. I used to paint and do craftwork. But I didn’t get enough time to focus on it, as I spent more time on my education and graduation,” Akhil tells The Better India.
After completing his BSc, Akhil got a job in Mumbai. He joined a cruise company in the UK four years ago. “There we have a contract of working for nine months and they provide leave for three months. That is how I came to Kerala in November,” he says.
Akhil’s family includes his grandmother, mother, brother, sister-in-law, their baby and his wife, all of whom live in the same house. When lockdown started, Akhil couldn’t step out of that home. So, like so many others, he began spending more time on social media platforms. That’s how Akhil came to notice leaf art on YouTube. Inspired, Akhil too tried his hand at the craft, with some leaves at home.
Akhil says, “Initially I was carving intricate designs on jackfruit leaves. Then I began carving designs on peepal leaves. That’s how all it stated. My friends used to give me suggestions and with practise, I became good at making portraits.”
“Many celebrities have contacted me seeing their portraits and it motivates me,” he adds,
Akhil slowly began posting videos of his leaf portraits of actors on his Instagram page. And this turned into an unexpected business venture, since he started to receive orders from Instagram users. Today, he charges Rs 900 for a framed leaf portrait of a single person. A couple portrait costs Rs 1700. Presently Akhil earns approximately Rs 25,000 in a month through his art.
“Anyone can place their order without much complications. I get orders from different parts of India including Tamil Nadu, Delhi. Those who wish to place an order can visit my Instagram or Facebook page and message me. Once you provide me with a photograph of the piece you want in the leaf, I start to work on it,” he says and adds, “I take a maximum of 5 hours to work on the portrait. First I draw the portrait on the leaf and then I carve out the portrait. Then I’ll leave the leaf to dry. I later apply a polish on the leaf to keep fungus away and then frame the leaf. So basically for the whole procedure, it takes 10 days.”
Akhil has also found a place in the India Book of Records and Asian Book of Records for his leaf art. “I applied on the website and received an email from India Book of Records. Everything happened quickly. The India Book of Records asked me to choose a topic and later, in one hour, I carved 25 international car brand logos on leaves and got into the Records,” he adds. Within days Akhil received a medal and a certificate from them.
He says that the Asian Book of Records also had the same procedure and now he is waiting for his certificate and medal from them as well.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)