With six years of professional experience in social work, Asif Khan left his job in 2019 to begin a sole proprietorship organisation called Naturescape, which works to improve the lives of tribal communities by offering them livelihood. Two years since its inception, the organisation has been successful in lending a hand to the tribes of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar and to use their traditional handicraft skills to manufacture unique products.
Now, Asif’s latest project in empowering the community is the Bambooka, a bicycle made of bamboo with help from artisans living in Bastar.
It all started when Asif’s organisation was asked by the district administration to make a cycle using wood as part of a project. However, he began looking for alternative materials when he found that a wooden bike would be too heavy to ride.
Asif says he got the idea of using bamboo from Africa, where such bicycles provide successful livelihoods to tribes. It took eight months of research to turn the idea into a prototype. “Neither the artisans nor I had technical knowledge with respect to making a bicycle frame. A Mumbai-based agency called Bamboochi shared their bicycle geometry with us, which made our work easier,” says Asif.
“The practice of making handicraft using bamboo is slowly deteriorating in our country. Bambooka is a humble attempt to bring bamboo back to its glory and support artisans. There are numerous possibilities in handcraft using bamboo. We hope it will receive attention and recognition through these projects,” shares Asif.
Handicrafts are a connection to their roots for the tribal community, Asif notes, and they use skills passed down from their ancestors when taking up various projects.
Presently, eight artisans are working on the bike, which will be made commercially available soon, and is available for pre-ordering.
Meanwhile, the bicycle also uses brass, wrought iron and jute fibre as raw material. “While such bicycles are made in many parts of the world, they use metals alongside bamboo. However, our raw materials are different, and that’s what’s special about our bike,” he adds.
The bicycle costs Rs 35,000 at present. Asif explains this is not overpricing, given that it takes 12-15 days of labour to produce one cycle.
“We make sure each artisan is paid adequately for their work, which leads to more expense. We run on a limited number of labourers, a problem that will hopefully be solved within a few months. With more artisans, it will take less time and eventually the price will also be reduced,” Asif says.
He also claims that similar bamboo cycles cost between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1,50,000 in different parts of the world. Compared to them, Bambooka is cheap and will be available for a lesser price in future.
Asif plans to convert his sole proprietorship organisation into a private limited company soon. “Several individuals and groups are interested in funding us and are coming forward. It will aid Naturescape’s work on a larger scale,” he says optimistically.
Other than handicrafts, Naturescape is also involved in the hospitality and tourism sector. Tribal areas like Bastar, located around 400 km from Chattisgarh, offer great spots to visit and plenty of activities to engage in. “It is a must-visit beautiful location in the state. We try to deliver employment opportunities to tribes by training them in the hospitality sector,” Asif says.
This passionate youngster is now busy meeting orders for Bambooka from several parts of the country, especially Delhi.