Clay or earthen pots have been used to keep water cool since time immemorial. When the pot can keep water cool, surely it can do the same for other things? This thought struck M Sivasamy, a potter from Karumathampatti in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, one day.
Having built clay items all his life, the 70-year-old decided to use his knowledge and expertise to build a device that would help people live sustainably as well.
In 2020, he built an eco-friendly refrigerator from clay that could keep vegetables fresh for up to four days without the use of electricity, he says.
He used a big cylindrical clay pot and added two features to it — a tap in the front and an outlet at the back to pour water inside. A smaller pot sits neatly inside the bigger one, on top of which goes the lid, where you can place your vegetables.
“You pour water, almost 15 litres, into the big pot and as it remains cool, it keeps your vegetables and fruits cool as well. If stored properly, they remain fresh for up to four days. You can also use it to store curd, milk, and eggs,” says Sivasamy.
There are two variants of this refrigerator — one is 1.5 feet in length while the other is 2 feet. They cost Rs 1,700 and Rs 1,800 respectively, and he says he has sold more than 100 fridges so far.
Helping people live sustainably
Hailing from a family of potters, Sivasamy has a plethora of products made of clay. His house doubles as a shop and godown, where he sells more than 150 types of earthen products. The shop is called Thiruneelakandar Stores and has been running for the past 50 years.
“Earlier, during my father’s time, we used to only make lamps and pots. But we have had to expand as per the needs of people,” adds Sivasamy.
Explaining the process of making the fridge, he says he gets clay from three places, which he has to mix to the right consistency. After that, he makes each piece of the fridge, which are then dried in the shade. It takes him one month to make ten refrigerators, he says.
Another reason why Sivasamy built this fridge was due to the fact that he had none in his house as a child. “We’d have fresh food from the farms,” he says. “That was also a secret to our health. With this fridge, at least some people might reduce their electricity consumption. And since you can’t keep vegetables for more than four days, they’ll be fresh till you use them,” he says.
Sivasamy also makes and sells clay kadais, pans, tumblers, bottles, jugs, and cooking pots, among other products.
“We’ve been moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle and have a farmhouse on the outskirts of Coimbatore, where we go during weekends and holidays. We bought the fridge for that house and it’s been a great change. We have not bought another fridge. I love the smell of the vegetables emanate after being stored in the clay fridge. We now plan to buy another one for our house in the city too, and slowly eliminate the regular fridge altogether,” says Revathi Venkat, a customer.
Meanwhile, Sivasamy notes that even doctors are his customers, and says demand has picked up in the past four years.
“As our health has started deteriorating, more people are moving towards old habits now. We have been following a simple life since our birth and are healthy. I am happy that people are learning about the benefits of clay pots and cooking in them. To help people live sustainably, I have built this fridge,” he adds.
However, he notes, due to a shortage of potters, he is unable to make more fridges and other products.
“I used to have four people helping me, now only two of them continue, and even they are old. No youngster comes to this field nowadays. They think that those who do pottery are dirty, as our hands get dirty. That’s why we have to limit our production,” he laments.
“But if I would be rigid and say that I will only make pots and lamps, the loss is mine. By adapting to the customer’s needs, and making creations that would benefit them, I am also winning. By playing a small part in someone’s health, and helping the environment, I feel content,” he says.
Sivasamy hopes that more people switch to clay pots and live sustainably. “Go back to living like our parents and grandparents, and your visits to the hospital will be minimal,” he opines.
Edited by Divya Sethu