Long before the entry of battery-operated cars and remote-controlled robots, there used to be an era of wooden toys. Those wooden playthings were intricately carved with great craftsmanship. Though such vintage toys are hard to find these days, an 82-year-old man in Wayanad, Kerala is still crafting unique old-world toys.
As soon as Abdu wakes up early in the morning, he heads to his tiny workshop set beside his house. Fondly called Abdukka, he has been making such wooden toys for the last four decades. Starting at the age of 40, he still finds joy in crafting toys from junk and wood.
As we spoke over the phone, his enthusiasm while speaking about his art felt infectious.
It is not just an art for him, says Abdukka, who took up toy-making as a way to make ends meet. “Toy-making came to me by chance, but it helped me and my family to survive all these years. It is my bread and butter. I will be at it till the time my health lets me do it,” says the octogenarian.
Handcrafting playthings out of junk and wood
Before moving into toy making, he used to be a daily wage labourer working in plantations. “At the age of 40, I fell and got injured. After that incident, I couldn’t go to work. As the sole breadwinner of a family of six, I had to find a way to keep the boat afloat. That’s when the idea of toy-making came to me,” says Abdukka who dropped out of school after class two.
Though as a child he used to make toys out of junk, Abdukka recalls, “When my younger child turned two, I made him a toy using a discarded tin. It stopped him from crying and he started playing with it. This made me think, and I realised that I could be good at this.”
Right from that moment of realisation, Abdukka started ideating toys and their structures. As he couldn’t afford expensive materials, he started making toys out of whatever he had at his home.
He says, “I believe that God hasn’t created anything that is useless or meaningless on this planet. If you really want to learn something and are passionate about it, then you can definitely do it.”
Right from wood, tin, glass, and plastic containers nothing went waste. Abdukka turned everything into interesting toys. He then sold them at different places in Wayanad.
“Once I make a batch of toys, I go out to different towns nearby such as Kalpetta, Bathery, Meenangadi and Mananthavady, and I sell them directly to the customers. It has been my routine over the last 42 years,” he says.
“I used to go out for sales frequently until the pandemic broke out. It was a very difficult time but with the help of a few well-wishers, I was able to wade through it. Now due to health concerns, my frequency of going out to sell these toys has reduced,” says Abdukka, adding that currently he only goes out on Saturdays to avoid the rush in buses.
Talking about the demand for his toys, he says that he doesn’t face any difficulty in finding buyers for his toys even now.
“These days I go to places only within 10 km. I take a bus to these places and walk through the roads with a batch of 10 to 12 toys in hand. By afternoon, all toys will be sold out. I think people are curious about my toys, which attracts them,” says Abdukka who also has customers visiting his house sometimes to make the purchase.
The inspiration behind the making of unique toys
He shares that his observation skills and insight into everything happening around him help him to come up with ideas for crafting toys.
Abdukka recalls, “Once I observed a butterfly drinking nectar from a flower, and it fascinated me to make a butterfly toy. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I found it very difficult to make flapping wings using wood. I decided to fit a hinge, but it was expensive to buy one. So, I had to make it on my own using discarded metal.”
Another challenging toy he made was a tipper truck. He says. “I was planning to build a working model of a tipper truck, but it took me almost two weeks to figure out how to tilt the platform upwards like a real tipper. Once I figured, it was solid and now it works well.”
He also makes moving toy vehicles like auto-rickshaws, tractors, lorries, JCBs, helicopters, etc. The toys are also hand-painted with bright colours along with drawings of animals and flowers.
”It takes around one and a half days to build a tipper truck. Once I am done making a batch, I go out for sale,” says Abdukka who earns a meagre amount through his venture.
His toys range between Rs 150 to Rs 700. “I fix the price according to the amount of work that goes into each toy’s making,” he says. “I don’t earn much, but it has helped me sustain and take care of my wife and children. I still continue because I love making them and of course, it is our means of sustenance.”
“My wife Nabeesa has always been my pillar of support. Whenever I need a helping hand, she is there,” concludes Abdukka.
Edited by Pranita Bhat