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HAPPINESS BOTTLED

It was through art Meenu Mariam J, a BEd student in Thiruvananthapuram, discovered, rediscovered herself. From a timid, shy childhood, Meenu now has become an entrepreneur of sorts even as a student. It was at Mar Ivanios College she found her mooring. Through her Instagram page Kanmashi, which sells upcycled bottles kanmashi33

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In a moving piece, Meenu tells the story of her meteoric rise.

When we achieve something at some point in life, we consider it as a success. What if we have to go miles from there with more passion and power? It’s called falling into the right track. If that’s the case, I can simply say that after many years of struggle, I am on the right track.
I am Meenu Mariam J, a BEd student from Thiruvananthapuram. Along with that I do bottle art and sell it through my Instagram page Kanmashi. I was not that passionate to become a teacher. I wanted to learn art, do artworks and that was my ultimate happiness. But somewhere along the journey, I forcefully took a diversion from the path led me to the English Department of Mar Ivanios College. That was a place that taught me the best lessons of my life through the worst experiences. I was not that active and expressive. Lack of confidence and courage left me isolated and I thought everybody is smarter than me. But the simple sketches I did in between the classes which made me happy enough. I made Mehendi designs for my classmates. Since literature was not my cup of tea, I used to bunk classes almost all the time except, the third year. By that time, I started loving literature too.

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I thought I have to dump my passion for it. But Ivanios had given me opportunities to nurture the budding artist in me. In the fourth semester, we conducted 'Brush and Lens', a painting and photography exhibition across all departments. I exhibited eight of my pencil drawings in it. I could secure first prize in the Face Painting Competition held at All Saints College, Chakkai. I bagged third prize in 'Tribute To Sachin', a drawing competition conducted by the College Union. After my graduation, I really wanted to do MA, but unfortunately, my name was not there in any allotment list of Kerala University despite having secured 75%. My friends with 65% and below got admission in reputed institutions, but I did not. That made me shattered.

Then I joined IGNOU for MA English (distant education). Those two years made me realise that you don't always need many, but some to be happy. Abin (Monkeyking) is my childhood bestie who gave me enough strength during these two years. He was my constant companion from Class 1V. I had got enough time in between the IGNOU classes. Thus I started doing pot art. The art techniques which I learned during this time helped me in doing bottle art. After postgraduation, I joined Mar Theophilus Training College for BEd. MTTC is my lucky space where I got many opportunities even without expecting anything. I could become the Literary Champion of 2018. I was elected as Vice Chairperson of the 63rd College Union. I secured the second prize in the face painting competition at Rangolsav, All Kerala Training College Youth Festival. I have a gang of 50 friends at MTTC. Teachers in MTTC are also great motivators.

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FAMILY MATTERS

My parents were not ready to accept my passion and perspectives at first. They didn't have any idea how am I going to live with my art and craftworks. They wanted me to pursue my career as a teacher, which in their view a secured profession. That is why they made me do BA Literature. My father Jayakumar is an electrician and mother Alice, a housewife. I have a younger sister named Julie. They always expected me to score high and secure first positions in exams. Unfortunately, I couldn't. I could only secure the average in every exam I attended and I was happy with that. After realising that their approach won't work, they left me free. I could make some or the other decisions of my life and my career and that made the difference. Now they are happy with what I am doing. My father helps me purchase the materials and doing the works too. My sister and mother are my strengths.

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Vinayan achan

If I ever need to name someone so and loving and caring, I would say, it’s Vinayanachan. Fr Varghese Vinayanand OIC is a Catholic priest who belongs to Bethany, a monastic order in the Syro-Malankara Church. We call him Vinayanachan with love. He modified my perspectives on life and people. He taught me the lessons of survival when I was struggling to overcome the hurdles of my life.

MCYM Family

We always need a platform where you can have opportunities. In my life, Malankara Catholic Youth Movement(MCYM) gave me chances to unveil my artistic talent. We have a handwritten magazine competition along with the literary competition. I used to be the magazine editor for three years. That made me learn more about art and craft. I could secure first prize in poem writing four times. My most inspiring artist is Jobin Prakash, a friend, guru and brother of mine. All my friends in church are like backbones whose love and support strengthens me even at the worst times.

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Kanmashi

'An art gallery where people can find happiness', that is the biggest dream of mine. In simple words 'Kanmashi' is an online store which sells upcyled bottles. It has got different types of bottles- painted, lighted, crafted, with photoframe, wooden work, stonework and threadwork.

The story of Kanmashi began when my friend Anchu spotted some leftover bottles lying on the road. We collected it and I started working on it. At first, my friends started calling me "pattaperukki" (ragpicker), and some people looked at me with scorn. After doing some work, I have got orders. People found them beautiful and classy. Many of them appreciated my work. When my customers share their happiness and gratitude after receiving these, I find myself as the happiest person in the world. I have not focused on the 'environment protection' aspect of upcycling these bottles until Club FM invited me as their 'recycle hero'. They had a campaign for school students who recycle rubbish to make something creative.

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Tell us more about Kanmashi and its operational part.

Kanmashi is my dream. I opened an Instagram account when I realized it’s the best medium to promote artwork. Since I work only part-time, there is no steady stream of revenue as such. I have to manage my studies along with Kanmashi. Plans are afoot to improve my art store after the course. I would like to expand my works from bottles to other products like pot art, crafts, etc.

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What are your career plans otherwise?

I would be happy if my passion and profession go hand in hand. But my major focus will be on Kanmashi.

How much time do you devote to bottle art? How do you divide time between studies and your passion?

I do bottle art from the evening till night, besides holidays. That is the major struggle of my life now. It’s a balancing act.

Since you are a teacher, are you planning to train children in bottle art as well?

I don't have such plans now. As a teacher, I have to teach them not only the syllabus but things beyond that too. Maybe at a later stage, I can train them as well.

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HABITS

I am happy being whatever I am today. Though it cannot be considered as a habit, my constant personal prayers helped me a lot in moulding myself. I used to write down all my frustrations on diaries and after overcoming all those, I used to tear those papers. I don't know whether it would work with others. I love to watch good movies and listen to Malayalam classics. Reading is one of the newly developed habits.

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