“As a kid, I loved Ganesh Chaturthi. Welcoming Ganpati ji, celebrating his arrival, attending Ganpati decoration competitions – these are my favourite memories from my childhood. For me, going to different pandals and seeing different kinds of Ganesh idols was very exciting! But as much as I loved the festival, seeing how our celebrations disturbed nature saddened me. Since my parents were environmentalists, they’d tell me about the ill-effects of POP, and that stayed with me. They taught me, ‘You should always protect nature.’ Thus, from a young age, being environmentally conscious was instilled in me.

That’s why, 8 years ago, when I started getting a Ganesh idol to my office, it was obvious that I’d go for an eco-friendly option. Initially, I’d get a plant idol. But one day, while randomly scrolling through social media, I came across a picture posted by a man from Pune – that of an alum stone on which there was a carving of Ganesh. That’s when the seed was planted… I wondered, ‘Can we make idols using alum?’ Since alum is commonly used for purification of water, I thought it’d be great if idols made using alum would be immersed in water. They’d purify the water body they’d be immersed in, thus reversing some of the pollution we cause! So, along with a few friends, I reached out to local idol makers with this idea. But most weren’t keen on it because making those idols required extra effort.

With no takers for my idea, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I thought, ‘Why not try making this on my own?’ After all, I had the idea and the right motivation. For me, it wasn’t about business – it was my way of serving the environment. So, I started thinking along the lines of making alum idols on my own with the help of a few engineer friends.

As the first step, I researched intensively about alum, its types and how to give it shape, etc. Initially, I tried to use a huge 2ft alum stone in 20ltr muddy water just to see if it would be able to purify that much water, and it actually did! This strengthened my motive even further! So, with the help of my friends,I made makeshift idols that were 2ft slabs of alum stone with Ganesh ji painted on it. However, since they weren’t very pleasing to look at, we didn’t find many takers. This pushed us to improvise and make better-looking idols. After a year and a half of research, our prototype idol was finally ready in 2018!

The feeling of seeing your idea come to life is incomparable… I felt proud of what I had built. Years of research had finally yielded into the results I had set out to accomplish. Being an engineer, I was now able to make an idol – and this proved the ‘Engineers can do anything’ saying true!

My family was of course proud of my innovation, but what came as a pleasant surprise was strangers noticing my work. They noticed that I was genuinely trying to make a difference and make the festival a bit more eco-friendly, and they enthusiastically supported me. I never advertised my creation, but word-of-mouth helped my idols get noticed. Even kids near our production unit noticed our work and encouraged their families to adopt these idols.

Today, 4 years later, I’ve sold around 3000 idols across the country. I know it’s a small number, but every drop makes an ocean and I’m happy that I’m able to make a small impact with my innovation! I’ve realised that people want to save the environment but they don’t have an easy way to do it – my motive is to make these alum idols a tiny way for them to help. Also, what makes me happier is that people who buy my idols once end up placing orders every year, thus doing their bit for the environment!

Sometimes, people approach me saying they want to felicitate me, but honestly I don’t want that… This is not a business for me – it’s just my passion for the environment! I am more than willing to guide anyone who wants to make these alum idols – even if a few people take up this initiative, we can collectively bring about a positive change. Today, people know me as ‘Vishal alum idols wala’ and that’s all the recognition I need!

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