This unique pen gives you a tree, with Love | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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This unique pen gives you a tree, with Love

A pen made by product designer Lakshmi Menon, it is made of recycled paper and has seeds enclosed within the layers. After use, the pens can be thrown while the seeds will germinate and grow into plants.

art and culture Updated: Dec 12, 2016 08:47 IST
Yamini Nair
Pens developed by product designer Lakshmi Menon that contains seed at the rear tip.
Pens developed by product designer Lakshmi Menon that contains seed at the rear tip.(Lakshmi Menon)

A pen can transform alphabets into an ocean of knowledge, but what if the pen itself transforms into an oasis — a fruit-bearing tree or a kitchen garden — after you think you are done with it?

That’s exactly what pens made by interior, jewellery and product designer Lakshmi Menon in Ernakulam, Kerala, do. Made of recycled paper, her pens have seeds enclosed within the layers. After use, throw the pens and the seeds will take life.

Lakshmi, 42, who worked as an artist with a gallery in San Francisco and lived in the US from 2000 to 2008, returned home and started working on improving the status of artists and the society.

Lakshmi and the unique pens developed by her. (Lakshmi Menon)

“I used to work with orphanages, giving craft lessons to children. I wanted to do something to employ differently-abled people too; something simple and easy to make,” says Lakshmi.

Was the idea of this pen much thought about? “It was an Aahaaa moment,” she says. “I just came across it,” she adds, sharing the story of the birth of the pen project named Entree (my tree).

The next phase saw several trials and errors before she successfully made the product named Open With Love — “with” being the Malayalam equivalent of “seed”. It was launched in April 2016 and initially, seeds of chilli, spinach, cucumber, guava, etc were used. Now, she uses the seeds of Agastya tree (Hummingbird tree or Butterfly tree), all parts of which have medicinal value. The pen has takers from across India and abroad.

Each pen costs Rs 12 and carries a leaflet with information on the seed enclosed. “Some value-add is done by printing Mahatma Gandhi quotes or Malayalam alphabets to promote the language,” says Lakshmi.

A machine was developed to roll the paper, sourced from printing waste from a nearby press. To do the rest, Lakshmi has employed seven women from the neighbourhood. The team makes more than 1,000 pens a day.

Where do we get the pen? “I take the orders and courier them across,” she says, adding there’s no intention to tie up with stores or online selling outlets.

Her mother Sreedevi and 92-year-old grandmother Bhavani Amma help her in every step. “Even Alzheimer’s can’t stop my grandma’s enthusiasm,” says Lakshmi.

Lakshmi with her mother and grandmother involved in making her innovative brand of Entree pens. (Lakshmi Menon)

In fact, her idea of innovative products began with her grandmother. To keep her occupied, Lakshmi used to make her roll wicks for lamps using yarn. She later thought of it as the best way to help women in old age homes. “I purchase yarn and give it to the women in old age homes and help them sell it too. The entire profit is handed over to them,” says Lakshmi with pride.

The product named “Ammoommathiri” (Ammoomma means grandma and thiri is wick) is a hit. This initiative was featured in a TV show anchored by Bollywood actor-superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who was also fascinated with a seed pen she gifted him.

Lakshmi with her mother and grandmother involved in making wicks for lamps. (Lakshmi Menon)

Lakshmi’s talent is not confined to making eco-friendly pens or helping women in old age homes. She is involved in several projects that aim at making Kerala go green as well as helping artists make contemporary products with higher sales quotient.

As a crafts consultant with Kerala tourism department, she worked in shaping a crafts village in Vadakara, Kozhikode. She also spearheaded Orange Alert movement, an app-based warning system to alert motorists about potholes on the way.

Her latest initiative is Pendrive, a drive to collect used plastic pens, and creating an installation at the Biennale 2016 in Kochi. “Within couple of weeks of sending out the message through social media, we received around three lakh pens,” she says, raising concern over the dangers to the environment from discarded plastic pens.

“The intention is to drive a message about the tiny plastic thing we use that adds toxins to water bodies and landfill. At least students should realise the need to use ink pens, instead of the ballpoint pens which are used and thrown,” says the environmentally-conscious entrepreneur.