In conversation with Mahima Mehra, the woman behind Haathi Chaap’s Poom Freshner, one of the products in MBRB’s Monsoon Story Box.
When we opened up the pretty little cloth bag that contains Haathi Chaap’s Elephant Poom Freshner, we were confronted with a cheeky red elephant giving us a conspiratorial wink. And why not, for the copious amount of material emerging from his rear end has been innovatively converted into a range of quirky yet utilitarian products by Mahima Mehra. No wonder we loved the product so much that we had to include it in our Monsoon Story Box, a fun pick-me-up for women to savour with the rains.
Mahima describes her company and her Poom Freshner in her own words:
Could you tell us a little bit about Haathi Chaap and the team that works with you in designing and creating these products?
This is how it happened nearly a decade ago. Vijendra, our paper producer, wanted to take me to a little shrine near Jaipur. Now you know that any Indian shrine worth visiting is situated atop a hill, and so it was with this one. It was a surprisingly pleasant day, so we decided to walk up the hillock. But once we started the ascent, we realized that most pilgrims preferred to arrive at the top on the back of an elephant. If you happened to be zipping across in your flying saucer at that instance, you would have seen dozens of gracefully swinging pachyderms, and two tiny ants crawling between them. Now obviously there was a lot of dry elephant poo peppered across the hillside, and we had our Eureka moment when we realized that it reminded us of the raw fibre that we used to make paper.
We started babbling incoherently, and Vijendra zealously threw himself into the task of collecting tons of elephant dung (our fellow pilgrims had a remarkable tale to narrate back home that day!). After a series of unsavoury experiments, we finally arrived at usable sheets of paper made of elephant poo – yes, that’s the stuff you’re holding in your hand! (Don’t worry, it’s extremely hygenic and ecologically safe).
Haathi Chaap would not be what it is today without a host of characters: Preeti, our maverick and super enthusiastic Chief Haathi; Vijendra, our paper producer and pioneering poo gatherer; Jiten and Veena, who gave us the name “Haathi Chaap”, which means “Print of the Elephant”; Manjari who designed our logo and Shweta and Geetanjali, who are always on hand with their helpful suggestions.
Since we are including your product in our Monsoon box, we’d love to hear of some of your favourite Monsoon memories
So many of them! Having chai sitting at my window and breathing in the cool air, walking in the rain singing and, believe it or not, randomly sitting inside a puddle.
What is your favourite place to visit during the Monsoons?
I love exploring the hills of Uttarakhand during the rainy season – they seem to come alive with an energy that is all their own. One of my dreams is to visit the Western Ghats in the monsoon…some day.
I’d love to hear a bit more about the Poom Freshner: and how you went about designing it, and the combination of ingredients you’ve used?
The idea of a freshner made of elephant poo first came up in a project with a couple of students from SPA (School of Planning & Architecture). We modified it over a few months to make it more practical and added lemongrass since it has a pleasant fragrance (actually the scent reminds me of Thai food, my favourite!) – and the Poom Freshner was on its way.
The name was a result of our obsession with the word POO – we love to replace normal words with the word poo
What’s the best way to store it, use it? Are there any other pointers that you have?
You can use the Poom Freshner anywhere – place it in a room, cupboard, drawer or a stinky shoerack, hang it in your car, use under a sinus-ridden nose – it’s a very versatile product and a fantastic conversation starter! The best way to store it is in the pouch in which it is delivered.
We’ve included instructions on how to use the Poom Freshner, but as a reminder: Pull out the front of the Elephant, dab a couple of drops of the essential oil on the cotton in the hole inside, put back the elephant front (it’s attached to the back with a magnetic button) and Voila, you are ready to smell the world in a most unusual way!
Please be careful with how much oil you put into the cotton. Since the Haathi Chaap Poom Freshner is made of paper, excess oil can cause stains. Moreover, the oil is quite strong, so you could end up with an overpowering fragrance if you use too much.
The bottle we’ve provided looks tiny, but usually lasts for 2 -3 months. You can always replenish the Poom Freshner with other fragrant oil once this runs out.
What are some of your favourite home & personal accessories (Haathi Chaap or otherwise)
I love designs with humour, so my favourites include the Sandaas by Happily Unmarried, a few of the earlier T-shirts by Tantra and some of the merchandise by Chimp Wear. From our own range, I really like the Poopsicle and the Pithoo.
Lastly, this is a great time for entrepreneurs, designers and small and medium sized businesses in India. Who are some of the current creators whose work and sensibility you enjoy?
I really enjoy the design sensibility of Happily Unmarried, Bindaas Unlimited and Alicia Souza of Chumbak.
Haathi Chaap’s Poom Freshner is one of three products in MBRB’s Monsoon Story Box, a quirky gift set that also includes a colourful rain umbrella and a luscious foot soak for women to enjoy with the rains. Buy your box here, and find out more about our story boxes, a brand new way for women to shop and swap stories. Let’s get drenched this rainy season!
This article was originally published on June 19, minor edits were made on June 21, 2015.