Queen Bee – The Determined Doll-maker of Queen Bee Crafts

When she was around six years old, Radhika was playing outside and fell, hurting her leg. She limped home and everybody thought it was a regular wound that would cure and go away. Soon, the pain persisted and the parents brought her to the hospital where they found it was a bone fracture, and the muscle tissue had grown into the fracture, complicating the issue. The doctor decided to screw in a couple of plates and advised her to be in bed rest for the next 3-6 months to a year.

A year later, the young Radhika bounded back to play with her friends, only to find the pain immeasurable, and was back at another hospital. This time, the doctors diagnosed a rare weakness of the bone, added in more plates and advised her to be at home, bed rest, and very little play. She was asked to keep the plates in for the next five years while the doctors observed her. While she found some solace in watching television, the home-bound therapy weighed on the young mind—is this the life she was bound to?

Neighbors, friends, and relatives—while aghast—pitied her, especially for the fact that she was a girl child. Over time, she lost touch with her friends, even cousins, and was slowly losing her mind when her elder brother, Raj Mohan, decided to seek mental help. The therapist suggested she pick some work that she liked—drawing, painting, anything that would distract her. This advice was timely and Radhika applied herself to the arts fervently. A chance show on the television introduced her to the art of making dolls from recycled newspaper, and she promptly ransacked the stack of old newspapers in her house and set off experimenting.

The first few experiments were hugely successful—her neighbors poured appreciation and her father took them to office where she received high compliments and some orders. She continued her experimenting and developing her own unique style and finishing—drawing inspiration from various cultures. She was introduced to computers and YouTube that opened up a new vista of ideas and inspirations. From just paper-based dolls, she began experimenting with beads, gold paper recycled from invitation cards, and so on.

“But I didn’t want to let go of schooling and persisted with my parents to help me continue study,” she recalls. “I wanted to see the outside world, and believed a school education would help me out.” She spent money that she had earned from the dolls sales to buy books, guides, and other school material to study eighth grade. She passed the grade and decided to attempt the tenth as well, as she had a four-month gap after the eighth exams. “I continued to study with a feverish interest—waking up at odd hours to devour my books.” While she passed her school exams, the stress put a wrench on her health and affected her physique extensively—from her posture to her spinal structure.

Around this time, her brother’s friend, a local artist, introduced her to the African style of doll-making, and while she was interested, Radhika didn’t find it super inspiring. But the artist encouraged her to attempt making such dolls, and Radhika decided to attempt it—and the results were surprisingly very good. The friend asked her to make about a dozen more dolls and appreciation poured in. Raj Mohan decided to launch the dolls on social media, and opened up accounts on Instagram and Facebook. They got all of 49-50 likes and Radhika packed them away.

Another friend requested that she lend him the dolls to exhibit at the local book fair in Coimbatore, and she readily agreed. Over the next two days, he called back to say people were asking to buy these dolls and would she be open to selling them. Radhika collected about INR 1200 and was thrilled at the prospect of transforming her skills into business.

The book fair gave her a great start and slowly orders started coming in—some asked for dolls in pairs, some with specific ideas in mind, and some looking for just inspiration. Radhika and Raj Mohan were now suddenly tasked with growing this from ones and twos to making a dozen or more at a time.

Around this time, the bug to go to school bit her again. “We lived at the outskirts of Coimbatore city, and it was expensive to be home-schooled. I wanted to explore what those tall walls of a school hid, and satisfy that curiosity,” she recalls. Radhika and her brother visited all the local government schools to ask for admissions into the twelfth, but did not find the results encouraging—most of them turned her down because they were afraid of her getting hurt. “I persisted, despite being 20 years of age and wanting to attend the high school, when others were at college.” One school’s authority gave her a conditional admission based on her passing the term exams. Radhika joined the commerce group and gave it all she had, ignoring the pain in the legs, ignoring the long walk to the school bathroom, and unfriendly staff.

She passed all her exams and finally came to the conclusion that putting her health into risk was not worth it. “The school system is not built for people like us, and I lost all hope of continuing my education,” she recounts, despite all the angst this created in her family.

The hopelessness pushed her back to her crafts, and she started creating a series of dolls in colorful splendor that attracted some media attention. The local TV channel got interested and reached out to her through the social channels. Coincidentally, the world environment awareness day came around, and the TV channel hastened to release her story. A lot of friends and contacts called in with appreciation, but Radhika wasn’t very moved, “Did I really do something that was so spectacular that the state’s main channel was televising us? People may have taken my reaction as supercilious, but I was honestly amazed at the media interest and fan reaction.”

Today, the determined doll maker continues to flourish. “The irony is, the very schools and colleges that turned me away today are rushing to invite me to give lectures and demonstrations,” she smiles wryly. The well-wisher artist coined the name Queen Bee Paper Crafts, designed the logo, and brought it all together for the business. Post-Corona world is significantly different, she says. There are numerous other artists attempting her style of work, but she is confident that her attention to detail and finishing are tough to achieve without the years of work she has put in.

Where next? “Like Barbie, I want to make our dolls a house-hold name,” says Radhika, confidently and contentedly.

https://www.facebook.com/queenbeecraftz

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