A Childhood Ignition: The Meccano Set of 1952
To understand the birth of Ramji’s passion, we must rewind time to the 1950s and go on a trip to a small village in Tamil Nadu called Pazhamaneri in Thanjavur district. One amongst five boys, Ramji grew up at his grandparents’ house in this village. Situated at the banks of the river Kaveri, there wasn’t much to do for the young boy then.
However, Ramji’s father, an engineer who was working in Pune, bought him a Meccano set (a model construction system) when he was eight.
“My interest in engineering and making models started thanks to this Meccano set. My father bought it in 1952, and it made a big impression on me. Mind you, it was expensive and had to be imported from the UK. The set cost him Rs 40, which he paid for out of his salary of Rs 300. I would spend hours with this set building different models,” Ramji tells The Better India.
From Wooden Kits to a Lifelong Love for Engineering
Seeing his interest in these models, his grandfather, a civil engineer, bought him some wooden kits and blocks the next year. With these kits and blocks, the nine-year-old would build houses.
A few years later, his father bought him some engineering books, which sealed his love for the subject.
“The four engineering books that my father bought at Rs 2 in 1961-62 opened up a whole new world to me. Those books are my Bible, and I still have them and the Meccano set with me,” says the 79-year-old.
With a keen interest in model making and engineering, he went on to pursue mechanical engineering in Pune.
The Business Pursuit: A Journey into Woodwork
“I wanted to set up something of my own, while my father wanted me to take a government job. Since model making was not commercially viable at the time, I chose to do woodwork. After my engineering, I learned woodwork from workshops doing this,” adds the Mysuru resident.
In 1968, he set up a woodworking business in Pune. He did interior design and made furniture and moved to Bengaluru after a few years, where he continued his business.
“We set up a place in Bengaluru and our business flourished. We had almost 150 people working for us. We did different kinds of furniture and designed many houses. However, we had to shut shop due to some financial difficulties,” adds Ramji.
Unwavering Passion: Transition to Model Making
Not one to be buoyed down by difficulties, he started doing interior design consulting from 2002. But his heart lay in model making. After moving to Mysuru, he would unwind at the end of the day by making his miniature models of trains and rockets at home. This hobby workshop grew with time and housed hundreds of models.
Living the Dream at 74: ISRO’s Call
The year 2018, and an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket model, was a turning point for Ramji.
“I once made a brass model of an ISRO rocket. The Capacity Building and Public Outreach (CBPO) team at the ISRO headquarters were very happy with the model and called me for a meeting. They wanted me to build more rocket models for them. This was the beginning of my dream turning into a reality,” says Ramji.
Then 74, Ramji set up a space at his friend Moiz Vagh’s factory in Mysuru, and there has been no looking backwards since then. The first order for ‘Craftizan Engineering models’ was from ISRO.
A Fulfilling Journey: Models, Museums, and More
“We designed models for ‘ISRO on wheels’, which were six buses filled with the space organisation’s satellites and rockets. We have had fantastic support from ISRO and have built various models for them,” adds Ramji.
ISRO has, since then, placed thousands of orders for rocket models and kits. Craftizan Engineering also makes 1:2 scale models with models 50-75 feet tall. Ramji has made models of all of ISRO’s missions from Chandrayaan-1, 2, 3 to Gaganyaan. Apart from ISRO, they design rockets for universities, schools, and private dealers.
From crafting at his home, he now has a team of 50 people, including designers and engineers. They also design train models and have showcased them at the Mysuru railway station.
“We have built a wall museum which traces ISRO’s history. While some private universities have placed orders for this, we want it to be placed at government schools. The Maharashtra government is in talks to place these wall museums at many government schools in the state,” adds the 79-year-old.
They are currently working on wall museums at Science City, Ahmedabad, PSG college of engineering, Coimbatore and Savitha University, Chennai.
Aging Gracefully: Ramji’s Zeal for Work
It is incredible to see how Ramji has the energy of a 30-year-old. He’s raring to go and is looking at a world of opportunities. He’s got no plans of retiring any time soon. His day at the factory starts at 9 am and goes on till 7-8 pm.
“I just love to work on my models with some Carnatic music playing in the background. Age is never on my mind and I would love to work all 365 days. I’m glad that I got an opportunity to fulfil my passion. Every day is a new job as we create something new,” he adds.
He’s grateful that the opportunity that he didn’t have half a decade ago is available today. “Model making is commercially viable today. As Chinese goods are banned, we are also looking at making metal moulds to make parts for toys,” he adds.
But is he satisfied with the work he’s done? “I’ve only scratched the surface,” he replies. He would really like it if more children would take an interest in this field. He also tells how many engineering college students from Mysuru have visited Ramji’s factory as well.
“I’ve only done 10 percent of the work I’d like to do so far. Ninety percent of it is left. I want to propagate engineering from a young age. Children tend to pick up things early. I want to make Meccano like sets or kits to spur this interest. This teaches them basic, fundamental engineering skills,” he adds. He hopes that one day, a young child would be inspired by his kits, like the Meccano set did for him all those years ago.