Vijendra Shekhawat remembers the precise moment the bizarre idea struck him. “It was the first time Mahima Mehra, who is now my business partner, and I were visiting the Amber Fort together,” he says. “She nudged me just in time for me to step back, avoiding placing my foot on a mound of elephant dung.”
Elephants abound at this fort on Jaipur’s outskirts, built by Raja Man Singh in 1596, and elephant rides are one of its major attractions. Naturally, piles of elephant dung are a permanent part of the landscape.
As he stared at the stinking lumps, however, Shekhawat, who ran a small handmade paper business, saw a business opportunity. He began to wonder if he could use it as raw material for his paper.
Most people Shekhawat shared the idea with thought he was insane, but he knew something they did not: elephant dung has high fibre content.
“The elephant’s gastrointestinal tract cannot digest fibres well and thus its dung has the potential to form the pulp needed to make paper,” he says. “This is an animal which digests only 40 per cent of what it eats.”