A craft in the melting pot
The times the potters flourished were bygone ones. If a conscious effort is not made to improve the conditions of the traditional potter, this age-old craft may soon be extinct, writes NIVEDITA GANGULY.
A traditional potter moulding the lamps in his wheel.
The ubiquitous mud pot perched on a high-rise window-sill anchors the urbanite, who has lost his or her roots, to good earth. A share of the broken pottery connects us to human history - a 400-year-old dying art craft.
Pottery is as ancient as human civilization and is, perhaps, the first craft that rose from its utilitarian origins to become a thing of beauty and artistic expression. In the Indian context, this ancient form of creation exists not merely in incredible forms, but is rooted in our myths and legacies. Kabir, the saint-poet, referred to God as the potter in his 'dohas' (verses).
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, five pairs of supple hands continue to recreate the magic from the potter's wheel in the faceless congested lanes of Kummari Veedhi.
Kosuru Satyam, 65, walks with difficulty along the corridors of the dark house. All over his cleared frontage are serried rows of terracotta pots in varied shapes and sizes. He has been into this business from his childhood.
"This area used to be full of houses of potters a decade ago. But now there are only six families which are relentlessly trying to perpetuate the art," he says.
There was a time when the potters, along with their families, would sell variously shaped and sized pots, pitchers and the odd jars by the busy roads and earn a modest living out of them.
"But not any more," he reflects. The middlemen and art galleries, designer lifestyle stores and exclusive outlets have taken over from the traditional craftsman.
In 1998, the potters of this area came together to form a cooperative society, Salivahana by name, which has now turned into a meaningless organisation with just five old men working for it. B. Appala Narasaiah, K. Paiditalli, S. Pardesi, Appala Raju and Satyam are the only five members who work diligently every day with their deft fingers that create the marvels out of clay.
Seventy-year-old Srikakulam Appala Raju, one of the members of the society, sits throughout the day, makes the pots and goblets from clay kneaded like flour. "Earlier mud vessels were in great demand, not only for storing water, curd or milk, but also for cooking," he recollects. But now plastics rule the roost.
"In those days even for lighting one had to make do with 'prameedalu' (diyas). They were used throughout the year and not only at Deepavali time," he recalls. He walks with difficulty as he spreads the pots on the ground for drying.
Potters putting the earthern lamps together for the heating process. ---Photo: K.R.Deepak
Now, with nobody to look after him, he somehow sustains himself by making the pots and vessels and selling them to the wholesalers. On normal days Raju earns a paltry Rs.200 to Rs.300 a month by selling his creations. The business picks up just before Deepavali when people buy dozens of diyas just to fulfil a custom.
The times the potters flourished were bygone ones when mud vessels were in great demand. His creations used to be both artistic and utilitarian and had an air of romance about them. Since the advent of the refrigerator and water-coolers, the potter has more competition than he can cope with. This clan is vanishing fast because of this.
Sadly, the younger generation is taking to other means of livelihood and refrains from coming into their family business, which is not fetching anyhow.
"Poor returns and loss of production and sales discourage them. My son, too, does not help me in my work. He is working in a gas company now," says Satyam.
There are lots of problems potters face. "A lorryload of clay costs Rs.1,500. This clay has to be burnt before use, which emits a lot of smoke and all the neighbours complain about it. So it's possible only after midnight when everyone falls asleep," he says.
Space constraint is another major problem. "We can't produce in bulk though the profit margin will be higher. Where is the space to keep all the pots to dry? No one is willing to give us a helping hand. It is just our passion for work that gives us the mental strength to go on in the twilight years of our lives," say the quintet as they continue to mould the earth into different forms.
This visibly distressing and demoralised sight of the craftspeople is proof of the decadence of the craft. If a conscious effort is not made to improve the conditions of the traditional potter, this age-old craft may soon be extinct.
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