On a Wednesday night, 11th of October, I sit on my bed, thinking of all the stuff I have to take, at what time I have to leave and what I’m supposed to do there. I scavenge for my tiny back-pack which has not been put to use for quite some time and I take my pen, diary and chap-stick. Then I place my camera for charging and ask myself, what am I going to do there? I sit down, read some online travel blog entries of people who have been to this place, note down some questions and call up my best friend, Preethi to tag along with me as she is well versed in Kannada. Both of us look at the timing and frequency of the buses which could take us there – to Pottery Town.
I had all the thrill inside as it was the first time my parents were letting me go somewhere new without them coming along. In fact we had even looked out for the restaurants nearby as food is always in the top few things in priority. We had to reach the place around ten, when there won’t be much traffic and people. So we decided to leave the next morning at 8:30am sharp. But then, there was a sudden change of plans regarding the transport and the members of our trip to Pottery town! My parents told me, “Harsha, we haven’t seen the place either… So we’ll come along too! And we can take both of you there, so don’t need to worry about catching the bus.” So our tiny group of two became a group of four. My perceived interpretations about this trip changed as my parents decided to come along with us. It felt like a family outing along with a friend rather than an adventure we had been looking forward to.
Thursday morning, 12th of October…
I dump all of my stuff I prepared to get to Pottery Town in my back-pack, filled a bottle of water; and my parents and I left around 9 to our destination, picking up Preethi on our way. Pottery Town is located in Williams Town, Benson Town, Bengaluru; near Frazer Town. It took 45 minutes to an hour to get there from my place, which is in Yelahanka.
It was like time travelling back to an era when life was simple, serene, and calm and people were living instead of surviving. I had some preconceived notions and visual images in my head about this place, just as anyone else would have when they come across the words – Pottery Town. Some of my interpretations and visuals were relatable, but not all. The words “Pottery Town” gave me an idea of a place with a British infrastructure – roads with pavements, huge lime stone buildings and other vintage stuff. All of these perceptions were created in my mind due to the name of the place; it was called Pottery Town and emphasizing on the word, ‘Town’, we don’t usually find many places with this word in India. Apparently, I came to know that the British had named this place during their rule. When the Indians and the English men were living together in this place, due to the smoke produced by the furnaces, they displaced the Indians into a place called the Pottery Town. The place where they were before is called Pottery Lane.
Preethi and I got out of the car and we thought we’d just walk around the place and absorb everything before we start asking our questions and pestering the residents of the place. Getting here was also a beautiful visual experience as I was able to observe the changes in the type of infrastructure and ambiance while moving from an extremely crowded and busy city to a calm and fragile region in Bangalore. The first thing we saw were two huge statues of Ganesha placed on the footpath, to the left of our parked car. To the right was a temporary shed made of asbestos sheet. And inside? – It was filled with terracotta Ganesha’s as small as my pinkie finger to as huge as a baby elephant. It looked like the people working on them were sorcerers trying to give them life. The sorcerers, they were painting the sculptures.
We walked further to find a man with his cart piled with small clay diyas or lamps (as we went during the time of Navratri festival), flower pots and tiny animals. The road was pretty dusty and we had not reached our destination yet. It would have been a 50 meter walk to our target. Other than the shed and the cart, this road was pretty much bland. And then after reaching a Y-junction, I realized what I could relate with my perceptions about this place and what was wrong. I had my fingers tightly clutching at my diary as I walked through the lane, stopping at each and every shop. The place is just literally made of terracotta things. It was everywhere. Ranging from tiny diyas to huge tandoor ovens – there were everything. We just walked on. To our surprise, it was just one single stretch of a lane which has given the place its name.
We approached a woman and asked her about this place and she points out to a cluster of shelters made out of bricks, cement and aluminum sheets and told us that they were provided by the government to the families staying here on lease. A lane divides the leased space and the private housings. We asked her for more, but she denied having any of the required information. She directed us to another man, who used to explain about this place to all the tourists and the new people who came here, but she said he was no tour guide. We went where she directed us to go, but unfortunately, he was unavailable and would come only the next day. I was desperate and was about to give up and come the next day.
We had to walk around asking many people whether they could help us in getting the information we wanted, and Preethi was extremely helpful and useful as she was conversing with them in Kannada and asking them what all I wanted to ask them about. My parents were walking around the place admiring the intricacy and creativity of the terracotta products.
Wandered and walked into a fine lady in her thirties who was giving the finishing touches to her freshly made pots. She was surrounded by them – lots of them as well as other kinds of pots with a different shade of burnt sienna. We walk towards her awkwardly and ask her name. Without even turning her face towards us, she replies, “Bhagya”. Then I nudge Preethi to ask some of the questions which I had prepared. But she didn’t know much about it. With a swiping gesture of her hand she tells us that her husband knows more about the place, but he’s away for work in a construction site. We thank her and leave.
As we turned to our left and started walking straight, we see a crowd forming in the junction about twenty feet ahead of us. Curious, we walk faster and you will not believe what we saw! It was a tamed monkey in chains held by its master. I was surprised and shocked at the same time as there was lot of thoughts going on inside my head. It is a baby monkey and is tamed by its master who put it in chains and he also has a stick in his right hand. The torture and pain the baby monkey would be going through is unimaginable. Its face was yellow with turmeric powder and eyes lined thick with kajal. And he called me from the crowd to touch the monkey. I clutched a twenty rupee note in my sweaty hands and walked towards the monkey. It gave me a handshake and “kiss” on my cheek. I didn’t want to do it; didn’t want to encourage the act. But I still went ahead, convincing myself that it’s a new experience and it is okay.
The crowd dissipates and scatters away, bringing the sorrel toned merchandise into view. We walk into the shop telling him that we were doing a project for our college and ask him whether he has some time for us. He directs us to another house and tells us that we would get enough information from them.
That is when we meet Lakshmi. Even my parents are standing right next to us. And my dad comes forward and asks her where she is from. To our surprise, she says that they are from a village called Chintamani in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. She points at three-four houses and tells us that all of them are from Vellore. She says that she has been here only for 30 years as she moved in with her husband after their marriage. But her mother-in-law has been here for over 80 years.
According to the readings I had done based on this place, only 20 families are in business. But Lakshmi says that there are at least 40 families who are involved in this business. They obtain their mud for making clay from their village. She stays at her own private housing, and there are sheds right opposite to the string of private houses of potters. The government had given this piece of land to 60 potters on a 30 year lease. Under the British rule, they were charged a tax of 12 paise per month and now, they are charged with 300 rupees per month. But the sad part is that no one pays them.
The number of customers they get depends on many factors; it would be more during the wedding and festive seasons and then die down. Their monthly revenue is around 30,000 rupees. Their products are sold in bulk. E.g. For a single wedding, 600 to 700 tiny bowls are sold. The cost of a bowl ranges from 3 rupees to 5 rupees depending on the finishing and intricacy of the work. They get an average of 2-3 customers a day, including foreigners. The government does not provide them any aid except for giving the piece of land for lease.
Right opposite to her house, in between the sheds of aluminum, bricks and asbestos, were three furnaces made of bricks which was inside a rectangular room. Due to the smoke and soot, the inside of the furnaces, as well as the walls and ceiling of the room was black. They were lined along the left side of the room, and on the right wall, there was a place to write. The people who wanted to bake their pots would write their preferred time on the wall beforehand and no one would disturb them while they use the furnaces. This is a systematic way of the usage of furnaces.
To the right of the room of furnaces was a very small alley. Lakshmi directs us towards the alley and tells us that we would be able to see the potters at their wheels there. We walk through the alley and come across Ramesh and Srinivas.
A tiny smoking furnace greets us at the entrance of their tiny cubicle where Srinivas is “creating” diyas from a spinning lump of ochre clay. In the top left corner of the room is a television screaming “sixes”, “fours” and “run-outs”. We request their permission to take pictures in my camera and Preethi ask them how long they have to bake the pots so that they don’t break. Apparently it takes 6 hours for them to harden to perfection. They are working on wheels run by motor. We ask whether they have the actual potter’s wheel. And they reply that there are only two of them left, but we can’t see them as they are in the warehouse and have not been used for a long time.
We thank them and next we meet a man in his seventies whose name is also Srinivas. He was making kulfi cups for a wedding. He slid his hands smoothly over the spinning soft mound of moist clay from the bottom to the top. And a cup was formed. A smooth and perfect cup, a clone to the other twenty kept nearby on a wooden slab. He has been doing this for over 40 years now. He tells us that he could make around 600 to 700 a day, but the youngsters could make around 1000-1500 a day. This would need practice and a lot of skill and creativity. And it takes 20 weeks of training to make a perfect terracotta ware, provided we have to practice for an hour every day.
As pot making is a time-consuming and labor intensive profession to take up, the youngsters are reluctant to pick that as the main occupation. Srinivas’s son does not work as a potter. Instead, he goes out of the village for work. He says that it is very difficult to get laborers. As there are many families indulged in making pottery, the competition is extremely high. So if his neighbor sells a lamp for 5 rupees, he has to sell his lamp for 4 rupees and so on to attract the buyers. Another problem arises during the monsoons as the earthenware takes a lot of time to dry in moist and wet conditions. In fact, sometimes, they are not able to keep them outside due to the rain. Rain in turn increases the level of water in the lakes which poses a major trouble for potters to get the mud from under the water.
He then made us some pots and bowls which he decorated intricately on the spot. We thanked him a lot and made our way further inside. And oh! I saw a puppy and its mom on the way too. We reached a dead end, which was the entrance to Mallika and Selvi’s place. There we saw two ladies, surrounded by gods; the two ladies who were creating gods with molds. And I found this ironical as we all have heard that the humans are the creations of god, who molds us to perfection.
They were making small figures of Durga and Gowri Ganesha. And they make them with the help of molds. They have molds in different shapes and sizes. As for the paint, they use water colors for figures which have to be submerged in the water; and enamel for the ones which we don’t submerge. They prepare and make all of their clay figures and get them painted. Then they store all of them till the festival comes. Remember the Ganesha placed on either sides of the road to Pottery Town? They are prepared for next year’s celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi.
We thanked them, bid farewell and walked back through the alley. As we wanted a souvenir from here, we went to a shop which was quite big and had a lot of collection of pots, vessels and lamps. We bought some stuff only to know that whatever we bought were not made here. They were brought from different parts of the country like Mumbai, Gujarat and Rajasthan. All of us were taken aback when we came to know that they were not from Karnataka.
Finally we leave with a content heart and mind full of information and a pleasurable experience. As I had stated above, I had had a lot of preconceived ideas and thoughts about this place. This is a small village which lacks the city buzz and the need to pretend for anyone; a village where everyone helps each other in every way possible. Just like how Pico Iyer had reflected on how he felt about travelling, I was able to relate to him as it was a new place we were travelling to; and the best part was that we could be ourselves while travelling to a new place. Just like having a clean slate while going somewhere new, where people don’t know us and we don’t know them; devoid of any stereotypes and prejudice or any divisions and discrimination – we are able to be ourselves completely. Travelling to a place which we have never been to before always will have an impact on us, our perceptions and thought processes. Here, I was able to connect with the people and understand their lives and problems they face, how they excel at doing what they are very good at. In fact, they have also developed in their field by introducing wheels which run by motor. My trip to Pottery Town has been very informative and has given me a peek into how the community works together to live together.