Kumhar Gram: A Song of Earth and Fire

#1 Sep 29th, 2017, 23:32
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Dec 2008
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Harkishan Prajapati at his wheel. Photographs: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Though it might be called Kumhar Gram, or potters’ village, its operations run like clockwork with the industrial efficiency of a large city. A dense patchwork of brick houses and workshops, India’s largest potters’ colony is nestled deep inside Uttam Nagar in south-west Delhi. It’s been home to over 400 potter families since the early 1970s, producing handcrafted earthernware that is sold across the country and around the world.

Sculptures being given a finishing touch.

It is accessed through a serpentine route which exposes one to, in no particular order, dirt, construction dust, cowpats, narrow alleys strewn with garbage and a constant stream of cars, motorbikes and e-rickshaws whizzing past. But on entering the colony, the din subsides. Horns become distant, the street plan is straightforward, mini trucks and rickshaws quietly go in and out carrying goods. No one can afford to waste time. There is work to be done.

The village is preparing for Diwali. A month before the festival, wholesalers from across India descend on this small colony to buy diyas, surahis, pots, urulis (water vessel) and ornamental vases. The colony’s small size belies its prodigious output and a walk through the village reveals how the potter families manage this feat.

‘Urulis’ and water goblets.

One main street runs across the length of the village and mini alleys run perpendicular to it, cutting through at regular intervals. The main street is dotted with shops selling earthenware on either side and the shopfronts conceal potters’ homes. A glance through the displayed goods might reveal a lone potter at his wheel, or a woman preparing clay. But to see the hive of activity in the open, one must turn into one of these narrow lanes.

More potter homes line the alley on either side and mounds of raw clay lie on the streets. Every mound belongs to a particular family. The houses are mostly double-storeyed and almost all have a kiln, either inside or jutting out of a higher floor. The potters’ wares spill out on the streets, where they are left in the open to dry, even through the night. A potter remarked that the village has “never seen a case of theft”.

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