The last generation of potters

The world of potters in India who make utility water pots, cooking utensils using local river bed clay is experiencing a slow death. It seems this is the last generation of this community. I had the opportunity to meet this particular community called ‘Prajapati’ who were enthused in their craft and earned their living since several forefathers ago.

Soon this will change. Their children are not following this tradition, not because they are not interested , but due to economics. Clay pots traditionally used for water and other clay ware replaced by plastci, glass and modern ceramics. The demand is slumping and the youth want to migrate to better life and professions where the future is brighter. Existing potters turn to farming or local jobs to sustain. One of them told me that girls would only accept men who had a ‘proper’ job even though their pottery business brings in more money!

As a studio hobby ceramicist, where I practice only for pleasure, it made me realise how important this change would affect their livelihood and their future generations. But, their resilience and willingness to accept this evolution really surprised me, and I was happy for that, but quite disheartened to see this beautiful craft going in the hands of mould making industry.

I began by finding out the source of the clay, and it’s journey to the potters wheel. They go to the local river or pond beds to dig the raw clay, dump it in this shallow water beds for a few days, sieve and filter out all the impurities. By this process the entire impurities are removed and the clay turned into fine quality clay. The fine clay is mixed with equal proportion of water and spread over a square shaped pit area (locally known as chowkri) for a day. Saw dust is used as tempering material to the clay. If the temper is not mixed properly then it loses its pliability and the pots can break.

Red clay called ‘gheru’ is often used to mix in with the fine clay. Terra-cotta is a term that refers to fired clay, typically unglazed, but it may also refer to the red-brown color that earthenware clays get after kiln firing to low temperatures

Fire wood, cow dung, bricks, broken pots, and hay/husk are materials used to make ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’ open kilns for ‘bisque firing’ earthenware so as to provide this fragile produce, with high durability. The process of building the open kiln, meticulously stacking the freshly made pots, plates , tumblers required lot of patience and experience. The whole family from grandma to the toddler engaged and excitedly assisted. Rice husk and twigs covered with broken pots helped to keep all in place. For me, the excitement was even more than a rather small pit firing I did in Oxford!I

I left the family and the burning pit in the evening, to return early next morning. The men were up early already assembling the fired pots and separating them out as we entered their alley way. To their relief, there was no damage, as all the stock was due to be delivered that afternoon. After a refreshing ginger ‘chai’ we left the Prajapati family to start their clay process all over again. I did promise I will come back to see them churning their wares on their wheels, not the traditional ‘chakdo’, but an electric one she said.

Ah well, I had to accept this change, and left glancing at the manual ‘chakdo’ – potters’ wheel lying in a corner, abandoned but not forgotten.

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Abondoned but not forgotten’

Bhoomi – Mother Earth

As a ceramicist, the very process of creating things using material from earth – using clay, has been a rewarding means of expression for me. This helps me connect with the soil, water, air, and fire, in a way that is very tactile and emotional.

As a culmination of the technique that I have learnt and experimented with over the years, and as a homage to the place we call our home, this sculpture is conceived as the mother earth – or ‘Bhoomi’ – a name closer to my heart. In retrospect, the fact that this lockdown had me staying indoors, reflecting and contemplating on the current state of affairs the earth has had to endure, our treatment and consumption of it’s natural resources, and the retaliation of mother earth in return – seems like a plead for a pause – a complete halt – asking humanity to stop this abuse we mete out to her. 

There has been a huge awakening in us during this brief time when nature showed us clear blue skies, clean unpolluted atmosphere revealing distant views, and waters pristine and nurturing, once again like being just born. In giving life to the Bhoomi sculpture from my perspective – she is the one who stands tall and mighty as always, but wears a skirt around her girdle that is frayed and falling apart like the maladies she suffers from – and yet she emerges out of this like having re-born with folded arms in a foetal self-hug, a submissive gesture leaning towards faith and prayer. There is a bird of hope that is perched on her shoulder, a sign of good things to come, and a harbinger of peace on earth. The birds from my garden helping me cheer up during my lockdown needed a pride of place in my conception of the mother earth, and the little bird was perhaps a suggestion of the freedom that we long for, during these trying times.

I have abstracted the Bhoomi figurine to be feminine, the facial features to be minimal, and have highlighted the textures by using rustic oxides and shiny glazes as I usually play about to bring the most out of my clay. The blues represent the skies and the flowing rivers on her body, while the contrasts of textures showing red parched earth depict the strength and fragility of the terracotta clay fired as mother earth. The glazing technique involved pouring the glaze mixture over the finished sculpture, and let it take shape as it flows, allowing gravity to determine the flow, as does the earth in the flow of rivers naturally down the mountain slopes and valleys towards the ocean.

The colours, form, and idea of the sculpture we see in the Bhoomi, is the direct result of a complete blending in of the elements of nature, my humble answer to the reality of where we live, a mere reminder of how we must take care of it, if we were to leave it behind in its healthy glory for the generations to come. 

As a ceramicist, the very process of building things up using material from earth – using clay, has been a rewarding means of expression for me. This helps me connect with the soil, water, air, and fire, in a way that is very tactile and emotional.

As a culmination of the technique that I have learnt and experimented with over the years, and as a homage to the place we call our home, this sculpture is conceived as the mother earth – or ‘Bhoomi’ – a name closer to my heart. In retrospect, the fact that this lockdown had me staying indoors, reflecting and contemplating on the current state of affairs the earth has had to endure, our treatment and consumption of it’s natural resources, and the retaliation of mother earth in return – seems like a plead for a pause – a complete halt – asking humanity to stop this abuse we mete out to her. 

There has been a huge awakening in us during this brief time when nature showed us clear blue skies, clean unpolluted atmosphere revealing distant views, and waters pristine and nurturing, once again like being just born. In giving life to the Bhoomi sculpture from my perspective – she is the one who stands tall and mighty as always, but wears a skirt around her girdle that is frayed and falling apart like the maladies she suffers from – and yet she emerges out of this like having re-born with folded arms in a foetal self-hug, a submissive gesture leaning towards faith and prayer. There is a bird of hope that is perched on her shoulder, a sign of good things to come, and a harbinger of peace on earth. The birds from my garden helping me cheer up during my lockdown needed a pride of place in my conception of the mother earth, and the little bird was perhaps a suggestion of the freedom that we long for, during these trying times.

I have abstracted the Bhoomi figurine to be feminine, the facial features to be minimal, and have highlighted the textures by using rustic oxides and shiny glazes as I usually play about to bring the most out of my clay. The blues represent the skies and the flowing rivers on her body, while the contrasts of textures showing red parched earth depict the strength and fragility of the terracotta clay fired as mother earth. The glazing technique involved pouring the glaze mixture over the finished sculpture, and let it take shape as it flows, allowing gravity to determine the flow, as does the earth in the flow of rivers naturally down the mountain slopes and valleys towards the ocean.

The colours, form, and idea of the sculpture we see in the Bhoomi, is the direct result of a complete blending in of the elements of nature, my humble answer to the reality of where we live, a mere reminder of how we must take care of it, if we were to leave it behind in its healthy glory for the generations to come. 

SHAKTI – The empowered

I realised that our minds can never be under ‘lockdown’ even during a physical lockdown. We may be restricted and limited to certain activities, but our minds work on a reverse mode. The mind seemingly goes rampant, searching for freedom and unlimited activity. In staying focused towards my vision, and being in the moment of activity during recent months, the creative flow I experienced has helped me move closer to my own self, seeing a mutual reflection of me in what I do, and absorbing the strengths from my creations.

Clay has been a medium of choice and expression for me. It’s where I totally immerse myself in transforming that lump of clay into a form and shape that I have been visualising. I know I cannot see the end result yet, but I can feel the figurine coming into form during the process of its creation, opening my mind as I fine-tune it through the act of sculpting.

‘SHAKTI’ meaning ‘divine strength’ is the end result of my immersion. With my visual imprint, and no end result in sight, I continued working step-by-step in creating her. The concave and the convex curves, uplifted stance, and extended arms looking upwards symbolise ‘Hope’ that transcends her reality. She has an inner strength that I wanted to bring to life.

My hours turned into days, and I felt totally immersed in this flow of creating her to the fullest. The clay, ‘Shakti’ and me became one, unified.

The textures and the tones complemented, and her weathered look showed signs of her resilience to overcome challenges.

Time seemed to disappear as she came to life so effortlessly, the hours and days I spent creating her, had revived my Shakti – my inner strength. I am blessed!

Happy that ‘Shakti’ has been selected for the ‘Flow’ exhibition by Modern Art Oxford. Exhibition online from Sept 4 2020.

More images while I was working on my creative flow….

Unlock my mind

Dear friends,

Having promised myself to write a travel diary soon after my year long travels, and as I started to look back, my thoughts turned like dark clouds locked amidst an incoming storm. I wanted to unlock my mind to rewrite my diary.

So here, I am going to resist listing all the destinations I visited, all the monuments I photographed, all the strangers I was in awe of, and all the delicious cuisine I devoured. That would be an interesting travel blog, but will leave that for later. These experiences are about how I felt, and sensed from my heart, and not from any of my notes nor from my camera.

When I step out of my comfort zone, I succumb to feelings like anxiety and anticipation alongside the excitement, looking forward for my journeys to unfold.

As I travel from one destination to the other, each day is a different day… Happy days pass by quickly, hot tiring days seem never ending.

Feeling excited at a prospect of visiting a traditional fish market, a sense of dismay creeping in when I see it is sitting next to a mall. Soon, this passes, and I am smiling at strangers, mingling in the local scene.

Aching knee has made me miss climbing that all too famous monastery, and I feel defeated, but inflated when my fellow tourists come back complaining of foggy views.

Meeting local people in their meagre abodes, sharing their food and dancing with them make me cry and feel humbled, and when upgraded in my hotel, I feel privileged and posh!

My day at the dance festival beaming with its vibrancy and diverse culture uniting communities, ends with a televised bloody riot faraway. Each one on their own.

As a journey take me on a noisy train, and I wake up people staring at me. Chaos behind me, and I search for some peace and quiet. Other days I go to bed in between a serene rice field, and I ache for some blaring music.

When the driver assures me that the end of the road is our destination, and I am still many hours away, impatience turning into despair and distrust. Distrust turns into an assuring smile when he brings me a comforting ‘chai’.

Waiting game at airports, between hustled queues, weary travellers with coffee cups. The flight is on time, though it is a misty morning.

From one coast to the other, in between temple ruins and skyscrapers, fields to markets, tribal folks to city bars, my feelings and emotions have been on a rollercoaster. These senses twinned with my curious sensory mind, all I can say, it has been a journey!

The ‘lockdown’ has left us all confined to our homes, reflecting on those days when we were free on our journeys. As I reflect in my present ‘new normal’ lifestyle, I think, all those peaks and troughs were so much a part of my travels, a journey to unlocking my mind.

Unlock my mind

Dear friends,

Having promised myself to write a travel diary soon after my year long travels, and as I started to look back, my thoughts turned like dark clouds locked amidst an incoming storm. I wanted to unlock my mind to rewrite my diary.

So here, I am going to resist listing all the destinations I visited, all the monuments I photographed, all the strangers I was in awe of, and all the delicious cuisine I devoured. That would be an interesting travel blog, but will leave that for later. These experiences are about how I felt, and sensed from my heart, and not from any of my notes nor from my camera.

When I step out of my comfort zone, I succumb to feelings like anxiety and anticipation alongside the excitement, looking forward for my journeys to unfold.

As I travel from one destination to the other, each day is a different day… Happy days pass by quickly, hot tiring days seem never ending.

Feeling excited at a prospect of visiting a traditional fish market, a sense of dismay creeping in when I see it is sitting next to a mall. Soon, this passes, and I am smiling at strangers, mingling in the local scene.

Aching knee has made me miss climbing that all too famous monastery, and I feel defeated, but inflated when my fellow tourists come back complaining of foggy views.

Meeting local people in their meagre abodes, sharing their food and dancing with them make me cry and feel humbled, and when upgraded in my hotel, I feel privileged and posh!

My day at the dance festival beaming with its vibrancy and diverse culture uniting communities, ends with a televised bloody riot faraway. Each one on their own.

As a journey take me on a noisy train, and I wake up people staring at me. Chaos behind me, and I search for some peace and quiet. Other days I go to bed in between a serene rice field, and I ache for some blaring music.

When the driver assures me that the end of the road is our destination, and I am still many hours away, impatience turning into despair and distrust. Distrust turns into an assuring smile when he brings me a comforting ‘chai’.

Waiting game at airports, between hustled queues, weary travellers with coffee cups. The flight is on time, though it is a misty morning.

From one coast to the other, in between temple ruins and skyscrapers, fields to markets, tribal folks to city bars, my feelings and emotions have been on a rollercoaster. These senses twinned with my curious sensory mind, all I can say, it has been a journey!

The ‘lockdown’ has left us all confined to our homes, reflecting on those days when we were free on our journeys. As I reflect in my present ‘new normal’ lifestyle, I think, all those peaks and troughs were so much a part of my travels, a journey to unlocking my mind.

Tribute to all needleworkers of the world

My connection with needle and thread may have started while I was just crawling! Youngest of the five, my mother at that stage had enough help from my elder siblings to look after me and embrace in her favourite pastime, embroidery. Looks like I have seen her with needle and thread since then and continued to see her and my other sisters till her last few years of her life.

The interest continued even though I could not pursue it, and as my travels took me to places, I  realised that needle and thread was not only confined to my mother’s living room.   There are countless women and communities across India and other continents who thrive on this passion, some in hope to continue the tradition, some to earn their living. I saw them, met them on the streets, in their homes, in markets, all enjoying their passion.

I had to pen this, mainly to pay a tribute to these countless women of the world and to my dear mother from whom my sisters have inherited the skill. I secretly believe I may have that hidden talent, just need to pick that needle!

The photos  will finish the story I have started. Here are women from different parts of India, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar. I intend to visit many more and record this intricate web between a piece of cloth, needle and thread. I feel there is a unique connection between all these industrious women and me.

Have you had any connection like this before?

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing away!

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I wanted to share this experience with you all since that day in February this year. A part of our four month road trip from the west coast to the east coast of India, I would say this experience was one of my highlights.

When you travel, generally the focus is on sightseeing, trying to capture the best shots of the temples, the landscapes and the sunsets. Little do we realise that the most joy is when you capture emotions, feel and hold hands, look into their eyes and even dance with them!

Half way through our trip, we crossed the west coast to visit a forgotten 16th century empire, now a very popular toursit site – Hampi. So, we did the temples, captured the sunsets, landscapes, soaked in the history and all was fascinating, but then a rickshaw trip to explore the outskirts of Hampi, and lookout for the much heard ‘Lambani’ community, not only completed my trip in Hampi, but gave me an unforgettable experience!

‘Lambani’ community, once nomadic, but now settled in this part of the region, which is south central part of India, date their origins dating back from 11th century and migrated from the northern west part of Rajasthan and further from Afghanistan. Historically, there is great relevance between Lambani’s of India, romani gypsys of the Eastern Europe and middles east countries. Through these ages, they have served many princely States and Rulers in the sub-continent. It is evident that before the independence and post independence of India, the community had engaged in trading and transportation of food grains, arms and ammunitions and essential commodities from one region to another. However, post independence,  their status took  a completely downturn. They were left useless, without their trades and their dignity. Hence their migration to other parts of the country, in search of a better livelihood. Several decades have gone by, and their means of livelihood have changed, but what has not changed is their beautiful history and glorious heritage. The women, have kept their distinct clothing and jewellery alive, and this what makes them distinct in their neighbourhoods.

Our local rickshaw driver knew exactly where to take us, and when a couple of these coloufully clad women started to appear, we were already getting excited. We were led to their houses, and surprsingly greeted warmly.  One thing led to other, and soon I was surrounded by a few more women and their curious children. I was invited into their home, shown their simple but intersting kitchens, and as curious I am, started asking them lots of questions…. food, clothes

What attracted me the most was their colouful, hand embroidered clothes. The most elderly lady was dressed traditionally, and I could see the slow degeneration of the clothing styles in the gernerations. The middle aged wore part traditional clothes, and the young teenagers and children had adopted the modern indian clothing. My curiosity was well received, and soon I was brought a new skirt, fully embroidered with a matching blouse! And rapidly, I was being transformed into a ‘Lambani’! The group of ladies brought in some beautiful earrings, dressed my hair, while the crowd of onlookers was growing. Suddenly, I felt like a new cajoled bride!!

We were all excited by then, and suddenly there was some music ( from their mobile phones!!) and a Lambani style dance was in action. So surreal, and overwhelming this was, I just could help laughing and had a ‘genuinely being happy feeling

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Dancing away!!!

I mentioned earlier about capturing emotions, holding hands, looking into their eyes and dancing away…. and this is what my heart and sould did on that day. What an unforgettable day, even the photos below do not do full justice.

                         Their glorious tradition