Driving past the long lines of pottery in the Capital, might soon be history. As urbanisation and modern education strike roots in the families of the kumhars(potters), their new generations are moving away from their heritage.
In South Delhi's Saket, rows of pots and idols of gods and women greet the visitor. 50-year-old Shanti Devi says that pottery is on its way to extinction. "My son has become a school teacher and most other people in our community have also shifted to other more 'respectable' and 'educated' professions."
Shanti Devi's story is not a unique one. The Kumhars who had migrated to Delhi from states like Rajasthan, West Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh almost half a century ago, are turning to other professions. Increasingly, the wares they sell, are being sourced from other states or their artisans are visiting Delhi once a year to make more pottery pieces. Finding a piece of pottery that has been made in Delhi has become extremely rare.
Another hardhitting reality is the space factor in a metro like New Delhi. A pottery kiln requires a lot of space, something that the Capital cannot provide anymore. In Saket, this pottery klin has been closed for almost a decade now.
According to potters, the few kilns that are still functional, are now located in Uttam Nagar. But even here, earthenware sellers like Mangat Ram fear that similar such closures are imminent. "Administration is under a lot of pressure from surrounding residential areas to remove these kilns. They think that it's a nuisance and an environmental hazard, but for us its our livelihood," he says.
Community elders say that youngsters of the family are straying away from this family profession. "They think clay is dirty and have nothing to do with it. They want to become doctors and teachers and find government jobs," says another potter Kamla Devi. She says only "young college students, who come to us asking how pottery is made".
If Shanti Devi's lament is any indication, then it seems that the fate of pottery in Delhi is sealed. She says, "I will marry my children to naukri-walis, not to matti-walis."