SHOPIAN: Once fetching livelihood to thousands of workers across the Valley, pottery is on decline especially in southern Kashmir.
Craftsmen say the introduction of steel, aluminum, copper and now plastic utensils lead to decline in the demand of earthen pots.
Muhammad Shaban Kumar, 70, a potter from Shopian, recalls that once they used to craft all kinds of utensils but now the work has been reduced to making a few things like hubble bubble, tobacco bowl, firepots, and piggy banks. Even for these, he says, the demand is not enough.
Ghulam Nabi Kumar, 65, from Shirmal village calls the job risky as well as difficult and tiresome.
“At times the months of hard work turn futile when the pots get burned with intense heat in kiln. Recently, twice I had 800 pots in kiln and not a single came out safe,” he said while adding that the preparations took him three months of labor and expenses. “A bit of mistake can destroy whole work.”
Gul Mohammad Kumar, 80, another potter from Shirmal said that years back they used to get tree barks from Hirpora forests for the kiln.
“It would take us four to five days to collect tree bark from the forest including two days for ferrying them home. There wasn’t any transport facility and we used to tie four or six bags full of tree bark,” he said.
Nowadays, he says, there is no demand for the pots.
“Only people advised by doctors to use mud plates for food come to us. Otherwise no one buys our pottery kitchen utensils, “he said.
Shirmal locality has about 25 households of potters, but only five elderly people are engaged in the craft now, mainly those who don’t have any land or business.
Ghulam Hassan Kumar, another potter from the village said the craft fetches him Rs 250-300 per day “but after a tiresome work”.
“I don’t want my children do this job, you will see our community in backwardness, economically and educationally. The reason for our backwardness is our job doesn’t get paid for the hard work it entails. The demand for our products has come to bottom,” he said.
Likewise, none of Ghulam Nabi Kumar’s two children are taking up the craft. The younger one is an undergraduate student while the elder one is a carpenter.
The potter’s wheel along with a driving stick is lying idle in his courtyard for months as he stopped work because of the cold.
He said despite his old age he has to bring soil from a nearby hillock. “It takes me months to bring soil, then break it into powder and then dissolve the same with water for several days. My younger son sometimes helps me in bringing the soil,” he said. Muhammad Shaban Kumar, another potter said that their children don’t want to carry on this job.
Farooq Ahmad Kumar, a postgraduate from the village, remembers the joy of the day, decades ago, when their family brought a cemented potter’s week for the first time. Several people visited them to see the wheel. He said that his grandfather was master at the craft.
“After his death neither my father nor we brothers took up the craft because it fetches very little, rather nothing, despite lot of hard work,” he said.
“My grandfather, Abdul Samad was considered a master of this craft who had taught several people and he himself made extraordinary pots like mud horses, mud whistles, and many other objects for the entertainment of children,” he added.
Most of the villages with communities of potters have little land, but most people, in villagers like Hillow, Nagbal, Trenz, Pinjora, Shopian, Turkwangam, Shirmal, Dangarpora, Wachi, Daramdopra, Awantipora, Chandgam, and Murran have left the trade.
The few that still carry on the work are in their 60s or more.
Abdul Gani Kumar, a resident of Pargochi said that nobody can renovate this craft if the new generation is not ready.
“Government never tried to help the people associated with the craft. Showcasing certain objects in some government run programmes can’t renovate this craft nor improve the condition of the artisans who were doing this job,” he said.