This real story is about a family of potters from Kumbarwada at Dharavi Labour Camp. Kanji is a potter by profession and lives in Kumbarwada with his wife Tina and four children – Dharmesh, Neha, Payal and Manthan.
|Kanji, Tina and their kids
While he is an expert potter, Kanji has no facilities of his own and everything is used on rent. He works for 4-5 hours in a day while making 200 to 250 pieces. Not that he works everyday as he is not in the best of health.
|Clay all set to be moulded
Tina is a terrific worker who packs a huge number of hours in her day. She works at my home as a cook in the mornings while she does work at other places too. Her afternoons and late evenings are spent getting the Garba ready for Navratri.
|Kanji at work
Kanji rents an electric wheel (a day’s rent is Rs 150) and manages to make about 300 pots on a given day. The pots are dried in shade for a couple of days till they become firm. The round-bottomed pots are softly tapped into the right shape for the garba and then holes are made. There is no particular number of holes on these. They just use their discretion. What they need to ensure is that the pots don’t break when they work on them and also the holes should be very neat without any residual clay in-between.
Again these pots are left to dry in the sun over 3-4 days. They hope to have strong sunlight on the morning the pots are baked in the kiln.
|The kiln, bhatti or choola
The kiln belongs to their neighbour Jaggubhai who generally rents it out between Rs 150 and 250 depending on the season. But Kanji is a good neighbour and friend and therefore gets to use it for free.
A thick layer of cotton is made inside the kiln. Then bricks are laid in a square and a thin sheet of metal (patra) is laid over this. The pots – 300 of them – are stacked over this layer after layer. Another layer of metal is placed over this and that is covered by the more cotton. They place a few more sheets of metal all around to generate heat evenly.
|The pot is ready for Stage II
Then the oil rags are fed into the kiln in stages to keep the heat going. Iron rods are used to push the rags inside. This is from 4 to 10 pm when an even heat is maintained while the pots bake. One can imagine the kind of heat that is produced here. After 10 o’clock, the fire is allowed to cool down and fizzle out.
The pots are not touched until the next morning and then too they are handled only with denim gloves are they are still hot to the touch. The kiln is shared by a few families and is emptied if someone else needs it urgently. Otherwise, they take the whole day to remove the pots in a leisurely fashion.
Day 2 sees the pots painted white. Chunna (lime) and gond (an edible substance used while making laddus) are mixed with water and made into a whitewash and the pots are coated with this. Tina and her four kids do this work in harmony. The best part is that Tina is very adamant that all her children are to be educated. Dharmesh is in FYJC, Neha in Std IX and other two are also in school. They study well too.
Day 3 is to use oil paint on the white coat. Red is the colour that holds best and is timeless. Other colours such as green, yellow, blue and more are also used. The pots are kept aside after this for drying yet again.
|Tina and her creation
Then comes the final touch on Day 5. Tina prepares cones – similar to mehendi cones – and fills them with colour and a quick and strong fix gum. She gives the final touches to the decorated Garbas with these colours. This gets set in about an hour. Now the Garba is ready for sale.
|Going to the market
|Going to the fair
I will bring you this story in Part II of this series.