The fragile business of pottery

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Traditional earthenware items may soon go off the market if potters are not encouraged to continue with their craft, discovers, Shaikh Jamaluddin in a chat with Concesao Fernandes, Duler

This year the Ganesh Chaturthi fair at Kala Academy, Campal, had several stalls selling the usual stuff for festival shopping. One of them selling earthenware attracted a lot of interest from shoppers. The stall stood out among the rest for the wholesome charm and beauty of its goods on display. .

Elderly Concesao Fernandes, Duler, Mapusa, Fernandes is the maker of all the goods and speaking to her is interesting. She could be one of the few women potters in Goa belonging to a community that is slowing diminishing in strength as its members take to other professions.

The preference these days are of China clay items as in appearance, shape, size, texture and prices they are preferred over earthen pottery items. But Fernandes says, “Since my childhood days I was interested in making earthenware after observing my grandparents and parents churning sticky mud with their bare hands. They made beautiful earthen utensils and pots from soil picked up from Cumbharwado where we resided.” Observing them Fernandes picked up the skill and soon learnt to make all that her parents made. Her stall has range of pottery items such as water jars, flower pots, the Ghumot, barni’s, religious lamps, etc.

As Fernandes waits patiently for customers, she reveals that, because of old age she is slowing down. However she has to continue with the occupation to eke out a living and support a family. “I still make some unique items like cooking utensils and table wares, vessels, and some flower pots but not like before.” She adds that, some of the goods on display are purchased from outside.

“The feebleness of old age does not allow me to carry on hard work as before. Making earthen pots and pans is strenuous and full day job. It requires complete concentration to work and everything to be done manually.’’

Fernandes explains that, since the occupation is physical it consumes lot of time. The work needs lot of patience also. After bringing the soil from the fields near Karaswada  (now a tank has come up in the area) she keeps the soil soaked for 24 hours to remove the impurities. “We take only the butter’ and cream of the soil in the morning and start converting earth into beautiful items by hand,’’ she informs.

Fernandes points out that, today’s generation is not willing to take up the old, traditional occupation that requires dirtying of the hands to earn a living. “Youth wants fast buck and good standard living without taking too much of trouble and as such the tradition is now dying. “Several pottery artists are giving up the occupation and soon earthenware items will be extinct,” she fears. She has two daughters and both of them are willing to assist in the selling but they don’t like to work as Cumbhars.

While talking about the past she recalls that some of the rare items which were sold in the past or during Portuguese era are not being made now as there are no buyers or customers for them. These include bulky items like large water jugs, water coolers, cock shaped water coolers, frying pans, kodem, big jars for storing raw rice, round jars for salt, etc  “Some of the goods that I cannot do now due to old age are purchased from outside to keep my valued customers happy,” she says with a smile.

Fernandes says that, she learnt most of the tricks of the trade from her parents and grandparents and later from her husband who was also hailing from Cumbhar community.  From her husband she perfected the art due to practice.

Traditional craft is dying out because artisans are finding it difficult to continue due to the lack of support from the government. Our craft needs to be kept alive for posterity, says Fernandes.