Eighty-seven-year-old Kunjukunju Parakkal is a veteran of many battles. The passage of years has only slowed down his body. His spirit lives in the future. A future where the dignity of his labour and the glory of the battles he fought will be recognised.
Sitting by the potter’s wheel, which his family has nearly forgotten, he recalled how he made a living and supported his family by making and selling earthen pots.
The festival of Onam is only a reminder of the past, he said on Saturday, recalling how he travelled from his home in Kolathuruthu, near Muvattupuzha, to distant places like Palakkad and Adimali, selling earthen wares.
He never said “those were the days”. Those days were full of pain and misery. Poverty and hunger were constant companions. But those days were simpler, less complicated and it was easier in those days to make both ends meet.
He is not surprised that his children and grandchildren have left the potter’s life to seek government jobs or the more abundantly available jobs in the private sector.
Sindhu Mohanan Kunduvelil works during her free time to make ‘Onathappan’, which sells well during the season leading up to Onam. She does not rely entirely on the tradition of her community to make a living but it is something that gives her joy and to which she is attached to.
K.K. Thankappan has worked hard to preserve the traditions of the community of potters, which he says is not organised on any party lines. Though most of the Velar community is sympathetic to a political party, they have not been able to assert themselves as a political force.
He said the potter community was unable to wage the battles that are before them. For instance, they are asked to acquire licences to source clay, which costs Rs.40 a kg. The potters were previously allowed to mine clay on their own from fields nearest to them. But the recent regulations, aimed at preventing conversion of paddy fields, have affected the livelihoods of small-time potters because they are not in a position to pay big sums for supplies of clay.
As a result, traditional potters have left their jobs in large numbers. Clay products that sell across Kerala come from States such as Andhra Pradesh. Potters who procure their products from Andhra Pradesh make a profit of 10 per cent. “If the same products are made in Kerala, the potters can make a profit of at least 30 per cent,” said Mr. Thankappan.
He said traditional potters should be exempted from the rules governing mining of clay, which was aimed at large-scale manufacturers of clay tiles.