Potters say children prefer well-paying ‘office jobs’ to family profession

The orders are pouring in, the work is hectic. From sunrise to sunset, kneading of clay, churn of the potters’ wheel, hammering of the damp pots, and thick smoke emanating from the firing mound become the sights, sounds and smells that signify an imminent Deepavali.

Those in the clump of five houses — tin-shed that houses a potter’s wheel or a lump of clay or half-finished diyas (earthen lamps) – squeezed behind Mariguddi temple here have been traditionally supplying earthen pots and lamps.

For nearly four decades, Hemavati Kumbara (49) has worked the wheels and moulded the clay. During Deepavali, she says, they make up to 600 lamps fashioned by hand.

Nearby, Ganesh Kumbara deftly pulls forth a column of clay on a spinning well, shaping it delicately with his fingers, and with a slice, taking out a pot. Within minutes, his workstation is filled with bottom-less pots and curved, leaf-like diyas.

Even working 12 hours a day, the potter who had learnt the trade from his father three decades ago, admits that meeting the Deepavali demand of 2,000 diyas and 500 pots (kalasa) by Sunday is an uphill task.

However, the potters are wary of the thickening clouds above them. The extended rainy season has hit their productivity, and even one spells of rain could damage their handiwork. “If it rains, our Deepavali will be spoilt,” said Mr. Ganesh.

Declining participation

What is conspicuous by its absence in the area is youths among the potters. “In 10 years, the traditional profession may not exist,” said Gopi Kumbara, who left the profession due to health concerns. Moreover, the years of training needed to become a skilled potter is something the younger generation does not have time for, she said.

When she started nearly half a century ago, there were around 40 people working there. Now, it has dwindled to less than 10. “The children are not going to take it up as an office job is far easier and pays more,” she said.

Connected to the lack of interest is the reducing profitability of the profession. Mud is traditionally got from Polali, Bantwal taluk, from paddy fields that provide fine clay. With buildings replacing trees in the city, the potters have to look at Udupi district for firewood and hay for the firing mound.

Muddled origins

Those in the tiny kumbara community in the city are befuddled by their origins. Traditionally, their families have passed on pottery from generation to generation without knowing how it all started, or when it indeed became a hereditary profession. And to compound the mystery behind their origin, is also their mother tongue: Telugu. “We speak Telugu in the house, but can’t write as we learnt in Kannada in schools. Centuries ago, the family may have migrated form Andhra Pradesh to settle down in Mangalore, Belvai, Udupi, Kinnigoli. But, we don’t know exactly where we migrated from,” said Gopi Kumbara.

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