The dark dingy by-lanes of Kummari Veedhi spring to life once every year. Standing testimony to a rich past of the ancient profession of artistic expression, this colony of traditional potters becomes busy ahead of Deepavali. Even as the markets glitter with festive spirit to welcome the Festival of Lights, a few feeble hands work in silent darkness to create marvels out of clay from the potter's wheel.
90-year-old Anakapalli sits throughout the day with her daughter and grandchildren to make deepams and flowerpots. Too old to walk but spirited enough to lend a helping hand to her family, she struggles to revive the fading profession of pottery. For Kosuru Satyam, traditional potter, the going had never been so tough a few years ago. Less than a decade back, Kummari Veedhi used to bustle with activity to meet the heavy demand for the terracotta deepams. However, with big malls and gift shops entering the market and migrant families from Rajasthan and other regions settling in the city with their decorative terracotta items, the traditional potters of Kummari Veedhi are slowly being pushed into a marginal existence. Today, there are just a handful of potters in the place who still assiduously continue to recreate the magic from the potter's wheel, despite the meagre returns.
“The demand has come down considerably in recent years. We have to sell bulks of deepams and pots at wholesale rates to the dealers who sell it at much higher rates at their shops with slight modifications,” rues Satyam who has been in the profession from his childhood. The earthen pots that used to have a ubiquitous presence in homes are now used only during weddings and death ceremonies. Their production has also been affected due to the rising overheads. “The cost of a truck load of clay brought from Pendurthi has gone up considerably compared to the last two years. But we sell the deepams and flowerpots at nearly the same rates in bulk. There is little scope of any profit,” the potters say.
The clay the potters bring from Pendurthi has to be burnt before use, which requires a separate place as it emits a lot of smoke. But a severe space constraint has added to the woes of the traditional potters.
Also, due to the erratic climatic conditions and sudden rains, their work gets affected and they incur losses.
Even as the tired, distressed faces continue to work on the wheel, it's their passion for work that helps them sail through the twilight years of life.