Many place names in the dense urban concentration of Avenue Road are of trades and the communities that practised them, perhaps the only link to its past. Kumbarpet got its name from the Kumbaras, the makers of earthen pots. From dozens of shops a few decades ago the numbers have drastically come down.
But for a few exceptions. Among them are the Nandi Potters on the Main Road who continue the hereditary tradition. Despite a dwindling business Nandi’s proud owner, Shakuntala, says, "In those days, we used to sell 500-600 pots a month despite competition from many other shops. Now l barely sell 10 pots in a day." The younger generation, she says, is not interested in pottery. Even the quality of the pot has come down.
Ms. Shankuntala’s pots come in a variety of sizes. A 15-litre pot, for example, comes with a price tag of Rs. 80-100 – the cost of a good thali in a down-market restaurant.
Nandi’s pots have also seen many uses – from making rice, sambar or rasam, to setting curds, or for simply storing water. The shop’s clientele are mainly construction workers and labourers.
Shakuntala’s son Shekar has a hardware shop and helps his mother in his spare time. According to him, pottery is now a seasonal business with sales peaking in summer – mainly from those who prefer their cool “madike neeru” to refrigerated water. He says, "Earlier, we used to make pots using clay from the numerous lakes across the city. Most of these lakes have vanished and we cannot get good clay, so we don’t make clay pots anymore. We buy them from others and sell them here.”
Loyal old-timers keep coming back for more pots, but the writing on the wall is clear. Says a never-say-die Ms. Shakuntala: “As long as I am alive, I will stay in this business. After all it has been gifted to me by my in-laws and I do not want it to end.”