Last week, I was on my biennial shopping trip for the humble matka, the earthen pot used to store drinking water. I cannot stand refrigerated water and have grown up with them. Where I grew up, they were ubiquitous. But I understood early on that buying them was a nuanced job that one can perfect only with experience.

My list of ‘don’ts’ far outruns the ‘dos’ here. The don’ts run like this: no shiny, painted ones, no fancy taps, no fancy shape, no buying without a leak test.

All except the last one is easily done with one cursory look. Ah, the last is tricky. Once I had to exchange pots thrice due to leaks, and so I carry a big bottle of water with me while shopping for matkas. This does not go down well with some of the sellers. There is a group of roadside shops near my house where I tried this and was literally shooed away. But I was not one to give up. Short of going to Potters Town in Bangalore, I tried in all areas.

Then I saw this stall at the local vegetable and fruit market. It had a modest collection of pots, dust-laden and arranged in no particular order. I had to wake up the owner, an elderly woman taking her siesta. She looked out of place in Bangalore, with betel-stained lips, traditionally draped saree, speaking a dialect of Kannada that I could scarcely understand. But she seemed to like my greeting and the fact that I came to her crossing another one with an eye-catching display of pots.

Then she brought out her pots. She looked at each piece critically, turned it 360 degrees, tapped at some spots, and chose one.

Before I could ask, she said she had made it herself, with mud from a village near Chikkaballapur (my driver translated). And then she herself proceeded to grab a bottle of water and poured it inside the matka. While I watched with glee, she slowly swirled the water around, ensuring it stayed at every point and then handed it to me for third-party validation! That minute I knew the only ‘do’ rule to buy a matka : “Buy it from the maker.”

This rule holds good for any artisanal good that you buy. And considering that we are living in an age where a cultural renaissance is happening with respect to art and artists, I am rediscovering the joy of buying from the maker. Be it matka, or home-made confectionery or jewellery, go to your local market or santhe and engage with the maker. It will be worth the while.

I finally bought my matka following the customary process of bargaining. She happily reduced Rs. 10 and threw in a perfect-fitting lid for the matka. She went back to her sleep, and my day was made.

ksumathykrishnan @gmail.com

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