History & Culture

The last potter of Visakhapatnam

Srikakulam Pardes stoops over his potter’s wheel, scooping out small diyas with practised ease. He adds them to serried rows of earthen diyas in varied sizes set out for sale.

In Kummari Veedhi, the potter’s colony at Akkayyapalem in Visakhapatnam, he is the only potter left, continuing a decades old tradition of making earthen diyas.

With a smile on his wrinkled face the 90-year old explains how he has done this right from when he was a child: “I wait for this time of the year to come out and work on the wheel.”

A bit hard of hearing, Pardes enjoys the quiet rhythm of the wheel, and says that though he can barely work for an hour at a stretch, it gives him satisfaction.

“There was a time when I would wake up before dawn and work non-stop till dusk during Deepavali,” he says. His fragile figure is perhaps symbolic of the fate of this traditional profession of pottery today.

Not quite sure of when he came to Kummari Veedhi, Pardes, however, clearly remembers spending hours with his father learning to shape perfect diyas on the wheel. “Back then, there were 40 families of potters and each family would make 6,000 diyas during Deepavali. We did not have time to even take a pause to eat,” he recalls.

Pardes took to his family profession at an early age and has been making diyas for over 80 years now.

Till about last year, there were three more potters in the neighbourhood who made diyas. Not any more. Pardes’ neighbour Accha Rao who made earthen diyas last year, has not made a single one this year. He has ordered handmade diyas this Deepavali.

Waning demand, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation have pushed the city’s traditional potters to the brink of extinction.

“Clay used to be cheap, but the cost has almost grown by three times. Now a truck load of clay costs nothing less than ₹ 18,000,” says S Raju, Pardes’ son, who is also a traditional potter. He continues, “And where is the kind of demand for simple earthen diyas now?” Stating that the process of making diyas is a laborious task, Raju adds that has taken up a clerical job to support his family.

K. Pydamma, another resident of the colony, says about less than a decade ago there were at least 25 potter’s families that were actively involved in the pottery business. “Not any more. Chinese lamps have taken over the market from the traditional craftsman. Our children are not interested in the traditional pottery business because of dwindling returns. Most of them have taken up other work where they get a better income,” she says.

The last potter of Visakhapatnam

The few families who still sell earthen diyas for Deepavali have now started sourcing small quantities from Anakapalle and Yelamanchili, as well as more decorative ones from Chennai. A severe space constraint has added to the woes of the traditional potters.

Giving a makeover

With a few days to go for Deepavali, in the narrow lanes of Kummari Veedhi women sit together with paint brushes, giving a colourful makeover stacks of diyas.

“Most orders come for colourful designer diyas now,” says P Lakshmi. Once the paints dry, she along with the neighbouring women of the colony will be selling them all along the main road of Akkayyapalem. “This year we are a bit hopeful. Unlike last year when the roads were almost deserted in Deepavali, this time individual orders have started trickling in,” she says.

Meanwhile, Pardes continues to keep his wheel spinning. He has made about 300 diyas and flower pots for this Deepavali. “This is far less than what I could manage till last year,” he rues as he carefully bends down to spread them out around the kiln. “I am too old to work continuously as I did in my younger days,” he adds.

Nevertheless his work still brings him joy. He says proudly, “Even with my eyes closed, I can scoop out a perfectly-shaped diya.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 4:09:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-last-potter-of-visakhapatnam/article37231353.ece

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