Tourism industry has changed over the decade. It is no longer revolved around simple sight-seeing. People now want to experience authenticity while being a tourist and doing all the touristy-stuff. Reality and authenticity has evolved to become the new preferred mode of creating memories. With such a turn, Dharavi comes with tales of true grit and character and authenticity. With an area spread over 540 acres of land and around 70,000 households, Dharavi is more commonly known as the biggest slum in Asia. And, that is one place I did not expect myself to end up in.
Why go there if I sound so unwilling? I have enjoyed all the places that my itchy-feet has taken me on to. But a slum has never on my priority list, despite the curiosity. The history of Dharavi dates back to the pre-independence period. As per the records, the earliest colony of fishermen was setup back in 1910, in the area that is known today as Dharavi. Historically speaking, the slum was set up outside the city since as per the social norms that was prevalent at that time, people involved in occupations such as fishing, potters and leather were considered as low caste and should live according to their social status, i.e. outside the village.
Walking through the narrow streets to learn about a old and yet new tradition was disconcerting, and yet a unique experience. Kumbharwada, also known as the potter’s land, is one of the oldest functional colonies in Mumbai, since 1912. The potters residing here are originally hailing from Saurashtra, Gujarat and Kutch. You can actually note the difference in language as you walk between various lanes.
The entire Kumbharwada is divided into four sections called as Wadis, and all of them are involved with different types of pottery-making. The first wadi deals with plant pots; the second wadi deals with diyas and lamps; the third wadi is involved in making firni pots and small planters mainly involving wheel work; and the fourth wadi makes water pots with moulds and tapping. Being a open community originating from the same place, you could see the easy camaraderie that exists among the locals and the open door policy of the houses.
Each corner revealed a new section of pot and a potter busy making a piece of art. The nimble fingers and the dexterity of the hands at work definitely kept me captivated.
The Kumbharwada potters use a special type of clay, which is procured from the Than area in Gujarat. The farm clay is gathered from Thane, Bhiwandi and Kalyan and then supplied to the potters of Kumbharwada. The yearly consumption of clay used by potters varies from 2-3 trucks for small producers to 12-14 trucks for the large producers.
As you walk further down, you can actually appreciate each step involved in the process of pottery. First kneading of the clay is done with the feet.
The local clay that comes from Maharashtra is put in pit and melted, a process which takes approximately 15-20 days of time. Once this clay has been melted, fresh clay is added to the pile and kneaded further in order to make it smooth. Once the clay has been well kneaded, it is wedged by hands in order to remove air bubbles and lumps before the clay can be thrown on a wheel.
While it is fascinating to see a potter bringing life to a lump of clay, the baking process is equally interesting to look at, despite the alarming amount of smoke that can burn your eyes and throat. Waste materials like cotton is used along with tiles. The pots are then arranged according to the size; smaller ones are put first since they require higher temperature, while the bigger ones are arranged on the top. This ensures that the bigger pots do not break under the intense heat that builds up. Talk about no pressure right!
The temperature is then slowly build up from a minimum of 100 degrees up to 450-500 degrees. Once the wall of the kills are glowing hot, the pots are taken out. Only an experienced potter knows how to distinguish between his well-baked goods and the right amount of temperature that will be needed.
Like many other age-old traditions, pottery is slowly becoming a lost art. Kumbharwada might have been built on traditions and heritage, but the current generation of youngsters are encouraged to make their fortune in fields completely unrelated to the family business. On a daily basis, a potter has to approximately make 3-4 lakh pieces. However, the only time he actually earns such an amount is when festivities literally hits the cities. With scarcity of the raw materials like cotton for the furnace, and land encroaching taking over the clay supply, it is quite difficult to sustain a steady income. After all, “How much pot, could a pot roast, if a pot roast could roast pot.”
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