Breathing life into the dying art of pottery

Published: November 1, 2014
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I decided to make our young minds think about the art of pottery. PHOTO: FILE

I still remember the days I spent as a child with my grandparents in Lahore. The nostalgic feeling of holding a cold thoothi’ to eat feerni from – a Pakistani dessert made with milk and rice served in small clay plates – often dwells in my heart. Once done devouring the dessert, I used to save the small clay plates and make things out of those.

Growing up, I didn’t realise when those clay plates got replaced by disposable boxes and paper plates. With our world becoming a global village, we’ve all become an industrialised mob who cares less for traditional methods and items. However, that taste and feel of the clay is still alive with me.

Photo: Arif Soomro/Express

This year, when I was appointed as the Creativity, Action and Service coordinator for Beaconhouse School System, Margalla Campus, I decided to make our young minds think about the art of pottery.

My inspiration was Mr Laloo Parsad Yadav, the Indian railway minister, who has revived (at least tried to) the art of pottery in the Indian railway. He made it mandatory for the railways to use clay cups known as kulhars. There was a great admiration for his ideas across the country. The cottage industry of pottery flourished for a while in Gujarat.

However, with time, the idea collapsed as the cost of a clay cup was far more than a disposable cup. Other than that, there was a drastic raise in pollution levels of related areas as the Kilns required fuel to work. The cups made were not re-useable and, above all, tea vendors were unhappy as the liquids poured into the cups were absorbed, therefore, they had to use almost double the quantity. Vendors inflated the price of tea and eventually consumers became unhappy.

Photo: Arif Soomro/Express

All of this made me think: this, an apparently good idea, had loopholes, yes, but does that mean we let the art of pottery die? Finally, I decided to call in a potter to work with my students. This is where I realised how rapidly the art has died out. I was not able to find a single potter in the twin cities. I used all my resources, even registered with Lok Virsa but all in vain.

Photo: Arif Soomro/Express

After an almost two weeks of struggle and networking, I finally met a potter who now works in a ministry as a driver. He lived in Saidpur village and had left his family business as it was not earning enough to make ends meet. He was very excited to know that I wanted him to teach kids how to make a clay pot.

On September 18, we arranged the activity for girls between ages 13 to 16. I wish I could share those moments with all the readers. Every student was so excited while making pots. They wanted to knead clay and play with it. It was a simple, exciting and inexpensive activity.

Photo: Arif Soomro/Express

My reason to write about this whole experience here is that we all should aid the revival of our dying arts and craft. These things and people are our tradition and identity. I would request all our teachers to arrange a pottery day in their schools. I can provide them with the contacts as well. This generation deserves to enjoy the feel of cold clay in their hands, just like we did.

I am now planning a focus group discussion forum with the girls who participated in this activity, to see how we can, as an organisation, help to revive this art. Just like language, music, literature, traditions and other cultural aspects of Pakistan, we must strive to revive pottery. It is a drop in an ocean, yes, but it is something that needs to be done. Will you help revive your favourite part of culture? Keeping my fingers crossed!

Raphidah Shabbir

Raphidah Shabbir

An educationist, presently working with a renowned school system to incorporate creativity, activity and service into curriculum. She likes to write about social issues which affect the women in Pakistan. She tweets @raphidah1682 (twitter.com/raphidah1682)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.