Pottery-making, some of us may think, is just another job… but trying to discover elements of poetry in it is certainly an adventure. Adventure, let me add here, isn’t about confrontations with evil forces, nor is it about victory over whatever is perceived as unwholesome. Adventure has more to do with travelling into the heart of whatever it is that remains an enigma for you and the way you unveil and uncover secrets that will make others take a sharp breadth and say, ‘I too want to do this.’ I guess Specky, my wife, and I are lucky to have visited The Fort in Unchagaon and then given this opportunity to that made me realise the connection between pottery and poetry.
Pottery is an absolutely organic activity that connects the heart with nature and the way we seek answers to whatever we do not fully understand. So is poetry. And so is adventure… and travel… and going beyond the beaten track… and exploring what has been elusive to us.
The potter’s village was a good hour’s ride on a bullock-cart that went meandering through near-empty rural roads, through green fields waiting to tell us all about the way pulses are grown. The thin early morning mist made everything look like scenes straight out of a thriller and good enough to awaken a sense of adventure within us.
‘There it is,’ said the bullock-cart driver, ‘the village where a family of potters must be busy with their work.’
As we got down, papa potter stepped towards us with a smile. ‘Sonam!’ he called out, ‘come out and prepare the clay.’
Sonam was to be our teacher for the day. She shyly got down to patting clay with sprinkles of water from a bucket that had more clay around its edges than her hands. There was a manually operated wheel at their doorstep which was right next to the village road. I could see one room in the mud house in front… no door and a straw thatched roof. Beyond their one-room home I could see a couple of bullocks tied and watching us with suspicion in their eyes. The potter’s wife was busy feeding them hay and…
‘You will try?’ asked Sonam to no one in particular as she put the wheel in motion.
‘You?’ I asked Specky.
‘Yes,’ said Specky, uncertain about what to do next.
Sonam’s sister brought a small jute-woven stool and said, ‘You must sit on this or it will be uncomfortable.’
And thus our adventure began. As I watched Specky fumbling with the clay and trying to follow the advice that Sonam spoke in a low voice, lines of poetry just tumbled in.
Do not fear, do not mind the clay that smears
You shall smile when a pot shapes up and cheers!
Discover the ways of the creator, be gentle and slow
A touch that’s mindful shall make a new world show
Let your fingers rhyme with a shape in your mind
As you gift clay a life, you have adventure defined!
Fear not, let my expert hands guide yours too
Being nervous is just fine, you are so new!
Focus and keep a watchful eye for bumps and dips
Let your heart travel with clay on such trips
Ah! I’m finally doing it all by myself now
Though it isn’t yet time to shout out a wow!
Shape and design and a bit of my art
This poetry of pottery can win any heart
This one is done. Be brave and lift
Adventure is getting into an adventure drift
It is addictive when you’re creating, dear
An awesome feeling soon replaces fear!
Frankly, we found Sonam to be an excellent teacher who didn’t speak much but let her talent show us the way. There was a lot of poetry even in her silence… though at some stage she did tell us, ‘Girls are not allowed to sit at the wheel. It is the man who does this work.’
‘Why is that so?’ I asked.
‘Rules of tradition,’ she answered, ‘but I find a joy doing this and so I do. My father doesn’t object.’
‘How do the women in the family contribute?’
‘The designs on pots are what we do,’ she answered. Her mother then brought out a set of kuchiis and plant-extracted that were black and geru and said, ‘We love doing this work.’
That was the moment when Specky and I decided to write about the love for pottery that Sonam has… I hope the owners of The Fort or Aspen Adventures decides to send her for advanced training in this art. There was one pottery that we had visited in Andretta village near Palampur that is run by a German couple and they do have three month courses in creative pottery making. This girl certainly needs a sponsor to help the creativity inside her to find ways to make things beyond the usual diyas for Diwali and matkas, gullaks, small containers, small bowls, and gharas…
Talking of gharas, I was astounded to learn how they are made. By this time even papa potter had opened up and he told us that they first shaped a longitudinal pot with a large mouth and once it is semi-dry they make it at least ten times larger by slowly beating it… obviously one hand has supports the shape from the inside.
‘The entire process of beating a pot to become a ghara takes fifteen minutes,’ he said.
This was a morning that had actually redefined adventure for us. Pottery isn’t something that anyone must dismiss as ‘just another vocation’ because it is more than that. A potter is also a poet in disguise.
For details about The Fort, Unchagaon, please contact —
My Unchagaon posts:
Finding yourself – poetry and the potter’s wheel
Finding yourself – what the jaggery-maker said
Finding yourself – raas-leela with pulses and a holy river
16 November 20016