She inspected my polythene bag suspiciously. Maybe the packaging ticked her off because nobody from her community uses polythene bags - they go for newspaper wrappings. “Yeh kahan ka hai?” (where is this from?), she asks me rather harshly. I point toward the shop and murmur “Kolkata”. “Oh”. She disapproves. And I, feeling guilty, push the bag behind me and try to look as interested as possible in her clay pots. She, like hundreds of other families from Rajasthan, migrated to Delhi from Rajasthan in the similar hopes of better opportunities and quality of life.
These Rajasthani potters have moulded themselves almost artistically to fit the need of a dramatically contrasted Delhi, switching to their rural and urban roles as quickly as they churn the potter’s wheel. During my visit to Kumhar Gram (Potter’s Village), located on the outskirts of a chaotic West Delhi, I learnt that pottery students from Australia visited the village sometime back for workshops conducted by the artisans of the village. There is a trickle of a few potters from Kolkata, but judging by the response I received for my polythene clad wall hanging diyas, I doubt they are much of a threat to the Rajasthani community settled here.
Hidden away from commercialisation and urabanisation, the village is a labyrinth of kutcha mud houses stuffed with clay pots, intricately carved clay pots and expertly crafted wall hangings. You can easily get lost within a few minutes if you keep turning corners and forget to mark a popular landmark owing to the fact that you are so immersed in the beauty of the clay. Not to mention, the friendliness of the potters can also deviate you from your path if you take them up on their offer of freshly brewed tea or in the case of a woman sitting outside her home taking a break, a hukkah.
They are a talented, proud bunch of people, who keep to themselves in a city which is crossing boundaries on every level possible. Their only outside interaction is with wholesalers who buy truck load of products from them and sell them off to popular craft bazaars, including Dilli Haat, for a huge profit. The prices of diyas, decorative home items, and even garden accessories are jaw droppingly low here and if you are someone who is scrounging for such items then a visit to Kumhar Gram will make you very happy. And of course, it is a wonderful break from the city life.
Kumhar Gram is also an example of the typical relationship between a man and his wife. The woman never touches the potter’s wheel. She never crafts or hones a clay product because it is always, always a man’s job. She does behind the scene jobs though like beating and kneading the clay which seems like a more taxing job. Sometimes, when the man of the house isn’t around, women even make the sale, though they are a bit foggy about the prices and can sometimes quote too much or too less.
A visit to this quaint village is a refreshing break from the tedious weekend activities that we pressed for time Delhiites have resorted to. If its not the clay, its the moulders, if not the moulders then the carelessly, yet beautifully, stacked piles of earthen pots, if not the earthen pots, then the long forgotten whiff of your village that has been awaiting your visit for so many years.
If you are like me who get bored of walking tours because you like hanging behind to click, then you might not like a guided tour of the village. If, however, you belong to the more patient breed of humans, then you may want to give http://www.indomaniatours.com/ a chance which is a daring and wonderful initiative by Piyush Nangru, who has taken upon himself to give Potter’s Village the attention it deserves. He will take you around the village, get you to connect with the potter’s and even get you a chance to try your hand at the wheel. Either way, Kumhar Gram is not to be missed while you are living in the city.
“It’s a tyre puncture,” I sighed. “Why does this always happens to us?,” she said from the back of the car. “Let’s get down,” another voice chipped in. We all stumbled out of the car, holding on to a million things that were more eager to fall out than us, and stretched our cramped limbs and back. And then, we looked around. As always, Spiti had made a tyre puncture so worth it. It was almost mocking us and our flat tyre by its sheer barrenness, the way it just simply existed all around you and made you feel as tiny as a bee in front of a giant.
Spiti, part of the district Lahaul & Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, is raw, wild, almost empty and, according to me, has the most magnificent terrain in North India. For miles on end, we travelled on what our driver thought and hence drove on, a road, which was simply pile of rocks extended to hundreds of kilometres. I can understand why it was mistaken as a road. The rest of the landscape was either dust, or mountains. And the mountains were nothing less than the Grand Canyon. “Why would anybody go to the Grand Canyon when we have Spiti?” my fellow traveller asked and I nodded in agreement. I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, and I’m sure it will be just as breath taking, but at that moment, I did not give it a second thought. There was no need to.
They say mountains have souls. Or the river is the one who speaks. In Spiti, it’s all different. The mountains, the rivers, the rocks, the road, they are all like characters of one giant movie. Not even the main characters — they are more like supporting actors, aiding and abetting the story, but never in the limelight. The star of the show was the landscape. The terrain had a soul. It almost felt like one day Monet, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali all sat down around one huge canvas and painted for years on end. That’s what Spiti feels like. It’s a place which almost seems alive and you can feel it talking, running, growing with you.