Journal - Pottery Project at Hastal Village, New Delhi, 2002
Text in (italics) has been added as the journal was transcribed.
I had organized to work with a group of women from a pottery community over a period of 5 weeks.
DAY 1 : After at least one hours driving, stopping often to ask directions, arrived at the potters' colony, evidence of a potters street from the piles of clay and pots everywhere.
We were taken to a very spacious and neat courtyard by Dewhanti, a very hardworking woman according to Jos. ( Jos. short for Josaphine was my translator and driver for the project) and also met Vimla, Fullwanti, Kalaishi and others. The charpoy was brought out. From my questions it would seem they are quite happy with their situation. They have a wholesaler who gives them large orders, which they fill out. They like this situation, Dewhanti's family can make enough during the year especially at Diwali to be able to have a three-month holiday over winter, and some others have to find other work. (As I explored the colony further I found many potters working over the winter period, filling orders they continued to get)
I asked the question "what would they like to change if they could?" There is finer clay they would like to be able to use but it is expensive, more than double the price of 'the mud'. To use the terracotta would mean a more expensive product and so they would have to find a new market. This is their stumbling block, the unknown market.
The other problem they have is that one of their neighbours has complained about the smoke from their kilns, 'He is a Muslim' and their belief is that he wants to get rid of them from the area so he can develop the land.
It was left that we would return tomorrow and have a play with the clay and go from there.
We then went to the studio of a well-established potter Giri Raj Prasad - he makes highly burnished large to tiny terracotta pieces. He actually uses the same clay as the Hastal potters but has it sieved. He had an assistant working on an electric wheel turning and burnishing small bottles. The forms Giri Raj makes are well resolved, beautifully finished and fired with reduced blushes. He has travelled to Europe and exported to the U.K. and Japan. He is offering that one or two of the potters from Hastal come to work at his workshop.
Day 2 : Arrived at Hastal Village about 1 o'clock, no one has anxiety over time. (You will notice I have a pre-occupation with time.)
Kushor set up the pottery wheel, Kailash wedged up some clay and Kushor started throwing, the clay is very plastic and apart from a few big bits of grog he throws well. I had a go and much to my relief I managed to throw something. Kushor is quite an accomplished thrower. He took us to his home and showed us some examples of the work of someone they employ to do their orders, a T.V. table, a large flat top two piece table with an intricately carved design on top. Kushor works under this man and he has done similar pieces.
I had a pessimistic feeling; they don't appear driven to change anything. Then Dewhanti mentioned Dili Haart, a craft market where people from all over Delhi go. I had repeatedly asked the question "were they happy with the way their work was marketed", mostly wholesaling it and the answer had been yes. Now Dewhanti talked about an alternative. Apparently they have to be an organization to be considered for a place in this market. Meanwhile Kailash was drawing in the sand and so it seemed appropriate to bring out the paper and pencils. She painstakingly drew some simple designs one of which I extended as a possibility for a tile. Kushor drew in a 'clichéd' style and Mukesh did some charming drawings of peacocks, a camel, and a flower in a pot. Mahavir did a god Lakshmi/Parvarti, his future wife.
Meanwhile Jos was distributing medicines from the back of the car, a crowd came from everywhere. I had a bit of a wander around, a man was throwing clay and his wife was wedging the clay for big garden pots. He had a 3-speed wheel; he altered the belt to change the speed. He was stacking the pots all over his home space.
Vimla asked me to her house while she prepared dinner, she then asked us to stay for dinner. Had a photo shoot and then left with a warm feeling.
Day 3 : Was keen to get into making something today so made some plates over their money box moulds, the surface was pretty rough but it worked O.K. Kushor was keen to be involved although he doesn't see kumbha ( being a potter, but on subsequent visits he is still working with clay) as a future for himself. He could be involved in a constructive way. Used barni and doluck to block out areas to scraffito, barni and doluck are clay based colours, barni red doluck white. They were interested in the slip painting (liquid clay) and a little carving I did on a bowl Kushor had made. So it took the afternoon to do 3 pieces, it was a nice pace. The pieces dried relatively quickly, even though they don't pot at this time of the year because they say drying is slow. The boys seem quite confident in being involved and the girls hold back. Kailash is often there in the background, many of them have beautiful connecting smiles.
Day 4 : Jos. had 'duties' this morning so didn't get to Hastal until 2 p.m. Kushor Shamwadi and I made 7 more plates. Kalaish's husband Ombrit and Vimla putting on the foot. They seem interested when the wheel is going. Jos. had the medicine boxes in the courtyard so there were many more people and more noise, but I now have a little quiet corner to work in. After a roof top lunch, must have been a late lunch I got out the sketches I had done and chose from them 3 designs to apply, doluck over barni, some barni spots and some scraffito outlines, the clay carved well. Scraffito, carving through a top layer of colour to reveal the layer underneath. Ombrit was particularly interested. It began to get dark so called it a day. Kushor will cover the 7 plates ready for Wednesday.
Day 5 : Arrived there about 1 p.m. and made up slips from the oxides I had brought from Shodipur. (These oxides turned out to be chalks and we ended up re-cycling the pots that had these slips on them) . Finished off the plates from Monday. Kushor , Vimla, Shamwadi, Kailash and Dewhanti decorated a plate each. Kushor had already done one; he shows initiative and is always pleasant to work with. They seemed to enjoy painting with the slip. Kushor had worked out quite a sophisticated lotus design; the others didn't reflect a lot of experience with 'design'. Vimla came up with a plate covered in quirky designs; Kalaish had to hurry as she had work to do. Shamwadi drew a beautiful peacock but her plate was too small so will do it on a bigger format. Lastly Kushor and I threw 6 pieces to decorate tomorrow. It was good to have some decent brushes to work with. ( I had bought some brushes the day before, the day of the "shit on the shoe" incident in Connaught Place.)
Day 6 : The bowls and vases made yesterday were too wet to finish so made 12 smaller bowls for decorating on Saturday. Seemed a bit of a slog today. The pot making is not as much fun as painting. The flowerpots were being loaded into a kiln, took some photographs. 2 sample pieces put in this kiln. At this point it was apparent that the novelty of me being there had worn of for them and myself, I think the hard work will now begin.
Day 7 : The sample pieces returned, disappointing results, the iron and yellow didn't fuse so we are back to using doluck and barni which is actually O.K. So began turning bowls and 'slipping' them. Seemed to be a long process before we had anything ready for decorating. Kushor was once again there full time where as everyone else is in and out, they have other things to do. Today some of the younger kids had fun re-cycling a bowl that had been trashed; it was decorated and redecorated at least 6 times. One of the young boys. (he is up to making moneyboxes) was doing well.
Jos. has been speaking about an 'exhibition' of some of the pottery at her colony. So we really need to up the output. Suggested we get one of the other potters to make up some things to be decorated. No response from Jos .
(We had lots of time for chatting in the one and a half hour trip to and from Hastal village and over the 5 weeks covered topics from face-lifts to infidelity. It was a great time to discuss future possibilities, the details of the day and as Jos talked, for me to get her insight into how life operates in India and her place in it. Her stories amazed me.)
Day 8 : How directions change overnight!! Jos. rang Sunday (yesterday) to say there is room for one more potter and Kushor to go to Dubai (Annually craft people and rickshaw riders go to Dubai for a big Indian Fair, it is an opportunity to make 'good' money) and I was able to tell her of the thought I had had of the possibility of some potters coming to the Victorian Ceramic Group Conference in 2003.
It all seemed simple in the concept before personalities and realities are involved. Kushor will have difficulties getting a passport because his ration card has the wrong address on it
Went over to Har Krishan's studio. He has a well-equipped studio with employees. They were making stools. He is a very likable fellow, has travelled overseas for demos. He and Jos heatedly negotiated the terms for the trip to Dubai, basically he can go under the auspices of Kalakar if he takes Kushor (a week ago Kushor didn't want a future as a potter ) They talked for more than 2 hours and 2 cups of chai. I think they reached a settlement but to be confirmed. He gave us some manganese and borax to try, a generous nature I think.
Day 9 : Another watershed day. I am beginning to get frustrated with the lack of progress, or I should say slow progress, today I was conscience of a change of focus in getting organized for Dubai- the change is O.K. but my understanding of my 'brief' was to focus on the women's needs. Jos. is stating, "it is impossible to change anything", even if the desire to change was initiated by the women - was it their idea? The depth of this issue is too lengthy to go into here.
Back to the day, I painted the bowls ready for decorating and had that sinking (until a better word comes up) feeling of more hard to come by bowls going to be clumsily decorated. Jos. made similar comments later when she initiated the conversation of concentrating on pots for Dubai I have wondered if the conversation about the women's commitment to change and the difficulties in doing so were instigated at this time to change my focus without me questioning it too deeply, or, being the realist she is was spot on with her conclusion.
So in one week we will have to have the work made!!!!
I also made a low relief plaque, naive imagery of trees and leaves, I thought the women may be interested in this technique.
Day 10 : Expectations. I had expected Kushor to be fired up and ready to get stuck into getting work completed for Dubai but it was a hard slog, I don't know how they work when they have orders, maybe they still have that holiday feeling. I see no evidence of being able to churn out the pots. Kailash has had to provide the clay it seems, and it comes in small amounts. I am still committed to providing something for the women to do, so waited until Vimla and Kailash were there to go through the process of making the wall plaques, a simple process but I wanted to make sure there were clear instructions (I realize now that I expected these women to have more skills than what they evidently have, they have probably been working with clay for as long as I have but it seems they have no love for the material, it represents a hard job for them). Vimla had a go and made a reasonable attempt. Jos. later said the comment was that it was too time consuming.
Kushor and Ombrit made 6 piggy banks between them, I made 4 square plates and Kushor helped me put the foot on them. I will continue to work towards making pieces for him to take to Dubai and on lookers may absorb something from that. I plan to enjoy decorating the pieces I have made.
Day 11 : No change in Kushors motivation, no clay prepared for today although some has been crushed and Dewhanti sieved it. Finished the square plates I made, 2 of them cracked and I threw them in frustration forgetting someone could have used them for practice. Kushor and I made another 8 bowls; the clay was particularly rough so some more practice bowls for someone. Were about to leave at 4.30 but someone mentioned medicines. Finally got home at 7.30 pm. Sounds like it was a frustrating day.
Day 12 : Collected Kushor on the way so he could start the passport process so he can get to Dubai. Got to Hastal and the clay wasn't dry enough to work with today. Kushor got some clay from a neighbour. Made 8 small bowls, I realize there is no idea of making things the same size, started off small and they gradually got bigger. Turned yesterday's bowls a little too wet but used a different technique and it worked well, better for the rougher clay. Put ears on the 'piggy banks' - daggy idea but it may work ( Jos. idea)
Got a rickshaw to the 'busy intersection'. ( The beginning of my independence, this was an unimaginably chaotic intersection that we transverse each day and a landmark I could make my way to and crossed on this occasion). Jos had been to Giri Raj and Har Krishan and they are now not interested in going to Dubai but will have work to send with Kushor, if he is still interested in going. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Day 13 : Jos. is very frustrated with the state of things. Kushor had been to the passport office and completed the form and he is still keen to go to Dubai so it is full steam ahead .
Began decorating bowls, a very slow process but very pleasant as I was staying the night at Hastal it took the pressure off what to finish. It was a good idea to stay, it was the Wednesday evening market. I took in the evening life of the village.
Day 14 : Early start, finished yesterdays bowls and began the next lot. The power was off most of the morning so Kushor couldn't get to the wheel. Had a good wander around at lunch time, should have done this much earlier to get a better perspective of what was happening in the village and not just the edge where we were working. One potter was using the large concrete manual wheel. With one 'wind up' of the wheel he could make a big flower pot - a good solution for when the power is off. Finished the bowls and Kushor turned his small 'objects' from yesterday and made some more. Tired out by 5 pm, but a productive days work
Day 15 : Lunch with Sterre (patron of Kalakar Trust for whom Jos. worked) , arrived at Har Krishans at 5.30 and left at 9 p.m.!!! Fruitless conversation it seemed. Established Tuesday was the only day available to do a video and take some photos for the Australia project as he will be away at a craft show for the rest of the time I will be in Delhi. Had spoken to Jos. of the need to get this organized so as to avoid this happening. Time.
Day 16 : Got the bus and then a rickshaw to Hastal Village. A very satisfactory arrangement, including waiting time it took one hour, ( less than the car) and apart from the broken window and the wind blowing in on me, it was a good trip.
Kushor had done a little work but bottles he had made had cracked. He made some flat dishes and I made some more square plates. He then told me he was not going to Dubai!! All enthusiasm dissipated.
Had another wander around and came to Jagdish's family 'compound'. All the adults in his family were working, preparing clay for the next days throwing and then unstacking the kiln. It was nice to see a 'traditional' family unit working together. It was a busy street and lots of pottery happening. I think the end of the village were we are working is not so industrious.
Day17 : Kushor was working when we arrived, he is back on the trip to Dubai!! Finished the square plates and Kushor turned bowls and I painted the lot ready for a final decorating session. Some of the pieces had been fired; still the manganese had not fused. The others look O.K..
Was good to follow up on yesterday's discoveries. Returned to Jagdish's family to discuss the possibility of his father Manohar Lal coming to Australia for the VCG conference in 2003 and to organize to video at their place tomorrow. Got away in the daylight.
Day 18 : Got to Giri Raj's at 10 ( 10 to 12 was our allotted time, he said he would give us two hours) Giri Raj was not there so it gave me a chance to have a practice with the video camera. He arrived and we talked and he did a demo. I had a go on the manual bearing wheel, the power had gone off and his employee also got out a manual wheel so as to be able to keep working. Got some good footage I hope. The plan is to use the video to promote the potters work in the efforts to get them to Australia. ( Giri Raj had agreed in principle to coming to Australia, we had discounted Har Krishan for the trip as it had been difficult to get to see him again and Jos had decided Giri Raj was more deserving as she was trying to talk him into going to Dubai, I actually thought he was the better potter and on merit was my choice.)
At 1.30pm we headed to Hastal Village, Giri Raj came. At Hastal spent time at Manori's. They were doing the next day's clay preparation. I had the video out and what luck the mitti (mud) truck arrived and unloaded - this led to talking about their costs and income. I worked it out to be about 4,100 rp per month for a family of 5 working. He mostly makes flower pots to order. The family works hard. Kallo Devi had dressed up for the occasion and looked beautiful in her red and gold. Their home area is a lovely environment. I hope the VCG project comes off for them. Coming to Australia could boost their family income; I am also conscious of the possibility of such an experience destabilizing the apparent 'harmony' of their life.
Painted a few pots leaving some to do on my last day at the village next week, was ready to go at 5.30. But, some patients required treatment so up went the car boot and an hour later we headed off. (Jos keep all the medical supplies in the car boot)
Day 19 : Got to Hastal early (10.30) to find the courtyard had been recently concreted and so we intended to work on the rooftop, stepping on bags to protect the new concrete, we moved all the materials and tools up there. I then went to get the pieces to be finished only to find Kushor had painted them all. This meant there was nothing for me to do.
I gave out photographs, some gifts and said my good-byes.
In the car we had a very heated conversation about the merits of being there that morning. Jos said it was a waste of time as I didn't have any work for her to do. I lost it with her for the first and last time stating it was very important for me to be able to say good bye to everyone and I wasn't going to rush it, especially after all the hours I had waited for her to do her 'stuff". Very Important work I know, it was unfortunate that getting passports organized for Dubai was so time consuming.
After we had both cooled down we had a wide-ranging discussion of the merits of the 'project'. Had the right people in the community been targeted and had all people in the community been welcomed to attend? As Jos. stated, the women had to be summoned each time there was something for them to do. They were busy doing household duties, child rearing and knitting. My observation is the families that may have benefited or should I say I would have liked to have contributed to, were too busy working to be interested in hanging at some 'outsiders' project. Although people did wander in and out and so the word would have spread and anyone interested would have come forward, was it the right environment for all to feel comfortable. Many questions and 'what ifs'.
And now if Kushor does not go to Dubai, I am not sorry the direction of the project changed as I'm not sure how much further and to what value continuing working with the women would have been in these circumstances. From the experience of this short time both the women and a facilitator could develop a more substantial project if that is what in reality they want.
Kushor did not go to Dubai.
Josephine, Giri Raj and Manori did come to Australia early 2003.
see The Potter's Tour 2003 Journal