Bang in the middle of Mumbai’s corporate frenzy lives a community of potters that are preserving a craft passed down to them by their forefathers.
We are in a workshop in Khumbharwada, named after the community of potters that have resided there for the last century, where a group of men are busy making beautiful Ganapati murtis.
Abbas Zakaria Galwani narrates the beginnings of his small pottery factory setup.
It all started when Abbas’ great grandfather, who made a living creating earthen pots in Kutch, decided to leave Gujarat. At the time, his grandfather would exchange earthen wares for grains from farmers. When the famine struck, it became increasingly difficult to feed his family.
Their family migrated to Mumbai in search of better opportunities. Ismail Zakaria, Abbas’s grandfather was six years old at the time.
When they moved to Mumbai, he and his mother took shelter at Matunga with a few other families who were involved in the same trade. Ismail and his mother would make clay pots to sell in the market. They survived on their humble earnings in isolation till the British intervened and shuttled the increasing population to Dharavi.
While the families hailed predominantly from Gujarat, they come from different regions. Hindu and Muslim families live side by side, bonded by their history and the craft.
Abbas says pottery is more of a science than an art. There’s a lot of chemistry involved. It all starts from the varieties of clay which come from three different places; Saurashtra known for terracotta and fire clay found in coal mines, Kutch known for yellow clay and bantanite and Bikaner for silica clay. (In pic) Ganesh idols made in black fire clay will turn white after they have been in the furnace because the fire burns away the carbon.
A combination with different proportions of these are mixed together and used depending on the application of the final product. In order to ensure uniform mixing these powdered clay are churned in a blender. A blender made using a drum and small balls made of a hard material help in breaking lumps of soil and ensure consistency of the final mixture. Further water is added to this mixture. During this process some air pockets may develop in the bulk of mud. Hence, this bulk is further passed through a pug mill to remove those air pockets. Inside a pug mill, a screw rotates and compresses the clay removing air gaps. It gives out clay that is now ready to be shaped.
This clay can now be put on the potter’s wheel and shaped as per requirement or can be rolled and pressed with hands to make beautiful sculptures. Final finishing or smoothening requires skill and a light hand. Finally, the pot or the sculpture is heated in the furnace to remove all the moisture and strengthen it.
Abbas’s family believed that if you are making something for the people around you, the process of making it should not cause any harm to the people. For this very reason they use non polluting furnace that work either on electricity or gas.
Jugaad in action: Abbas creates his own tools to introduce patterns on the clay ware. He uses a small fan to speed up the process of cooling pots and idols fresh out of the furnace.