HITESH Chitroda is counting days before he sets sail again. For now, he whiles away hours in the companionship of his family, an odd call here and there to old friends. Like Chitroda there are other young men who are abandoning their traditional occupation of pottery for more “lucrative” jobs on ships.
Home to about 500 potter families now, Kumbharwada is a potter town on the margins of the country’s largest slum—Dharavi. Once a bustling village comprising 10,000 potters, it now struggles hard to keep its traditional skills alive.
On Saturday afternoon, the heat is conducive to bake freshly-crafted pottery and kilns have been lit up. Smoke fills the air as freshly-kneaded clay is mounted on a rotator.
With immaculate hand-eye coordination, Hansmukh Jethwa shrivels clay of a definite viscosity into desired shapes. Finished earthenware is neatly placed on a wooden tray to dry in the day’s soaring heat.
“I will want my children to learn the art of pottery given that it runs in our veins. However, I would not want them to take it up permanently,” says 42-year-old Jethwa, as he slaps on a fresh mound on his rotator. The whole Jethwa family helps each other in pottery-making, he says. However, he rues that the paltry Rs 15,000-20,000 he manages every month, does not suffice.
At a distance, the eaves of a tiny grocery store provide comfort to Chitroda, who has taken shelter in its shade. He has been fiddling around with his phone all this while, but pauses and says, “There is nothing wrong with pottery, but the job of class 3 engineers or a steward gets you more money. Even women in the community are now looking for men who earn more.”
After finishing his Class 10, Chitroda, 28, paid Rs 1.5 lakh to undergo training to become a motorman on ships before setting sail to Turkey and signing off in Panama. Chitroda will set sail again in April, 2016.
Agrees Shailesh Solanki, 24, who explains that these jobs do not require higher educational qualification. Solanki worked on an oil container which set sail from Singapore and traveled to Iran before anchoring itself in Syria. “It is a dangerous job given threats from pirates, but pays rich dividends,” he says.
The training, according to Jayesh, is of two types—General Steward and General Post—for seafarers. Jayesh used to work in the culinary department of a supply vessel two years ago.
“The jobs in both the types are hierarchical. Suppose you join as an assistant, you then rise up the ranks to become a chief steward. Similarly, there are several other jobs in the deck, engineering and electrical departments. Some require skills, some don’t,” says Jayesh.
Alongside interior kilns, shops line the exterior road, adorning an ensemble of flamboyant colours of earthenware. Heena Tank, 36, reveals the current day’s predicament that the age-old potter town is facing.
“There is a lot of competition; yet the potters are not ready to hone their skills. The traditional potters in this town have been designing the same type of earthenware but traders like us are looking for new, innovative pottery,” says Tank, as she swivels on her arm-chair.
Tank’s cousin joined a ship as a low-ranking worker after finishing his Class 12, but after finishing his graduation and completing some of the required tests, is now a captain. Tank, who runs her shop with her husband Narottam, points at some other issues the community is facing.
“The postal address of Dharavi is posing as a hurdle in getting our children admission in good schools. The school management says if the children are from Dharavi, they must be hurling abuses and uncouth. I want to request the government to give us a new postal address,” she insists.