With Diwali just a couple of days away, Tayyab Tak (43), is working tirelessly on the potter’s wheel in a congested lane of Kumbharwada, the century-old pottery hub of Asia’s largest slum Dharavi.This colony of traditional potters is busy again ahead of the festival of lights, a welcome sign of recovery in a neighbourhood that was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic three months ago.
“The gates are now open. People have started coming to buy our goods. There is some hope,” says Tak, continuing to fashion an earthen bowl as he speaks. Around him, shoppers are engrossed in selecting diyas from the display.
Yousuf Galwani (38), whose firm also handles corporate orders for pottery, says the collective clamour to move away from Chinese lamps and lights has also helped business. So has the government’s push to go “vocal for local”. “Diwali and Ramzan are important periods of business. This year, there was almost no business during Ramzan…With restrictions on public movement still in place, we were worried that even Diwali will be a dampener. But the government relaxed some of the curbs in time,” says Galwani. He adds, “People are preferring earthen lamps and diyas over Chinese goods. This has brought some cheer.”
Anticipating good retail business during Diwali, Galwani’s firm has rented a road facing unit like several others, even as it continues to serve wholesale and corporate orders. All over the shop’s cleared frontage are serried rows of terracotta diyas in various shapes and colours. “We are back to 75 per cent of usual sales during Diwali,” says Galwani, as a shopper picks up a leaf-shaped diya set. “At least the investment made in manufacturing is being recovered.”
His close friend Dawood Meen (48), who owns a smaller pottery units, however, says that the going is still tough. “We are mainly dependent on orders from within Mumbai with most residents not allowed to take local trains.”
Sounding less optimistic than Galwani, he observes that the sales are down 40 per cent to 50 per cent over the normal range. “There is hardly any saving after paying off workers and lenders,” he says.
Tak echoes Meen’s viewpoint. While both have been into this business from their childhood, neither is willing to push their children into the trade. “It is just not sustainable,” Tak says, while maintaining that he will continue to eke out the living by churning the potter’s wheel.
Meen’s brother, Ismail, rued how governments have ignored small businesses like the potters in Dharavi. “A politician distributed mechanised pottery machines to some of us recently. But these turned out to be faulty,” he says. But even he agrees that the Diwali week has been a busy time.
Suresh Wagadia (51), meanwhile, is hoping that there is no lockdown in future. “After Diwali, we will have to wait for Makar Sankrant in January, 2021, for a surge in business….We just can’t afford another lockdown.” But back on the streets, several shoppers are hopping from one pottery unit to another without wearing masks.
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