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புதன், ஆகஸ்ட் 03, 2011

Hands that give shape to Terracotta from Cuddalore District

           For vendors of clay utensils and home show pieces such as festive diyas, that illuminate the entrance of a traditional South Indian home, business is about to pick up with the Aadi season in full swing, and Diwali just around the corner. The Udayar family has been providing Chennai for three generations, with clay goods and S Govindasamy, the latest in the line of descendants tells us his story. “I was 13 when I joined the business back in 1975. I still remember how people on bus number 63 would stop by our stretch on Kodambakkam High Road, make their purchases and then load it in the bus.”

         At the time, there was no Valluvar Kottam and no fancy flyovers, he recalls, just a simple 10 foot road and a railway line. “We would set up shop beneath the shelter of the trees,” he adds, “and our wares would be right adjacent to the potter’s wheel.” Much has changed since then, he admits. Foremost on the list, he reveals, “The government does not allow us to make our clay pots and lamps in the city. They claim that this is because of pollution and fire hazards.” Apparently during MGR’s time, these mann pathirams were quite the rage and sold by the hundreds, especially on ‘Market’ Sundays. Govindasamy explains, “Our kilns for baking the clay would be in the streets off the main road and we used to work through the day.”

          After 1985 things changed drastically; as the government allowed the baking of these clay wares only at night, when there were fewer risks involved for the public, they were forced to change from being entrepreneurs to retailers. This potter tells us that the exposure to sunlight was crucial for their dying art, which is why it was impossible to ply after dusk. Today, these clay objects, used for both cooking and aesthetic purposes, are made in bulk in districts such as Villupuram, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram and Vellore and then transported to the city; most often to street vendors or family businesses such as this one. Ironically, the elderly man states, “We used to have regular clients who would buy from us to cook their food in these pots and eat well. Now, more people come to us when there is a death in the family, to purchase a pot with which to conduct the last rites.”

           Glancing down the busy Kodambakkam High Road (opposite the Children’s park), pockets of orange pottery of all shapes and sizes dot the sidewalk. With over 200 models of clay creations, spread across eight shops in the vicinity, all owned by relatives, in-laws and so on, Govindasamy is proud to say that his family has weathered the many storms of bad business, stainless steel alternatives and plastic fridge containers along the way. He says with pride, “My prices range from Rs 1 for something small like a diya to Rs 5000 for a large tandoori oven that hotels buy from us.” The intricacies of each design, from an amphora to a wind-chime, each laboured upon by a human hand, have a definite old-world charm to it.




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