For anyone who feels like they bring their work home with them or can’t seen to ever leave it — well, that is a daily living reality for 700 families that live in the largest pottery village in India. I had the opportunity to go on a fascinating tour of this pottery village with a few other expats and learn about their life. Let me just say, that it is indeed a life of hard work with very little monetary return.
In the 1960s a drought in Rajasthan started the flow of this pottery village towards New Delhi. They originally set up homes in the center of Delhi, but found that due to their work and lifestyle, being on the outskirts of Delhi was a much better plan for them. The wood fired kilns that are located in every household make living outside the center of the city a much better plan for everyone. The air, as I have previously written about, is already highly polluted but on this tour, I am sure I breathed some of the most unclean air to date — yet it is the daily life of these people.
Notice how old pots are used to finish the wall of this home. When our tour guide first started doing these tours several years ago, many of the homes had at least one wall that was made of unused pottery. It helps in insulating the homes. But they are higher maintenance so as they crumble and start to come apart, most of the people have just used bricks to replace the wall. There are only about 7-8 homes in the village that still have an insulated “pottery” wall.
The average family consists of about 10 members, extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Within that family of 10 about 4-5 members are working their pottery business. Within this pottery village there is only one “factory” where a man has hired help to work his pottery business. He produces the highest volume with just a few other workers that can create a pot in just minutes. Every piece of pottery seen within New Delhi comes from this village. 75% of the village produces the standard core pieces of pottery — pots, piggy banks, pumice stones. These products are certain to be sold but make just pennies on their profit. The other 25% of the potters risk a bit more by making home decorating type items that return a bit higher profit but take the gamble on whether it will sell or not.
Pottery drying in the sun is seen everywhere that there is a space to safely place it. During India’s biggest holiday, Diwali, the roads are carpeted with clay dias drying that every household in India uses to place candles on to burn for the holiday. In the front of each house, piles of products ready to be turned into clay is seen. The process of breaking down the clumps, sifting the rocks, mixing the clay and then kneading it to make a smooth, consistent clay to be placed on the potter’s wheel is done right there by the doorstep of the home. The women do much of the beginning work to make the clay ready for the potter’s wheel (based on what I saw in the village), with only the men sitting at the potter’s wheel to make the finished product. These professionals are so good at their work that we witnessed large pots being made in just minutes.
We each got our turn at the potter’s wheel but let’s just say that the man helping us really did all the work. The man that helped us was 25 years old and had been working at a potter’s wheel since he was nine years old. It was amazing to see the ability he had to turn out a basic pot in a few minutes. He truly has mastered his trade.