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The clay artist giving his final touches to the clay model of a cobbler.

Photo by: Mouli Paul. 2017

The clay artist giving his final touches to the clay model of a cobbler

Photo by: Mouli Paul. 2017

Krishnanagar is that quintessential small town with crammed up shops, chaos on the roads, cycles and rickshaws going hither and thither. Just how a small town is. The roads are narrow and meander into lanes and alleys, all which are surrounded by primitive looking buildings. Boarding an early train from Sealdah ( Laalgola Passenger or Krishnanagar Local ) I reached around ten. The whole area around the station smells of Kochuri (fried bread stuffed with either mashed lentils or peas accompanied with a spicy potato curry) being fried in Sunflower oil. Earlier it was mustard oil. Now they have switched over to avoid its pungent smell and also Sunflower oil is considered healthier. Not much in a mood for breakfast, I headed for where I wanted to be as time was short. Ghurni. Yes, that’s the name of the place. The hub of clay artists and potters, regarded as one of the main tourist attractions. The last time, I had been there, it was almost after sundown which made it quite difficult for me to roam around the place or even chat a two with the artists. Street lights were not placed at a frequent distance and as it is in the outskirts, the broader streets are lined on both the sides by unkempt canopy of trees giving the whole place a very ghostly look. Morning is a much better time, obviously. I took a toto (much enhanced and colourful version of an auto which does accommodate more than four people at once and sometimes a bit more) from the station. Even hand-pulled rickshaws are available, if you want to travel solo. To reach Ghurni, it takes around ten to fifteen minutes minus the commotion in the market area or else a good twenty five minutes. The specific name of the place is Putul Potti ( Putul – doll, Potti – belt) in the Ghurni neighborhood where the main road dissects into further two roads. Even after being a popular tourist attraction, the place appeared quite deserted. I paid the fare and walked first towards the road on the right side. The left corner of that road was dedicated to the open studios/shops of the clay artists while the right corner mostly was skirted with two-storeyed houses and a big lawn.

Most of the shops were empty except for one, where the clay artist was engrossed in his work. I entered, not meaning to disturb or divert his attention. The man was, I assume to be around sixty years. With a glassy expression, he looked up at me and within a second again went back to resuming his work. I stood for a while examining his work – a clay doll/model of a cobbler and enquired how much it would cost. “Seventy five rupees”, he replied back with a businesslike tone. Other models waiting to be finished and touched up were kept on a square shaped wooden space. Stepping out of the shop, I walked towards the main road, making a mental note of returning back, and took the road on the left side. This corner had more shops but, mostly of finished products and hardly had I come across anyone in the process of making. Mostly what the artists do now are, finish with the whole process at home which is where the studios are, and do with the touch-up and last minute finishing at the shop before selling off to the customer. It’s easier that way and also allows them to work in peace.

After half an hour of roaming around, taking a good look at the sculptures (there were too many), I came back to the shop where I had first set my foot. This time he didn’t look up. Quite hard to understand, whether I was invited to ask questions or not. I thought of just purchasing and just be done with it. But, something pushed me, most probably the two-hour long journey which I had undertaken to reach. Just buying something and returning back would make the whole effort quite purposeless. Clearing my throat, making myself quite audible, I enquired about the price again and planned on purchasing a model. Good way to start a conversation, I guess. He gave me quite a lot of choices. Initially, I didn’t notice that all the models, even though looked the same but were different. Looking closely, there were cobblers, blacksmith, carpenter, fisherman and some of the others I couldn’t guess. After thinking for a while, I finally zeroed on the blacksmith. He appeared to be quite amused by my confusion which made me think, “Thank God! He has got expressions”. Asking me to sit for a while, he did the last minute improvements like adding a bit of coal, and orange colour for the fire. As it would take some time before drying up, I asked his permission to click few photographs.

He finally gave in a lot of details after I asked him few questions. The one thing, which kept on bothering me, was that how come such a popular tourist spot, didn’t have a single tourist? At least, I didn’t get to see any. What he told did make sense. Holiday makers do not usually arrive until it is the perfect season (autumn, winter). Even if they do, it’s mainly to Mayapur, which you need to just cross the river from Nabadweep Ghat in Krishnanagar to get a glimpse or stay over at the Iskcon Temple. On the way, they pay a brief visit to this area, and if something do interest them, then well and good for the artists. But, the good thing is that their income is not solely dependent on just the locals or tourists. Since, clay artistry has been through generations, over the years they have gained a handful of loyal as well as rich clients and it’s ever growing. These clients prefer to purchase from their specific artist, to main uniform standard and quality. On the other hand, it is not every day that these artists receive such huge commissions. The reason, their financial standing is mostly at the same level with periods of highs and lows. With a very simple living, they almost manage to live a decent life while some of the artists from the younger generation go out and explore other opportunities to hone their skills. The same goes for this artist as well, although, he didn’t mention any successor. Just that his grandfather who had been a clay artist himself had opened this shop which was an open air studio then and gradually it progressed. He also showed me a huge tray with a collection of the same model which I had bought. One of his customers had ordered around seventy of them for some ceremony. The blacksmith model had almost dried up and it was time for me to leave. Packing and carrying over a clay work is quite a delicate job and he asked me to hold the square box in which he had packed in a certain way to avoid breakage. I paid and came out from his shop. He gave me a smile as I left. A light drizzle had started and the roads were completely empty by then. I walked towards the main road and took a passing toto for the station. Waiting for at least half an hour, I finally boarded the train to Sealdah which happened to be unusually crowded for a Sunday. Thankfully, I got a seat. The next two hours and a half, I reached home.

There are no afterthoughts or realizations following this visit as wherever you set foot in West Bengal, in the outskirts, the situation is same, just varying a bit in levels. It was just my curiosity to know about the places, of which I had heard about so much and put forward my observations.

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