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Unmaking of a lamp

Unmaking of a lamp
Potters are hopeful of good demand this time and expecting to sell out all their products. However, the challenge that lies ahead is of providing affordable prices that can attract maximum shoppers. This is going to be a tough task given the competition in the market due to the high production cost which has risen after the leap in the prices of raw materials.

Har Kishan, a national award winning potter, has been in the business of pottery for more than four decades and witnessed paradigm shift in this profession. Kishan tells Millennium Post of how difficult has it become to get clay to make these products.

‘We came to Delhi way back in 1976 and ever since then we have been practising our traditional arts and crafts. One of the biggest problems that we face is getting clay. It has become almost impossible to get clay from Delhi or from the national capital region (NCR). Earlier, we used to get clay from Satbadi, Nasir Pur, Palam, Bagraula, Punjabi Bagh and Najafgarh drain at almost zero cost. As these places have now been concretised, we no longer have supply of clay from these places. Till some time back, we had been importing clay from parts of Noida but now that option is also closed as suppliers are unable to get us clay from there,’ says Har Kishan.

‘Jhajjar in Haryana is the only place from where we are getting clay these days. Till a few years back it was available at about Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 per trolley but over a period of three to four years it has shot up to about Rs 5,000 per trolley. Rising prices of clay, wood and sawdust have made the cost of production extremely high,’ adds Kishan.

‘The situation is now going to turn even more critical as large chunks of land in Jhajjar, from where we were getting the clay, have been acquired by Reliance therefore suppliers are no longer allowed to dig and export. Suppliers are illegally supplying clay at double the price and that also can stop any moment. Prices of other commodities are also continuously increasing but we cannot raise our prices as we have limited parties with limited volume of sales,’ says Gir Raj Singh another national award
winning potter.

But availability of clay is not the only problem being faced by potters. The other problem is banning of kilns.   

‘Kilns have been banned by the state government due to the pollution it causes. We are doing our business by setting up small kilns illegally in our houses. Making of earthen products requires a lot of space. We need space to dry the products before putting it into kilns. But we live in cluttered spaces and don’t have that kind of space,’ adds Gir Raj.

Gir Raj, who has spent almost 45 years of his life making earthen lamps and other clay products, tells us that almost 60 per cent artisans out of 400 hundred in Uttam Nagar area have left their family profession and have been forced to opt for other professions. Many of them have now entered into the trade of earthen lamps. Artisans who could anticipate the future changed their professions and can easily be seen running grocery stores, driving autos or trading clay products.

Gir Raj also tells us that about 50-60 trucks of diyas are imported every year from Krishna Nagar in Kolkata to meet the demand as those products are made using mould technology in bulk which makes them cheaper. In Kolkata good quality clay is easily available. Lamps which come from this city have a huge demand in Delhi as they are big in size, well designed and decorated with
coloured glazing.

‘The age-old profession of pottery is now on the verge of extinction as new generation is no longer interested in getting into the profession due to lack of resources and low returns,’ says Prem Chand, another national award winning potter.

‘We are less than a week away from Diwali and I have not booked even a single order for my products. I am thinking of selling my products at a lower price to at least recover the production cost,’ Prem Chand says.

‘Diwali is our biggest hope of doing business but this time we have nothing to celebrate as there are no demands from the market and not even a single exhibition has been organised to facilitate our sales. We used to have exhibitions at different places during every Diwali season but this year I have not got any exhibition to sell our earthenware,’ Prem Chand adds.  

There are many factors that have contributed to this challenging situation for potters. While rising costs of raw materials is a major problem for potters, market inaccessibility and low profit are among several others.

Phool Chand, another potter, who last year tried to put a small stall to sell his clay products including idols in Sector 9 market of Dwarka, was beaten by police and asked to leave the market due to security reasons. Phool Chand has no plan to go back to the market this time fearing the same treatment from the police.

Dill Haat and Pitampura Haat are meant for artisans and potters who make their own products and sell them, but now it has become a place for big traders who have not even touched clay. They are setting up stalls with clay products bought from local artisans, adds Prem Chand.

Returns for artisans have shrunk considerably and in some cases returns received are only sufficient for a hand-to-mouth existence whereas the preparations of the clay items and earthenware such as lamps, pots, and idols requires long gruelling hours of work and high level of skills.

‘The traditional earthen lamps are slipping off the priority list of Diwali shoppers as Chinese electric products have captured substantial amount of market space. Chinese lights are gradually replacing earthen lamps made by the potters from the city and outside. People prefer fancy Chinese lights and frills which are not just affordable but also easy to put up with minimum consumption of electricity,’ says Anuj jain, a trader in Sadar Bazar.

Hitesh Agarwal, a resident of Dwarka, says that earlier people used to light their houses with traditional diyas, but now they are buying Chinese lights and frills because it is more attractive than the traditional earthen lamps. ‘When frill lights twinkle our children get excited. The best part is that it lasts longer than the traditional diyas and can be put off once the celebrations are over. However, we also buy earthen lamps for some traditionally important places such as doorsteps and temples, Hitesh says. He also admitted that people are gradually shifting to these Chinese lights because the cost of earthen lamps has gone up.

‘Chinese lights came to the market almost a decade back. This is not a new phenomenon. The fact is that the bad phase for earthen lamps started about one or two decades back with the advent of coloured candles. Earthen lamps were replaced by candles first and now it is candle that is facing tough competition with Chinese lights. These days demand of earthen lamps is stagnant due to its cost and limited use,’ says Piyush Nangru, founder of Indomania.

Inndomania works for potters to protect their culture and improve their productivity by providing better resources and economic support.

Kishan Pal, who has been involved in making earthen lamps for the last 10 years, tells us, ‘There were times when we supplied lakhs of earthen lamps and idols during Diwali season. God knows what happened to the people and their choices. Now things are totally different. People are not ready to pay even the cost we put into make these products. The new generation is happy with the fancy lights which are available at cheaper prices. I have seen huge downfall in demands. If this goes on I will have to think of changing my profession.’

‘Last year we sold thousand diyas at Rs 250 to Rs 350 and this year we are getting the orders priced at about Rs 350 to 400 for thousand diyas. We are not getting the price which we are looking for whereas all other raw materials costs have increased,’ says Angoori Devi, national award winner, potter.

‘In order to protect the potters and the beauty of this profession we need to develop the skills of our potters and will have to focus on their socio economic condition so that they can come up with new designs of pottery to meet the expectations of the new generation. However, the crisis of clay availability has been an unaddressed issue so far,’ says Rahul Barua, secretary general of South Asia Foundation.

Saurabh Sharma

Saurabh Sharma

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