Kumhar Gram of Delhi is perhaps the last surviving art eco-system of the city and may die out soon.The potters of this ‘village’, who make lamps, diyas and other pottery items for the city folk are on the verge of extinction. Can we reverse this culture ‘extinction’?
Last Sunday, I took a trip to this enclave that lies within the somewhat ‘ modern’ colony of Uttam Nagar. Accompanied by some researchers from the Sharda University, I was astonished at seeing the mental inertia of the potters of the Kumhar Gram.
Kumhar Gram- where time stands still
Translated into English, Kumhar Gram means ‘ Village of Potters’. The word ‘village’ here stands out like a sore thumb for, this habitat is very much a part of the thriving metropolis of Delhi. But once you step inside this enclave, you can’t stop yourself thinking how much its residents have fallen behind the rest of their fellow Delhiites in terms of adoption of modern management techniques.
The Alwar connect
It was difficult tracking the Village headman, Harkishan Prajapati. He is not only the most noticeable face of this potter’s village, he is also a National Award winner. A master of this ancient craft, Prajapati is also considered as the founder of this village.
He came to Uttam Nagar in the early 1970s, and since then, this colony is now home to more than 500 families. Some of the residents of this village also belong to Haryana, which is a neighboring state of Delhi. Almost all the residents of this quaint area sport the surname, Prajapati.
The word, Prajapati, means Lord of People. This community of people believes that they are descendants of Lord Bramha, who is the Creator and the Master of this World.
Alwar is approximately 150 kilometers and is best known for its tigers.
Ever since Prajapati made Uttam Nagar his home, he has been followed by several other potters who wanted to strike gold in the pottery making business.
Maybe you would like to read this article from Hindustan Times on this community- http://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/this-diwali-visit-kumhar-colony-and-light-up-a-potter-s-life/story-KjpBmBLy3fOYHt8MzfQ0BI.html
Initially, they did well, but with the numbers of potters in this colony swelling, competition among themselves is hurting them real bad.
The potters here live cheek by jowl and this is perhaps the greatest barrier to their success. Buyers of their products who come from Dwarka and other neighborhoods from Delhi are able to drive a hard bargain with these sellers.
‘There is little differentiation on offer here,’ rues Prajapati. People here are used to making the same style of diyas and other forms of pottery, he explains.
Even though the potters spend a little fortune on making their superbly designed products, their average price realization is very low. Interestingly, the demand for these products shoots up during Diwali or the Festival of Lights. Domestic buyers don’t find value in what we lovingly make, laments Prajapati.
But the silver lining is that foreign buyers find these products delightful and reflective of Indian culture. The price that they get from international travelers coming to this part of Delhi is very attractive.So, the obvious strategy is that the potters of Kumhar Gram should look out for foreign buyers.
It is not that the Government of India has not encouraged the potters of this village from adopting new marketing practices. Prajapati’s wife is also a National Awardee. He has been sent abroad by the Government on several sponsored trips several times to showcase his products.
But Prajapati and his wife are exceptions here. Most of the people whom we spoke to were reluctant in taking part in Government sponsored workshops and training sessions.
‘There is little value in attending these sessions,’ says Ram Prakash. ‘We will have to shut down our factories for a day or two and we will lose business, ‘ he says.
I think it is more about their mental inertia. Perhaps they think that the village headman will teach them this art and craft and make money. After all, Harkishan Prajapati is like the Moses of this community.
Modern Times at Kumhar Gram?
If you thought that the youth of this colony will take up this ancient art and craft of their ancestors, then perish this thought. Many of them want to join the swelling ranks of IT workers, Uber drivers and government employed peons. For them, pottery is a dying art with little revenue potential. It isn’t glamorous either for a generation that is very much into mobile phones, internet, cricket, and movies.
Fortunately, several organizations are offering their helping hands to the Kumhar Gram community to make pottery more relevant and profitable in these modern times.
Monica from Sharada University wants to change the community’s attitude toward this dying art. Armed with a sheaf of papers and a pen, she goes from house to house in this village, convincing elders and youngsters to join a training program.
‘The training program will help you find new markets and earn better profits, ‘ she explains to a bunch of curious onlookers. She repeats these lines many times as she visits houses and speaks to the ladies and men of this community. Monica is fairly successful in her efforts. More than 100 people consent to attending that training program, but she has doubts.
‘I wonder how many will actually pick up the phone when I call them up, ‘ she says. But, she is hopeful, nevertheless about the success of her mission.
Sonu, in the picture above, represents a young breed of potters who can revive this ancient art by making use of technology and new marketing platforms like Amazon and Flipkart.
His village has turned into a mini-tourist attraction for all those Delhiites who want to explore the city and move outside their air-conditioned cubicles. And therein lies another profitable opportunity.
Meanwhile, the potters of Kumhar Gram are still waiting for their Messiah to come and deliver them from their self -inflicted poverty.
Would you be interested in contributing towards the welfare of the potters of Kumhar Gram?
Or would you like to buy some good quality pottery from this place? If yes, please write me an e-mail and I will connect you with some of the better-known potters here.
Thanks for reading this post.