Hamilton: First Vocational Day

Trip Start Nov 21, 2008
Trip End Dec 22, 2008

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Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My first vocational day was a great one!  Olak Desai introduced me to Ravindraa Shinde, a potter who works as a designer in Olak's firm.  Ravindraa and I sat around getting acquainted by looking at each other's pottery photos, then hit the town.  Ravindraa first took me to meet a well-regarded potter the he knows, a National Award Winner.  We climbed into one of the three-wheeled motorized rickshaws that are all over the city and headed out.  I was a bit surprised when we pulled off the road beside one of the sprawling slums that fill in the  gaps of the city.  These are smokey, smelly shanty towns where row upon row of tin, wood, and straw shacks house the inumerable masses of poor and otherwise homeless denizens of the city.  The lanes between huts are now and winding, and latrines are somewhat where anyone happens to be when the call of nature arrives.  Ravindraa left me for a few moments to make sure the potter was in and available, but soon returned to bring me to the right hut.  We walked about about 200 yards into the slum, fortunately a straight shot at the edge of the shacks and entered into a small, dark hovel crowded with upright bed frames and other seeming junk.  The potter was an elderly man, maybe 75 years old, by the name of Gauri Shanker.  He was not the slightest bit frail-looking, but he moved slowly as if each step ached.  He enjoys visits from other potters and had me sit in the single chair while we talked using Ravindraa as translator.  Gauri lives and works in this shack except when he is invited to teach at a college or university in the surrounding states.  He showed us a letter of invitation to one such occassion, but sadly the letter had reached him a few days after the event had occurred. 

After a bit of talk, the old potter sat down and showed me the use of his wheel and demonstrated throwing several pots.  The wheel is low to the ground, and Gauri has to squat and reach across to the middle of the wheel to center and shape the clay.  The wheel is spun with a pointed stick that fits into any of a series of holes around the edge of the wheel.  A few good turns of the stick and he quickly shapes the clay into small jar.  After several such pieces, Gauri invites Ravindraa and I to drink some tea with him.  A young girl appears out of the shadowy room behind Gauri and dashes out the door and off into another part of the slum.  After she exits, some children who had begun to linger outside the hut drop any semblence of disinterest and begin to crowd the doorway to see what business this clean, pale American might have with the elder potter.

While the girl is off fetching tea, from where I don't care to think of, Gauri shows me some of his finished pots, glossy black pieces with some sort of silvery decoration here and there.  The pots are made of local clay and are fired a few feet from the hut in a shallow pit kiln fired with dried cow dung, stack of which are plentiful in the area.  The pit is filled with dung, then stacked with some pots, then more dung, then more pots until a sufficiently sandwich pile has been erected.  Then the stack is covered over with more dung and some wood then encased in broken pottery shards.  It takes the better part of a day for the kiln to fire, provided it is not raining.  I ask Sauri about the silver decoration so he demonstrates by grabbing finished pot without decoration and scratches a quick design into one part of the surface.  He then spends some time searching for a rag in which some small materials have been stored.  He pulls out a dull grey metal and begins to work it into the scratched design.  The material quick fills in the scratches and a little polishing begins to bring out the shine.  I ask him what the material is, and the potter finds another rag and pulls out a small vial.  He opens it and pours out shiny liquid metal directly into his palm.  The substance can only be mercury, and I shrug back as he offers to pour some in my hand.  He explains that one can dilute the substance in water to make it workable, but that it retains its shine even through the dung firing.

After the girl brings the tea back and we sip it while talking more, I purchase a few pieces.  Outside, we snap a few pictures and depart with many thanks to the old potter.  We stop by a pottery market where I purchase one piece that has elephants on it.

I've run out of time for now... but I will finish this another time.
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