POTTERS IN BHANGA MELA
POUSH MELA 2012: THE END GAME
POTTERS IN BHANGA MELA
This old man, Sahadeb Pal, is coming to Poush Mela from 1958AD, as a five year old kid, with his grandfather. At that time the Poush Mela were held in front of the Kanch Mandir or Prayer Hall. These potters got shifted, along with the shifting of fair ground to first beside the rail track east of Purva Palli, then at times to the ground where the Bhasa Bhavan stands now. In earlier times, they could book a spot for them in the fair ground, but for decades now the Mela Committee do not allot any place for them, and they land up at the fair ground at the Bhanga Mela phase, i.e after 10th Poush. This year they landed on the fair ground as late as 30th December, to wind up on 5th January, 2013.
Sahadeb Pal is an enigmatic old man from near about the Messanjore dam, now at Jharkhand. Their families got displaced by the dam, found a new home, and remained regulars in Poush Mela since his childhood. But the mini-truck fare has increased manifold in recent times to bring all the earthen items from Jharkhand, and gradually the transportation cost is becoming a deterrent for their participation at Poush Mela. From 14 such mini-truck loads of items, the number has reduced to only two truck loads this year. Only the three generations of Sahadeb Pal’s own family have still steadfastly stuck to their 50+ year old tradition of coming to Poush Mela at Santiniketan. The others have simply stopped coming here on this occasion.
It is nice to talk with this old man; the scent of near antique Santiniketan is still very much alive within him. Nostalgia remains a big factor for a seasoned potter like him too!
I was naturally on a hunt for a credible story, and some interesting photographs for my own collection. I never imagined that I would be in for a real tough deal to photograph the whole process of buying a few earthen pots. I found the tribal ladies interested in purchasing some largish earthen pots, pitchers to be exact, to store drinking water (The Kalsi). Those large Kalsis keep the drinking water delightfully cold and tasty during the scorching summer. The great ordeal for me was that I never anticipated the tribal ladies to be so fastidious about selecting the right ‘Kalsi’ for them! I accompanied my wife once or twice in her costly jewelry purchase ventures, which remained painstakingly time consuming. But just to record a single fruitful purchase of 4 such ‘Kalsis’ I had to hang around for almost an hour to my utter bewilderment.
First of all, the lady, hip-hopping will select quite a few among the jungle of pitchers. Among the 15 selected in such process, a detail inspection piece by piece, and a lot of caressing the Kalsis from bottom to the neck, ultimately only a few will be selected for actual purchase. Then the long bargaining process will start. Interestingly the whole bargaining process is actually a short story in itself. The allied subjects of a child’s health to the plight of farmers, to the quality of clay used by potters, to cost of coal, to how much money the husbands have allowed them to spend at Poush Mela- everything will come into the bargaining process. For the first time I realized that bargaining is itself a nice kind of socializing, with all parties, the buyers and sellers equally interested in bargaining! After all if one cannot socialize in a fair, where is the big fun!
And amazingly these two ladies will carry on their head and waist these Kalsis, on foot, right up to Kendradangal, a place at least 6 Km away from the fair ground! Now that is a real great story of buying two earthen drinking water storage pots (each lady), with half an hour of selection, another 20 minutes of bargaining, and then at least an hour of walking carrying these Kalsis home! If I wanted to track these ladies back to destination it could have been a flat 2 hours absorbing job for me! I was simply amazed at the transaction of Rs :50 x 2=Rs 100/- in cash and two hours in time for two such Kalsis for each lady! This is a time and money economics too bizarre for me to analyze; but this remains a real story of a fair in India where just about everything is possible!
To be honest I got interested in the potters and their products after observing a typical sale process. To my utter amusement all such purchases were that much time consuming. These potters sale whatever they can to such buyers, and the remainder items are sold to the whole sellers who later sell them in interior markets in higher prices. Probably owing to the character of clay in Jharkhand area near Messanjore where these earthen pots are made; the items are quite favourite among the buyers here. These products are more durable than the local makes. However, as mentioned earlier, the escalating transportation cost from Jharkhand may make sale of such items non viable at Poush Mela in Santiniketan in near future. In about a decade or so the potters may simply vanish from Poush Mela.
Earth is naturally the closest reality to us. The earthen pots of several utility types bring in a smiling sense of intimacy to us, the mere spectators; it gives us a feeling of closeness to Earth. The complexion of Poush Mela fair ground changes discernibly with the potters coming in, and naturally the ambience will definitely change in absence of them. I am not in favour of preserving trade practice, as trade naturally will be determined by economics only; but for preserving the mood of Poush Mela, especially the Bhanga Mela, the presence of the potters is a necessity.
Sometimes it can be felt very acutely in Poush Mela that something is missing. It may be an old friend, or a certain stall and the stall owner, maybe a particular item (I can name quite a few such vanished items, the most popular being the water-filled balloons). Poush Mela, over time, can be a great reflection of time, like any other fair.
After all ‘Time’, as always, remain tantalizingly suspended in dilemma.