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Fall of Kumars: ‘In a few years, there will be no potter in Kashmir’

While most of them have long stopped moulding clay for living, the remaining traditionalists are grappling with the market indifference. Amid the fast flipping lifestyle trends, Kashmiri potters called Kumars are on a precipice of losing their ancestral craft.

As the sun is steaming over quaint Zabarwan peaks, a neighbourhood at its foothills in Brein Nishat is in the middle of a languid routine. A weather-beaten man here is preparing cods of clay in his courtyard filled with moulded pots.

At 65, Ghulam Muhammad Kumar’s tanned skin, sunken cheeks and skinny physique tell upon his professional toil.

The elder craftsman sits in his workplace in Kumar Mohalla, situated at a small distance from the famed Mughal Garden.

For almost 50-odd years, he happily shouldered his forefathers’ line of work. But now, things are spiraling down — that too at a cascading pace.

These days, the elder craftsman mainly makes Tumbaknaris (a Kashmiri percussive drum), flower vases and other market-suited earthenware, as gone are the days when his clan would be moulding a variety of utensils.

Now, earthen pots—mainly utensils—are no longer in demand. People have long moved on and shifted to other means.

“But alas, if only they [people] could realise how they drive out Shifa from their lives,” Kumar, moulding the clay, says. “People now prefer plastic, aluminium and steel utensils over earthenware, despite knowing how they cause health issues.”

As the market is falling, Kumar Mohalla is losing its famed potters.

Most of them now look for different modes of living. “I cannot imagine Kumar Mohalla without potters,” the elder craftsman continues. “But it’s hard for all of us to survive when there’s no demand for items we make.”

Most of the crafts in Kashmir—which once made natives self-sufficient—are now losing both its makers and takers.

In Kumar Mohalla, where dozens of families have already shifted from the pottery to other odd jobs, 55-year-old Abdul Majeed Kumar stands among the very few last potters of the area.

His dexterity brings out impressive earthenware, but Majeed mainly works on a flower vase at his workshop now.

Blaming high prices of necessary raw materials for the fall of industry and lack of support from the government, Majeed says, “High prices of essential material like clay and wood has affected the industry adversely.”

In the same neighbourhood, the octogenarian Abdul Ahad is trying hard to keep the flame of his forefathers’ craft alive.

But while he happily embraced pottery as a profession, his children are staying away, citing poor financial returns.

“In a few years from now,” Ahad rues, “there’ll be no potter in Kumar Mohalla.”

 

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