Beyond the social media optics and cult building, the chronicle of Kashmir’s real life ‘clay girl’ is cast in clan crumble and craft crisis.
Her deft touches and artistic focus inside her workshop appear immaculate. Yet, what looks like a classic craft act is in reality a creative crusade to recoup her disbanding clan.
At 24, armed with a Fine Arts diploma, Aresha Ain is fighting a dual battle — upholding her craft, and holding her community together.
She, however, knows that it’s a daunting task to infuse creative life in clay. And then there’re naysayers dismissing her devotion as a “futile pursuit”.
But the certified professional and a daughter of Krals—potters—of Srinagar stays strongly steadfast.
In a bright spring day in her Brein Nishat residence, Aresha’s mud-smeared hands are carefully crafting a mud pot. Despite having a nose for news, she isn’t reading much into the virtual traction on her elapsed clan. Like a textbook doer, she has a job to do.
With this belief, most of her tribe members remain silent servants of the art which has faded over the years as modernity and alternatives flooded the market.
“There’s no glory in whining and complaining,” Aresha says with her masterly sway.
“I chose to be a potter in the family of potters. Our choices make who we are in life. But while this field is open to all, those who’re upholding the craft from centuries deserve some support, if not a limelight.”
Unlike those self-starters—or the “sunshine entrepreneurs” who were suddenly unleashed on Kashmir’s landscape and hailed as the “icons” some decade back—Aresha remains a blend of serious skill and scholarship.
As craft pioneers, Aresha’s cultural class with an unassuming bone in their bodies still slog to polish their deftness.
And yet, while ‘cults’ are being eulogized for their “path-breaking” online initiatives, the real life clan is being shrugged. Mindful of the apathy, Aresha is only trying to fight the institutional crisis.
Coming from the clan of potters called Kumars in Urdu, she picked up the craft threads from her father as a small girl.
“It all started when my father asked me one day, if I would like to do pottery,” she recalls, while finishing a bowl.
“I happily agreed, when girls usually stay away from this field. But I did it as I love my cultural roots.”
As a potter, she curtly realized how societal sneer and official torpor was plaguing her craft.
“People assume that we work with clay, so we don’t have any value,” the craft girl continues. “When our artwork is shown as showpieces on social media, that time people love it, but when people meet us in person, they look at us with a different attitude.”
Beyond the social media optics, the pottery as a profession is clearly caught in crisis today. And despite maintaining a rigorous routine, Aresha is only struggling to prove her mettle as a potter every day.
“First to arrange a tipper full of clay worth Rs 15,000, we’ve to spend four-days to seek permission from different authorities,” she says.
“Then we’ve to arrange labourers to get clay at our house at the cost of Rs 4,000. We’ve to also arrange wood, for which we’ve to pay again.”
This tedious process compels many to give up the pursuit. And then there’s a harsh truth—a practical hitch—in the form of a dipping demand.
But there was a time in a recent past when pottery items like flower vases and milk pots were in good demand.
“Except for tumbakneer [traditional musical instrument played during Kashmiri marriages], there’s not much market appetite left for our products now,” Aresha rues.
“Also, marriage celebrations don’t last throughout the year in Kashmir.”
Aresha is equally despairing about the introduction of plastic items and mass dumping of clay pots by Kashmiri society.
“Plastic has introduced many new and deadly diseases in our society,” she claims. “Earlier, eating in clay utensils was considered as a healthy habit by old people.”
With these concerns, Kral Mohalla of Nishat has only gone the Old City way — losing artisans to shifting trends and lack of craft intervention.
From 32 potter families, only 15 have been left now to shoulder the skill in Aresha’s neighbourhood.
“It’s good to romanticize our community on social media,” the ‘Kral Koor’ says. “But beyond shows, we need strong support from society as well as from authorities, so that we can continue this art.”