Trade in tatters, Dharavi’s potter community struggles to stay afloat

As economic activity inches back to normalcy, country’s artisans continue to face a hard time

Published: Thursday 06 August 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to gather pace in India — but the economic activity is inching back to normalcy. The country’s artisans, however, continue to face a hard time.

One such community is that of potters in Mumbai’s Dharavi, Kumbharwada.

It is one of the oldest potter colonies in Mumbai. Artisans from Saurashtra in Gujarat, looking to expand their market, started settling around Mumbai in the 19th century. 

Kumbharwada was one of the most prosperous areas in Dharavi — before the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed. Over the months, however, the trade has been in tatters.

The business has almost grind to a halt since March 23, 2020. According to Valji Devji Singadia, 45, production in his workshop has come down to less than half.

“Earlier, I used to make 1,000 clay vessels (a mix of cups, dishes and pots) a day. But now I am making less than 400, as there are very few orders and the storage space is running low,” he said. He added that business would flourish during the festival months earlier, but that would probably not be the case anymore.

“I make clay saucers to serve firni and rabdi, which are very popular during Ramazan. But this year I could not sell anything during because of the lockdown,” he said.

He fears he would not be able to make any money during Janmashatami, Navratri and Diwali.

His neighbour, Dawood Suleiman Mir, said he is earning a little by selling off most of his wares at half the price.

“I would sell clay incense stick holders for Rs 3 a piece, but I had to slash the price to Rs 1.5. I will not be able to sustain for long at this pace,” he said. He sold his entire stock of 10,000 sticks for a mere Rs 15,000.

The potters here use two types of soil — black and red — which are mixed in equal parts to produce the ware. The soil comes from Gujarat and is usually delivered before the monsoon sets in. The potters generally stock up for the whole year.

This year, however, most potters have not been able to procure the clay, said Deepak Samjhi Singadia, another potter living and working in Kumbharwada. “Our entire year will be a flop show,” he said.   

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