For generations, many families in Muradnagar of Cumilla have pursued pottery as a profession.
Pottery is basically the practice of making pots, dishes, and other articles of fired clay. One of the earliest human interventions, almost every region with a history of human settlement has its own history of pottery.
In the lands now comprising Bangladesh, the art of pottery is said to date back to Harappan times. But in terms of actual evidence, the excavation of Mahasthangarh turned up earthenware items dating back to 300 BC - almost two-and-a-half millennia old!
Today, most of the pottery villages are located in Dhamrai, just outside Dhaka. Cumilla too is not far behind.
Pots and pans, showpieces, sculptures, toys and many household decoratives made by Cumilla potters tend to be aesthetically pleasing.
Merchants from Dhaka and other parts of the country visit Cumilla to buy their items in bulk and sell them in the city markets.
Although the pottery tradition has long roots in this part of the country, the profession is gradually heading towards becoming obsolete, with the onslaught of time and modernity.
After a reality check at Ramchandrapur and Kamalpara villages, our correspondent observed that potters who themselves inherited it as their livelihood from their forefathers do not want to engage their young generations in this field because of low demand for their products.
Nowadays people generally use aluminium, silver, bronze, plastic and similar elements for household products like showpieces, plates and mugs, meaning the demand for pottery is decreasing day by day. The potters told UNB that the Covid-19 pandemic was like a final nail in the coffin for them.
Pottery items are usually a thing of attraction in the fairs and social or cultural gatherings, and sales are often restricted to certain periods of the year centring events like the Pahela Baisakh (Bengali New Year).
The pandemic has largely precluded such events for two years now, and this has resulted in a particularly lean period for pottery items, pushing many still engaged in the craft finally out of business.
Sumon Pal of Kamalpara village said, “We are barely holding on to our ancestral profession. The good old days are long lost and there is no demand for our products in the market.”
“Besides, the price of raw materials for the products including clay has increased exponentially over the last few years. This means there is no way to earn a profit from the pottery business now,” Sumon added.
Nomita Rani, another potter said,” I learned the profession from my father and him from my grandfather. I don’t know any other way to live. Now it feels like I am stuck at a profession which is incapable of rewarding me professionally.”
She feels the craft is on its last legs, no longer enjoying the appreciation of the wider public as something to hold on to even as part of heritage.
“I move from one place to another with my products hoping that someone will recognise my hard work and buy my products. But it feels like our time is up because despite how hard we work, how pleasing to the eye our products are, the eyes of the consumers are somewhere else,” a disappointed Rani concluded.
Almost all these families said they are now living hand to mouth, which was never the case back in the days.
Muradnagar Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Abhishek Das said, ”Potters will be provided with incentive packages to make up for their loss during the pandemic.”
In collaboration with the department of social welfare, the local administration has arranged training programs for the potters, to familiarise them with more contemporary tastes, and what the modern consumers are looking for. To what extent these may have been useful though, is debatable.
“Besides, we have also provided many potter families with food aid and will continue to do so,” the UNO claimed. That is an admirable initiative. But while food aid may help the potters of today to survive, it most certainly can do nothing to help save their age-old craft or their profession.