COVID-19 Impact: Potters and Khumbharwada brace for a bleak year ahead

Updated: 10 August, 2020 07:22 IST | Gaurav Sarkar, Prakash Bambhrolia | Mumbai

With Eid being tepid and upcoming Janmashtami set to be a washout, Mumbai's oldest potter community appeals to the city to come out and buy their wares

A Dahi Handi event in progress at Dadar in 2019. File pic/Atul Kamble
A Dahi Handi event in progress at Dadar in 2019. File pic/Atul Kamble

Dharavi's potter community has been hit hard by the COVID-19-caused lockdown as ahead of Janmashtami, potters in Kumbharwada are struggling to make any income, let alone a profit. Amid the lockdown, very few customers have ventured outside to buy clay pots as the festival is expected to be a low-key affair.

There are around 550 potter families in Kumbharwada, the land for which was given to the community by the British government around a century ago.

Govind Chitrode at his shop in Tardeo on Sunday
Govind Chitrode at his shop in Tardeo on Sunday

A majority of the matkas used for Janmashtami, which is on Wednesday, are manufactured here a few months ahead. Artisans join friends and families in manufacturing and painting matkas.

"I have not sold even a single matki this year," said Govind Chitrode, 52, a third-generation potter who resides in Kumbharwada with his wife, two daughters and a son. "Our income usually depends on festivals — during Diwali, we make diyas, during Navratri, we make 'devi ka ghat' and during Janmashtami, we make matkas used in the Dahi Handi ritual. COVID-19 has hit the business badly." The potters also manufacture small bowls, during Ramzan, used to serve firni and rabdi. The business for these too took a hit. The next big festivals are Navratri and Diwali during which they make 'garba' pots and designer diyas. But given the current situation, there is little of significant business.

Last's year's Dahi Handi event in Dadar. File pic/Atul Kamble
Last's year's Dahi Handi event in Dadar. File pic/Atul Kamble

It takes around three to four days to make one pot and another fortnight to paint them. "Business is not even 20 per cent of what it used to be in previous years," he says. "I used to make anywhere between Rs 30,000-40,000 in three days with each pot having a profit margin of 10-15 per cent. My shop has been open since June 8 and I have sold only some small, miscellaneous pottery items. The economy of the entire community has been affected."

Tank Jitendra Valji, 43, a resident of Kumbharwada who runs shop Prajapati Valji Ramji in Thane, echoed Govind.

Tank Jitendra Valji, potter
Tank Jitendra Valji, potter

Lack of trains a hindrance
"There is no business at my shop," he said. "The problem is that with the restrictions on travel, and with local trains not available for common public, customers are finding it difficult to come to the market."

"Earlier, there used to be Dahi Handi celebrations in the smallest lanes and chawls but over time, this has changed to only a few big names. We also kept very low profit margins earlier since many matkis used to be sold. Previously, I'd sell 50 matkis a day, now I have only sold three on a Sunday. COVID-19 has made all festivals unsafe as maintaining social distancing would be impossible," Valji said.

Tank added that business picks up in the few days right before Janmashtami as people don't prefer to store handis, fearing they might break.

Rs 40k
Approx. amount Chitrode used to earn in three days

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First Published: 10 August, 2020 06:27 IST

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