Toying with clay

By Jamil Khan

MOST children enjoy a huge variety of flowers and plants while visiting a nearby nursery. Today, you find a nursery in every locality. An important thing that one comes across while visiting a nursery is that besides plants you have a large variety of earthen ware on sale.
Objects like planters of every size and shape, vases, pitchers, embossed plaques, welcome signs, door hangers, bulb covers, animal statues, etc., are all found here at a reasonable price.
Kumharwarah, situated in New Karachi, is the place where these clay items are made. Kumharwarah means a place where Kumhars (potters) live.
Kumharwarah is roughly spread over a 200 acres area. Majority of the people living here are related to the field of pottery making and have been living here for as long as 35 years. These people gathered from various parts of Karachi like Muhajir Camp and Lyari. At that time when these people shifted to this place, Kumharwarah seemed to be the last corner of the city but with the rapid expansion of the city this place seems to be in the middle of the metropolis now.
Children and women have a major role to play in this industry and are actively involved in every step of producing a variety of clay-made items. From clay mixing to producing pottery and loading and assembling on carts or vehicles children help their elders with keen interest.
The process of making pots with clay is not only interesting but also needs hard-labour. While visiting Kumharwarah and seeing these potters at work we came to know that first they bring sand from Gadap beach (40 kilometres from Karachi). This is because it is important to add sand in the clay that has been collected for this purpose. Then they mix sand and clay in huge ponds and knead it all day with their feet and shovel. After this process they leave this mixture in the same ponds for the night and on the next day they dry it as they drain water from the ponds.
The clay is at its best and at this time potters get busy shaping the mud into different objects. Pitchers, vessels, planters are made on various kinds of wheels but some objects are also made with frames. These figures are then kept in the open where they are dried under sunlight and after some time are placed into the oven to be baked. This process is necessary to make these products stronger.
Unfortunately in many factories of the area old computer monitor’s casings and discarded leather shoes are used as fuel. This keeps the ovens hot for a longer period but when the smoke rises from the chimneys, the area is covered with black clouds and is extremely unhygienic.
The New Karachi’s Kumharwarah area not only fulfills the demand of Karachi but these clay products are exported to many Gulf and European countries. Some of the factory owners also bring clay decorative pieces like toys, animals and other objects from Ahmedpur and Lalamusa, Punjab, and put them on sale in the local markets.
-Published in Young World-Dawn | Jul 9, 2005

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