Bishnu Prasad Kumal has dedicated countless hours of his life to a dying art. Bishnu is a master potter as was his father, his father’s father and every other male ancestor he knows of. Kumal caste workers have been producing pottery for centuries, but today most of them have taken up other trades. Bishnu, and all the other Kumal potters can no longer support their families through pottery alone. Bishnu owns a small convenience store which creates the bulk of his income.
The enemy of the potters is plastic. Before plastic demand and prices for pottery was much higher. Once cheap and durable plastic started pouring over the border from India, the demand collapsed. For a small pot Bishnu now makes less than a penny. For a larger more ornate pot he can collect no more than a quarter. Despite these rock bottom prices, Bishnu and his father Badhu Ram Kumal continue making and selling their pottery. The reason Bishnu continues is tradition. Bishnu believes pottery is a part of his family’s culture that should be preserved. He thinks there is a responsibility to preserve the work of traditional artisans, and that the government should take more action. In India, Bishnu says, the government has taken action to support potters and keep them in business, but Nepal has no such policy.
Watching Bishnu it is easy to see that he is preserving a tradition. Everything is done in the same way it has been done for centuries. Bishnu kneads the clay himself, and he shapes it on a stone wheel that he rests on top of a metal point. To begin the wheel spinning he takes a stick and spins the wheel himself. There are no machines, no new materials, no new designs. Everything is the same as it has always been.
It is a pleasure to watch Bishnu work. He starts with shapeless mounds of clay, and in one smooth, fluid motion he suddenly creates a tower of the raw material with smooth sides and a rounded top. Without sparing a moment his hands wrap around the top portion of that tower, and with a subtle movement of his thumbs a pot appears. Once the pots shape has been made, Bishnu takes a string and separates the pot from the tower of clay it was shaped from.
While I enjoyed watching Bishnu work, I felt like Bishnu enjoys the work as well. It seemed almost meditative for him. The constant fluid motions of his hands, the concentration, and the quiet whir of the stone spinning in front of him. As I watched each pot take form from the shapeless clay, I felt the love that Bishnu has for his art. This love is significant because with profits so miniscule love is the only reason why anyone would choose to dedicate so much time to this traditional work.
Posted By Mark Koenig
Posted Aug 30th, 2007