In the heartland of India's rustic charm, where the vibrant amalgamation of culture unfurls in every corner, lies a timeless tradition that forms the very backbone of the non-farm rural economy. In the midst of this enchanting landscape, you'll discover the skilled hands and passionate souls of artisans - a living testament to the essence of craftsmanship. Official figures speak of approximately seven million artisans, but some sources whisper of a staggering 200 million, all dedicated to this noble profession. These artisans are the custodians of indigenous modes of production, preserving the secrets of traditional skills and techniques handed down through generations.
This realm, where artistry meets livelihood, remains predominantly unorganized and informal. It's a place where dreams and aspirations are crafted alongside intricate masterpieces, hidden away from the world's gaze. There are but a few shining stars in this constellation of artisans, such as FabIndia and Anokhi, who have managed to break free from the shadows and showcase the splendor of their craft to the world.
This is a story of untapped potential, a story that will foster in you a sense of longing for a world where every artisan is recognised and celebrated. This is the story of Srikakulam Paradesam, a sprightly 92-year-old craftsman who has spent over eight decades breathing life into shapeless mud. Hailing from a charming town in Visakhapatnam. As the festive season of Diwali approached, Paradesam embarked on a labor of love, crafting a staggering 10,000 to 12,000 diyas. His days began at the crack of dawn, fueled by a cup of tea, and stretched late into the evening. Each diya emerged from his skilled hands, a symbol of his unwavering passion.
In his quest for perfection, Paradesam ventured into making slightly more intricate diyas with stands. These stands served a crucial role, preventing the cup-shaped lamps from toppling over and keeping the flames alive. Crafting these took him five minutes each, compared to the two minutes needed for a regular diya. Remarkably, he decided to charge just one rupee more for these special ones, ensuring that his loyal customers weren't burdened.
Paradesam's life revolves around the potter's wheel, an art that he considers magical. Over the years, his hands have shaped countless diyas, or deepams, illuminating homes during Diwali. Despite his hearing being slightly impaired and age catching up with him, he continues to live with his family, preserving the heritage of his craft in the tranquil lanes of Visakhapatnam. It's a tale of artistry, resilience, and an enduring love for transforming mud into objects that light up our lives.
In this quaint village of Visakhapatnam, which was once a bustling hub of pottery, Srikakulam Paradesam stands as the last guardian of diya making. In the very place that was once filled with pottery families, Paradesam now finds himself alone. The others have gradually shifted their focus to crafting more lucrative clay items like idols and various clay artifacts, or some have even bid farewell to the craft altogether. Paradesam recalls that a decade ago, he too used to shape idols for various festivals. However, the physically demanding nature of idol making, which often required long hours of sitting on the ground, began to take its toll on him. As the years passed, he gracefully transitioned into crafting diyas, a less strenuous but equally cherished art form.
As he patiently waits for Vinayak Chaturthi to draw to a close, Paradesam eagerly anticipates the onset of Diwali. Nestled in a makeshift workspace near his home, he finds an inexplicable joy in crafting diyas, Paradesam's journey as a diya craftsman began in his childhood, under the watchful guidance of his father. His hands have expertly molded both the traditional and decorative diyas that grace homes during Diwali, along with pots for plants, money banks, and Ganesha idols for Vinayak Chaturthi. He even mastered the craft of making 'flowerpots,' those small clay vessels used in the firecracker industry to create the same-named fireworks. Not too long ago, he received a substantial order for 1,000 flowerpots, earning him Rs. 3 for each one he meticulously crafted.
In the midst of fierce competition and the ever-changing world of pottery, there's a simple joy that keeps Paradesam's heart illuminated. The simple fact that his granddaughter likes it is enough to keep him going.
As we navigate the winding roads of rural India, we can't help but feel a pang of longing for a world where every artisan's talent is celebrated, where their craft is a beacon of hope, and where their dedication is acknowledged on a grand scale. It's a realm where the heart and soul of India's rural economy find their voice, waiting for the world to listen and embrace the magic they create with their hands.
Written by Kavya Sriram
Photographed by Thandil K