‘Left Behind’: For this family of potters in Rajasthan, migrating to the city is more than just a change of address – The Indian Express

Written by Tanay Gokhale and Bria Light
A gentle evening breeze teases the glowing end of the beedi hanging off Kaluram Prajapat’s mouth as he sits patiently in his outdoor workspace. Facing him is a small mountain of broken pottery that seals the heat inside a giant circular oven underneath. Close to 1,000 small clay lamps are baking inside, in preparation for the feast of goddess Sheetalamata, an important day for the Prajapats, a potter family in Harmada village outside Jaipur in Rajasthan.
“The feast is important because it is one of the few days that I can earn some money from this trade,” said Kaluram. “After the festival, who’s going to come asking after me or my creations?”
Pottery is Kaluram’s ancestral trade, as determined by his caste. He learned from his father when he was a teenager and now his own son has joined him in the family business. But business has slowed down over the past few years. Apart from cheap plastics emerging as a durable alternative to earthenware, the Prajapats are further hamstrung by a lack of access to a bigger market because of the jujmaani system of barter exchange they follow.
The jujmaani system is a remnant of Rajasthan’s feudal past when artisans like potters, blacksmiths and even performers relied on the patronage of the land-owning class for their livelihood. In this system of exchange, each artisan family is designated a certain number of families in the village as clients. These artisan-client relationships are passed down from father to son over generations — after Kaluram retires, his son will sell his wares to the sons and daughters of Kaluram’s clients.
The downside to this system is that the Prajapats cannot sell their pots to families outside of their jujmaans (clients), greatly restricting their market. Moreover, many of their jujmaans use refrigerators now and no longer need Kaluram’s earthen pots to keep water cool in the summers.
To support his father, Kaluram’s son Rambabu works a full-time job as a wage labourer, and Kaluram and his wife Janaki also take up similar jobs to piece together a livelihood for their family.
A potential solution to their financial problems is migrating to the nearby city of Jaipur, as hundreds of rural artisans have done in the past few years. In these urban centres, the wheels of free-market capitalism ensure potters a thriving wholesale market for their wares, unbound by the jujmaani system.
But a move to the city would also mean uprooting the Prajapats’ bonds to the village of Harmada and severing the business ties that Kaluram’s ancestors have maintained for generations with their jujmaans.
“We’d rather stay in the village and earn a small income rather than lose face by abandoning our jujmaans and moving to the city,” said Janaki. “But we know that after we pass on, our children and grandchildren will probably have to move to the city to feed themselves. That is what makes me sad.”
With the economic slowdown brought on by the pandemic, more and more artisan families are having to make this difficult choice between seeking financial security and holding onto tradition. For the Prajapats, upholding the ancestral family tradition has prevailed, even though this generation may be the last.
Tanay Gokhale and Bria Light are students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
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