potter rests his two baskets upon the stone floor
of the alley. He is waiting for the woman who had
called to him from her window. The alley is almost
lightless and scarcely five feet wide. Houses rise
above him, shoulder to shoulder, some of them cracked
by the earthquake of 1934. He waits, leaning against
a cold wall, facing the doorway through which she
will appear. His clothes are homespun, rough and
colored by the dark earth with which he works. There
is a decoration on his forehead, a red dot that
he put on in the morning as a blessing of Ganesh,
the elephant-headed god of good fortune.
long bamboo pole stands beside his two baskets.
When he is walking, the two baskets dangle from
the ends of the pole balanced on his shoulders.
Sometimes, especially during harvest time when
help is needed and his wife accompanies him to
his field, he carries his grandchildren in the
baskets, among tools, packets of food and jars
of rice beer. Today the baskets are filled with
reddish-brown clay flower pots, water jars and
are steps on the stairway. The door is opened,
its hinges screeching, and a woman in brilliant
colored sari appears. She asks why he has not
come for the last few months. "My
daughter was to be married; we had to arrange
for her giving away." They discuss the groom
for a long time.
squats in the doorway telling her children and
what they are doing. She fingers the clay wares.
She needs one basin to wash clothes in and one
water jar. The old clay water jar that she is
using can be seen through the door. Its sides
are green, covered with slippery algae. There
are bumps on its glistening belly, like boils,
where cracks have been cemented to stop leaks.
The water jar is three feet high. She uses its
water to wash dishes and clothes. She has two
medium-sized copper water jars and one bronze,
she says, by for the summer she like the clay
ones better because the well water she draws remains
refreshingly cool in them.
jars she uses for drinking water are cleaned twice
daily - a woman who does not do so is alachin,
a bringer of ill fortune. She goes back inside
and brings out another smaller clay water jar
she is using. There is a hairline fracture along
its side, through which water seeps. She has to
be very careful to lift it, she complains, otherwise
it will fall apart. Water leaks from it and makes
a puddle on the kitchen's mud floor, and her mother-in-law
is always grumbling about it. This morning when
her husband was ready for work, all dressed up
in clean clothes, he walked past the water jar,
slipped in the puddle and fell. His clothes were
discoloured by the red floor and he was very angry.
she washes the dishes with water from the old
large jar, she has to wash it again before they
eat. "One has to be very careful; my aunt's
daughter caught typhoid." She likes good
water jars that are not in danger of breaking
because the ones she has must be carried one at
a time to the attic kitchen, otherwise they will
this long recital, she asks, "How is business?"
toothy smile. "Dasain is coming," he
says, "everyone will need clay utensils for
worship and I have begun to make them. After all,
it is never good to wait until the last moment."
home, his land is clay; it gives him his material
for work. His crops are rich and healthy; the
land gives him his food. Grey, unbaked pots are
set in rows to dry out in the sunny lawn. He has
been making these pots for days. The straw ceiling
of his working shed has to be changed this fall
and the tiles on the roof have to replaced too.
daughter and wife are out weeding the fields.
He feels sad sometimes that he did not send all
his children to school (his eldest son is an officer
in the Nepalese government). But the fingers of
those that did not study are deft and pots that
they make are good. As for his daughters, one
was married recently and the other has received
offers of marriage from good families.
clay that he prepared more than a week ago is
properly soft. He added water to the clay of his
field and when the water was absorbed, he mixed
them together with his feet. Now and then, when
his feet encountered pebbles or stones, he bent
down and picked them out. Later he added more
water and let the mixture stand for a few days.
When it was ready, he took out lump after lump,
carefully kneading each by hand. Every portion
had to be perfect. This prepared clay was covered
from the sun and air by sacks so it would not
lose moisture. If the clay dried prematurely,
his products would be of inferioir quality.
second son is kneading lumps of clay in preparation
for this afternoon's work, making pots on the
huge wooden wheel. This wheel has been with the
family for a long time; it is of solid wood and
very expensive to make if one had to be made today.
A stick is inserted in a small hole in the wheel
and the wheel is spun in a flurry of human effort.
His son squats next to the quickly moving wheel,
takes a lump of clay, places it on the centre
of the wheel gently and after a moment's pressure,
the clay rises magically between his hands. His
thumbs dig into the spinning lump and without
effort, the shape of a pot appears.
the pots are ready, they will be dried in the
sun and, in a day or two if the sun is out, they
will be ready to be baked in the oven until they
are bright red. His oven is small compared to
the ones that are used to make bricks. One day
he had come to look at a local brick factory erected
with Chinese technical assistance; the enormity
of its chimney made him dizzy.
oven is circular, and at its bottom is a matting
of husk, straw and sawdust. When the oven is filled,
he will seal it and light a fire. After being
baked for several days, the pots will be ready.
originally wanted to buy only one water jar and
one basin, but as they talk, she decides that
she needs two water jars, large and small, a basin,
and three flower pots. Business is smooth and
he raises the price of his goods just enough not
to scare her away and still leave a margin for
bargaining to make her feel good.
baskets sway lightly from the pole on his shoulders
as he prepares to go. He promises to come by the
next month, wishes her well, and smiles a goodbye.
She smiles back at him. Her smile is red, like
the clay wares that he sold to her.