When the mercury rises in summer in Gujarat, some people set up cold water counters known as parab or serve free butter-milk in kiosks set up all over the city. This tradition is part of a quaint Gujarati ritual, because as a form of greeting, we first offer water to guests. So whenever I ask my guests if they will have cold water from the fridge or matka, clay pot, they invariably ask for the latter with a surprised look, asking,“How come you have a matka? Isn’t it a lot of work to wash it every day and fill it?” This question never stops to surprise me as I cannot imagine life without a matka. It has a pride of place in my kitchen, covered royally with a brass lid, which has a charming peacock shaped knob, and I tell them that matka-water is cooler and better than fridge water; because,during summer,we tend to drink chilled drinks and end up having a sore throat.
It saddens me to face the fact that since the last few years, clay water pots have disappeared from most homes, maybe because the design of the filter water machines or water purifying systems are not conducive to fill the same water in a matka.Yes, it is a little more work to wash it, adjust the water- filter-pipes and fill it, that is if you are in a hurry.
For me, any object made in clay conjures up images of earth,water and fire.The matka is a symbol of our earth-and-crafts-based culture. It is also our inheritance of terracotta, which has come down to us from the Indus Valley Civilisation. Terracotta objects are a visual delight. They are not heavy, neither big nor small, but have the correct size and I start wondering, why we cannot revive the use of clay pots or even a kulhar culture; not only in Gujarat but all over India. With the disappearance of the clay pot, I have noticed that one rarely sees potters in our cities.
But I am hopeful, as Ahmedabad still has small village-like-clusters known as gaams and puras like Vastrapur or Jodhpur gaam etc,where there was always a resident potter. It was a normal sight to see the potter working on his wheel, sitting hunched upon the earth under a tree, and like a magician, creating innumerable pots from just one lump of clay. He also creates kulhars, diyas, ritualistic articles, idols of mini gods, pot-bellied piggybanks and the beautiful garbo or perforated clay pot for the Navaratri festival. These articles are then dried on rooftops, under the sun and moon. When completely dry, these are coated with a red-ochre dip by the women of the house and arranged in an earthen kiln dug in the ground nearby, covered with fodder,wood shavings,cowdung cakes and fired till done, so that one could play a beat on the matka like a ghatam player!
Courtesy : Speaking Tree