Kumbharwada, Dharavi – A microcosm of Mumbai
“Wait for me!” shouts a boy running after his friend through the maze of winding small lanes across the colony. The boys are probably the 6th or 7th generation kids of the Prajapati potter families, most of whom will no longer remain either potters or in the colony in the coming years and fly away to hopefully brighter futures.
But before we talk about the future of this generation, lets go back to the history of this Kumbharwada – the Wada (colony) of Kumbhars (potters) – all you see in this locality is pots, pots and more pots!
Kumbharwada in Dharavi is basically a migrant colony of potters and is almost 100 years old. They potters came from Saurashtra in Gujarat. The legend is that the potters from Saurashtra who spent 2/3rd of a year in Dharavi, requested the British for some land in this area after their workplace in Dharavi was burnt down in an inferno – the British gave 13 odd acres to the 200 families on a lease for 99 years in 1932. Kumbharwada is one of the oldest community colonies of Mumbai.
Today, about 20 acres of land is where Kumbharwada stands on, 20 acres out of 530 odd acres of Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia. However, Kumbharwada is much cleaner and has much more light and breeze compares to shanties of Dharavi. It is inhabited still by the Prajapati and other Saurashtra families whose primary skill, over generations, remains the art of creating pots – different shapes, sizes but using the same clay and accessories including colors.
The process of creating pots, bowls, flowerpots and lamps for Diwali etc is by far the same.The grey/red clay is imported from other areas to their Kumbharwada, the clay is moulded into pots when wet. These wet pots are then kept in sunlight to dry and while they dry, the pots are further beaten into the shape they need to be in.
Once the desired shape is available, they are then put in the heat kilns. There are heat kiln furnaces at every nook and junction in Kumharwada.
These are constantly busy – the potters hire workers, mainly from North India to operate the furnaces.
These workers work in 12 hour shifts, and the working conditions are not ideal at all. They put the raw materials like used cloth, cotton etc to fire these kilns / furnaces and then wait for the heat to do its magic. The workers often breathe in the fumes coming out of the kilns throughout their workday. Remember, the potter families live in the same conditions too. There are around 120 such kilns in the Kumbharwada.
The Gujarati potter families, like elsewhere, believe in living as a joint family. Each family has around 6-8 members and live in a house of areas around 600-800 sq feet. The problem, however is that the govt has grand plans of redeveloping the slums of Dharavi which means the potters will need to shift to proper flats of only 225 sq ft. This is clearly a big problem for the potters of kumbharwada.
The potter families, live together and enjoy their cultural and religious programs together.
This is a minority Gujarati micro-community that lives in the majority South Indian (Tamil) locality. They do celebrate in their own unique way, the older generation leading the way. However, as with other cultures, their culture and future is both uncertain.
How long will the Kumbharwada stay and how long before the change kicks in yet another blow from the master of them all – Time; we don’t know.
For now, let us celebrate this peace loving and hard working community in the heart of the city that never sleeps – the Kumbhars of Kumbharwada.