Yes, In The Dirt, With Those ‘Homeless’ People!

The last line provoked Kavya. Her eyes flashed fire: Yes ma. I am not just going to learn from those 'homeless' people with their priceless craft, I am going to be living with them.

The last line provoked Kavya. Her eyes flashed fire: Yes ma. I am not just going to learn from those ‘homeless’ people with their priceless craft, I am going to be living with them.

Water flowed down and disappeared into the numerous cracks in the caked mud. The only evidence of its presence was the dark color where it had flowed.  Kavya inhaled deeply the scent of mud as it received the water and watched it soak up and become pliable. She marveled at the water for she knew it gave life to the mud. A deep sigh escaped her as she stood up, raised her sari around her calves and tucked it in, stepping into the now sticky mud. Stamping on it steadily, allowing the clay to envelope her feet and soil her skin, Kavya felt at home as though embraced by all of earth.

Kavya’s relationship with clay began in college many years ago. Architecture, which she had fought to study, opened up a whole new world for her. It happened towards the end of her second year. Right in the middle of a sunlit courtyard, with students scattered all round watching intently. A pile of clay sitting on a wheel and the deft fingers of a traditional potter coaxing it gently but firmly. She was fascinated when the pot finally appeared! it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair. She still remembered the first time she tried to mould the moist mud. Clumsy. It only made her more determined to learn. To practice. She felt as though something incredibly meaningful was waiting to emerge from within her though the mound of shapeless material.

She spoke to the lecturer who had organised the workshop and found out that the potter lived in a small village in the rural South and had come here through an NGO working to promote traditional crafts. A plan started to form in Kavya’s mind.

Two days later, she approached her mother.

Ma, I want to take a gap year.

Her confused mother replied: But what is a gap year?

Before Kavya could explain, her father, who had overheard this conversation said: Gayathri, your daughter wants to spend a year out of college doing nothing.

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Gayathri replied: Am sure she will not be “doing nothing” unlike your son. She will have a job soon as she graduates when she takes her… what is that thing Kavya? Some “year”…?

A wave of anxiety hit Kavya. She had prepared well. It’s fine. It will work out. She told herself. Though she did feel a little guilty at not defending her darling big brother as she always does. She was grateful he wasn’t within earshot.

Ma, I want to take that gap year next year. I can do my third year afterwards.

Gayathri was completely in shock! Kavya, are you out of your mind? As it is, a year after completing his degree, your brother is still jobless. Now you don’t even want to complete? This is why I said no to this Architecture nonsense. Had you done your B.Com you would have been done by next year together with your CA and will be working for a prestigious MNC. God knows you have the brains! Now you want to waste all of that for what?

Kavya who had listened silently now said: Ma I want to learn pottery. I topped that elective in College this year. I am good at it and I want to learn more and more. My elective lecturer also thinks I have real talent.

Gayathri was speechless for a moment: Unbelieveable. So you want to abandon your degree to go pat mud? Oh good Lord, what has my household come to? If the rest of our family knew, we would be the laughing stock for generations to come. How can a girl with 6 distinctions in 12th, go dirty her hands and rub shoulders with those homeless people who make pots for a living??!!

The last line provoked Kavya. Her eyes flashed fire: Yes ma. I am not just going to learn from those ‘homeless’ people with their priceless craft, I am going to be living with them. And you don’t even have to pay a cent. To me or to those ‘homeless’ potters.

Leaving Gayathri gaping, she turned on her heel and stormed out. Many frigid days and nights of silence followed. Gayathri tried cajoling, threatening and everything else in her power to convince Kavya to stay and finish her degree. Kavya was undeterred.

The following year she came to Manakkal. An anomaly she certainly was there but people welcomed her with open arms. She learnt from a range of women and men who adopted her as their apprentice. She felt blessed. The village did not have internet or even easy phone access. Her rare conversations with her mother were strained. But the moment she touched the clay, it all disappeared. As she kneaded rhythmically, it was as though the clay just absorbed her tension and released it from her body and soul. A year later, she did come back and finish the degree. But her relationship with her mother was never the same – like a broken mud pot that had been patched up.

Now, few years after qualifying to become an architect, she chose not to work for the most successful architectural firm that head hunted her. Instead she worked for the NGO in Manakkal setting up an online portal to sell the pottery they made and together with the village youth, had started research into making clay tiles to be used as flooring.

Her mother was proud of her and bragged about her to all her friends when her photo appeared in a National Architectural Magazine as a promising architect to watch out for. Kavya had also matured over the years to realize why her mother always insisted on the degree and at that point in time, refused to allow her the freedom she felt she needed. She did not hold it against her anymore. Yet their worlds had diverged dramatically from the point when Kavya mentioned the gap year. Now they regarded each other with respect like two grown women do, unlike the mother-daughter dynamic that existed before. But sometimes like today when she visited back home, those bittersweet memories would come back in a rush – it was the end of an innocent relationship but also the beginning of the life she had created for herself.

Kavya had come here to the backyard, in the cover of the night, to escape these incessant memories that seemed to swirl around her inside the house. Relentlessly assaulting her, touching her, when she didn’t want to be. She preferred the touch of the clay that grounded her in reality. So she lovingly poured water into the dried mud that she had brought back from her gap year in the village all those years ago and hid in a corner of the backyard and worked it with her feet, allowing it to work on her feet.

When she calmed down she stopped stamping and washed her feet with water from the hose. Humming to herself, she entered her house once again as the starlit sky bid farewell to her and finally fell into a sound dreamless sleep.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the March 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.

Image source: pixabay


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