KOCHI: Fifty-four-year-old Joseph Fernandez wastes no time as he leads the way to his workshop. The place is lined with enormous tandoori clay ovens. Three ovens are in their premature stages, and with their base set and dried, Joseph begins to align one of them with clay which is prepared prior.
“During monsoon, they take about 10 days to be baked completely. Else, six days," he says, pointing to a kiln. Joseph is the sole tandoori oven maker in Moolampilly, home to the now-defunct Moolampilly Kaliman Society formed in 1962.
The residents of the island, part of Kadamakkudy grama panchayat, were once engrossed in the making of clay vessels. The earthenwares and clay pots, popular for their durability, were marketed with the Moolampilly trademark.
According to 'Social History of Luso-Indians in Kerala', a thesis by Charles Dias, former MP, the society was started by Luso-Indians or Portuguese-Indians and was registered as the Kaliman Vyavasaya Sahakarana Sangham - Clay Industrial Cooperative Society.
“Those who were familiar with pottery were inducted into the society. They would make earthenware and clay flowerpots on a large scale to ensure a stable income. Tandoori ovens arrived later. The St Augustine's Church had provided land and the society's activities centred around the church. However, debt crept in and there was none to repay it. Eventually, the church took over the land,” he says.
Unlike his peers who are engaged in various professions, Joseph continues to bake ovens. “I have learnt masonry. The skills equipped me to do this work better. Therefore, I stuck to it. Fresh clay is obtained from the earth - I acquire it from lands nearby. Orders are primarily placed for kitchen equipment and hotels. It's a seasonal job,” Joseph says.
The society members are either too old or have passed away. “Youngsters did not take up the trade - others who did have grown old or died,” Joseph adds.