State of clay
When the pandemic struck, the world was forced to stay indoors. Initially, the thought of working remotely in the comfort of one's own home was considered a stroke of luck. As time elapsed, the work-from-home (WFH) routine turned more than mundane.
With hardly any socialising, and Netflix (or other digital platforms) becoming the 'only' activity to look forward to, people's expectation of the bliss that was to be WFH came crashing down.
Aparna Choudhrie (49) says, "Most educated people [usually] think of themselves as interesting. Suddenly, they realised that apart from working, travelling, and partying, there’s nothing to them. The lockdown took away all three [activities], and they found themselves with their new best friend Netflix."
It is then that many people started realising that investing in themselves is as important as buckling down and hustling. In fact, a few actually decided to overhaul the once-neglected bucket list, and take their hobbies seriously without the added pressure from peers and parents.
At such a time, the mindful, age-old craft of pottery has seen a revival. Choudhrie, who is the founder of Nehru Place-based The Clay Company (a pottery studio that was launched in 2015), tells us that sign-ups for pottery classes at her studio increased by at least 20 per cent after the last lockdown.
"I get almost two calls a day, six days a week. That's a very large number. People have understood that they need to spend time with themselves. Also, that there’s so much more in life apart from personalities, lives, and even career - no matter how fulfilling," she mentions.
Rashmi Sharda (37), founder of Gurugram-based Zeventien Ceramics Studio, started her studio in November last year. Sharda agrees that post the pandemic, there has been a new-found interest in this tactile craft. "Of course, one of the reasons is that people have realised that there’s more to life than a career," mentions Sharda.
"But it is also because of how accessible pottery has become now. There's also this idea of living in the moment through pottery. You enjoy two hours, or so, and take back that memory [as well as a handmade product]," she reckons, adding that she receives three or four inquiries a week.
MORE THAN JUST A CREATIVE OUTLET
Pottery is not limited to being just a creative outlet for most people. In fact, amateur and established pottery enthusiasts will happily dictate a whole slew of reasons as to why this tangible craft is more than just an artistic medium.
24-year-old Gurugram resident Vasundhra Kaul talks about how pottery has helped her focus better. Currently a research fellow, Kaul, who has also trained as a lawyer, says, "The past years [for me] has just been about academia. I would always see friends who illustrate or paint and would wonder how nice it is to be able to create something. I think it is important to be able to work with your hands; I was looking for a hobby that allows for such creative expression and is a hands-on activity."
Searching for pottery classes near home, Kaul and her friend Regina Chozah (28) chanced upon Gurugram-based Zeventien Ceramics Studio. The duo have completed almost six months picking up the craft and usually spend six hours every weekend at their sessions.
Kaul says, "Pottery has helped me take time out for myself, but in a way that I actually have a skill I’m building on. It also helps me build confidence."
Apart from allowing her to channelise her energy, Chozah, who runs an educational start-up, elaborates that the therapeutic craft has also increased her productivity. She says, "It’s also a very personal craft. You shape your clay, and it remembers your touch. It is very satisfying because I can always identify my work. If you don't have a way to express yourself and are not into any other art or craft, pottery is a great medium to explore."
The gentle movements while practising pottery is known to help in the treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Talking about a prolific student who started pottery at the age of 72, Choudhrie says, "Apart from the other benefits, it is the tactile side of the craft that's even stronger, and can help people who have physical problems such as arthritis."
Pitampura-based Dr Shruti Sharma (50) discusses that the craft helps in keeping her mind stimulated. "I need to keep my brain active. Pottery also helps a lot with hand-eye co-ordination," says the eye surgeon who took up the hobby four years ago and is a regular at Earthen Aura Ceramics, Pitampura.
A THERAPEUTIC PROCESS
It isn't news that the pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health. Add to that, being cooped up at home with no respite is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Sharda talks about how this craft helped a student cope with depression, "I recall one of my students telling me that pottery helped her relieve lockdown-related stress. The pandemic was stressful for her, as it was for others."
Recalling a similar incident, Choudhrie says, "I had no idea that one of my students was being treated for depression. She would be regular at the studio. A few weeks later, one day, she broke down saying ‘I don’t think you realise how much this has changed my life. The only time I feel fulfilled and centred is at the studio.’ She told me how the craft has helped her connect with herself."
Working with clay, as many pottery buffs will agree, is a lot like meditation. In fact, practising pottery can be touted as a countermeasure to help reduce digital stress. Kaul explains, "It is very calming to work with mud; our ancestors recognised this a long time ago."
Chozah recalls feeling isolated during the lockdown, and reveals, "During the lockdown, I had a lot of anxiety. A lot of my friends had gone home and there was no social interaction. Pottery helped me spend time and be creative. It is a really calming process and it helps me focus."
Dipti Gupta (44), founder, Earthen Aura Ceramics, started her studio in 2004. She mentions that, post the lockdown, there has been a 50 to 60 per cent increase in enrolment for pottery at her space. Gupta mentions, "I wasn’t expecting many people coming after lockdown. But there’s been a surge in numbers."
Of course, social media also plays a big part in popularising the craft. Gupta elaborates, "The two major reasons are that they’ve read and heard about how therapeutic pottery is; and even doctors are recommending it as a stress-busting activity."
Apart from it being a meditative craft, Gupta explains, pottery has also proven to be a fun activity for couples. Case in point: Dwarka-based Aditya Popuri (30) and Bhargavi Nallamothu (28). Bhargavi, who temporarily moved to Delhi from Bengaluru, tells us that she has always had a creative bent.
She decided to take pottery classes at Earthen Aura Ceramics in an attempt to explore the city. Bhargavi mentions, "Sitting at home and working became extremely stressful. It’s great that we started classes together, as we get to make a product and bring it home. In fact, we also remember the experience."
Her husband, Aditya, initially decided to join only to accompany Bhargavi to the classes. On trying the craft, and in time, Aditya realised that he was actually enjoying the process of pottery. On weekends, it takes the duo about two hours, to and fro, from the studio to their home.
But, they have no complaints. Aditya, who works as a professional at a credit rating agency, chips in, "It is a really good break for me from my day-to-day life. For two hours on the weekend, we just concentrate on what we are making. It is a meditative process, in a sense that we just end up concentrating on pottery. I have personally never done anything artistic; so it's a great break."