Born of Clay, Fading Into the Sands of Time

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It is possible that soon, pottery-making will be nothing more than part of a curriculum restricted to art schools.

In this part of the world, where the remains of Moenjedaro and Harappa provide the world with glimpses of centuries-old craftsmanship, the tradition of pottery is still deeply rooted. However, the market for clay items, while it does exist, is not large enough to accommodate potters, leaving traditional pottery-making to wither into a dying art.
It is possible that soon, pottery-making will be nothing more than part of a curriculum restricted to art schools.
Amidst the old quarters of Rawalpindi in Gawalmandi, surrounded by auto repair shops, there is a small market colloquially known as “kumhaaron ki gali”, or Potters’ Street, which specialises in items made of clay. Historically inhabited by non-Muslims, Muslim immigrants from Eastern Punjab moved to the area after the Partition, replacing the existing Hindu and Sikh population.
“We migrated from Amritsar, and pottery has been our family business for several generations,” Mohammad Ishaq Butt, who owns a pottery shop in the market, said. He explained that following the Partition, several potters’ families settled in the area and resumed their old trade.
Along Potters’ Street, a customer can find household items and crockery fashioned out of play. The items range from water tumblers, to water coolers, oil lamps, piggy banks and gardening pots, amongst many others.
However, despite the existing market, and the centuries’ old tradition, several shop owners say pottery is a lost art.
“Traditional pottery is long gone,” one shop owner and clay artisan said. He added that clay pots now are manufactured in factories in Lahore, Gujranwala, and other industrial sites in the country. The pots are then brought here and sold.
The shop owner’s father, who was present at the shop quipped, “We haven’t made pottery for the last three decades – now we just sit here.”
According to many vendors, the present generation has abandoned the profession entirely, choosing instead to purchase factory-made clay items and sell them. However, there are still some items that are made locally. Amongst them is the traditional clay oven – the tandoor, or huqqa.
Potters’ street, Rawalpindi
These tandoors, which are made from a mixture of black clay and sheep hair, cost between Rs200 and Rs1,500. He said despite gas loadshedding facing many households and restaurants, no one is interested in buying these ovens.
In Rawalpindi, there are still some spots where one can witness pottery in its traditional form.
Hasan Ali is a craftsman who still uses traditional methods to make his clay huqqa, in a small compound in Gawalmandi. Ali explained that he learnt the art of pottery from his forefathers. “The art is dying, but we cannot do much,” he added.
A VIEW of one of the few clay workshops at the Potters’ Street in Rawalpindi.
According to Shahid Waheed, Associate Professor at the National College of Arts (NCA) Ceramics’ Department, “The reason behind the decline of traditional pottery is that many potters are not educated, and have limited exposure to the commercial market.”
Waheed said that since demand in the market has changed, new techniques more suited to meet the new demand, have evolved, leaving little space for traditional potters and their art.
“The survival of traditional pottery-making and its craftsmen will be difficult without the government’s support.”
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2014


Dr. Mehdi Khorisani was born in Karbala, Iraq, of Persian parents. He did his studies at the University of Najaf in Iraq.  His father was an Ayatollah.  As a young boy, Mehdi Khorisani would sit by his father’s side to learn about dealing with people and stress related situations.  Coming from a long line of Persian spiritual leaders he decided to study to become an Imam.

Dr. Khorasani traveled throughout the world, observing people, their culture and spiritual traditions.  He engrossed himself in the teachings of Rumi, Saadi, Hafez, Shams e Tabrizi, Farid al-Din Attar, Omar Khayyám and many more great teachers, philosophers and writers.

People would come from great distances sometimes just to discuss a problem or some line or two of poetry. He was always quoting the Qur’an for everything, having me run to his library to find some other pertinent book about the topic being discussed.  I don’t read Persian or Arabic, so I colored coded many of his favorite books so I could find the correct one.  He always read the text first in the original language for all of us to hear.  Then again, a second time, translating each line as he went along.  He knew many languages and was an amazing orator. After his readings their would be a long silence in the room. He would smile. Then you’d see this twinkle in his eye as the questions rolled into the air. It was fun. When you left, one felt like some heavy weight was lifted off your shoulders.

Imam was my teacher, my friend and most importantly, he was a poet.  He would tell me incredible stories of growing up in Iran.  I hope to share some of these stores along with some of his poetry here with you.

Imam was exiled from his country in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. Imam Khorasani lived out his life in Northern California, never seeing his homeland again.

THINKING OF IRAN     by Dr Mehdi Khorisani

This pain of separation still weighs on me.
Despite all my experience and art,
my head is still bowed.
Years have passed since my insanity
Became the subject of discussion.
How can I expect a cure?

The master has wiped away my sins
With the kindness of his blessing.
Still the doorman points to the blot that’s on my coat.
With patience, all sadness has been forgotten,
But my rival’s blame remains.

You went away, but you took my heart.
Isn’t my bewildered state to be expected?
Far from Khorasan, beslaved by loneliness,
The last minute of my life I’ll still be thinking of Iran.
Who am I to guide anyone?  I am not a guide.
Mehdi is still lost in the wilderness.