The potter and her poetry
That Saturday morning gleam was returning. I wipe the dirt off and walk into the potter’s house. Stupefied. Honestly. I was confused about where to fix my gaze – the kohl that rimmed Rachna’s eyes, the gayatri mantra on her gold pendant that solemnly snaked around her neck, the black granite that bracketed the large room into a corner for pottery, the burnished orange of the plate, the green of the chaise lounge, the sunshine that seeped from the atrium, the water that murmured down a wall, or the tea pot that lazed arrogantly on a mahogany chest. Yes, there were the browns of the innumerable pots in casual forms, each proud of its glaze, each flaunting a distinct form and texture.
The swirls of dust, the incessant traffic and the faceless streets had taken the sheen off my Saturday morning. I was looking for Rachna Parasher, the potter, and each bystander had casually mentioned streets that led to perpetual U-turns. The clock was ticking away but the address seemed elusive. Every time I rolled the window down hoping to find a messiah who would take me to the potter, I ended exasperated. That moment I wished I could be metamorphosed into a dragonfly, I could have sniffed the clay or heard the drone of the potter’s wheel… But no, I had the anonymous lanes to contend with…
Then I saw a colossal iron gate. And the address scratched in grey over black. The gate looked intimidating but the greens behind the statuesque rods stood serenely. Had to be the potter’s home, I persuaded myself. That Saturday morning gleam was returning. I wipe the dirt off and walk into the potter’s house. Stupefied. Honestly. I was confused about where to fix my gaze – the kohl that rimmed Rachna’s eyes, the gayatri mantra on her gold pendant that solemnly snaked around her neck, the black granite that bracketed the large room into a corner for pottery, the burnished orange of the plate, the green of the chaise lounge, the sunshine that seeped from the atrium, the water that murmured down a wall, or the tea pot that lazed arrogantly on a mahogany chest. Yes, there were the browns of the innumerable pots in casual forms, each proud of its glaze, each flaunting a distinct form and texture.
“I like the green you are wearing,” I begin the conversation innocuously. “That is one of my favourite colours. I like yellow too,” she adds hurriedly as she drapes a sunflower yellow dupatta on her green kurta. I am swathed in aesthetics of the moment. Within seconds, colours meld into history and the beginnings of the potter and her pottery.
“I was probably born with this love for pottery. There is no other way I can explain it,” says Rachna who as a child spent all her pocket money buying pottery. Gifts for her friends were no surprises – she always gifted a piece of pottery. She never sought anything else. Not for herself. Not for her friends. Even the first gift that has remained in her memory is a stoneware teapot that came for Re 1. Rachna does not remember who gifted the teapot, but she never forgot that miniature teapot that she so treasured.
Childhood in Delhi meant moving from one home to another. Her father, an educationist, who was the vice chancellor of Punjabi University (Patiala) and South Campus, Delhi University, so hated the idea of annual white-washing that he preferred shifting to a new home rather than getting an old one white-washed! “I have changed so many schools, all because of the no white-washing diktat,” says Rachna who later found a place under a definite sun studying history in Miranda House.
But digging feet in for long was still not ordained for this Libran who describes herself as someone “with an iron fist within a velvet glove.” She tagged along with her father to the US and at 16 travelled the world alone. And when it was time to return home, the pretty teenager bought loads of glass, pottery and a small kiln. The crotchety customs officer would not let Rachna carry all this without paying a heavy duty. She could not have left behind the collection at the cragged customs desk – she chose to pay the duty and bring the kiln home. “Of course, the customs officer complimented on the pottery I had picked,” says the potter who is the only one in the country offering a six-month glazing course in her studio at home.
However, much before innumerable exhibitions crowded her calendar and awards occupied infinite space on the mantelpiece, Rachna knew not where to begin the pilgrimage of a potter. More than 30 summers ago, there was no studio where you could walk in and dip your hand in clay and spin the wheel. But this ad woman who loved her jewellery and sported long, painted nails, was seeking a teacher, a direction. Thankfully, there was the Delhi Blue Pottery, an initiative of Sardar Gurcharan Singh who is credited with starting the studio pottery revolution in India. “Things were very haphazard but I did enroll in a hobby course.” Rachna did not have to borrow aesthetics from the classroom, she could feel it ticking in her innately, what she learnt was centring the clay on the wheel before it could be moulded into the desired form.
To the layman, this centring of clay might sound like the easiest of chores, but ask a potter and he would tell you that perfect centring can devour six months of your impatient life. All this knowing that the wet clay in your hands cannot be made in a laboratory; it is nature that pounds and powders it. All you can do it dig it out of the earth! Even the range of clay can completely unnerve a novice – China clay, fire clay, ball clay, feldspar clay and silica; each with its own whims and temperature they harden at to hopefully live forever.
For Rachna, this was just the beginning; destiny was to take this god-loving potter to Pondicherry, to Ray Meekar of the Golden Bridge Pottery fame. He did welcome students and the married Rachna left behind her artist husband to sign up with Meekar.
“During that one year, all I did was pottery. I could neither speak nor understand Tamil so I could not converse with anyone. There was no entertainment, all movies were in Tamil and only once in a while did I get to see French movies with English subtitles. I did not cook, I ate whatever the dabba-wala provided.” She spent more than 10-12 hours each day at Meekar’s studio; back alone in her rented room Rachna would read the works of Ma Sri Aurobindo, who she still revers.
Perhaps that one year in Pondicherry decided Rachna’s calling – she would do pottery. Nothing else. “I have dabbled in painting, music, dance, but when I took to pottery everything else ceased to matter.” Back in Delhi, she pursued pottery as if nothing else existed – she joined as an artist at the Garhi studio of Lalit Kala Academy, spending hours de-learning the nuances that she had borrowed from teachers and evolving her own signature style.
“You cannot help but be a potter.” Those first tentative steps had faded and Rachna moved into her new home in Noida, the kilns and the wheels occupying a large space of the beautiful house that in 1993 stood isolated in the wilderness that was Noida. Today, her studio buzzes with the chatter of the students who come thrice a week to learn making forms and “breaking free from the mould of the expected and interact with the space around.”
For Rachna, pottery is not about physical forms, it is meditation. “I work in silence, absolutely intensely. When you forget yourself in work that is meditation,” says Rachna who is busy these days putting things together for the functional pottery exhibition slated for February 2008. Look around and everywhere you would see pottery – they occupy six cupboards and endless shelves at home and in the studio. Rachna does not fire clay to sell; she is a potter because she wanted to be one.
“But isn’t selling the work important?” I ask. “Yes, selling is important to keep it functioning; I do not want to dip into household expenditure to run the studio or fire my dreams and creations; I am not bothered about selling, someday I would sell. But my idea is not geared towards selling,” adds Rachna who has even used the potter’s wheel to help people who are psychologically disturbed. For her pottery is meditation, for others it could be therapeutic.
It has been such a long journey but Rachna has not forgotten the beginnings nor the constructive criticism of her artist husband Dushyant, whom she calls her “biggest critic.”
In the journey along with her walked the art of pottery; it seems to have grown and evolved with her. “In the past five years, the art is taking definite steps to garner the honour and the respect that it so deserves.” Rachna is not complaining that the honour is walking in a little too late; she is content that “at least it is happening.”
“My journey has not ended, perhaps I would take to glass some day or enamelling on copper.”
“What more?” I ask. “Untired of sameness, untired of change,” she quotes her favourite line from Ma Sri Aurobindo. “I am always ready to change, but I am happy doing the same thing again and again,” Rachna says philosophically.
In a world where the malleable clay needs to bake at 1300 degrees to muster immortality, Rachna lets fire have the last word. “I let surprises overwhelm me. I let fire have the last word. I am always looking for new experiences.”
This potter is untired of sameness. She is untired of change. She knows how to centre the clay. That is her meditation. And she meditates every moment of her existence.
in Hello Noida, Decembr 2007