I think most tourists, travelers and even locals envisage Delhi as a city rather than a state; the vast geographic differences, socio-economic disparities and cultural diversity across Delhi as a state are mostly ignored by the travellers, with only Old Delhi and Lutyens Delhi being the focus of their sightseeing interest. As a local, I spent the first 20 years of my life cushioned in the geographic security of the ‘posh’ localities of South Delhi. My first awareness of Delhi as a state and its diverse cultural fabric came when I started travelling to length and breadth of Delhi state during my Masters Degree, encountering urban village of Ambar Hai in Dwarka, Najafgarh villages and then doing 2 research papers on Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary and Bawana Industrial Area (which went on to become my thesis subject). I realised that Delhi ‘state’ is much more than Chandni Chowk, India Gate or Lajpat Nagar. Since then, from time to time, I try to explore the ‘other’ Delhi and it always leaves me surprised to learn something more about my ‘city state’.
So on a November winter morning, I took the long route by Metro to Uttam Nagar for a walk into Potters Village in Binda Pur; the walk was part of many walks being organized under Delhi Walk Festival and I had already done a very interesting Foraging & Garden to Table walk in Lodhi Garden couple of days back, so was expecting another exciting walk experience.
The walk leader Zeba explained to us about the village, the origins of the community in Delhi, the brief socio-cultural practices and the difficulties being faced by the community, currently, in continuing with their livelihood. We took e-rickshaws to a particular destination from Uttam Nagar Metro station and in a span of 10 minutes were transported to another world!
We came into a narrow lane, with houses built close together (rather stacked over each other), streets lined with pottery shops and many kinds of clay based items on display. The lane went into narrower lanes and we saw soil stacked in heaps taking up half the already narrow lanes, women kneading clay from the soil, big clay ovens, children covered in dust but happily running around…to say it was a shock on my senses would be an understatement! I could never imagine something like this right in the middle of Delhi (yes, it comes under the jurisdiction of New Delhi!!).
Our walk leader explained that the community had its origins in Rajasthan and came to Delhi around 60 years ago when there was a drought in the area of Alwar (in Rajasthan). Back then, Binda Pur was in the outskirts of Delhi and the community thrived here making various clay based items. However, in present times, their sources of livelihood are becoming more and more difficult, with most of the raw material source becoming scarce & expensive and their method of making clay based items (i.e. clay ovens) coming under regulations (due to high pollution levels in Delhi).
We met with a family of potters’ and they took us in their homes and showed us step by step procedure of how clay based items is made. It was an interesting live workshop for all of us and some of us also tried our hand in kneading clay and making small pots on potters’ wheel.
We ended the walk with lots of shopping from the family which hosted us and also from the different shops around us and headed back home a little more empathetic to Delhi and its different residents.