In the mud terrain

In the mud terrain

Unique Hobbies

There is a surprise in every corner, a theme for every room, but the hero of  Rama Gokul’s house is undoubtedly terracotta.

Attractive : The pond with terracotta figurines.What began as a childhood fascination for clay pots, sold across the street, slowly moulded into an avocation.

The house now boasts of a collection of more than 500 rare terracotta items, both functional and decorative. Humble as it may be, the aesthetic appeal of the ‘baked earth’ has not gone unsung here.

“As a child, I was attracted to clay artefacts. My pocket money always went into buying clay pots, which costed just a few annas. That passion is still alive,” says Rama, who runs a consultancy in landscaping, along with her husband.

In the eighties, when her husband was posted in Rajasthan, the childhood fancy took a serious turn. Rajasthan opened the world of terracotta before her. “I started picking up rare pieces from the artisans in Udaipur and Jaipur,” she remembers.

That was only the beginning. The earthen flavour of almost every part of the country now finds a pride of place in her home. “Each state has a distinct colour. While terracotta products in Karnataka are brownish, the ones in Jaipur have the colour of red oxide,” she says. The superior craftsmanship of the artisans in Rajasthan left an impeccable impression on her. She lost no time in buying products from the artisans’ villages.

A huge bowl, which resembles an uruli, bought from Jaipur, is one such example. “The artisan used the bowl to keep curd but I developed an instant liking for it and got it.” Gradually, terracotta items from Kolkata, Pondicherry, Orissa and UP also made their way to her house. 

The versatility of these products is never understated. Everything has its place. A huge blank wall is adorned with terracotta pieces. Stepping out of the traditional paradigm are wall brackets, bird bath, mermaid, cherubim, Nandi and a leaf with a dragon fly on it.
In fact, there is a play of themes, right from the gate.

Dressing up her garden is a bench made of red sandstone while the pond is inhabited by frog, crocodile, fish, duck etc – all in terracotta though. Standing in the midst is a statue of Cauvery with a pot of running water. Step into the dining room and there are terracotta mugs, napkin-holders and other tableware.  

Rama, however, never buys terracotta products from exhibitions. “At exhibitions, you get only run-of-the-mill items, produced en masse. I do not like those in multicolours either. Natural clay colour is the best.”

“I always choose pieces made by artisans during their leisure time and which they keep for themselves. They are good because they are exclusive. Once I spotted a piece under a cot in a shanty where the artisan lived and bought it from him after much cajoling,” she says.
A huge jar with a porcelain lid and a coir neck, used in Kerala to store massage oil, and the statue of Greek goddess Diana complete the picture. “I also had tiny pagemarkers which I distributed among my friends. They may be trivial but very innovative,” she says.

“You pay a little for these items and a potter’s family benefits. The artisans are very poor. Some of their products are broken in transit and they can’t sell them. However, I’ve picked up some good ones with just a crack or two.” Every piece Rama picks up brings her closer to nature even as the legacy of an artisan lives on.