Mithila Naik-Satam | Maharashtra | Mid-monsoon just after a downpour, nature’s come alive. The closest Sahyadri playground is damp and there is a cool breeze and the smell of wet mud. Children tuned into their evening football practice that the soggy mud and the damp clothes almost seem inconsequential. Group of college girls, with bags stopping by post their classes at the butta wala for a nicely done roasted corn kernel. Amidst all these rather regular season visuals - a different group of school girls catch my eye. These four of them are molding small figures from the mud they are sourcing from the playground. Sticking to my true self, I go over to these girls, who have transformed the playgrounds parapet into their work station. And I am impressed with the artwork but more with their jugaad resource - the mud! As I strike a conversation, the girls giggle hesitantly. They tell me their names, almost unsurely, “Mai Sheetal” “Mai Daya” “Mona” “Pooja”. Soon they reveal, “ye matti geeli hue hai baarish ke vajese. Toh hum aagaye idhar ye bannane” (The rain has dampened the soil here. So we’ve come to mold them into figures). They argue that the mud here is the right consistency they need for their molded art to not fall apart.
Mona, the eldest in the group studying in class VIIIth in a nearby BMC school (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) tells me, “Hum har Sunday ko aate hai. Paani aur khaali bag leke ghar se.” (We come every Sunday and get along with water and an empty bag) she’s quick to add, “wo paani chahiye hota hai na, sahi shape karne” (we need water to shape the mud). They chat as they multitask and show me some of their molding skills. We talk about where they stay and what their favorite subjects in school are but eventually land back at art which they say gives them so much happiness because there is a reminder that they’ve made it.
As the girls grow a little more familiar than they were 20 mins ago; I learn that making figures from mud is a self-taught hobby they took up rather seriously in the pandemic. “Lockdown mai kuch zyada nahi tha karne. Toh hum Youtube dekhte the, usmai dekha ki mitti se kya kya baana sakte hai. Humne sikhna shuru kiya aur humme bohot mazza aata tha” (In the lockdown we had a lot of free time on hand. We’d watch Youtube and soon started watching the tutorial videos and learning. We got the hang of it and really enjoyed making these small items”. They rather cheekily disclose that they started their molding from robbed flour dough from their kitchens but soon their mothers found out - it was a strict no. Sheetal chimes in finally mustering courage, “Didi, humme bhi asli mitti mai he bannana tha - jaise un videos mai bannate hai na toh humne ghar ke aaju-baju mitti dhundi aur yaha aagaye” (We wanted to work with real mud, like we see in those tutorial videos. So we started scouting for the right mud closer to home and finally landed here in the playground”
I learned that this talented bunch molds their art pieces and paints them later. “Humme wo Ganpati aur Saraswati Maa banane accha lagta hai.” (We enjoy making Ganpati and Saraswati Maa figures) Daya intrups, “Haan par didi ko ye bhi bolo na ki tum kuch bhi banti ho” (Do mention that sometimes you just make any random items) looking at me she says, “Didi, ye dekho gas or katora issene abhi banaya” (Look at these items, gas and vessel that she just made).
While these girls tell me how much they enjoy making these items of mud and how they hope someday they are able to access and use the pottery wheel. I slowly push a proposition, “Apko asli metti se ye banna hai?” – they stop their artwork and look up in disbelief. I tell them how as a young kid growing up, I would often see my mother shape sculptures and art pieces from clay. They dust their hands off and demand to see some photos of anything she's made. Before I can ask, they insist I take them home to see my mother.
Four sharp girls at Sahyadri playground are planning their schedule, “school ke baad - padhai karke aase he 4:00 pm baje milenge” (after school, we’ll study and meet just like today at 4;00 pm) - I get orders to pick them up from a nearby location.
When they arrive home, they don’t take too long to gel with my mother. She’s wow'd by the artwork they’ve gotten along with them. She hands them some red terracotta clay and they begin their molding almost as professionals, learning new techniques as they learn in-person, “Bohot zayada mazza aata hai, Youtube pe nahi par aasli mai sekh ke”. (Feels so good to learn in-person and not on Youtube).
A chance meeting, has been the start of a very wholesome learning for the group of young girls. Now Mona, Sheetal, Daya and Pooja are regular visitors at my place and very fond of my mother - who has been teaching them new techniques and also finds time to read short stories to them. Like clockwork, every Sunday since, there’s a loud “Shyla teacher, hum aagaye” at the door. When I ask my mother, she mentions, “Children are like wet clay, you can mold them in any shape. They are quick learners and absorb everything around them. With so much exposure to the outside world we need to enable them to cope with the changing world.” and I cannot agree more! In the present times, we require an educational system that not only assures academic excellence but also the holistic development of a child.
For the very first time, the four incredibly gifted girls have sent their art pieces to the kiln and are now very excited to await their pieces to be back from the bhatti.
The writer is a development writer from Maharashtra. Share your feedback on firstname.lastname@example.org