It was the worst journey of my life, that bus ride from McLeod Ganj to Manali. I was sitting on the second last seat and I could swear on myself that the driver didn't miss a single pothole or fail to swerve the furthest at every curve. Sudden brakes and horns were rampant and punctuated by screams from his mates to others on the road. I reached Manali and hopped on to a share cab to go to a hotel (A random hotel. I couldn't care less about where I rested my head at that point as long as I knew I could) and this is where yet another career loomed in my horizon.
The possibility of pottery started as inadvertently as that. The British sounding, expensive luggage touting co-passengers in my cab were halting at Manali before proceeding to Keylong. And they were on their way from Andretta.
Curious sounding name, that. And it instantly piqued my interest. You see, I am someone who is continually on a quest to find my calling. Any mention of an intriguing name, place, animal or thing and my spontaneous reaction is to wonder whether it is the work of God's minions, directing me towards self actualization. And that glimmer of hope is indeed a joyous feeling in my barren field called life! (Ok my life is not a barren field. It has too much drama in it, if at all. But my career field, kids could play cricket on!!!)
I was told that Andretta is a little hidden treasure trove of a potters village, where the esteemed Mansimran Singh teaches pottery. Apparently Pondicherry and its likes are pop for serious potters and that the big daddy of the pottery scene in India is Andretta. Here I was trying to sound all knowing on the subject of pottery and ceramics while actually wondering whether Andretta was the name of a place, person or a pottery school!
The ride ended and we all went our separate ways and moved on to greener pastures(actually in the case of Manali, it would have to be greener 'grass'!) but the idea of Andretta has stayed with me, and here I am, three and a half years hence, writing about it.
Andretta is a small village in the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, that was home to an Irish writer and dramatist named Norah Richards. Her husband had been a Professor at The Government Collage at Lahore. After her husband’s death there, and a short stay in England, Norah returned to India in the mid-30’s. She settled in Andretta where she built a beautiful English style cottage, constructed of mud, slate and bamboo. There she taught drama to students from the Punjab. She frequently hosted famous theater personalities and artists in Andretta and many built mud huts and made a home there. Norah also invited Sardar Gurcharan Singh, the master potter from Delhi, who was responsible for introducing studio art pottery in India. He built a house and a small pottery center for summer use in Andretta.
During the time of Norah, there were vibrant discussions about art, drama and the philosophy of living in a rural environment. Her ideas were very sound on how one should live in the countryside, using local materials for building houses, how you should live in harmony with nature and encourage local people to do the same.
After Norah’s death in 1971 there was a lapse in cultural activities, but now Andretta is having something of a renaissance. BC Sanyal’s daughter Amba has started a new venture “Norah’s Centre for the Arts”. Sadar Gurcharan Singh’s little summer pottery has evolved into the thriving Andretta Pottery and Craft Society started by the Sardar’s son Mansimran Singh. And that is how Andretta came to be.
The idea of staying in an idyllic place like the Kangra Valley and learning art from the greats undoubtedly fascinated me and has since never left me. Now that I am in a cross road in my life (Knowing myself, I am sure there will be many more), and I have the liberty of choosing what I want to do and start afresh yet again, I am wondering whether pottery might be the thing for me.
While I am not the world's best artist, I think I at least have a creativity bone hiding somewhere inside, and right now its completely insatiated and is spurring me to go on this wild adventure. It seems like something I would enjoy. I love colour and texture and I love playing with the balance of these and if I do end up dabbling in it, this is what I want to experiment with. Pottery might set up the perfect ground to play with that. It's such a raw art. This fact attracts me immensely. It forges such an intense connection between you and the elements of earth, water and fire. Meditation at its best I would imagine. I think it just might be the creative outlet I need. I could live in the wild amidst leaves and eaves, with dogs and dragonflies and play with mud and water all day long, casting mother earth into curious little shapes.
Oh! What a life it would be!
Oh! What a life it would be!